Have you ever been let down by a friend? Silly question, I know. Have you ever been disappointed? Another silly question. Of course! It’s life.
But here’s another question, a little harder: H ow often do you count on the things in this life to give you lasting joy? I’m not talking about inherently bad things. I’m talking about the people we love, exciting plans we have for the future, our hobbies, favorite places and foods, aspirations, and dreams. Good stuff!
But how often do we put our hope in them?
Lately, I’ve tried to find security in the good things that are happening in my life. Without realizing it, my heart has drifted from finding joy in God and ended up in a confusing and tense place: counting on my circumstances to fill me. Don’t get me wrong, my circumstances have been joyful! If you’ve talked to me lately, I’ve probably word-vomited about all my plans and exciting things of the future.
But there’s a danger there. In the moments when I delight in my life and circumstances, I feel self-sufficient. I don’t feel my need for Christ in quite the burning, consuming, real way that I should. When I quantify my joy to a list of what’s happening around me, I also feel that I have control. I fall into pride. “Wow, look what I’ve got going on!”
But the truth is that all worldly things will definitely let us down at some point.
We can only find lasting joy in Jesus and what he’s done for us. You may already know this, or the concept may be foreign to you. But either way, no matter where you stand with God, you’ve probably been let down by hopes and joys of this world. Maybe you’re going through it right now.
Maybe you defined yourself with your career, only to find it slip from under your feet. Maybe someone you admired and loved hurt you or let you down. Maybe a hobby you used to be happily consumed by is losing its luster. Maybe the world around you that used to be exciting and vibrant suddenly feels dull and unfulfilling.
No matter how amazing or secure something feels, there is no guarantee that it will remain steady.
The only steady thing I’ve found in this shifting life is God. He loves us so greatly that he sacrificed his own Son’s life to make a way to be with us. This truth will never change. He gave us the Bible so we might know him more. It will never change. His character is faithfulness, love, and strength. He will never change. And he has a future and a plan for us to be with him forever, in a world that will be renewed: without sin, pain, or fear!
How could we not find assurance and joy in this story?!
I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.” . . .
The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply. . .
I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.
For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Psalm 16:2, 4a, 8-11 ESV
“The sorrows of those who run after another god will multiply.” It’s so true! Fullness of joy is found only in God’s presence. I want to make it my goal to delight in the Lord. I want to enjoy him as much as he enjoys us! I want him to be the real object of my joy, rather than anything in this world.
Before I end this post, I need to give a disclaimer. Some people will say that life as a Christian will be all joy and prosperity. That’s simply not true. Circumstances can be just as nasty, ugly, and painful when you know Jesus as they can without him. The difference, though, is that we can find joy in him no matter what is going on. That’s why the joy of the Lord is our strength! It both permeates the worst circumstances and lifts our gaze to him in the best.
Will you join me in my goal to delight in the Lord this week? Will you lift your eyes from the circumstances of life, whether good or painful, up to the God who never changes? I want to chase after him all my days: depending on him for all that I need, instead of the things of life. We can trust him to be all that he promises to be.
I’ve been told that any situation in my life can bring God glory: even the most painful things. His glory is also one of the Bible’s main themes. In every storyline, no matter how brutal or joyful, his fame is a goal.
So, does this make him selfish? I’ve confronted this question multiple times. On one hand, I love that I get to bring him glory, because he truly deserves it. I love him so dearly, and I know that I need him.
But sometimes the phrase rubs me the wrong way, just a little bit. Instead of being filled with joy at the idea, I sometimes feel. . . annoyed?
Here’s an example: lately, I’ve been reading the book of Ezekiel. I honestly expected to snore through its 48 chapters, but it’s quite an exciting read! So please don’t start snoring just yet.
This book focuses on judgment and restoration, yet God’s glory is woven throughout the entire thing.
Judgment for God’s glory?
In the first chunk, God proclaims judgments on his people (the Israelites) for turning away from him. They have disobeyed him horribly and turned to the world’s way. Because of that, they’ve already been attacked by another nation and brought into exile. It is here that God also declares things like famine, violence, destruction, and desolation on them.
And even in these terrifying words, God’s glory consistently shows up. “And you will know that I am the Lord.” This phrase, in some form, appears 50 times in the book! Even this pain will help them see God for who he is.
Blessing for God’s glory
After the judgment, God speaks of restoration and renewal. He says he will become his peoples’ shepherd: bringing them back into their land and caring tenderly for them. He promises prosperity, strength, and peace.
And once again, it’s 100% for his glory. These verses really surprised me:
Therefore say to the Israelites, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: It is not for your sake, people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. -Ezekiel 36:22
Not for their sake
It's not for their sake? At first glance, that seems to take away the beauty of these blessings. The people have already suffered so much. Why couldn’t God just restore them for their good, because he loved them? Dare I say, it did seem selfish. . .
A few years ago, I head a short piece on the radio about this issue. The speaker told us to imagine God looking down on us. He sees all our problems, longings, and mess, and he knows that he is the only solution to it all. He knows that nothing else can fill us: not even good things! We need him far more than we need money, friends, security, education, comfort, or anything! He is the loving Creator. He is all-knowing. And he is the ultimate good.
So, how and why would he point us to anything but himself? That would be a cruel trick, simply a dead end.
A kind decision
It reminds me of the phrase “for God’s glory and my good.” That’s the concept here: that letting our lives bring God glory is the best thing for us. And he lets us know it. He’s not the friend who will agree with anything you say or do. Instead, he’s the Father who knows you best and points you to what you really need. . . in this case, himself!
So, when he restored the Israelites, it was for his glory, yes. But it was also for their good, and because he loved them! It’s a beautiful picture when we can see the whole thing.
Let’s also remember that God deserves all glory. He has created everything in this beautiful universe. He has shown us endless grace in sending Jesus to die for us. He is all-powerful. Everything good in life is from him! We really can’t do or be anything on our own. We are simply vessels of his glory.
He must become greater; I must become less. John 3:30
Am I okay with that?
So the question becomes, “am I okay with that?” Am I okay with God allowing both pain and blessing into my life for his own glory? Can I see past my pride enough to believe that this really is the best way?
I was trying to process this earlier today and ended up making a list. I asked, “How has God shown me that ‘He is the Lord’ through the good and painful in my life?”
Naturally, I made ‘good’ and ‘painful’ columns, and the list really grew. I thought of the biggest things and the smallest things that have comprised my life and have pointed me to Christ. Here are some examples:
I encourage you to make a similar list. This exercise filled me with such thankfulness! God has been standing beside me in every situation saying, “And you will know that I am the Lord.” I’ve come to know his character and his greatness through every part of my life. And now I realize that it’s all been a blessing. “Painful” doesn’t always mean “bad.” And the good isn’t just for my enjoyment.
Ultimately, God is my only hope. I see nothing else that could fulfil me, and I praise him for that. He has sacrificed greatly to have a relationship with us, and I praise him for that. He is so far beyond me, yet he invites me into his presence daily, and I praise him for that. He gives me every breath and every day of life, and I praise him for that.
He deserves all the glory, and I cannot wait to grow older and see it displayed in even more of my life.
In the past few days, I’ve started an Advent reading plan which begins in Genesis. The beginning of mankind and the fall into sin sets the stage for our desperate need for Jesus.
After God created the earth and Adam and Eve, there was a perfection and contentedness we cannot really understand. Can you imagine what it would feel like to live on the earth exactly as God intended it to be? One thing Adam and Eve had no taste or even conception of was shame:
Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. -Genesis 2:25
The shock of sin
But directly following this verse, satan enters the scene as a serpent. He brings with him a whole ugly load of his own attributes. His crafty discourse weaves temptation and confusion into Eve’s mind, distorting God’s clear directions to not eat the fruit of a certain tree.
“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” -Genesis 3:5
The second she and Adam give into satan and disobey God, their eyes are indeed opened: but not in the glorious way they were expecting. Rather, they’re opened to an entirely unfamiliar dimension. As promised, they now know good and evil. . . and I bet they wish they didn’t.
Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.
Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. -Genesis 3:8-9
Imagine the shock of these moments to the couple who has until now wholly obeyed and enjoyed God. This one act plunged them deep into wrongdoing, shame, and the alarming urge to run from their Creator. Hastily covered in leaves and cowering beneath the trees, they’re introduced to another new emotion: fear.
Let’s pause and consider a few other perspectives at this point. Satan, for one, is gloating. He thinks he’s brought a hasty downfall to God’s project of humanity. He knows that evil cannot exist anywhere near God (he’s experienced this firsthand), so he sits back smugly, anticipating their downfall.
God, of course, isn’t surprised by any of it. But that doesn’t keep him from being deeply saddened. The epitome of his creation, the only ones to bear his image, have chosen to disown him. He sees the anguish in their hearts as they try to hide and feels the seriousness of the chasm opened between he and them. This will ultimately lead to much pain and the sacrifice of his own Son.
In this frozen moment, I can think of only one logical thing for God to do: wipe it all out. Just obliterate it all. Surely it wouldn’t have been too much effort for him to create another world, one in which people were required to love him and didn’t have the option of sin. Surely that would have been easier than letting this mess go on, culminating at the death of his only Son.
But he didn’t.
Instead, he graciously covered their newfound shame with animal skins, and let them live. Yes, their sin still brought about a whole host of natural consequences: much pain and toil, death, distance from God, and being cast out from the garden. But I am just amazed at the crazy grace he gave them in letting them live!
Why did he let them live?
Why did he do it? Well, just by inferencing, I can see quite a few reasons. First of all, he is a faithful Father. He promises to never leave or forsake us (Heb 13:5). He also refuses to be defeated by satan. This day, the serpent’s schemes were thwarted by grace. God’s plan and purpose has victory, always!
In Genesis 3:15, God tells satan that he may strike man’s heel, but ultimately man (Jesus!) will crush his head. Grace brings victory.
Another factor is free will. God had a plan for humanity’s relationship with him that just wouldn’t be the same without free choice. Instead of starting over with a world of forced love, he would rather have real followers: people who are faced with a whole host of choices, and still choose him. He would rather have a world of people who are either for him or against him: not lukewarm (Revelation 3:15-16).
I love reading this creation and fall account with the knowledge of what happens next: after years of sacrificing animals and obeying strict codes to keep peace with God, Jesus came to earth as a baby to live the life we couldn’t and sacrificially die in our place. It is so beautiful! It’s what this season of Christmas is all about. And now, having this sweet assurance of salvation through him, I love looking ahead to heaven: knowing that ultimate victory over all the work of the devil will come! Glory to God.
Faithfulness in the small things matters:
How I talk to the kids I tutor.
How I study and work in college.
How I encourage my friends.
It matters for all of us, in every aspect of life. When we are faithful with even the smallest, simplest things, we prepare our hearts and hands for whatever God has laid out in the future.
It’s so true! The small stuff impacts the future in huge ways. Consider how even the slightest decisions, interactions, and words impact who you are as a whole. Picture a day where you speak kindly, make sacrifices for others’ good, and work hard at what you do. Even as splattered with sin and imperfection as that day would be, imagine the difference the good stuff would make on your tendencies and mind!
The verse above is taken from a parable Jesus told to illustrate the importance of faithfulness in small things. In the story, a man is hired to take care of his master’s money. When he is eventually accused of wasting the money, he hurriedly avoids his master’s wrath by enacting a shrewd, although dishonest, plan. If only he had been faithful in the first place! (Luke 16:1-15)
When I read this story, I think of all the things God has given me to faithfully care for: my friends, money, free time, classes, the people I see at work. . . I’m sure you can easily think of your own list: a list that speaks volumes about where your life is, who’s in it, and what God has given you.
I also think of how these things require faithfulness in the small stuff, to ever add up to something significant. For example, college requires many nights of studying, endless typing on a laptop, and hours sitting in class: but it all adds up to a degree. Friendships require taking the time to hang out, the care to have intentional conversations, and the sacrifice to help each other: but it all adds up to companionship and joy. Even my blog has required faithfulness in the small stuff. I’ve written here for more than two years: from weeks when barely thirty people saw the post to weeks where I’m amazed at how many people found my little website!
The point is, God calls us to be faithful to everything he’s given us: even when the tasks feel insignificant. Even when other people look like they’re having way more fun or way more impact. Even when progress is puny or invisible to the human eye.
We each have a duty to care for and use what God has given us. And oh, what a proud Father he is, grinning as he watches us seize opportunities, ask him for guidance, and pour our passions and energy into assignments from his very hands.
So, I want to fulfil his purposes with joy. Not with a frantic impulse to do more or be more, and not with any type of underlying grudge or competition against others. Rather, I want to do it with joy and gratitude for every breath and every movement of my muscles and every beat of my heart that allows me to be alive for the thing.
How about you?
How much can you learn from a kid’s song? Take for example, Zacchaeus: the wee little man who climbed a tree to see Jesus. Let's walk through the story together, then talk about a few life-applications.
Zacchaeus seeks Jesus
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. Luke 19:1-4
Putting the kid’s song aside, Zacchaeus has a lot to teach us. Even though he lived a life of cheating and stolen wealth as a tax collector, he sought Jesus well. Probably, he climbed the tree out of curiosity. But maybe there was a yearning in his soul too, a sense that this Teacher was better than any of his own wealth and power.
Jesus pursues Zacchaeus
When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. Luke 19:5-6
Jesus saw this sinner, awkwardly perched in a tree, and knew at once everything about him. Yes, he saw his background, his reputation, and all the wrong he had done. But what mattered more was that even through all the yuck, he saw a lost man seeking him.
So he called to Zacchaeus, inviting him down. If I was Zacchaeus, I’d have been shocked. It would be like pushing your way to the front of a concert to get a glimpse of a celebrity, only to have him call you by name in front of everyone and invite himself to your house. It would be exciting, but also outrageous.
A joyful change
I love Zacchaeus’s reaction, though. He responded to the invitation with gladness, jumping down from the tree and welcoming Jesus.
All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” Luke 19:6-10
This encounter with Jesus caused Zacchaeus to turn his lifestyle around promptly. Jesus recognized this as a true change of heart and declared that salvation had come to him. It’s Jesus’ mission, after all, to save those who are lost: not those who are self-righteous.
Remember to rejoice
In the busyness and sometimes drudgery of a week, I forget to be glad. Zacchaeus’s attitude opened my eyes to that. I want to seek Jesus excitedly. I want to find evidences of God’s heart and will for me. I want to promptly follow his lead and his character. There is much joy in life, especially a life lived in surrender to him. We can more easily find beauty when we’re not living to please and promote ourselves. So, I want to be glad!
Real life change
I also want to follow Zacchaeus’s example of sacrifice. Before he met Jesus, his lifestyle of padded pockets, a fancy house, and buying anything he wanted to was probably quite fun. But the minute he encountered Jesus, the color faded from these illusions. He saw that knowing Jesus was more valuable than any sin or comfort he had on earth.
His response directly contrasts with the ‘rich young ruler’s’ in the preceding chapter of Luke, who saw Jesus and yet with a sad heart chose his possessions over him. (Here’s a link to that story). In the end, Zacchaeus found joy and freedom from his sin and possessions, while the rich young ruler remained chained to his earthly loves.
How about you?
So I want to ask, what could Jesus be inviting you to give up? Is there anything in your life that is holding you back from knowing or experiencing him fully? It could be sin, a skewed mindset, something you fixate on too much, an unhealthy relationship, or any number of things.
Personally, one thing Jesus has been asking me to give up is control. I like to have my days and my future and even my meals planned out. I want to know what’s coming up next. But my love of control can become quite ugly when it causes me to prioritize myself over others, obsess over the future, or ignore God’s plan. And like I said, control is just one thing he’s been showing me lately. It’s not a one-time thing. We’ve gotta get good at recognizing chains and gladly casting them off, because they are persistent and many.
Please understand, though, that Jesus is not shaking his finger at you with furrowed brows. Rather, he is reaching out to you, calling you by name: inviting you into the intense joy that is found in throwing aside chains (both the pretty ones and the ugly ones) and running to your Father.
Hello! I'm Anna, a college student living in the Midwest. I'm a strong believer in uncontrollable laughter, powerful words, and a morning cup of coffee. I pray these posts will encourage you to live a full life with and for God: unhindered. Follow me on social media for post updates!