Joy, Always

This past weekend, I led my church’s university student group in a Bible study on joy. We’ve been studying the fruit of the Spirit for the past month or so; I chose to share on joy because it’s the meaning of my name (or to be more exact, “God gives me joy”), and because it’s my foremost desire to exhibit joy as I grow in bearing the fruits of righteousness in all that I do (Mark 4:20). When I first began preparing to lead this study a couple weeks back, I had no idea that as a nation, we’d be in the middle of another historic, genuine confrontation of this festering ailment of racism and inequality in our country. The subject of joy became even more poignant to me as I again sat and processed the unjust events of the past weeks (and truthfully, of the past years). I certainly didn’t feel like having joy in those moments after all the events that had transpired, but as I prayed and meditated on God’s Word, the Lord encouraged my heart. I’ve decided to share a bit of the study I wrote here; it is a deeply personal and Biblical commentary on the God-given joy I’ve found in the midst of racial inequality in America.

In Acts 16:16-34, we see the story of Paul and Silas unjustly imprisoned in Philippi for preaching the gospel. They were going about their missionary work, and in doing so, ended up stripped, beaten, chained, and thrown into prison (Acts 16:22-24). But what came next is astounding: they began to fervently pray and worship God! How was this reaction possible? What motivated them to respond in such a surprising way? The power and joy of the Holy Spirit.

The Greek word for “joy” is chara, which is related to two other words with similar meanings, charis and charos. Charis means “grace” or “gift,” and charos means to “rejoice” or “express joy.” Based on these definitions, a Biblical definition of joy can be described as a natural reaction or expression to the work and gracious gifts of God in our lives. I love how this definition evokes joy as an action, an expressed attitude of the heart that focuses on God’s majesty and love above the storms and trials swirling around us. Often confused with happiness, which is a transient feeling based on the quality of our current situations, joy is an act produced within us, where by the Holy Spirit’s power, we can confidently and steadfastly place our faith and trust in the Lord. Joy — which in itself is a result of the stability found in the Lord’s promises and unchanging character — demonstrates a sustaining effect on our lives. As Nehemiah comforted the Israelites through weeping and sorrowful times, he reminded them that “the joy of the Lord is your strength!” (Nehemiah 8:10) With the joy of the Spirit, we can confidently put our hope in the Lord, knowing that His promises will be fulfilled and that greater is yet to come (1 Peter 4:13).

Returning to Paul and Silas, we see their joy as an expression of faith and thanksgiving in the midst of their circumstances. In other words, they exhibited joy in their trials. Later in the passage, through the beautiful example of Paul and Silas leading the Philippian jailer and his family to Christ, we’re also reminded of the joy that’s found in our salvation (Acts 16:31-34; Psalm 94:19; James 1:2-3). However, these two expressions of joy in the account of their jail experience were not the first things that stirred my heart upon reading these verses. Rather, it was Acts 16:25 – “About midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.”

The other prisoners were listening to Paul and Silas express their God-given joy. Paul and Silas had an audience they would have never had otherwise right there in the Philippian jail. And their joy was magnetic — it caused the other prisoners to listen to them! Reading Acts 16:25 immediately brought me back to the present. In this time of national uprising, who might be attracted to the expressions of God’s joy in my life? And how could that joy point this new audience to the gospel of Christ, a gospel that is unequivocally about salvation and justice (Isaiah 1:17; Isaiah 33:22; John 5:21-23; Isaiah 30:18; Zechariah 7:9)? In this time as the pains of black Americans are being amplified, as Christians — and especially now, as black Christians — who will our joy attract? What message will we share with our audience? As the body of Christ, right now we have an unlikely but attentive audience with whom we can share God’s truth: and that truth is of God’s divine and moral law, and of His heart for all creation. In spite of the systemic racism the black American community (and therefore black Christians) have faced for centuries, I pray that we continue to find strength and unspeakable joy in the Lord (Philippians 4:4; Isaiah 61:10; Psalm 126:2-3), and that in doing so, we will both stun and absorb the hearts of those who’ve dismissed our experiences before.

People’s hearts and perceptions will not change with the passage of new laws. Systemic racism will not be fixed overnight by a chorus of empty support posted online. The very real pain behind that awareness has long been heavy on my heart, especially these past weeks. Paul and Silas’ account show that only the work of the Holy Spirit can open ears, turn hearts, and change lives. But as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6:10, we can be “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” Police brutality towards the black community in America echoes the bigger picture of historically inequitable social structures and systems in our country. My heart breaks for black lives unjustly taken from this earth. I have wept, and continue to weep, for senseless injustices perpetrated against our community. It’s difficult for me to hear dismissals or erasure of all forms of racism — from daily microaggressions to the vast examples seen all too often in the news. It has been painful to hear deafening silence from not only the world, but especially the American church, who fail to stand up for justice and what’s right, even if it’s uncomfortable. But in spite of it all, “I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” (Habakkuk 3:18)

1 Corinthians 12:12 declares that “the human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ.” Verses 24 – 25 of that chapter also note that “God has put the body together… this makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other.” This shows us that God intentionally created the body of Christ to have great diversity (v18) such that when one “member suffers, all the members suffer with it, or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (v26). In this time of great reckoning, the church of God not only has the responsibility to bear the fruit of joy but to act as a unified body: white Christians suffering with black Christians alike, instead of explaining away — or worse, completely ignoring — the very real pain and experiences of fellow members of Christ’s singular body.

The emotions of the past week, month, and years are still very real, raw, and painful for me. But through it all, God reigns. I find joyful comfort in His presence, and in the fact that I am very dear to His heart as His beloved daughter, just like the rest of His beautiful, different, and diverse family.

*For an incredible, invaluable resource of information and further reading, see bethebridge.com

27

I’m exceedingly psyched because I’m turning 27 today on 02•22•20… and if you know me, then you know that the number symmetry, along with turning one of my favorite numbers, makes me feel absolutely delighted.

But really, it’s always a blessing to me to see another year. The song going through my thoughts these past few days was You Keep On Getting Better sung by Maverick City Music, especially the refrain that says, “Every day gets sweeter, every day gets better.” It speaks to the fact that every day lived in relationship with our awesome God gets better for us as His children – He never changes in His perfection, but for us He gets better as we discover more and more of Him with each passing experience, good or bad. I’ve found this to especially be true these past few years, and it’s a concept I’ve been pondering these past few days as I walk into 27 with that same mindset. There’s another part of the song that says over and over – after declaring how good God is – “You keep on getting better, You keep on getting better.” I couldn’t listen to that part without joyfully singing along and expressing thanks to the Lord for who He is and all He’s done. I asked myself in what specific ways the Lord’s kept getting better to me, and what I loved was that many of the ways seemed like such simple things, but their impact on my life was anything but. He gets better and better to me every time I get the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of the clouds above me, or the serenity of a Poznan sunset at the end of the day. I mean, at times (at least in my view), the sky looks so intricately painted with a range of pastels, and I just can’t help looking up in awe at God’s creativity. And then it’ll be a whole different range of colours the next day, harboring a completely different vibe and bringing a new sense of wonder to my heart – something new, yet at its core, still the same. God gets better and better to me with each day, as I literally experience His strength in me on days when Tuesdays feel like Thursdays and I can barely keep my eyes open long enough to study. I notice how He listens to me and encourages me exactly as I need, and how He draws me closer to Him, motivating me to be a better child of God, refining me day by day and removing all that isn’t like Him. All these things and more make me emphatically say: Yes, Lord – You keep getting better! And I love that as I discover more of Him with each passing year, I’m consistently reminded of how He is good. There’s a part of You Keep On Getting Better that says, “You are good; In the morning I’ll sing ‘You are good.’ In the evening I’ll sing ‘You are good,’ You are good to me.” It’s a sentiment often said about God without much thought – Oh, God is good all the time, and all the time God is good. But the reality of taking a moment and realizing that He truly is… means so much. The way He works and helps me when maybe I’ve slacked a bit on my to-do list – He’s good. The way He warms my heart through interactions with my family and friends during long rotation days – He is good. The many, many ways He shows me His character through specific verses in His word and strengthens my faith daily in such thoughtful and personal ways – He is so, so good.

Turning 27 today is a gift. There’s so much peace, joy, and excitement surrounding me, not only due to anticipation of the year ahead, but because I know that no matter what, He keeps on getting better.

26

Twenty-six.

Wheeewie. As my sister told me earlier this week: I’m twenty-whopping-six! Time for my yearly (at the moment) blog post.

I almost can’t believe that for the next year, the age associated with my name is 26. What does 26 even mean?! In some respects, I still feel like that same girl from my teen years who loved dancing in her room to her favorite songs; in others, I definitely have proudly achieved grandma-status: here’s looking at you, wild Friday nights with uberEATs. I’m glad that as the years go by, I become more and more content in the things that make me unique. But some things do change: usually on my birthday, I’ll explore thoughts or lessons I’ve learned or grown in over the past year, synonymous with the age I’m turning. It’s been such a valuable practice for me to reflect on my year at that age as a whole, and essentially, glean life advice to give to myself as I move on to new seasons of life. It’s also been such a fun way to look back at the many, many ways God’s been faithful over the year, and be thankful for who He is in my life and all He’s done. But now that one whole quarter-century is all wrapped up and squared away, I think I’m going to change that tradition into focusing on one overarching concept that I’ve been (or will be) mulling over in the months leading up to my birthday.

These past few months, I’ve been thinking a lot (and learning a lot, and praying a lot…) about the concept of grace: what is grace*? How do I show grace? In what practical ways can I be a gracious person? Last summer, I started watching this sermon series titled, “Grace Like A Flood.” (It’s absolutely phenomenal, and I highly recommend it.) In the ensuing months, the series has gotten me to honestly consider my current perceptions of grace, how I proffered grace to both myself and others in various interactions, and the power of God’s unlimited grace in my life.

Continue reading

25

Today, I turn 25.

A whole quarter-century…! This blows my mind.

One whole quarter deposited in the piggy bank of life already.

If I thought that time flew before, these past few years, it’s basically felt like it’s going at lightening speed with each birthday that comes around. It’s truly a blessing to see this new year; so many young adults don’t make it to this age, so I’m extremely grateful for yet another day to enjoy life’s simple joys, and to celebrate another milestone birthday.

Birthdays are always a time for me to reflect back on the past year, consider what values I’ve learned or honed, and make goals for how I want to grow at my new age over the next year.

For some reason, 25 feels like a new horizon: all the 24-and-below years neatly packaged away and left behind to enter solidly into the mid- and upper-20’s. So a few months ago, I thought to myself on what I’d want going into 25. All I knew right away was that I wanted to keep knowing God deeper, and growing in my faith and relationship with Him. It’s what brings me the most joy and satisfaction, what informs my life, and what motivates me to pursue growth as a person. After that, I thought a bit more on what values I particularly leaned on over the past year, lessons that stood out to me as good life advice for myself to continue pursuing in this new year and beyond. Here are some of those thoughts.

Love people hard.
Loving people always comes with consequences that accompany that vulnerability. However, it’s completely worth it. Especially if those loved ones are your family, or friends. It’s such a privilege to have close, supportive, and loving family + friends, and I couldn’t be more grateful for mine. They always push me to be better, and inspire me in my faith. For me, loving them often comes in the form of appreciating them as much as I possibly can amidst the craziness of life from so far away. It’s not extravagant usually, but I’ve found that often, the simplest encouraging words over the phone end up meaning the most. Continue reading

Into The Deep

Sometimes, you just need to be submerged. It’s such a wonderful feeling when God’s presence flows over you. Hope you enjoy this Thursday tune as deeply as I have over the past few months – it’s been such nourishment for my soul for awhile now and I thought I’d share. It’s definitely one of those songs where the words speak for themselves, no additions necessary.