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Joy Robbers  

It happened the other day—again. I'd spent a meaningful season in prayer, enjoyed time in the Word, launched into the day, and before long, I'd lost my sense of joy. In its place: a rumbly grumbly cauldron of discontent.

There was no single moment I could point to where the joy got sucked out of things—but gone it was. Like others who’ve experienced this, I asked, who robbed my joy? After some uncomfortable introspection, I now know that for me, it can be any one of a thousand things:

  • A discouraging email arrives from a colleague.
  • A news website attacks my biblical worldview.
  • A notice from the dentist informs us our insurance won’t cover the procedure.
  • An added task comes with an unreasonable deadline.

Truthfully, it doesn’t take much to rob me of my joy. And that’s a problem. It speaks of a trust issue.

You say, What?

Look at it this way. Romans 15:13 says, "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” We get the hope and joy as we trust in Him, not when our circumstances are perfect.

The smaller the thing that can rob our joy, the smaller our trust in the Living God. It turns out that our capacity for joy is linked to our capacity for trust.

The irony is, when trials and troubles come, those of us who profess to have received Christ as Savior are often the guiltiest, trying to be our own Savior.

And that’s the moment that joy disappears. The old hymn calls us to a better way:

'Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,

Just to take Him at His Word

Just to rest upon His promise,

Just to know, "Thus saith the Lord!"

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!

How I've proved Him o'er and o'er

Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!

Oh, for grace to trust Him more!

 
Invisible Rot  

A wooden deck is a thing of beauty. But neither wood nor beauty last. Hence, I found myself in the 100-degree heat, replacing a number of cracked deck boards.   

In some cases, the warp and wear were apparent. Yet as I fastened new boards next to old, I was caught off guard. Several pieces that looked perfectly good on the surface turned out to have significant problems: rot.           

Previously, I had slathered on the best stain/sealer the hardware store sells. And they looked perfectly healthy. But just beneath the surface, I found tunnels of hollowness. Worse, I could crush this wood with my bare fingers, disintegrating it into shards of would-be lumber. (Impossible to miss the left side of the photo).                                          

Again, I thought I had solid wood. I thought I had worked hard to preserve the health of that pricey lumber. And from all appearances, everything was fine. Dripping sweat in the summer sun, I stared at all that rot, pondering the additional work it represented.                               

How very like the human heart. So many of us look good on the outside: strong, spiritually healthy, "reasonably" godly. But inside, we have rotted away.                                                                        

Maybe we’ve shortchanged our daily time in the Word. Maybe we've cooled off our church attendance or our time in prayer. Maybe we've dabbled with an addiction. Or danced at the outer edges of pornography.                             

All of this leads to one thing—and that one thing ain't good: spiritual rot. Which is absolutely guaranteed apart from a vigilant commitment to maintenance. It’s not that it could happen or might happen. It WILL happen.                       

So, where’s our protection? How do we guard against spiritual rot? From personal experience, David shared his secret in a prayer recorded in Psalm 25:21, “May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you.”             

Apparently, David placed extraordinary value on integrity and uprightness. So much so that his prayer for these twin virtues rarely ceased from his lips.                                                                                             

A vigilant commitment to integrity and uprightness in your soul. Neither of these is flashy or fun. But, as Jesus famously asked, “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

 
Sleep Entitlement  

It’s become a morning ritual. Yawning in the kitchen, my wife and I ask each other, How did you sleep? Often, the answer is, “Not so good.”  For many of us, there’s a story that usually tumbles out—accompanied by a complaint:

  • Just for once, I’d like to wake up refreshed!
  • How come I wake up feeling so exhausted!

Now, I like (and need) sleep as much as the next person. A European study of almost 25,000 people demonstrated that sleeping six hours or less was associated with a 40 percent increased risk of developing cancer compared to folks getting seven hours of sleep or more. But where do any of us get the notion that we somehow deserve good sleep?

Ecclesiastes 5:12 comments, “Sweet is the sleep of a laborer.” That generalization is true, but there’s no promise implied. Psalm 4:8 remarks, "In peace, I will both lie down and sleep, for you alone O Lord, make me dwell in safety." Lovely testimony—but again, no bulletproof guarantees.

Here’s what I think. Sleep is a gift. It’s always been a gift. And because we’ve enjoyed so much of it for so many years, we’ve come to view sleep as an entitlement: We should experience sleep whenever we want, as much as we want, as often as we want. But maybe we need to learn to see sleep as the gracious gift of a merciful Creator rather than an inherent right.

The truth is, you and I live in a fallen world. Sin has impacted everything—including our quality of sleep. How could that not be so? Why, then, should we complain when we don’t get as much as we think we need?

What if we turned our daily whining into daily gratitude toward God? Example: Thanks for the sleep I DID enjoy. I had no right to a single snore—but thank you for your kindness, Lord.

We are forgiven sinners, you and I, indebted forever to a merciful God. Which means sleep is not a right—it’s a gift. 

Every snore.

Every hour.

Every night.

…Good night!

 

 

 

 

 

 
Seeing, But Not Seeing  

The day was gray and unseasonably cold. On my hurried walk from the train station to Moody Radio’s studios, I saw a small bird trembling on the sidewalk.

As I approached, the bird should have flown away or attempted to run away. It did neither. Was it sick? Injured? Born with a flying disability? I have no idea. He appeared well-fed. But if a bird can seem dejected, she/he certainly did, quivering on the cold cement.

How like our world. Day after day, you and I go about our lives—typically in a hurry. Meaning that we walk past people—lots of them. And some of those we pass, like that little bird, are just not right.

  • It’s the guy who never seems to leave the Wal-Mart parking lot—and never changes his clothes.
  • It’s the lady who sits in the back of church week after week, dabbing at her eyes, always slipping out before the end of the service.
  • It’s the teenager with the sad face who walks up and down the street several times a day. He never seems to arrive anywhere.  

Just like that bird, these people were designed to fly, but now they’re grounded. Quivering. Shivering in the cold.

The problem: We see them, but we don’t see them. At least not enough to care or help.

But wouldn’t Jesus see them? Wouldn’t Jesus help them?

And if He could, shouldn’t we?

  • A friendly greeting.
  • A bottle of cold water.
  • A kind word simply acknowledging their existence.

Couldn’t we at least start there?

Today, keep your eyes open and your heart soft. There’s a flightless bird on the path ahead. Our broken world is full of them.

 

 

 
Dare You to Pray Differently  

When you pray at mealtimes, do you say the same things the same way? My guess is many of us tend to pray the same way—ad infinitum.

But how would you feel if you were God and you heard, “Bless this meal to our body’s use” a hundred times in a row from the same person? Wouldn’t it begin to feel more like an automated phone message—your call is important to us—rather than the honest expression of a grateful heart? Considering the many ways the Lord has blessed, provided, rescued—and fed us, don’t you think we could invest just a tad more effort in our prayers—and not just at mealtime?

I can hear someone say, “Hey, don’t judge my prayer life!” I’m not. Just thinking out loud here. Remember, I struggle, too. But would we really think we’ve done right if we said to our five-year-old son, "I love you," but never shared why? What if we never once bothered to explain why we love our eight-year-old daughter? Never mentioned a thing we appreciated about her, like her kindness or helpful spirit. Wouldn’t our words sound hollow?

Pastor Michael Easley once challenged us, "I dare you to say grace differently today than yesterday. I dare you to pray differently in your devotional time today than yesterday." His words still confront me.

At a recent breakfast, five-year-old Ava volunteered to pray for the meal. But her three-year-old sister, Emma, was certainly not to be outdone. She insisted on adding a double blessing. Her prayer ended with, "Thank you for the great food. Thanks—(giggle)—Amen."

How refreshing to hear that word, thanks, in back-to-back sentences. I’m not sure I’ve ever giggled for joy while praying, but I’m guessing God found Emma’s giggle real—and refreshing.

I dare you to pray differently.

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Jon GaugerJon Gauger

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