Jesus made an interesting, actually confusing, statement in the middle of one of his sermons.
It was one of those statements a preacher makes in passing, then moves on leaving the audience scratching their head.
Have you ever argued about something because you felt like you were supposed to but the whole time you’re thinking to yourself, “I don’t think I agree with my argument?”
There are certain things in life we are conditioned to fight for or against, but if we were to take a moment, remove all of our preconceived ideas, and all of our preferences for fairness, we might see the truth we so adamantly oppose.
“Stop telling people who they are and start telling people who they are becoming.” – Bob Goff
I wish what I’m about to tell you wasn’t true. I wish it only represented the minority of marriages I counsel on a weekly basis, but sadly I’m about to describe a gut-wrenching truth, an epidemic really.
It’s a new year with new possibilities, my favorite time of year.
The way most people get excited about Christmas is the way I feel about a new year. The new ideas, goals, and possibility of change is invigorating.
“Peace on earth and goodwill to all men,” That’s what the angels sang after informing the shepherds of the savior’s birth. I like the sound of “peace on earth” but “peace in me” sounds better. That’s probably what Mary was thinking too.
Growing up, we had a tradition at Christmas time. My uncle, with a voice that sounds like a mix between Morgan Freeman and James Earl Jones, would open his Bible to Luke 2 and read the Christmas story.
“Waiting time is not wasted time.” I read that phrase in a book once in one of those surreal moments when it feels as if the universe has set you up to read that line, in that book, at that moment.*
It’s difficult to trust God is still effectively directing the steps of your life when you don’t feel you’re taking any steps. Like you, my heart is filled with dreams for the future.
Growing up, I would wake up on Saturdays to my brother watching the Bob Ross painting show.
If you’ve ever seen Bob Ross paint you know how he worked. For the first 25 minutes, his canvas looked like a mess. He would take different colors and paint abstract shapes that didn’t look like anything, but all of the sudden he would take a small brush or his finger, and with one little stroke, the painting would all come together.
Everyone has something they want to change about themselves.
Lose a few pounds, remove a mole, fix your teeth, the list goes on and on, but at a deeper level, we all have things we want to change like addictions, sins, and relationships that we aren’t sure will ever change. We know that God is can do miraculous things, we just aren’t sure that he will miraculously change those nasty parts of our life we are ashamed of or frustrated about. We have prayed and begged God to change us, or remove the temptations from our life, but it doesn’t feel like we’re making any progress, and we’re struggling to believe that it will ever change.
We’re like the father talking to Jesus is Mark 9 who said,
“I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”
We all need help believing that God will not that God can.
But what if we are changing, we just don’t realize it? What if slowly and steadily, even with a few setbacks God is changing us into the person who wants us to be?
In 2 Kings 5, a soldier named Naaman was known as a mighty warrior but underneath his armor he had a contagious skin disease. After going to Elisha to be healed, he was frustrated when Elisha didn’t come out and perform an instant miracle. Instead, Elisha told Naaman to go and dip underneath the water in the Jordan River 7 times, and sure enough, the Bible says after he rose out of the water the seventh time his skin was healed.
After rereading this story, a thought crossed my mind, “What if God is changing me a dip at a time?” Like Naaman, all of us love when God does the flashy instant style of miracles. I have a friend who struggled with addiction to heroin and after crying out to God for help one night, God miraculously saved her and took away her desire for heroin and she has never taken it since, incredible! But after meeting and counseling with countless people over the years, the truth is, those kinds of stories are few and far between the stories of slow change and setbacks.
What if God is changing you a dip or a decade at a time? What if you aren’t as angry as you used to be? What if you’re making better decisions more regularly now? Sure you still fall off the wagon but often the feeling of defeat in the short term causes us to forget the steady improvement over the long term.
I’m not saying that the goal of following Jesus is self-improvement. He loves us with our faults and all, and being a “better” person doesn’t change His feelings towards us, but the Bible does say that the fruit of our life gives a glimpse into our heart.
You may not be where you want to be right now, and you may feel like you should be farther along than you are at this moment, but here is what I know for certain,
He who began the good work within you will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.
We’re all under construction, a work in progress, and we serve a God who never gives up on us. Who you are now is not who you will always be, and how you feel now is not how you will always feel. God is changing you a dip at a time. Don’t stop on #6.
I’m often described as a “happy person.”
I’d like to think it’s because I try to make every interaction with others meaningful and positive, but the explanation could be as simple as having worn braces for four years imposed a wide smile on my face. My whole life, people have harmlessly attributed words like happiness, positive, and energetic to my name, and while I’m probably over sensitive, sometimes I mistake their compliment as a snarky assumption that “Andrea must be happy all the time,” and that I’ve misrepresented myself as someone who is never sad, or never struggles.
Sometimes unhappy people assume happy people ignore life’s problems or are oblivious to pain or stress. I’m the first to admit I lead an incredibly blessed life. I have a fulfilling job, a loving husband, and precious kids, but my story is not free from trials. I have personally experienced the crushing loss of several miscarriages, the sickening realization your house has been robbed (more than once), the suffocating grief of losing my mother-in-law to stage four cancer, and the unexplainable devastation of suicide and mental disorders of family members and friends.
I wonder if my parents knew what they were doing when they named me Andrea “Joy” Isaacs. Does a person make the name or the name make the person? Either way I have been marked with joy since I left the hospital. But are joy and happiness the same thing? I don’t think so. I believe they are distinctly different in a few ways.
In American culture, we place “happiness” at a high premium, and trying to pin down a quality or an exact cause of happiness can be difficult. Still, Americans work every day to chase fulfillment and even our founding principles use language like, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” But what happens when your pursuit of happiness conflicts with my American Dream? We can all relate to moments of self-destruction- our own or someone we know- that we’re justified by, “the pursuit of happiness.” Moments when someone walked away from a marriage, because they weren’t happy. Moments where selfish decisions were made, and casualties were abundant. We can also probably list people who chase happiness only to be left wanting; they achieve one goal and the moment of celebration is fleeting. We recognize that their lack of contentment is unjustifiable and astounding to the rest of us who envy what they don’t appreciate. Contentment, genuine contentment, is elusive to so many of us, and I believe that is because contentment and joy are a gift, a blessing from God. Happiness is momentary, and fleeting, and based on our circumstances, but joy, we know, comes from the Lord.
In the Bible, joy is always laid up against struggles, storms, stress. That seems so counter-intuitive. We are usually convinced that we will be happier if a desire is fulfilled; a goal is reached, a problem is solved, but scripture reminds me that I distinctly experience joy because of the trials and tribulations in my life.
“Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” James 1:2-3
Despite the paradox this presents, learning how to embrace the difficult, heartbreaking, stressful, and challenging parts of life produces our character and develops our hearts to appreciate both beauty and ashes, both life and death.
If you were to ask someone who doesn’t believe in God, why the struggle to believe they would likely give a reason associated with “bad things” happening. Ironically, if you ask someone who has a joyful relationship with God how their relationship is so meaningful, they would tell you about the value of times in life when “bad things” happened.
In terms of being equipped to influence others, I believe my actions and my attitude speak largely in the way of how others view me. I face the same day-to-day stress of many Americans, working moms, thirty-somethings and so on, but how I handle those situations shows others that there is something different about me. And when the door opens for me to have a conversation, I want to be able to convey, with conviction, that my reactions to life’s intense moments genuinely comes from my ability to choose joy.