Category Archives: Joy

My heart is full of thankfulness..

Then I realised that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labour under the sun during the few days of life God has given him – for this is his lot. Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work – this is a gift of God. He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart..

(Ecc 5.18-20)

For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

(1Tim 4.5&5)

As someone who lives in a relatively very rich country (in world terms), and who has not been required to find paid employment in order to keep a roof over her head and food on her table, I am well aware that I occupy a very privileged position – and as a follower of Jesus, it is not a very comfortable position! What am I to do with all I have? What is it for? I can’t send away everything I possess, it is not solely mine to give, and much of my riches consist of things which cannot be physically shared – good health, loving friends, the beauty of the natural world, the gift of music, and above all my salvation and heritage as a child of God.

For this reason, I was delighted in the course of a recent time of preparation for a bible study, to come across this passage in Ecclesiastes, a challenging but ruthlessly truthful portrayal of the futility of human existence apart from God. It seems to sit very comfortably alongside Paul’s advice to Timothy, the young pastor, exhorting him to accept and enjoy God’s  generous provision – and to teach his congregation also to do so.

God has indeed made and given us lavishly of good things, how ungracious and foolish it would be if we were to reject them! Imagine presenting someone with a carefully chosen gift, reflecting your love for and relationship with them, only to see them shrink from accepting it, because they had already received a gift from someone else, or because they felt they did not deserve it..

None of what we have is earned, or deserved. All is a gift from our good and gracious God, given that we might enjoy it, and return thanks to him as the source, all the while recognising that our ultimate satisfaction is in the Giver, not the Gift. When I am receiving God’s gifts with a thankful heart, using them to return glory to him and to bless others in any way which I can find, then I find I can accept and be content with the life God has called me to. A disposition of thankfulness is a great aid to a cheerful and contented heart, and in keeping a godly perspective on life and “stuff”! Perhaps that is what is referred to at the end of the quote from Ecclesiastes, where the gladness of a man’s heart in what God is giving him now, enables him to live very much in the present, not dwelling regretfully on the past, or anxiously on the future.

The faithfulness of God in providing good things for us to receive thankfully, and enjoy generously, gives us confidence that at every stage of life, we can trust his care. He is our Father, who loves and knows how to give us good things – even though we may not at the time see in what way they are good for us!

Such contentment is indeed a gift from God, and one which we might usefully seek, by learning to rejoice in what we have and receive daily, so that there is a deep wellspring of joy – of delight in the God who gives so lovingly and personally to each of his children. When to this daily provision we add the unspeakably precious gift of forgiveness, redemption and hope which we receive through Jesus Christ, we have a continually refreshing source of thanksgiving. Let us say with the Psalmist:

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures for ever.

Give thanks to the God of gods. His love endures for ever.

Give thanks to the Lord of lords: His love endures for ever….

to the One who remembered us in our low estate, His love endures for ever;

and freed us from our enemies, His love endures for ever,

and who gives food to every creature. His love endures for ever..

(Psalm 136. 1-3,24-26)

Blinded..

I thought I had no tears left, that the worst pain had already come upon me on Friday when I held Mary as she watched her son’s blood trickle from his side and the breath leave his body.

We had cried ourselves blind, eyes swollen with grief and hearts wrenched apart.

The man who had delivered me from the blind darkness into freedom, who had loved me and welcomed my company, who had allowed me to love and serve him with all  my heart… this dearest of all, dead.

We watched as Joseph and Nicodemus took his bruised and battered body, anointing and wrapping it for burial in haste so that he might be committed to the tomb in decency before the Sabbath put an end to all labour. It all felt so unreal, as if we were in a nightmare and knew that if we could only wake up it would end.

But the dawn of Saturday brought no waking, even as the night had brought little sleep, only a deep ache and restlessness…

He is dead, he is gone, what shall become of us now?

He gave our lives purpose and direction; his voice calmed our fears, opened our understanding and gave us glimpses of a glory we barely comprehended. What is there to live for now?

I could make no decisions yet, but I could still be close to him, show my love in the only way that remained open to me. What did I care for the guard at the tomb? The soldiers didn’t take a woman seriously as a threat, I am nothing to them, less than nothing, and their scorn is meaningless.

So when the weight of Saturday night shifted into Sunday morning, and I could not bear to pretend to sleep anymore, I went to the garden, to watch for the dawn at his side, just to be there.

I found my way well enough through the dark city, but when I reached the garden I thought my eyes had played tricks with me. There was no guard, and there was no stone across the tomb…

Sick to my very heart, limbs heavy as lead, and weeping again with a bitterness which I had not known before, I fetched Peter and John, I needed someone else to tell me that I was not going mad in my grief, someone to make sense of what I saw.

They came, but could make no more of it than I did, although John was quiet and lost in thought, as if he were searching his memory for words from Jesus which might speak into  this deep mystery. He left for home with a strange light on his face, but no comfort for me.

Tears were my only relief, in utter bewilderment, like a lost and abandoned child pressed in by fears and paralysed by grief, I could do nothing else. Somehow, Jesus was even more lost to me than before, not even a body over which I could lament. Oh my beloved, where have they taken you, why have you gone so far from us?

Finally I too look into the tomb, expecting deepest shadow, and emptiness, final confirmation of my hopelessness. And it is light, glowing bright, my eyes are dazzled through their tears, but two figures sit there, where the body ought to be. Am I dreaming? Is this what grief can do to people? One of the figures asks why I cry, and without thinking just how strange this all is, I tell them that my Lord has been stolen away, lost to me.

I must be dreaming. The lack of sleep, the exhaustion of so much emotion in the last few days and weeks is finally taking its toll and I have fallen into a waking dream, in which bizarre things happen and I take them as perfectly ordinary. What else can this be, but an illusion?

I turn away from the tomb, suddenly aware of the utter weariness which is weighing me down, and another figure looms up through my tears, not bright with light this time. It speaks, asking who I seek, and why I cry.

Perhaps now I am awake again. Perhaps this is the man who looks after this garden and he might know! I ask eagerly if he knows where my Lord has been taken, that I might go and care for his body. In my weakness I barely raise my head to look at him, but my voice is urgent and he hears me.

Then it happens…

He speaks again, one word, my name.

‘Mary’

And I am blinded by light, deafened by the triumph of love in his voice!

He is not dead, He is risen! Oh my beloved, Oh my dearest dear, how shall I bear the brightness!

I do not understand, but I know. I am alive and awake, and the whole world is made new in my eyes. I shall never walk in the dark again, because I know that He is with me for ever, and by the light of his love, I see…

The joy of the Lord

Praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord, O my soul.

I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. 

(Psalm 146. 1&2)

Do you ever lose sight of glory? Of just how much you are loved by an eternal, almighty, joyous and wonderful God? Of how amazing it is that we should be noticed, let alone delighted in by the Creator of universe upon universe? I do.. and I know it has happened when I begin to take myself terribly seriously, to feel each and every slight like a major offence, and every failure to love like a death wound. I get distracted from the eternal realities, and instead see only the little things that make up daily life – irritations, the failings of others and my own, the bad weather, poor health, the messiness of living in a fallen world. All these are real too, and some are very serious issues which we rightly struggle to live with.

Nonetheless, when I read the following words earlier this week, they rang in my head like a clarion call, a defiant statement of a crucial truth:

Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul.” (GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy)

When I can bring my forgetful soul back from wandering among small troubles, and into the presence of my dear Lord, then I know the deepest satisfaction – in spite of what ails me, what irritates and gives me cause for grief. If I could only carry this awareness with me all the time, keeping this true perspective on life at all times, then perhaps I would be a more faithful, joyful and effective witness to Jesus in his love and saving power!

At this time of year I have snowdrops and hellebores in my garden, producing exquisite blooms which hang their heads down, as if hiding their glory from casual gaze. When I bring them into the house, and can get up close, I am astonished by the detail and beauty they reveal. An unobtrusive rendering of glory to their Creator, not held up for all to see but shyly suspended, a private delight. Like the rest of the natural world, their glorifying of the maker is not a willed thing, it is part of how they grow and flourish. Perhaps, if I could cultivate the attitude of continual praise – of being conscious that I am always in my Lord’s presence, adoring him and being loved – then my life too would become a thing of natural beauty, because at the heart would be this steady pulse of joy.

When I take myself too seriously, I miss the joy of knowing that I am forgiven, that every minute of every day of my life is a gift, and that there is a continual outpouring of goodness and grace into my life from God. When I take myself too seriously, I begin to act and feel as though I have to be perfect in order to be loved and accepted. This is a wicked and dangerous lie, it creeps up on me so subtly, and I long to become more alert to it. It robs me of joy in receiving each new day; in each person whom God has brought into my life; in the outrageous beauty all around me; and above all in the transforming truth of forgiveness in Christ, union with him, and the promise of eternal life.

Here for a little while, we walk in shadows, our ears deaf to the great hymn of joy and mirth which rolls continually through creation, as God rejoices in his making, and pours love out upon us. Just occasionally, we seem to catch glimpses of glory, hear snatches of the eternal ‘Alleluias!’, and we catch our breath, caught up into wonder and awe. When I deliberately cultivate a spirit of praise, counting every grace gift as I find it, then these moments come more often, and my life is more joyful, my strength renewed, as I lose myself in the Lord. When I am more caught up with him than myself, I can laugh at myself, accept my failures with the compassion God shows me, and live in the freedom which is my birthright as the daughter of the King.

May God help us in the coming days to remember that we are but dust, that He requires of us praise, not perfection, and in that joyful awareness to grow strong.