The Essence of Joy

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The moment my first child, our son Ben, was born and placed in my arms I experienced something profoundly new in my soul.

To say that I was happy, delighted, elated, thrilled, enraptured … doesn’t adequately describe what I experienced in that moment. A door somewhere in my soul had opened and I had been ushered into something infinite and holy, something deeply satisfying and bursting with possibility and grandeur.

I believe it was in this moment that Joy made a defining entrance into my life.

I’m sure there have been other instances throughout my life when joy fluttered in and touched my soul, but this moment, when Ben was born, was the moment Joy ‘came of age’, came to reside, and came to lead me into new territory.

This was the first time that I truly understood the union the Holy Spirit and I have. This was the time when He and I together created a life. For nine months the Holy Spirit had been breathing upon this little human form while my body fashioned its physical being. And then, suddenly, here he was – Benjamin, the fruit of our partnership – the image of God birthed into the world! I had tapped into the Holy Spirit expressing His Joy in that moment and rejoiced right along with Him!

The Bible credits Joy as being the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Joy is the nature of the Holy Spirit, an expression of God’s personhood. Joy is the fruit that permeates my life as the Holy Spirit expresses himself in our relationship. This was the Joy I experienced when my son was born and it transcended the realm of human emotion.

One of my favourite scenes in the Bible describes Jesus being “full of joy through the Holy Spirit ..” (Luke 10:21)

Seventy-two disciples had just returned from an assignment, and they too were full of Joy as they reported to Jesus how it all transpired : “Lord, even the demons submit to us in Your name!” they triumphantly declare.

Jesus was pleased with their report and celebrated with them. I can imagine Jesus and his friends laughing and dancing around and ‘high-fiving’! But I believe Jesus’ response went deeper than simply being emotionally pleased with his disciples’ ministry success.

The Message translation puts it this way:

“At that time, Jesus rejoiced, exuberant in the Holy Spirit. ‘I thank you, Father, Master of Heaven and earth, that you hid these things from the know-it-alls and showed them to these innocent newcomers. Yes, Father, it pleased you to do it this way.’”

Jesus explained to His disciples that the Joy they were experiencing at that time was not due to the fact that they had power over demons. Rather, the source of their Joy was their union with God – “your names are written in Heaven” (Luke 10:20). God was delighting in seeing “Satan fall like lightning from heaven…” (Luke 10:18), from seeing people set free from bondage, and the disciples’ spiritual union with the Father meant they were conduits of that Joy themselves.

Over the years Joy has become my familiar safe place.

It is the anchor that exists well below the waterline of my emotions. It is something rooted deep within my spirit that is not subject to the ebb and flow of circumstances that sway my world to and fro. Whether conditions are blustery or calm, whether the sun is rising or setting, whether the destination is in sight or I’m bobbing around in limbo, my life stays the course because it is anchored by Joy.

Joy is multi-coloured. It is saturated with hope, with contentment, with assurance, and with strength. Joy cannot always be explained. It by-passes human reasoning and taps into something eternal and spiritual. Joy is a deep knowing that despite the reality of the circumstances in my life, all is well with my soul. I have found that Joy may express itself through happiness, through singing and dancing, through exuberant triumph – or through peace and serenity. And, for the one who has committed their life completely into God’s hands, Joy can even express itself in the midst of sorrow (Job 6:10).

Humanity thinks a lot about Joy around this time of year. We see it written on cards, displayed in decorations, sung in songs.  Christmas gives voice to the source of all true Joy.

That first Christmas, an angel came to some terrified shepherds on a Judean hillside and declared, “I bring you good news of great Joy that will be for all people … a Saviour has been born to you: he is Christ, the Lord.” (Luke 2:10)

That Good News was God’s Joy spilling out over the earth as His redemptive plan for his much-loved humanity began to unfold. He was issuing an invitation to all of us to come into a personal relationship with Him through the Saviour, Jesus Christ.

I pray that all who sing ‘Joy to the World’ this Christmas will truly enter into that deep spiritual union with Jesus.

May we all experience the profound essence of Joy that will paint each season of life in the richest of colours, and be that anchor of hope whatever the circumstance.

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Solitude, Our Long Lost Friend

 
I have an old suitcase. 
It’s battered, but loved.
It’s been with me since the beginning, travelled many roads with me, and it’s the keeper of my experiences. 
It lives in the attic of my memory, and I visit it often. I can’t resist the invitation to climb those familiar stairs, turn the key in that old lock, and fossick through bygone days.
I’d like to take you there today.
You’ve been on my mind.
I’ve had a stirring in my spirit these past few days, and I need to find some images, some recollections of the past. There’s something I want to show you, snapshots of experience.

Come. Sit for a while.
 
Ah, here’s one.
That’s me, 18 years old, walking late at night along a foggy street. Those street lamps are glowing like eerie sentinels and it’s cold. Winter. I’m accompanied only by the sound of my own footsteps. I feel a little nervous being on my own, but not so much that I hurry. I’m enjoying this aloneness. Solitude allows me to contemplate the future.

Here I am sitting on the deck of Triple 888, watching stars blink out their messages in secret code, listening to the gentle, rhythmic slapping of the sea against the hull. The sea is so vast, the sky so infinite, and I am just a speck. This experience was such an unexpected and timely gift. We hardly knew the man but he offered us 3 beautiful days on his luxurious $4 million boat, complete with captain and hostess, and so we’ve set sail around the Whitsunday Islands. I’m loving the isolation. Solitude refreshes my soul.
That’s me standing at the window of an old mountain cottage staring at all those incredibly beautiful leaves drifting down, settling on the mossy rocks strewn across the garden. Autumn has always been my favourite season. The sunlight is blinking through skeleton branches, and I feel its warmth on my face. It’s refreshingly chilly outside, but so cosy inside. Ross has just got the fire going and it’s crackling, and hissing. You can see my journal there, on the window seat, and my hot chocolate on the table sending up smoke signals. This secluded moment of Solitude is offering me time to reflect on decisions that need to be made.
And here’s another Autumn, about nine years ago.
That gorgeous lake – with the stunning trees lining it, is Lake Okareka, in New Zealand. Our newly married son Ben and his wife Bec, have organized this beautiful weekend for the 4 of us. They have moved to NZ to take up Youth ministry, and they’re keen to have us see their new world. I sit at this window seat early each morning and bask in the love we have for each other, and find that my mother heart is beginning to refocus – less on what I have lost, more on what I have gained. Solitude convinces me that this ‘empty nest’ stage of life won’t be so bad after all.
This memory is very old. I’m sitting in a field at night. It was such a clear night. You can see the moonlight casting shadows around me. And the stars! So many stars! I once heard someone describe a star-studded sky as being holes in the floor of Heaven… I love that! I can sense the descending dew dampening my hair, and I can hear the rustling sounds of grazing cattle. This experience of isolation helps me re-evaluate my purpose in the scheme of things. Solitude is allowing me to enjoy where I am in life right now and remember that Heaven is my home, and my time on earth is precious.
There’s many pictures like this one in this old suitcase. It’s 2am and I’ve just made myself a cup of tea. My journal and Bible are there on the table. This is my favourite time of day. It was hard to keep this daily appointment at first, but after a while I found I wouldn’t miss it for the world. My children are young in this season, and I’m teaching fulltime, and this is the one  hour every day that I know is completely mine. This Solitude refreshes my soul, keeps me intimately connected to Jesus, my source of life. The gospel writer, Luke told me, “At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place”, and again, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places to pray”. Jesus understood the value of solitude amidst the constant pressures of life.
And this one … another early morning snapshot.
It’s about 3am, and I’m lying on Rachel’s couch. Wow! What a day it’s been. My daughter Rachel has just had an emergency caesarian, and my first grandchild Zion has been born 9 weeks early. I’ve flown down from Qld a couple of days ago. Rachel’s husband Joel, and I have just returned from the hospital. We were not allowed to spend time with her because she was so ill. And Zion has been placed in ICU. Lying on this couch, in the early hours of this morning, alone with all manner of emotions vying for my attention, there is a moment, a split second, when a peace, a supernatural peace, washes over me. In that moment I know everything is OK. This Solitude silences the fears and gives me Godly perspective.
Oh…. Is that the time?
I could stay here for hours, but I know you have plans. Seems we need to close this old suitcase. Appointments are calling, people waiting, things to be done…
 
You’re probably wondering why I brought you here.
Well…
I’ve noticed you’ve been busy lately.
Really busy.
You’ve been doing so many amazing things – getting through the relentless, mundane, every-day pages of life, planning, solving problems, caring for others, meeting challenges, moving mountains …
 
And now you are spent.
You’ve been giving, chasing, working, doing, doing…
And you’re struggling to stay on top of it all.
You’re running on empty.
Your soul is weary.
You need a taste of Solitude.
You need to find an empty street, a boat, an open field, an Autumn window, a comfy couch, an alarm clock…
You need Solitude.
“I don’t have the time”, you say?
The good news is – there actually IS time for Solitude.
There is.
It’s not that hard … try it.
Turn off the laptop, close the lid … and walk away.
Leave the ipod on the table, and walk around the block.
Try walking from the car into (and around) the shopping centre with the phone switched off and in your pocket.
Turn off the TV. Just sit.
Find a park.
Schedule a Saturday to go to the country, or to take the ferry around the harbour,
Keep the car radio off for a week and drive to work in silence.
Say no (politely) to that invitation, and that request.
Set that alarm – trust me, that 1 hour, in the middle of the night, when no one else is vying for your attention, will become addictive.
It’s just a matter of being intentional.
Making that choice to keep the Inner You healthy. 
Give yourself time and space to think, analyse, dream, create, answer the nagging questions, make that decision, or simply let go of the pressure and relax, refresh, refocus…
You will be surprised just how many opportunities there are in your day to catch a slice of solitude!
 
Don’t think of Solitude as a luxury. Consider it a necessity.
It’s time to live a more balanced life, perhaps become acquainted with more of that unlived life within you.
It’s time to become reacquainted with your old friend.