February 24, 2005
Encouragement for Today

Joy for the Journey - Part 1
Mary Southerland, Director of Development, Author and Speaker (mary@proverbs31.org)

Key Verse:  

"I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly." John 10:10 (NKJV)

Devotion:

Jesus lived and died so that we can experience abundant life!  How often we pass over those words without stopping to grasp the amazing truth they hold.  Jesus did not come so that we can merely survive life.  Pagans can survive life.  God's plan is for us to thrive in the midst of the days, months and years we call life.  A continual feast of joy - with every breath we take. 

John 10:10 clearly states the promise of God, "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly." (NKJV)  In this verse, "abundant" literally means "going beyond; full or exuberant". In other words, an abundant life is a life filled with joy!  Even in the midst of a joy-less world we can live a joy-filled life for one simple reason - God is in control!  And because He is in control, we are promised, "A cheerful heart has a continual feast." (Proverbs 15:15 NIV) 

Life, my friend, should be an ongoing celebration.

Now, be honest for a moment.  Is your life a continual feast, a daily celebration?  Would those who know you best describe you as a woman of joy? Laughter and joy are treasures from God, valuable to us for many reasons.

Joy heals!

Proverbs 17:22 "A happy heart is like good medicine, but a broken spirit drains your strength." (NCV)
 
Author and speaker, Barbara Johnson, says that "One laugh = 3 Tbs. of oat bran."  For many years, we lived in the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale area where hospitals and doctors developed "laughter programs".  I love it!  Doctors are actually prescribing laughter.  Why?  Because they have discovered what scripture has said for thousands of years - that laughter heals!  The documented benefits of laughter are:

Exercise for lungs
Increased circulation
Controlled pain
Reduced tension
Strengthened immune system

In other words, God created us to illustrate the truth, that if we laugh more days, we will have more days to laugh!  Joy heals!

Joy makes us strong!

Joy - humor - laughter - all cultivate inner strength that operates beyond our own human abilities.  His joy in us will produce His strength through us.  The joy of the Lord in us will produce His strength through us!  The words of Nehemiah say it beautifully, "The joy of the Lord is your strength."  Nehemiah 8:10 (NIV)

A life without joy is like a car without shock absorbers. It will be jolted by every bump in the road.  Laughter and joy are the shock-absorbers of life and can radically change our perspective of life and the tough times it holds. 

Several years ago, one of my friends underwent a mastectomy.  Sally was out of work for months, undergoing surgery, radiation and chemotherapy treatments. All in all, it was a horrendous ordeal! She was not known for her inner strength and, in fact, often seemed fragile and frail in her handling of tough circumstances. Sally's battle with cancer was by far the greatest challenge of her life.  Anticipating her return to work, Sally's co-workers were a little tense, wondering just how this experience would affect her personally as well as her ability to handle the stress of her job.  They got their answer on her first day back at work. Sally walked in, smiling, wearing a poster-board sign around her neck.  On the sign was a huge black arrow pointing down.  The sign read, "It was this one!"  Yes, joy and laughter make us strong!


Joy makes the ordinary special!

Someone said, "If you have to move ten inches from where you are now to be happy, then you will never be truly happy."  We need to celebrate the ordinary things in life because it is against the backdrop of the ordinary that God's work becomes extraordinary.  As we celebrate the ordinary - as we celebrate the little things in life - we build a life of joy!  We don't have trouble celebrating the big events in life.  Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries - are celebrations we anticipate and execute with great planning and forethought.  We tend to place unrealistic expectations on these celebrations because there is no daily celebration of life.

So celebrate, my friends! Celebrate Tuesdays, half birthdays, haircuts, new jeans and report cards.  Celebrate the day braces go on - and especially the day they come off.  Celebrate if Dad comes home early.  Hey - celebrate if Dad comes home!  My husband is an absolute master at finding joy and laughter in the ordinary and often mundane things of life.  Now before I go any further, you need to know that I have his full permission to share the following illustration.  I believe his exact words were, "Go for it!"

Several years ago, our family was flying to Texas for the Christmas holidays. Before I could even begin packing, a mountain of laundry had to be done.  My sweet husband offered to help.  After the first few loads, we turned on the television to watch a Christmas special. Settling into the couch sitting under a wall of windows, we folded load after load of clothes. It was midnight and Dan was bored - a dangerous combination. The drier buzzed and out he went to retrieve the final load. He came back into the room wearing a "hat" which turned out to be a pair of my sexiest underwear.  I burst out laughing - and so did the people outside our family room windows! 

Each year, our church youth decorated Christmas trees and delivered them to the older members of our congregation - a wonderful act of service.  They also had a contest to see who could produce the ugliest tree, which was always delivered to the pastor's home on Christmas Eve.  But since we would be out of town on Christmas Eve, they had chosen this particular night to deliver the prized tree.  Outside our windows stood youth workers, youth and the youth pastor - laughing hysterically.  (Some of them are still in counseling today!)  That ordinary chore has become a favorite family story.  Joy and laughter make the ordinary special. 

I want it all!  I want everything that God has for me!  I want to celebrate life!  But I often get so wrapped up in the urgent things that I lose sight of the important things. A celebratory attitude is slowly siphoned from our souls by the countless "joy robbers" the enemy sends our way.  Guard your heart and mind!  Refuse to surrender your God-given joy to anyone or anything.  Join me this week as we celebrate Jesus!  Party on!

My prayer for today:

Father, I celebrate you!  Thank you for bringing joy and peace into my dark world.  Thank you for a love that never fails and a peace that meets every need.  Help me to remember that because you are in control, I can have joy every step of the way.  Amen!

Application steps

Evaluate the joy-level in your heart and in your home.

Identify any "joy-robbers" and make a plan to eliminate them.

Plan a party, announcing that the flag of joy will be flying above your home. 

Memorize the key verse today and make it one of your life verses.

Reflection points:

Would my family describe me as a woman of joy?
 
What sources am I counting on for joy?

Have joy and laughter ever "healed" my attitudes?

How does God feel about His children living joy-less lives?

Power verses:

"Be still and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10

"I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry.  He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand." Psalm 40:1-2

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all Understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:6-7

Additional Resources:

Coming Out of the Dark by Mary Southerland
http://www.gospelcom.net/p31/resources/outofdark.html

P31 Woman Magazine
http://www.gospelcom.net/p31/resources/p31woman.html