Today I met with my friend to study chapter four in our Bible study on grace. By the end, I felt like I was on cloud nine. My heart was bubbling over with joy just from spending time with a good friend to read and study God's word together. There were some trickier questions in this lesson, and unlike in previous weeks, we had to re-read a number of passages and really think about them to feel like we had a clear understanding.
As I think about it now, I would say that I experienced what it was like to be fed by God's word. I felt full, like after a good meal, and it was so meaningful that it just exceeded the capacity of my mind and bubbled over. Probably not surprising considering that this week's topic was "Delighting in Grace" and specifically addressed joy and rejoicing.
While studying this chapter, I not only experienced joy, but I was also challenged. In citing scriptures like I Thessalonians 5:16, "Be joyful always," and noting that God commanded his people to set aside times for rejoicing, the book suggests that joy is not optional but rather a discipline to be practiced in all circumstances. Even hard ones. Even ones that we would never choose. Even when we absolutely don't feel like it.
I have often had a hard time applying scripture when I can't apply the lesson to the situation I am experiencing right this very moment. And right this very minute, I am pretty joyful. I'm in a great place, and it's as easy as breathing to be joyful and praise God for the blessings He's poured into my life. However, having joy in all things is, well, not one of my gifts. It's something I need to work on.
I know that life will not always be roses and sunshine, but that there are inevitably peaks and valleys on the road of life. The lesson for me this week is found in the fact that each passing day brings me a bit farther down the road, so I need to prepare for the next time I hit a pothole, or find myself heading down a small hill, or suddenly realize the road is already in one of those long, dark, winding, seemingly endless valleys. Because even the smallest of valleys appear endless when I can't quite manage to spot any sunshine.
So the challenge is to begin preparing now by practicing joy and making it a habit that becomes a part of who I am and how I relate to God. Oh, to be able to rejoice in God "no matter what." This is a gift of His abundant grace, because even when I can't muster joy on my own, I can turn to God and ask Him to help me. Philippians 4 says this is the solution to anxiety, a definite joy-zapper, and further it says that when we bring our worries to God, He will give us a peace that "transcends understanding." I know for me a heart at peace is much more inclined to be joyful... so that's a promise I plan to take Him up on.