Sunday, September 26, 2010

Cultivating a Life of Joy

Saturday's Post

“Jesus Christ does not want to be our helper; He wants to be our life. He does not want us to work for Him. He wants us to let Him do His work through us, using us as we use a pencil to write with.”
-Charles Trumbull

I woke up multiple times this morning. I kept forcing myself to go back to sleep. For one, I was up really late watching tv & making some gifts and know that if I don’t get enough sleep I’m am going to spend much of the day grumpy and depressed and I have a late-ish night ahead of me. But every time I would wake, I remember the feeling of wanting desperately to go back to sleep, to not want to be awake. When I’m awake it hurts. There’s sadness and disappointment. But when I sleep, I can dream. My heart’s desires can come true. I sometimes wonder what the point is in living at all when reality is never as fulfilling and exciting as the dreaming is. I often wonder why God gives us the ability to dream at all, it just seems counter-productive.

I feel like I have grown so much recently, but I can’t shake the feeling that there must be more than this. There just has to be because this is just not working. I am just stuck in this ridiculous rut. I have a great life with people who genuinely care about me. I have stability and leadership. But I just can’t stop myself from getting caught up in the lie that my life is just half empty and getting emptier everyday. All I can see is the life I thought I would have and the dreams I thought were coming true being ripped away from me. All I see is what I have lost, what I don’t have. I know this is so wrong but I just can’t make it stop.

I want a more fulfilling life. I want even more than my original dreams. My sister says (and I’m paraphrasing) the problem is that I’m looking for an outward expression of the change I really need to experience inside. That I keep looking for changes to happen in life and then I will finally learn to be happy. But the problem is, that’s not going to happen. True happiness doesn’t happen that way. True joy is something that must be created within ourselves not as a result of any outward occurrence. Francis Chan said, “Joy is something that we have to choose and then work for. Like the ability to run for an hour, it doesn’t come automatically. It needs cultivation. The Bible teaches us that true joy is formed in the midst of the difficult seasons in life.”

So how does this happen? How do I find joy inside myself? I’m honestly not sure. In an effort to change my focus to Christ when I am overcome by hopelessness or defeat (and I admit I have really been dropping the ball on that lately), I decided to pick up the book I have been reading (“When God writes your life story” by Eric and Leslie Ludy) and of course, like usual the very next chapter is just about what I have been feeling, where I am in my spiritual crisis. I am probably going to use a lot of quotes right now, but this stuff is too good to miss.

“We come to Him when we need the answers. We expect Him to provide us with quick solutions to our problems. We demand that He meet our needs and follow our self-made agendas. And when He doesn’t respond, we quickly dismiss Him and take matters into our own hands. We are led by our own whims and desires. We make our own choices and then ask God to bless us.” I came back and moved this paragraph up because it’s important to look at why it’s so hard to give control. I have to be perfectly honest with myself that this quote is exactly it for me. Looking back I remember a few months ago coming before God and asking if what I wanted was right for me and being told to wait. At the time I thought God might be telling me no and to wait for the right thing. Literally a couple days later the thing I wanted came through for me and I’m not sure if I just thought I misunderstood or honestly, I probably just didn’t care. I still don’t know if the decisions I made were a result of my own taking care of my own agenda or just a lesson God had to teach my stubborn will the hard way. But I think in a lot of ways, both mean I wasn’t looking to God for my source of joy (and to grant me peace over my decisions), but in simply having my dreams fulfilled in whichever way possible.

The Ludy’s start the chapter setting up a picture of a time in their lives where they began to feel spiritually deflated, not as a result of a lack of progress in their lives, but of progress in their spiritual life. Not in the sense that they weren’t actively pursuing Christ, but that they were not experiencing the fulfillment that they should be finding by doing so. They began to look at historical Christians to gain perspective on how to cultivate joy in their lives, to stop living defeated (not to be confused with trying to avoid hardships, just to find joy in the midst of them).  In doing so, they found that these people found and cultivated that joy by participating in “an exchange.”

“They exchanged life as they knew it for life as God knew it should be. They exchanged the right to do with their bodies however they saw fit for the life of a servant who only does what the Master requests. They exchanged their dreams and ambitions for God’s great and dramatic plan for their lives. They exchanged a life ruled and controlled by sin for a life victorious over sin, clothed in joy and triumph.” They experienced TRUE surrender.

I don’t know about you, but I have been experiencing some serious doubts that this kind of joy, that the act of true surrender is even possible for a person like me. Seriously, the overhaul of change God would have to work in me for this to be possible is massive and would most definitely take decades. I want change, I want happiness, but at what cost?

The cost is the simple equation: it takes giving EVERYTHING. And not just for the next few days, month, or even years. Not just until I feel happy again or finally find what I am looking for, but for a LIFETIME. Setting up the equation for this may be simple but the solution to how to achieve this, it’s unattainable by me alone.

The Ludy’s explain how one of the historical Christians, Walter Wilson, prayed his solution: “Lord, I give you this body of mine; from my head to my feet, I give it to You. My hands, my limbs, my eyes, my brain; all that I am inside and out, I hand over to You. Live in and through me whatever life You please. You may send this body to Africa, or lay it on a bed with cancer. You may blind my eyes, or send me with Your message to Tibet. You may take this body to the Eskimos, or send it to the hospital with pneumonia. This body of mine is Yours alone from this moment on.”

I could barely get through typing those words I was crying so hard. The thought of praying that kind of prayer scares me more than anything I have ever experienced. I don’t feel those words at all. I am terrified at the thought of uprooting my life or offering to experience physical turmoil. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I long for nothing more in life than comfort. I honestly don’t even know how I could prepare my heart to make those kinds of professions. I could barely get through here saying it as someone else’s words. I can barely get through a prayer at all without making sure that God knows I have my own wants, even when I’m asking Him to show me how to surrender. It seems like an impossible journey. I guess that’s why we need the God of the Impossible.

 “We believe we are submitted to God’s will, but in reality we expect Him to bend to our own agenda. We follow our own heart and desires and then ask God to make our spiritual life vibrant in the midst of it all. But the true Christian life doesn’t work that way. When we exchange our life for Christ’s, we lay our agendas, dreams, desires, and plans at His feet. We get completely out of the way and allow Him to live His life through us in whatever way He chooses."

I have been thinking a lot lately about how much I wish I were past this point. Like I have learned so much, and am ready to move on (or in reality back to my old way of living). But the truth is, I can’t go back. I’m not that person any more. I will always feel this way if I try to live that way because my heart has know greater things and can’t ever be satisfied going back. It wants more of the beauty of Christ it has experienced. But I’m also not ready to move on because the “more” I mentioned I want requires me to be so much more broken than I am. It requires me to realize I’m not climbing out of this hole; I’m only getting out by being carried. And I’m only gonna let go and stop climbing on my own when I finally realize, not logically, but with every fiber of my being that all of this, all the pieces of my wants, needs, and desires just keep me trapped in this hole.

My sister told me I am just looking for progression, but right now God just wants me to learn to live dependant on Him. I have been feeling overwhelmed with my need for significance and my responsibility to be a spiritual example to others. But again, that isn‘t my job. God isn’t interested in how I continue to progress but how much I let go. He is the only progression I should be striving for. This is a very foreign concept to humans. “This is a difficult life change to make. For our entire lives, we have been the sole rulers of our internal home. We are used to making the decisions. We are used to calling the shots. But now, our entire home- body, mind, and soul- now belong to a new ruler. He is not our servant; we are His servant. This is not a decision to be made lightly. When we exchange our lives for His, we give up all control.”

Am I ready to make this kind of commitment? Honestly, no. Do I wish I was? Undoubtedly yes. I keep looking at this time to be a chance to grow into the person I am supposed to be to receive the life God has for me. The problem is, I am so focused on who I am supposed to be becoming, that I am not spending time asking God to change who I am. That fulfillment is for nothing if I am stuck circling the drain. It’s time to start learning how to not just work for Him but to let Him work through me. I have no idea how to do this, so it’s time to go straight to the source and ask God to start showing me how.

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