Monday, September 17, 2012

Reasons To Rejoice!

"Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, rejoice."
Philippians 4:4

God is faithful.

One of His most prominent attributes is that He is absolute.
He never fails.
He always keeps His promises....
no matter what.

He consistently deals with the hearts of those who long to please Him.
When we wander...
when we get off-track...
when we veer off-course...
He is quick to notice...
and His faithfulness compels Him to correct our missteps.

Lately, He has been gently and tenderly teaching me
to purposely search for reasons to rejoice.
To find the good.
Sometimes, it is hidden deep.
Other times, it is right there....
directly beneath the surface.
Still other times, it is completely obvious....
out in the open....
without cover.

The other day, I found myself surrounded by the things and ones I love the most.
Geographically speaking, I was at one of my favorite locations on earth,
and I couldn't have been any happier.
I felt safe, content, at peace.
Right there, in the midst, I turned my face towards the sky,
and I praised Him...
with all my heart.

I rejoiced, with exceeding great joy!
Who wouldn't have?
It was easy.
It required no effort...
except to lift my head...
and my heart...
and give thanks to Him from Whom all blessings flow.

I just did what came naturally.

It isn't hard to rejoice and praise our Maker....
in the good times.
But, what about the bad?
What about the moments we are overwhelmed with grief,
doing things that are difficult,
or surrounded by those who do not understand?
What then?

A few days later, I found myself surrounded by entirely different circumstances.

Lately, I have been mustering courage and strength to brave the task
 of going through some of Mom's things....little by little.

It isn't easy....
to open those boxes, drawers, and crates.
Sometimes, I open one, the memories completely overwhelm me, and I close it back...
and tightly....
as I am hit with the cold, hard realization...
that we will make no more memories with Mom.

Other times, I feel stronger.
I actually make it through an entire crate or drawer without falling apart.

The other day, as I stood there going through a box,
I found Mom's scarves.
I picked one up and held it close to me,
breathing in the scent....
hoping for something to make me feel close to her.
As I did,
I could smell her familiar perfume.
It felt like a thousand memories rushed to the surface,
until the tears broke through and began to flow.
I missed her so much in that moment,
I felt I couldn't bear the pain.
It hurts to miss someone this much.

I was finally able to resume unpacking.
Seeing all of her what-nots and knick-knacks
took me back to the spot she had each of them placed in her apartment.
Each piece holds a memory.
There is something special attached to every thing that was hers.

I thought of how God has dealt with me about
in all situations and circumstances.

The reason to rejoice was buried deep....
but it was there.
I knew it had to be there.
After a few moments,
I regained my composure...
and I found it.

I started thinking how very blessed I was...
to have had Mom in my life all of those years.
To know that I was loved.
To have been raised in a Christian home...
where I was taught the Bible from my earliest childhood recollection.
To have had parents who stuck it out to raise me together.
Who cared enough to make great sacrifices so I could go to Christian schools
as much as possible.
Who took me to church in all kinds of weather,
through all manners of church-splits and problems,
and who taught me that it wasn't the church building at all....
but a personal, one-on-one relationship between Almighty God and me
that really mattered.

How thankful I am to have learned that at a young age!
My parents instilled invaluable wisdom in my heart...
worth more to me than nuggets of gold.
Their training and life-lessons have
enabled me to face some stormy times...
and not turn loose...
of my hold on God.

As I stood there,
tenderly picking up the pieces...
of what is left of Mom's life on earth...
I began to truly rejoice....
even in this deepest loss.
Thanksgiving and gratitude welled from deep within,
and I rejoiced and praised Him with sincerity....
right there in the midst of my pain and hurt.

For my birthday, a dear, cherished friend
sent me the neatest salt and pepper shakers
with a cutting board to match.
They are brightly colored, and all over them,
are printed these wonderful words of life found in God's Word:
"Rejoice and be glad."  Psalm 118:24
"I will be joyful in God my Savior."  Habakkuk 3:18
"Be joyful always.  Pray continually."  1 Thessalonians 5:16

She had no idea how God has been instructing me.
The little "Rejoice" plaque I found and placed over our kitchen sink,
the salt and pepper shakers and cutting board....
is it just happenstance that God sent them all to me around the same time?
I think not.
They are little segments of His big plan....
little tokens of His faithfulness...
to remind me what to do...
in all circumstances.

Nothing is coincidence with God.

He didn't say it would always be easy to rejoice.

Emotions are unstable.
Sometimes we are up...
sometimes down.
My emotional state can run the full gamut...
in a matter of minutes, it seems.
I can go from laughing hysterically,
to sobbing uncontrollably...
in record time.

Laughter through tears is not an unusual emotion for me.

Situations are unpredictable.
Sometimes they are in our favor,
sometimes they work against us.
There isn't much we can control.

The continual ebb and flow of my inconsistent emotions
and my outward, external circumstances
absolutely cannot be the determining factors
as to whether or not I rejoice.
They are not trusty indicators.
If I base my decision to rejoice on them,
I will not rejoice always....
just sometimes.

God knew all of this when He inspired the Apostle Paul to say
what he did in today's verse.

He instructed us to "rejoice!"
Not once did he say it,
but twice.
And he inserted the little word "alway" in there,
to let us know that our rejoicing must be unconditional.
non-dependent upon our circumstances,
situations, or predicaments.

Because there is always something to rejoice about.
Even in the dark.
We can always find the reason.
Sometimes it just takes a little longer.
Sometimes we just need to dig a little deeper...
try a little harder....
to find it.

I love to read Isaiah 61:1-3.
It gives a vivid depiction of some of the reasons
the Messiah would leave Heaven and come to earth
and what His mission would be.
Some of my favorite parts are found in verse 3,
"To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion,
to give unto them beauty for ashes,
the oil of joy for mourning,
the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness..."

God knew all about our emotional makeup.
He created us, remember?
He knew there would be times that we would mourn.
He was completely aware that we would sometimes come to Him
with nothing in our hands but ashes.....
from the leftover fire that once burned within.
He understood that we would face situations in life
that would leave us laden and bowed down by the spirit of heaviness.

Have you ever found yourself in any of these states of mind?
Conditions of heart?

How wonderful to know that our Messiah has come!
He came to make a difference....
in every, single circumstance of our lives.
He enters the arena of our darkness...
He walks onto the stage of our gloom...
and He makes an unbelievable offer.

"Here, child, hand over your ashes.
I won't ask you how it happened.
I already know.
I'll make you beautiful.
Let Me have your grief.
In its place, I'll fill you with unspeakable joy!
You will rejoice...always....
for the continual flowing of deep life will never cease springing up within you.
And that spirit of heaviness...
that depression...
the darkness, the gloom...
I can see it, child.
You're deep in its clutches....
it has enslaved you for so long....
after today, it will haunt you no more!
Come closer, child.
Here, let me lift that.
I can see how heavy it is.
It isn't too heavy for Me.
There, now, its gone!
I took it away.
And now, I will wrap the garment of praise about you.
Walk away, free, child!
This is why I came."

What wonderful exchanges!

We give Him our ashes...
the shattered pieces of our lives,
our mess...
and He gives us a beautiful life in exchange.

We bring to Him the depths of our grief,
our loss,
the hurt, pain, and devastation,
our brokenness....
and He gives us what?
The oil of joy!
A rejoicing heart.
A thankful state of mind.
A grateful spirit.

We come to Him in the depths of depression,
oppressed, sad, heavy-laden, weary from the weight of our sorrow,
and He hands us the garment of praise!

I have experienced this transaction of exchange.
I have felt Him lift the spirit of heaviness...
the overwhelming grief...
the smothering gloom....
and in its place,
I felt Him tenderly wrap me...
surround my soul....
envelop my inmost spirit...
 in the garment of praise.

It was the sweetest, most comforting exchange.

Rejoicing dispels gloom.
Sadness and praise will not linger in the same place simultaneously.
It absolutely cannot happen.
Thanksgiving to God dismisses an aura of melancholy.

There are reasons to rejoice all around us, my friend.
Some of them are no-brainers.
Others have to be sought out....
but they are there.

Won't you join me in my quest to find them?

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