Count it all joy, my brothers,when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. ~ James 1:2-4
A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones. ~ Proverbs 17:22
And the word of the Lord was being spread through the whole region. But the Jews incited the devout women of prominence and the leading men of the city, and instigated a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. But they shook off the dust of their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
~ Acts 13:49-52
You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit, ~ 1 Thessalonians 1:6
Trials of temptation that test our faith...persecution for proclaiming the Gospel...feeling weak from sickness. How do YOU decide what counts as an opportunity for joy? The key in recognizing these opportunities AS opportunities may be in realizing the true nature of joy.
Then those who sing as well as those who play the flutes shall say, “All my springs of joy are in you.” ~ Psalm 87:7
Serve the LORD with gladness; come before Him with joyful singing. ~ Psalm 100:2
How blessed are the people who know the joyful sound! O LORD, they walk in the light of Your countenance. In Your name they rejoice all the day. ~ Psalm 89:15-16
Joy is not merely the result of a having a good day where everything went right. Joy comes from maintaining our focus where it should be: on God! No matter what happens to us or around us, if we keep our hearts and our minds set on Him, our joy will be full.
When something goes how it should, we are glad, and our thanksgiving for the blessings brings joy. When something seems to go wrong—even horribly so—we can still choose a response that leads to joy, because God is greater than any problem we can ever face. He is I AM! Our trust grows through these times as we take joy in His never-failing love toward us, rejoice in the full salvation obtained through His sacrifice, and give thanks in faith for God's power at work on our behalf.
Our joy has no cause for wavering because it is founded in the unchanging person of Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). NOTHING can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39). And when the world does its worst, it will simply showcase over and over that the love of God is a sure anchor, His word is eternal truth, and His joy is a solid strength.
If you have the right perspective, it all counts toward joy!
It was a few weeks ago when I felt it, a phrase that started to knock on my door every day at random times. Reminders began to pop up seemingly everywhere and anywhere I went. Any stores I would go to, sermons I would hear, books I was reading, music I was listening to, movies I was watching, songs I was singing, devotionals, conversations—yes, even in the silences—I could sense the pulsating invitation. Beckoning me to jump into joy.
Clues collected, theological glimpses into this deep delight that is deemed inexpressible, I yearned to fathom its waves. So I jumped. Jumped into this familiar pool I've played in all my life, and found myself in an ocean to which I could no longer feel the edges. I'm in way over my head, with no sign of a bottom yet, and soaking glad about it! The shells I found on the shore days, weeks, and years behind were tantalizing, but the treasures below the surface weigh precious beyond anything I could have imagined.
There is so much that can be said about Joy: the What, the Who, the How, the Where, and the Why.... Although I am fast appreciating the difficulty of articulating its radiant facets, in the weeks to follow I hope to share some of the ocean-treasures I have found.
"I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them." ~ Jesus (John 17:13)
I am embarking on a journey to fully embrace Jesus-joy. Look for the road-signs with me! Let's tread the waves together. Given (marvelous gift!) that we can gaze always on His face, we need not fear the storms.
The film is wrapped, and so are the Christmas gifts.
And there are other gifts. Gifts that sometimes I forget to see, appreciate, delight in. Smelling blossoms in October snow, watching the sun rise out my car window on a dawn well-cracked, and hearing faint strains of teasing laughter float from the kitchen. Small gifts that point to the Great Gift—breathing bundle of Love swaddled and worshiped and sacrificed—the gracious, glorious God-Gift sung about across millennia proclaiming I AM among us.
Christmas: celebrating Christ Jesus, our Messiah. We celebrate Christ come to man, Power-Word wrapped in earth-skin. (John 1) We celebrate Christ the chosen Lamb, all most good and pure and innocent atoning for sin-cost beyond our repair. (John 1:29) We celebrate Christ in us, rapturous, holy mystery, the very hope of glory. (Col. 1:27) And it is right that we rejoice!
And there are other days. Days that sometimes I forget to stop and wonder, revel in, celebrate.
To fully celebrate HIM.
There are blessings every day for the counting, gifts of wonder to unwrap, give thanks for. Cold hands prickling, thawing by air of firelight, leftovers warming twice with memories, and sore muscles promising strength on the morrow. And again I say: Rejoice! ...For indeed, the Lord is near. (Phil. 4:4-5) Behold, NOW is the day of salvation. (2 Cor. 6:2) And day after day, while it is yet Today (Heb. 3:12-13), I need the encouragement, the warning, to leave my heart soft to the touch of heaven's grace, my eyes wide open to God-glory now, my fingertips feeling the edges of planet-paper to fold—yes, even rip it back to reveal the depth of his goodness!
I long to see with G-D vision. To look through God's glasses and reel from the absence of mortal myopia. To behold his Glory, his Grace, and his Goodness face to face, and live deeply in the reality of those dimensions. How I see will change how I live. And I see dimly now, know dimly now, but as I look for and gaze on his reflections around me, I am transformed from the inside out. (1 Cor. 13:12; 2 Cor. 3:18) I want to eye with heaven's measure, and prove grace to myself and others. (Rom. 12:2) Because clear sight is the difference between a light-filled life and a midnight existence. (Luke 11:34-35)
Unwrapping these other-day, every-day, holy-day gifts is a treasure hunt. My resolution? Find real Treasure, and give my heart to it. (Matt. 6:21) Even if--especially if—I find it in swaddling clothes, bound in common-place wrapping. God with us. God with me. God in me and around me and wrapping me in his arms of heaven-born, down-to-earth love.
What will I dare to unwrap today?
Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved to dance. Loved the dizzying wind rushing past my uplifted face; exulting in the grandeur of my long twirling skirt; pointing my toes as I stretched to full height, my arms encircling imaginary beach balls as I spun and spun again....Or spreading my hands wide as I speed-turned in a stretch of grass, like Maria in The Sound of Music.
One day I realized that I had stopped dancing. Not on purpose. I'd just gotten busy with other things. I guess I still wanted to dance, but now it felt awkward, like a new teenager trying to get used to their skin again. Come to think of it, I was.
Have you heard Michael W. Smith's instrumental album "Freedom"? It's a soundtrack-like collection he composed over a decade ago, now. I was playing it one day and, realizing I was alone in the room, got up and simply started to dance again. Stepping, balancing, sweeping spins. And I began to cry healing tears. Healing a hurt I hadn't known was there. I felt God so close. He was right there, holding my heart ever so gently. I'd let a beautiful expression of worship fade away with time, but God was giving it back to me with joy unspeakable.
There are other joys I'm in the process of getting back. I'd fallen out of my (formerly) regular strength-training routine; last night I did a set of shoulder exercises, and I am already starting to notice the benefits. This last weekend, after an eleven-week hiatus, I got my clarinet out and played a few songs. In the busyness of my summer, I let this blog slip a little. But today I am posting!
Wholesome habits can slip away through neglect, and it's often hard to break past motivational or fear-based barriers to recover the discipline. But if the rewards are worth the effort, let's go boldly the throne of God's grace to obtain help in our time of need.
"Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit." ~ Galatians 5:25
How are we to live by the Spirit? One step at a time.
One step in His time.
It reminds me of the expression "to waltz right through." Whoever came up with that must have been a girl, and had a good partner. ;) Trying to waltz with a guy who doesn't know how is frustrating. But when he leads well and you're paying attention, it's easy to follow.
What is the next Spirit-step for you?
I praise your presence, God!
You alone sustain me
Without your presence I fall
I fall to my knees to seek it once again
I run after the sound of your voice
Without your Spirit I stagger and faint
Oh, Daddy, pick me up!
Take my hands and help me walk
I need you more than ever
I trust in you, my Rock, my God
I know you will not fail me
Your faithfulness has no limit
For to your own self you are true
Your sigh shakes the mountains
Your breath stirs deep, deep waters
Breathe softly, stir my heart
And my heart will leap and rejoice
Your joy will bubble from deep within
It will flood my soul
Your love overwhelms my heart
I could drown in its sweetness
Let me sink in its gentle waves
And remain with you forever
Walk with me and reveal your thoughts
Speak to me, my faithful Friend
My desire is for your presence
And you will never abandon me
I rest in your embrace
For I feel secure in your arms
You pick me up and carry me
Never will I fall
You guide me, you direct my feet
I walk in the way everlasting
May I always be sensitive to your voice
Its sound is as gentle and smooth
As a summer rain long awaited
In stillness I wait; in quietness
One gaze into your heart of compassion
Reduces—raises me to tears
Healing, washing, cleansing tears
Forgiveness flows until my soul glows
From the pure strength of your love
Softly I will sing to you
Gladly will I proclaim your peace
Joyfully I will bask in your presence
For there—there I find life!
Before a concert, April 2009
A few years ago, I was feeling at loose ends. Finished with "high-school" and still at home, I yearned for more to do, more to learn. I was helping around the house, cooking, cleaning, tutoring, and singing in the town choir, too. I was also studying acting quite a bit, via the internet and the library, training my mind to think like an actor, as I felt it was an area that God was leading me toward. My life was not empty by any measure, but I asked God for something more. What came was an unexpected as it was welcome!
While at my younger sisters' recital that fall, I heard a clarinet solo for the first time. I was instantly interested in learning to play it. When I mentioned it to my mom, she was surprised by my sudden enthusiasm. But when after a week of prayer and research I remained excited about it, she helped me contact the clarinet teacher in town.
The teacher informed me that all her class slots were full, but she would let me know if there was an opening. So I prayed about it, and still felt peace. Two weeks later, she called to let me know that one of her students had dropped out! I began classes in January of 2008, and soon joined the orchestra as well.
I started out with the basics, as it was the first instrument I had ever tried to learn (except for rudimentary piano skills). My mouth muscles were sore for weeks while I learned the techniques of blowing evenly and with proper pressure on the reed, but with consistent practice my proficiency improved rapidly. The classical training gave me good musical habits, and I moved through the study material at a motivated rate.
When the "season" changed, and I moved from Spain to the States, I moved on in a way. But I feel that time was well spent. I have my own instrument now, and I try to keep my skill up without it becoming a distraction. My life is richer when I'm making music.
Have you ever felt stagnant, like a once-clear pool of water now lethargic from waiting...for something? I've come to realize that patient waiting doesn't have to be a drag, because I can actively enjoy the season I'm in even as I prepare for the next one God has for me. By recognizing the opportunities around me, I can redeem the time, even as I wait for that next "big" step.
But another consideration is getting too busy. I think we've all experienced this to some degree. At times I find myself saying "yes" to too many things, and then I discover I don't have enough time or energy for what I believe is truly important—my relationships with God, family, friends, and others God brings across my path. If I become consumed with "productivity," and "doing" as much as I can, I can lose sight of the overarching goal to love God and others with all of my heart, mind, soul, and strength.
"Being" is important. Being conformed into the image of Christ. Being thankful in everything. Being out in nature, enjoying God's creation. Being salt and light in the world. Being still before the Lord. Being watchful in prayer. Being available to listen to a friend. Being who God has made me to be. Being a giver. Being honorable, trustworthy, cheerful, encouraging. Being patient.
As Paul says, I want to "strain toward what is ahead," but also "live up to what we have already attained." (Philippians 3:7-16) What keeps us from that goal? Verse 19 explains: "...Their minds are set on earthly things." Whoops. Solution? Verse 20 continues: "But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there." That's how we keep our lives focused!
I'd like to share with you a poem I wrote three years ago (2008). The idea behind it is that if we reach for the abundant life we are offered by the Father and live that life unabashedly before others, we empower others to grasp His grace as their own lifeline.
A LIFE LIVED ON PURPOSE
by Rebekah Cook
Complacency would have us believe
That what is more comfortable is better;
That what is more familiar is safer;
That what requires less effort is more enjoyable
...and the easier it is, the more worthwhile.
But if we would live with no regrets
Then we must shake off all passivity,
And loose ourselves from conformity--
Resolving to live life at its best
By living in light of the life to come.
To achieve this heavenly satisfaction
We'll have to do more than sit back and watch.
Our time here is too short to botch--
Too limited to waste hesitating in fear...
For if we try nothing, that's what will happen.
I want to look back on a race well run
Where I trusted God's guidance day by day,
And said all I was supposed to say,
And know that I did all I could've done
To show God's love in every way.
...To know that I didn't shy away from change
But stretched, and grew, and risked, and gave
And didn't hold back, but laid down all
My struggles, my tears, insecurities, and fears
To laugh and sing and live for Him.
Life takes place when you step out on a limb
And pick the fruit you find growing there.
So invest in your friendships, both old and new
And follow the dreams He's giving you....
Because a life of purpose is a life lived
Loving God and writing songs go together naturally for me. So when I heard about a feature film project (called Indescribable) happening this summer depicting the history of the writing of the hymn, The Love of God, I got excited!
I contacted Morning Star Productions and sent in an crew application as well as an audition for a role. I haven't heard back about a part yet, but they did call and ask me to serve on the crew as the 2nd Assistant Director. The catch: now I didn't know if my schedule even allowed for it. I already had a speaking engagement at a film workshop on June 25th, and the film shoot was going to be starting on the 20th. So I prayed and gave it over to God.
Just a few weeks later, I was informed that due to equipment availability, the beginning of production was being delayed until the 28th! Just last week I confirmed with the director, Stacie Graber, that I would indeed be able to join the production team. I actually met her last fall here in VA when we worked together on a feature film called Alone Yet Not Alone.
This will be a huge learning curve for me, but also an excellent opportunity to help teach others what I do know, as there will be many young people helping on the crew who are new to the film scene. I would appreciate your prayers on several fronts:
1. Travel logistics. The shooting location is in southern Texas, so I'll probably be flying. Please pray for good prices, a smooth trip, and wisdom when I'm packing.
2. Job research. Understanding what my position will entail, and preparing to do that effectively.
3. Overall health and stamina. That my rest both leading up to and during that time would be sufficient and of good quality, so that my energy levels are high. Also that my eyesight holds up well to the amount of "screen time" necessary.
4. Priorities. That my other responsibilities would not overwhelm me so much that I wouldn't have time and energy to prepare for this. And vice-versa....
5. Relationships. That I would be able to work really well with the rest of the team, and be a blessing there.
To learn more about the film project, visit Indescribable! There is also a teaser trailer for it on the website.
Here is the third verse from the hymn:
Could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made
Were every stalk on earth a quill, and every man a scribe by trade
To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry
Nor could the scroll contain the whole though spread from sky to sky
What exquisite imagery! As indescribable as God's love is, it sure is a joy to try more and more ways of putting words to it. It's beyond anything we could even hope to fully comprehend, yet the adventure of diving into its depths is not to be missed.