Tag Archives: joy

The Year of JOY (Guest Post)

What's your word of the year for 2019?The Year of JOY

by Steph Beth Nickel

It’s that time of year again.

We’re getting ready to say goodbye to the year gone by and hello to a shiny new year filled with possibility.

For the past few years, I’ve embraced the concept of choosing a word for the year ahead.

The theme for 2019 came more as a series of ideas.

In many respects, I have been living selfishly. I believe God is calling me to follow Jesus’s example as outlined in the book of Philippians, to live more sacrificially.

It’s a matter of doing what is clearly laid out in His Word—no matter how I feel.

As the old saying goes, I’m to “bloom where I’m planted.” (I often fall prey to the Oo! Shiny Syndrome, always chasing a new pursuit, a new online course, a new exercise program.)

Although to many Christians it may sound cliché, it comes down to the acronym J.O.Y., which stands for Jesus, Others, Self.

The Lord summed up the commandments by saying we are to love God with our entire being and love others as we do ourselves.

With His help, I hope to do so more effectively in the next 12 months than ever before.

I realize these concepts will seem basic for anyone who has been a believer for any amount of time. However, if we truly seek to live this way, it will affect us—and those around us—in ways we can only begin to imagine.

Does this mean everything is going to change?

Have I stopped dreaming big? Far from it. I hope to get my Nurture and Inspire brand out into the world for real in 2019.

Am I going to stay out of my favourite physical and online stores? That’s highly unlikely, but I do intend to (re)discover the books, courses, and journals I already have on hand.

Do I think if something excites me and gets the adrenaline pumping it must be selfish and set to one side? Not necessarily.

But do I think that those things that make me giddy are always part of God’s plan for me? Absolutely not! I must be more intentional about discovering why I want to pursue something new.

The funny thing is to live a self-sacrificial life means I’ll have to pay close attention to what makes me tick. It isn’t so much about what I do over the next 12 months but why I do what I do.

So, how can we select a theme for the New Year?

  1. Pray about it. It’s important to invite the Lord to be part of this and every other area of our life.
  2. Be attentive. Inspiration can come from any number of places.
  3. Create a list of achievable goals. Do they have a common thread?
  4. Reorganize our list of goals according to our priorities.
  5. Take a close look at our life. Does it truly line up with those priorities?
  6. Be willing to make a course correction—or several—as the need arises.

How about you? What is your theme, your word, for 2019?

~~~

Steph Beth Nickel

Steph Beth Nickel (Photo by Stephen G. Woo Photography)

Stephanie (Steph Beth) Nickel is an award-winning co-author, a freelance editor and writer, a labour doula, and a former personal trainer. She also loves to speak, teach, and take slice-of-life photos. She would love to connect with you on Facebook or Twitter.

En-joying Advent

I hope last week’s post, On Joy and Interruptions, wasn’t a downer. The intent was to acknowledge and work through some of the feelings common to the season, but maybe the positives didn’t come through clearly enough.

Everyone finds their own way, and different circumstances impact our situations, but whether life in general is happy or sad, Christmas comes just the same. Not everyone was happy and peaceful in Bethlehem when God broke into human history.

Now that I’ve embraced the Christmas season, the joy is coming in. I still don’t like the commercialism and a lot of what North American culture adds and subtracts from the observance of my Saviour’s birth, but I don’t have to beat them or join them. I can be myself, present with the Lord, and enjoying His presence with me.

I encourage you to take a few quiet minutes each day — hard to carve out of the whirlwind, perhaps, but of great restorative value. Read the Christmas narratives. Or some of the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah. Listen to — truly hear — a Christmas carol. Sit with God and ask for His peace.

No, I’m not “ready for Christmas” in the sense of hatches battened down, presents bought and wrapped, cards mailed, freezer stocked with goodies. But I’m contented in Advent. And the other things will come in due time. My responsibility today is to not accept the anxiety, but to abide with God and to be alert to the gift ideas and other nudges that He will give in His own good time.

One of my top 5 Christmas albums is A Day of Glory, from The Austin Stone Church. Five and a half minutes of stillness to hear the words of this song will bless you. It might even set your spirit dancing: Hallelujah, What a Saviour.

On Joy and Interruptions

How did I lose the joy of Christmas?

It would be easy to blame the commercialism and hype. The music that starts too early in the stores. The trees that pop up, fully decorated, after Halloween – not even pausing for Remembrance Day.

Or the details, oh, the details. What to buy? Make a list. Be sure everyone gets enough – enough stuff they don’t have room or need for. Cringe when the bills come in.

Beneath it all, the dread – what if I can’t find the perfect gift for each loved one? They like money, but it always feels like I’ve failed to come up with anything better. The giving, after all, is to please them – not just a hollow ritual.

Pull out the same old decorations. Hang them in the same places. Bake. At least the baking’s fun – and the eating, if not the weight gain.

Cram an already-full schedule even fuller with extra events and gatherings – and with the unstated pressure to do it all, “because it’s Christmas.”

Jesus didn’t come to bring expectations and guilt – just the opposite. He didn’t come to drive us into debt or anxiety, but to set us free, enrich our spirits, and pour His peace into troubled hearts.

He came to interrupt our mundane lives and give us new life – abundant life. How often do I cling to the mundane instead?

I think that’s where the joy went – brushed aside because my agenda is as full as the Bethlehem inn.

This year, instead of carrying the weight of the doing, I want to cultivate the being. Being still with God, daily exploring the message of Advent. Being open to the interruptions that December brings to my plans. Not resisting the decorations as one more clutter-filled chore, but embracing the chance to love my family by creating a festive environment.

Choosing to enjoy the opportunities to spend time with friends and family. Hearing and celebrating the music of the season. Being with God, even in a crowded store, and listening for His nudges in what gifts to buy for whom.

I don’t want to miss the joy of Christmas by clinging to the mundane. I’d rather be a shepherd than a sleeping (or grumpy) citizen of Bethlehem.

Writing this post on Sunday helped me articulate the issue and put me on a better track. There’s something about identifying the problem that lets us begin to fix it.

This may be too early in the season for me to experience Christmas joy, but I’m finding meaning in deliberate, daily Advent readings, and once I stopped avoiding the Christmas activities, I’ve even begun to enjoy those. We have no decorations up yet – my husband and I are both sick. But we did a bit of shopping Wednesday night, and in God’s sense of humour, He helped us find a surprising amount of gifts (including one for us).

If you’re experiencing Christmas angst, you might check out Janice Dick’s post, “Christmas Stress.”

I encourage you to pop over to Carolyn Arends’ website and click on her song list to play “Vacancy.” It’ll bless you 🙂

Joy Under Pressure

As pressure and stress bear down on me,
I find joy in your commands.
Psalm 119:143, NLT*

If that’s not a Christmas-related verse, I don’t know what is.

All jokes aside, you can’t read Psalm 119 and not see how the psalmist loves the Law of the Lord, how he thrives on it. I’ve been praying to better understand and follow his example.

At first this verse didn’t make sense to me. Pressure and stress bearing down… and he finds joy in God’s commands?

Pressure: God is the ultimate authority. This verse reminds me to trust Him to care for me and to ask for equipping wisdom or deliverance.

Perspective: It’s not me against the universe. God is bigger than the problem.

Focus: Centering on God’s way builds an attitude of God-trust instead of futile human striving or fighting the circumstances.

Wisdom: God’s code of conduct helps us know what to do, how to act in difficult situations.

Joy: There’s no joy looking at stress, but there’s deep joy in belonging to God. Keeping His Law, precepts and principles as the Spirit enables us keeps the barriers down between us.

Life: The next verse says

Your laws are always right;
help me to understand them so I may live.
Psalm 119:144, NLT*

Doing it God’s way brings joy and life in the midst of stress. What’s not to like?

God all-wise and loving, we can’t do this on our own, and that’s one reason You gave the Law in the first place, to help us see our need. Help us learn and understand, and through Your Holy Spirit keep us focused and following. Thank You for the joy and life You give.

The NewsboysWhen the Tears Fall is a song of trusting God through hard times. That’s not happiness, but it’s joy.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

 

Joy and Security

Because you are my helper,
I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings.
I cling to you;
your strong right hand holds me securely.
Psalm 63:7-8, NLT*

I’ve been reading this psalm daily for a few weeks now, and although it’s short, it’s powerful. David is longing for God, and he’s aware of his enemies pressing in, yet the verses overflow with words like praise and joy and sing. He has his faith perspective in place.

I know about pressing through in prayer, bringing God our fears and troubles. Leaving those troubles with Him. Praying until it becomes about Him rather than about us. Until we’re worshipping. Praising.

I don’t do it nearly as often as I should.

That’s what David’s doing here. He hasn’t forgotten the desert or his enemies’ plots. He’s not denying or ignoring them.

But he sees God. He knows God is enough.

He’s not perching timidly in the shadow of God’s wings, trembling in that strong hand because the danger might snatch him away. He has no thought that God might drop him or fail to protect him.

Our God, You are strong and mighty to save. You are our strong tower, our refuge, our shelter and our Defender. You are our Good Shepherd. We know the words, but so often we don’t act like we believe them. We run to You and keep watching our troubles as if they might break through Your defenses. Faith tells us that can’t happen. Help us listen and be confident in You.

The classic Newsboys worship song, “Strong Tower,” is a good confidence-builder.

*New Living Translation (NLT)Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

When Joy is Scarce

You satisfy me more than the richest feast.
I will praise you with songs of joy.
. . .
Because you are my helper,
I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings.
Psalm 63:5,7 NLT*

Joy has been scarce in my heart lately, and I’ve felt more like David’s “parched and weary land.”

These two verses from Psalm 63 are my antidote, if I can let my mind and spirit truly believe them.

God satisfies. He is enough, and abundantly more than enough. That negates the joy-drain of discontent. I need to practice intentional gratitude, not just for His gifts but for who He is.

God helps. He is our ever-present helper and sustainer, and His strong hand holds us securely.

That truth eliminates anxiety, if I really believe it.

God who is all that I need, I believe. Help my unbelief. Help me realize, accept and rely on the truth of who You are and what that means in my life. Help me live confident and secure in You, aware of the many ways You satisfy and delight. 

God used the Newsboys’ song, “The Letter,” to challenge me about believing what He says

*New Living Translation (NLT)Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Review: Promises You Can Count On, by Natalie Gidney

Promises You Can Count On, by Natalie Gidney (Word Alive Press, 2009)

Bible promise books, complete with a helpful index, are great resources, and every Christian’s bookshelf should have one. But you only need one.

That’s why Promises You Can Count On takes a different approach. Natalie Gidney focuses on ten essential promises, including peace, salvation, grace and joy, and invites readers to “claim them and watch and see what He can do.” (p. 6)

This slender book is ideal for new believers or for those considering faith in Jesus Christ. It’s also a good refresher for more seasoned Christians. Each chapter draws on a number of Scriptures to explore one of God’s promises. With an easy conversational style, Natalie looks at what this promise can mean in our lives, and she offers candid examples of what it’s meant in her own.

Naturally, salvation is one of the early topics. It may surprise some readers, then, to see forgiveness rounding out the number ten spot as the final chapter. But as Natalie explains, forgiveness is something that’s required of us as well as something we need from God. That can be a hard truth to hear, and I think she’s wise to build up to it.

In some ways, forgiving others—or ourselves—isn’t possible until we’re sure we can trust God’s promises. So it makes sense to immerse ourselves in them first and grow our faith.

Promises You Can Count On was a finalist in the Relationships category of The Word Guild’s 2010 Canadian Christian Writing Awards (for books published in 2009).

Canadian author and speaker Natalie Gidney blogs at Promises for All. You can watch her interview on 100 Huntley Street: part 1 and part 2.

[book source: my personal library]

Pain and Joy

Now a man named Lazarus was sick….When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”

Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.
John 11:1a, 4-6 NIV*

Jesus didn’t even have to go see Lazarus to heal him, he could have just said the word. Instead He waited until Lazarus was dead before starting out.

He loved this family. Their home seems to be one of the few genuinely safe places where He could visit without loaded questions and malice.

Loving them, knowing their faith and character and that they could pass this test, He let Lazarus the provider die.

Because there was something bigger at stake.

This was “for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” (v. 4)

And as much as this was clearly about God, it wasn’t for God’s benefit. He wasn’t on an ego trip.

It was for the people, the believers. Jesus told His disciples in verse 15, “…for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.

Not for God’s sake that they could believe, but for theirs. God already knew who He is.

Jesus wept and was deeply moved by the sisters’ grief. Probably more so because He knew He could have prevented it. Given that He’d already been speaking about laying down His own life, it wasn’t a case of letting someone else pay a price He wasn’t prepared to double.

The people needed to know Him better, and joy was on its way. But that didn’t negate the pain.

Sustaining and compassionate God, help us remember in our tears that You feel our pain. Help us rely on You in faith, trusting although we don’t understand. Reveal Yourself to us, not for Your benefit but for ours, so that we can trust You more.

There are plenty of good songs about trusting God in the pain. Today I chose David Crowder*Band’s “Shadows”.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Hungry for God

…your faith in God has become known everywhere…. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.
1 Thessalonians 1:8b, 9b, 10, NIV*

Last week I noticed that the Thessalonians received the gospel with power, the Holy Spirit, and deep conviction. (1 Thessalonians 1:5) In verse six, Paul adds more to this: “you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.”

Their work, endurance, love and hope after turning to God have become known not just locally in Macedonia and Achaia but “everywhere”. When God gets a hold of people, news travels.

The section of the story quoted in the opening made me stop and think today. These are obviously people who had been hungry for God. They hadn’t known who He is or how to find Him, and their idol worship was all the culture offered. If they’d been satisfied with it, they wouldn’t have jumped ship.

God knew the people were searching for Him, and He sent Paul, Silas and Timothy. Remember how clearly He directed Paul into the region of Macedonia?

He knows the people in our lives who are searching for Him now. This passage reminds me not to judge or make assumptions based on someone’s behaviour. Yes, maybe they’re purposely defying Him. But more likely, they’re getting by the best they can and reaching for Him in ways only His Spirit can see.

Father, my own perceptions can blind me to what You’re doing. Please help me see what You see in the people around me. You love each one, and You know when someone needs a touch or a word. Help me share the hope and the joy that only You can give. Thank You for the freedom Jesus bought for us.


Todd Agnew’s song, “On a Corner in Memphis,” helps us take a better look at some of the unlikely searchers (and some of the folks in church who aren’t searching, but that’s another story!) Todd is my favourite solo artist. His lyrics and passionate delivery frequently stretch me past my ordinary musical comfort zone. This one’s more country than you’d usually see in my playlist, but I’ve really connected with it. It’s from his album, Better Questions.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

It Shouldn’t Happen at Christmas

“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”
Matthew 1:23, NIV*

In the past few weeks, three people have lost parents or spouses, two have received bad medical news, and another is suddenly out of work. And these are just the ones I know! News coverage expands that list dramatically.

What’s the first thing we say? “It shouldn’t happen at Christmas.”

We have this instinctive sense that Christmas is about good news, not about pain. Some of that’s spiritual—the angels came proclaiming the wonder of God with us. Some of it’s human—remembering childhood’s warm anticipation of presents and surprises.

In the midst of the celebrations, pain happens.

Maybe that’s not so bad. The pain reminds us why Jesus came.

Let’s be sensitive to those who are suffering while the culture wants them to be smiling. Last week’s devotional thought was about “faithfully administering God’s grace” and one way we can do that is to bring God with us into every encounter. May His grace in us bring comfort and a sense of peace.

Father, I praise and thank You for the gift of Your presence. Jesus—Emanuel—God with us. Because You are with us, we are not consumed. Because You have rescued us, we have hope. Let us live in You and share Your presence with those around us.

Our song this week captures the tension between pain and joy: “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” sung here by Casting Crowns.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.