John 16:33- Jesus Wins!

4 04 2013

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“(Jesus said:)I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have [perfect] peace and confidence. In the world you have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]! For I have overcome the world. [I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you.]” John 16:33 (AMP)

Jesus understood how difficult life could be for us, and how badly we need encouragement at times.

This life is not the end, even when it is easy to get to the end of hope.  It is easy to be overwhelmed by physical pain, by emotional distress, by all of the problems that plague humanity.  It is easy to be afraid, to withdraw, to try to escape the expectations and criticisms of others.   There is more to life than the routine of: get up, go to work, go home, go to bed.  There is something beyond loss and pain and disappointment.

As a person who struggles with both depression and chronic pain, the reality that Jesus has overcome the world is good news.  Otherwise life would be completely pointless and hopeless, with nothing to look forward to other than ever-increasing physical pain, as well as ever-increasing disillusionment and disappointment.

It’s easy to let circumstances steal our joy, but we learn from Proverbs that it’s not about our circumstances:

“Blessed (happy, fortunate, and to be envied) is the man who reverently and worshipfully fears [the Lord] at all times [regardless of circumstances], but he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity.” Proverbs 28:14 (AMP)

The Apostle Paul echoed this sentiment to the Thessalonians as well:

“Be happy [in your faith] and rejoice and be glad-hearted continually (always); Be unceasing in prayer [praying perseveringly]; Thank [God] in everything [no matter what the circumstances may be, be thankful and give thanks], for this is the will of God for you [who are] in Christ Jesus [the Revealer and Mediator of that will]. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (AMP)

On the surface it seems to me like Paul is saying that we should be slap happy all the time.  When I first read this passage I thought ot the 90’s cartoon Ren and Stimpy, in which Stimpy was a happy-go-lucky fat cat, and Ren was a nervous, paranoid and seething little Chihuahua.  In one episode, Stimpy is upset that Ren isn’t happy.  So Stimpy manufactures a “happy helmet” for Ren, so that Ren can be happy all the time.

ren happy helmet

Stimpy’s invention didn’t work out well.

God never asked us to deny our true emotions, but He does ask that we surrender everything to Him.   He has ways of transforming us and changing our perspective when we surrender ourselves to him.

“You have turned my mourning into dancing for me; You have put off my sackcloth and girded me with gladness,

To the end that my tongue and my heart and everything glorious within me may sing praise to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.” Psalm 30:11-12 (AMP)

We aren’t going to be happy all the time in this world.  But even through our mourning, our disappointment, our pain, in Christ there is a steady and strong undercurrent of joy- not a superficial, feigned happiness, but a true and lasting joy.

Lord, I pray that we can see through our tears and trials and cling to the joy we find in You, and lift our hearts and voices in praise no matter what our circumstances.

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Psalm 150 – Praise God (It’s Not an Option)

3 04 2013

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Praise the Lord!

Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty firmament!

Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his surpassing greatness!

Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp!

Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! 

Praise him with clanging cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!

Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!

Praise the Lord!- Psalm 150 (NRSV)

I have to admit lately praise (for God or anything else) has not come from me easily.  There are a number of reasons for that, but I can’t genuinely rationalize any of them.  If the Apostle Paul could claim to thank God regardless if he were hungry or fed, free or imprisoned, then I can at least take a moment and thank God and praise Him simply because He is, no matter what temporary misery I might be experiencing.

I’ve been focusing on my own circumstances and forgetting that God is beyond my circumstances, which can lead to a pretty dismal existence.

Circumstances are temporary, but God is permanent.

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“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.” Jeremiah 29:11-14 (NRSV)

Today might look dismal, but God has good plans for me just as He did for the Israelites when they were exiled to Babylon.   I just might be in a place where I can’t see God’s plans.  Or maybe He is keeping them a secret from me, so that I don’t go and ruin them in my own ignorance and ineptitude.

I love the book of Ecclesiastes, because Solomon was a guy who had it all, or was as close to having it all (as far as material wealth goes) as anyone could ever be.  I remember a wealthy friend of mine (who was also very much an agnostic, at least at that time) who commented that, “Money can only buy one the kind of misery he likes the best.”   I wouldn’t mind having the opportunity to put his theory to the test, especially these days, but his sentiments echo Solomon’s as well:

“There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God;  for apart from him, who can eat or who can have enjoyment? For to the one who pleases him God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy; but to the sinner he gives the work of gathering and heaping, only to give to one who pleases God. This also is vanity and a chasing after wind.” Ecclesiastes 2:24-26 (NRSV) 

Happiness is fleeting, but there is real joy in God that is far deeper and way beyond our trials and difficulties.  A big part of faith is trusting that God is fulfilling His good plans for us, even when we are despondent of the future and are having a really hard time holding on to hope.

Praise God

Lord, I pray that by Your grace, You would give me the voice and the heart to sing Your praise, in good times and in bad times.