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Posts Tagged ‘Joy’

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Each week I have the privilege of praying for scores of individuals from our large congregation who send in their prayer requests, so I’m very aware of the range of difficulties that they face regarding sickness, financial worries, bereavement, unemployment, business setbacks, broken relationships, and more.

Among the prayers that I bring to God on their behalf is that each person will experience peace and joy in the midst of their difficulties.

Peace? Joy? In the midst of difficulties?

Yes!

The apostle Paul—who had more than his share of trials and tribulations, including numerous attempts on his life by enemies—experienced peace and joy in the midst of good and bad times, and he reminds us that:

* Faith in Jesus Christ brings peace:

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.” (Romans 5:1)

This is not peace in the sense of the absence of conflicts and difficulties in our lives, but God’s peace of mind and heart, of confident assurance in any and all situations. It’s a peace that fills our beings when we accept Jesus Christ as our savior and lord, for, in that moment, God forgives our sins and reconciles us to himself throughout this life and for all eternity.

* Faith in Jesus Christ brings joy, even in suffering:

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they are good for us—they help us learn to endure. And endurance develops strength of character in us, and character strengthens our confident expectation of salvation.” (Romans 5:3, 4)

It’s a joy that Jesus bestows on believers who earnestly seek him, a joy that comes from a consistent relationship with him in which he fills them with his joy, for even as he said to his disciples, he says to all his believers today:

I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. When you obey me, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father and remain in his love. I have told you this so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!” (John 14:9-11)

So, as we face the difficult periods and circumstances that each of us will inevitably encounter in our lives, may we not fear—no matter how frightening or hopeless things might seem—but may we put our trust in the risen Christ and experience his peace and his joy as we “run with endurance the race that God has set before us…keeping our eyes on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from start to finish.” (Hebrews 12:1b, 2)

*****

All Bible quotes are from the New Living Translation.

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I recently watched with fascination as Nik Wallenda walked across a high wire 1,500 feet above the Grand Canyon floor without a safety harness. And as he inched his way across the empty span of nearly five football fields, he constantly thanked and praised Jesus.

Nik, a Christian, is a seventh generation member of the Wallenda family of high-wire performers, and began walking the wire at age four.

But could you or I accomplish such a feat? After all, have we not believed or quoted Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”? (King James Version, KJV)

When the Apostle Paul penned those words to the Philippians, did he mean that Jesus Christ would grant us superhuman abilities to accomplish anything we imagine?

Could we use that verse to affirm our way to earthly riches, as proponents of the “prosperity” gospel try to do?

Many believers quote Philippians 4:13 and try to apply it to their lives without fully understanding the context in which the Apostle Paul wrote it.

He was imprisoned in Rome and was writing to Christians at the church in Philippi to encourage them to be joyful and contented in every circumstance because of their faith in Jesus Christ, even when things went badly for them. He also wrote to thank them for their financial gift to him in prison, and added:

“Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to get along happily whether I have much or little. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need. But even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty.” (Phil.4: 11-14, New Living Translation, NLT)

The “everything” or “all things” refers specifically to Paul’s ability to be contented and joyful in all circumstances that life threw at him. Because he relied on Christ to strengthen him and supply his needs, he could be thankful and joyful:

• Whether in times of plenty or times of great need, in feast or famine
• Whether preaching the Good News in prison or on the outside (Phil. 1: 3-7; 12-14)
• Whether living and suffering for Christ or dying for him (Phil. 1: 20-24; 27-30)

His was a joyful acceptance of Christ’s will and provision for him in every aspect of life.

And that should be our attitude in our journey with Christ—finding in his will equal contentment and joy whether in wealth or poverty, sickness or health, fame or obscurity, failure or success, marriage or singleness.

Can we do all things? Only those things that are within Christ’s will and plan for us, in which case he will give us the strength and resources to do them. He does not give us superhuman abilities to accomplish anything we want if they do not serve his purpose or are not in his best interest for us.

The Apostle James warns about self-confidence and rushing ahead with our own plans and desires without regard for God’s will:

“Look here, you people who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.’ How do you know what will happen tomorrow? For your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, ‘If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.’ Otherwise you will be boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil.” (James 4:13-16, NLT)

Solomon expressed this succinctly when he wrote in Proverbs 17:9, “We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.” (NLT)

Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 8.01.04 PMOn Sunday, June 23, 2013 I saw Philippians 4:13 and Proverbs 17:9 lived out over the Grand Canyon as Nik’s years of training and planning proved successful when the Lord guided his steps safely across that high-wire.

Nik became the first human to tightrope across the Grand Canyon, and a worldwide television audience of millions saw and heard him thank and praise Jesus Christ.

Can I accomplish that same feat? As of now, no, because so far it doesn’t seem to be in God’s plan, training, or mission for me. And I am certainly okay with that.

 

 

******

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Paul’s encouragement to the Philippian Christians to work out their own salvation (Phil. 2:12) might seem as if he were encouraging them to earn salvation through their works—their own efforts and good deeds.

This would appear to contradict his statement to the Christians in Rome, to whom he emphasized salvation through faith:

“Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on our good deeds. It is based on our faith. So we are made right with God through faith . . .” –Romans 3:27-28 (New Living Translation, NLT)

However, there is no contradiction, for while it is God who creates a desire in our hearts for him (Phil. 2:13), and offers the gift of salvation to us through the sacrificial life and death of Jesus Christ, it is we who must believe in Jesus and participate in the fulfillment of our salvation through him.

James, the brother of Jesus, certainly sees no contradiction when he says, “I can’t see your faith if you don’t have good deeds, but I will show you my faith through my good deeds.” (James 2:18, NLT)

Paul sees salvation as a process that occurred in the past, continues in the present, and will be completed in the future:

Past:

“It is only by God’s special favor that you have been saved!” –Ephesians 2:5

“God saved you by his special favor when you believed.” –Ephesians 2:8

Present continuous:

“I know very well how foolish the message of the cross sounds to those who are on the road to destruction. But we who are being saved recognize this message as the very power of God.” –1 Corinthians 1:18. (NLT)

Past & Future:

“And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s judgment. For since we were restored to friendship with God by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be delivered from eternal punishment by his life.” –Romans 5:8-9 (NLT)

Since we have been saved, are being saved, and will experience God’s complete salvation when Christ returns to establish his eternal Kingdom, Paul encourages us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling—or as the NLT translates it:

“. . .you must be even more careful to put into action God’s saving work in your lives, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him.” —Phil. 12b-13

This is not the fear and trembling of a slave cowering under a brutal master, but the reverence and awe of a grateful person whose sins have been forgiven by a loving God, but who knows only too well how prone the human heart is to stray from that loving God. It is a healthy fear of disappointing God, for as Robert Robinson wrote in the third verse of his hymn, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”:

O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee:
prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love;
here’s my heart, O, take and seal it; seal it for thy courts above.

If we were honest with ourselves, we would admit how easily our hearts and desires tempt us to wander away from our Savior. This should create in us an earnest and reverent fear—not of losing our salvation, for that cannot be lost (John 10:27-29; Romans 8:31-39)—but a fear of losing the joy of our salvation and disappointing the God who loves and redeemed us.

This is the kind of fear and trembling with which King David pleaded to have the joy of his salvation restored after he strayed from God over his adultery with Bathsheba:

“Create in me a clean heart, O God.
Renew a right spirit within me.
Do not banish me from your presence,
and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me again the joy of your salvation,
and make me willing to obey you.
Then I will teach your ways to sinners,
and they will return to you.”
–Psalm 51:10-13 (NLT)

It is this awareness and reverent fear that should keep us daily working to complete the process of our salvation, ever more careful to put into action God’s saving work in our lives. Paul gives several ways in which we can work out our salvation:

• Obey God with deep reverence and fear, for God is already working in us the desire to obey him—and gives us the power to do what pleases him. (Phil. 2:13)

• In every thing we do, stay away from arguing and complaining, especially in our churches (Phil. 2:14a)

• Live morally clean, innocent lives so that no one can criticize us because of sin or evil in our lives (Phil. 2:14b)

• Let the light of Christ shine brightly through us in the way we live (Phil. 2:14c)

• Hold firmly to the Word of Life, the Scriptures—so that we can be examples of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all around us (Phil. 2:16)

• Live in the full joy of the Lord, for he is coming back soon (Phil. 4:4-5)

• Don’t worry about anything. Instead, we are to pray about everything, telling God what we need, and thanking him for what he has done, for in doing so, we’ll experience God’s peace (Phil. 4:6-7)

• Fix our thoughts on what is true, honorable, and right, things that are pure, lovely, and admirable (Phil. 4:8)

As we begin these opening days of 2013, may our lives be filled with the joy of working out our salvation with fear and trembling. And may this beautiful hymn inspire us as we continue on our journey towards full salvation.

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