Looking for joy in all the wrong places

Is anyone else stressed out? I’m a wreck most of the time. Tis the season, after all. There’s something about fall that makes people want to socialize. Parties and potlucks and coffee and dinner. And that doesn’t count church activities.

NewSpring, of course, does Judgement House, but really preparations for Judgement House start in July or August. Everything comes to a head in October, though. And then there’s Thanksgiving and Christmas and all the relevant social events in between. This is the time of year I get so busy I can hardly remember my own name half the time. I gave up trying to remember how old I am years go, but my name is usually the next thing to do in the autumn.

And on top of that, work is a madhouse. So between work and church stuff and family stuff and social stuff, by the time the fall is over, I’m usually one step away from a nervous breakdown. And that’s normal. That’s my schedule every fall every year. 

But should it be?

Probably not. So why do I do this to myself? Why do other people do it to themselves? Why do we, as a culture actually, get so busy and stressed out during the time of year where we should be thankful and rejoicing?

Well, for me, I do it because a part of me wants to. I like the craziness of fall to a certain extent. Maybe I’m a masochist. I don’t like the stress, but without the stress it doesn’t feel like fall, if that makes any sense.

But I think I mostly run myself ragged doing the things I do during fall because it makes me happy. It makes me happy to see people and do things for people. It makes me happy to do dramas and put on plays. It makes me happy to be with my friends and my family. But many many times the stress overwhelms the happiness. Those people closest to me know what I’m talking about because when stress and pressure get the best of me, I turn into a bear. I know some of you can’t imagine that, but trust me, I can be truly unpleasant when I’m overwhelmed and too busy.

So what the heck?

I wonder, on some deeper level, if I do this to myself because I’m looking for joy. I wonder if deep down inside I think that stressing myself out to make everyone happy will bring me joy. In my head, I know that’s silly, but I have the heart of a people pleaser. So sometimes I wonder. And then I read a verse like today’s, Psalm 119:143.

143 As pressure and stress bear down on me,
      I find joy in your commands.

Where are we supposed to find joy? According to this verse, joy comes from God’s commands. I’ve blogged before on how God’s commands should bring us joy because they give us opportunities to receive blessings. But it’s one thing to know that God’s commands bring us joy; it’s something else to turn to them as the source of joy.

Another translation says that God’s commands give us delight. Whether you’re finding joy in God’s commands or taking delight in them, neither one is the natural response to scripture most of the time. And that’s probably the point.

Our human natures tell us to look for joy in what makes us feel good, whether that be in some sort of addictive behavior or, in my case, making other people happy. But that doesn’t bring true joy.

So what’s the use of a verse like this, though? What does it mean for my day today? Well … I live a fast-paced, high octane kind of life. I don’t think it’s a big life, but it’s sure not a small one either. There’s a lot going on. I have a lot to do and not a lot of time to do it. And I’m excited about get-togethers with long lost friends. But I need to stop trying to glean joy from them. Because people can be our focus without being our source of joy.

And I need to remember that when the day starts getting to me, when I get overwhelmed with everything that’s happening in my life, I need to turn to God’s commands and remember that He gave them to us so that we could delight in them. Worship. Give. Love. Memorize Scripture. Love our enemies. Forgive our friends. Forgive ourselves. Trust God. Honor. Obey. Submit.

Obey His commands and take joy in them because by obeying you’re giving God the chance to bless you. So don’t stress. And don’t let the pressure get to you. Just focus on God’s commandments.

Your blood pressure and your hair color will thank you. =)

Does disobeying God’s commandments mean He won’t love us?

Today’s verse is John 15:10.

10 When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.

I had to read this a few times (and in a few different translations) because I wanted to make sure I understood what it was saying. At first glance, if you just skim over this single verse, I’m pretty sure you would think that it’s saying if we obey God’s commandments then He will love us. So, of course, if that is true, then the opposite would be true. That if we disobey God’s commandments He won’t love us. And I know that’s not true.

Other Scripture passages tell us that God loves us in spite of our disobedience. And the Bible never contradicts itself. If there is any contradiction inferred, it is a lack of understanding of Scripture or it is a problem in the translation.

So what could this verse mean, then? What does it mean to “remain in God’s love”? Well . . . I don’t speak Greek so I can’t compare it to the actual original language. But I can compare it to the rest of the verse.

John 15 is one of my favorite chapters in the New Testament. It’s another one of those hallmark chapters that every Christian should know. It talks about Jesus being the True Vine and that we are the branches and God is the gardener, and if we want to produce abundant fruit, we have to abide in Christ. We have to remain in Christ. Because apart from Christ, we can’t accomplish anything.

So is the word remain the same in both situations? In the Greek? I can’t tell. (I really need to take a class in Greek . . . wouldn’t that be awesome?) But in the Amplified Version, both of these verses also incorporate the idea of living in Christ . . . or living in love.

So what does it mean to live in God’s love?

Again, since I don’t speak Greek, maybe I shouldn’t even try to explain this. But to me–and knowing what the rest of Scripture says about following Christ–living in God’s love means being free of religious obligation. It means that since there is nothing I have done to earn God’s love to begin with, there’s nothing I can do to earn it in the future.

He loves me because He is love. I don’t deserve it. And there’s nothing I could ever do to deserve it. All I can do is accept it or reject it. There are no rules to follow. No rituals to complete. No ceremonies that must be finished in order to put me in good standing with God. He already loves me more than anything else in the universe.

Living in God’s love is accepting that.

Okay, so how does that jive with the rest of the verse?

10 When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.

Doesn’t John 15:10 say there are commandments we need to follow? So how does that work with being free of rules and rituals and obligations?

Well, you have to consider what the commands are. Love God. Love people. Those are the most important commandments.

The commandments aren’t rules. I guess you can look at them that way if you want to, but that’s such a shallow view of such a beautiful opportunity. My awesome Pastor did a message series at church on blessings called Bless U . . . and I tell you what, it revolutionized my perspective on God’s commandments. God’s commandments aren’t a list of dos and don’ts. Every commandment in God’s Word is an opportunity to receive a blessing. When we obey God’s commandments, it gives God the opportunity to bless us, to reward us.

As believers in Christ, we are not bound by the Law. No one–except Christ–has ever been able to keep the Ten Commandments. The Commandments weren’t given to us as rules to live by so that we could gain entry into heaven. The Commandments were given to show us that we can’t ever be perfect. And that we needed someone who was perfect to pay for our sins.

John 15:10, to me, means that when we keep God’s commandments, God is able to give us what we are seeking to achieve, over and above what we are expecting. When we keep God’s commandments, it gives us the opportunity to live in God’s love on a daily basis, remembering that it’s not by rules or rituals or religion that we are granted entry into heaven . . . but only by the grace of God.