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What Gets In The Way of Your Joy | Advent

What Gets In The Way of Your Joy | Advent

Monday Then Mary said: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!”   Luke 1:46-47

Do you make statements like that? Maybe when you get a promotion, your kid is accepted into a great college, or things are going your way. It’s great to praise the Lord when His plan intersects with ours, when He’s provided, protected, and granted us the desires of our hearts. But that’s not when Mary made her grand statement. She’d just been told by God that she would become pregnant out of wedlock, give birth as a virgin, and face cultural rejection. A thousand shock waves must have rippled down her spine. But instead of questioning God’s plan, she worshiped. Trust gave her a joy that circumstances couldn’t steal.

But they certainly steal ours. The layoffs started. The kids aren’t turning out so well. Cancer barges into your family and your world turns upside down. What’s your immediate reaction? Is it joy? Probably not. But Mary had the kind of joy that wasn’t affected by circumstances. That’s probably why God chose her. He knew the heavy burden she was about to carry and He also knew her joy would sustain her. It will sustain us too if we rely on it. Lack of joy is an indication that our priorities are out of whack. We’re cherishing earthly joys instead of eternal ones. Mary could rejoice in God’s plan because she could see beyond RIGHT NOW. When we look beyond RIGHT NOW to God’s bigger picture, circumstances can’t steal our joy.

Challenge: What in your life has the power to steal your joy? Maybe you’re not looking ahead far enough.

Prayer: Father, I let all kinds of things steal my joy. I base my happiness on my circumstances and they’re always changing. Please forgive me and help me refocus on eternity. I want to have Mary’s joy—that nothing could steal. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Tuesday— Joseph her husband, righteous and not willing to shame her…resolved to divorce her quietly.  Matthew 1:19 

He’d tossed and turned every night since she told him. Their wedding was approaching, but now this. How could he marry someone who’d betrayed him? The hurt was deep. He’d waited a long time for sweet Mary. How could she do this to him? He wanted to believe her story, but c’mon…an angel? A virgin conception? Even a loving fiancé couldn’t buy a story like that. But   grieved as he was, it was worse to think about her humiliation. She’d face ridicule, rejection by friends and family, a bad reputation. Maybe he could send her somewhere safe. She’d be alone, but at least she’d be far from judging eyes.

For a short time, Joseph was a wronged fiancé. He felt all the shock and sorrow we’d feel if it happened to us. When someone we love betrays us, stunned disbelief turns to anger. Then self-protection. Joy evaporates like a morning mist and we wonder if God has betrayed us too. Protecting the one who hurt us is the last thing on our minds. But Joseph’s reaction to betrayal is probably one reason God chose him to raise His Son. Joseph refused to let hurt decide his actions. He would do what was right, even if he never felt joy again. Mary’s situation did not have the power to steal his joy or his relationship with God. Those came from a different source. And no one has the power to steal our joy unless we give it to them. When hurt or betrayal try to force joy out of our lives, we can say NO. Joy comes from a deeper source and will come again if we keep doing right.

Challenge: When your joy is threatened by the decisions of someone else, keep doing what is right and it will come again.

Prayer: Father, when I’m hurt or betrayed, I don’t usually keep the other person’s best in mind. In fact, I retaliate. I want them to hurt like they hurt me. Help me see Joseph as a model for continuing to do right, even when it hurts. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Wednesday When they saw the star, they were filled with joy!   Matthew 2:10

We hear stories about strange sights in the sky: spaceships, flashing lights, or alien creatures. Some people even claim aliens have spoken to them, abducted them, or operated on them. The earthlings’ reactions are always shock, fear, or confusion. But rarely do we hear “…they were filled with joy.” A group of shepherds saw strange sights in the sky and heard angels speaking. But their response differs greatly from the alien-watchers. They knew instantly what was happening and joy exploded inside them. That understanding caused them to set aside their own plans and embrace God’s. That’s the secret to keeping joy.

But maybe you thought you’d be married by now. Or you’re stuck being a fulltime caregiver. Maybe you assumed you’d be farther ahead in your career, or you never imagined you’d face life without your loved one. Events shatter our world and change our plans. How we respond to those changes determines our level of joy. When we insist that our plan must go forward no matter what, we set ourselves up for chaos and heartbreak. But when we embrace interruptions like the shepherds did, we willingly change our plans to cooperate with God’s. Cooperating with God’s plan is the secret to maintaining joy.

Challenge: When the next event interrupts your plans, try saying, “Okay, Lord. May your will be done in my life. Lead on.”

Prayer: Father, it’s hard to see good in some of the things that have happened to me. But I want the attitude the shepherds had. Help me see that changes in my plans don’t have to steal my joy if I embrace them as your plan. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Thursday—  …(you) joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, knowing that you yourselves had a better and permanent possession.  Hebrews 10:34

From an article by John Piper:  “The Christian Church in America suffers from about 350 years of dominance and prosperity. … in most of American history, being Christian has been viewed as normal, good, patriotic and culturally acceptable. … being Christian has generally resulted in things going well for us American Christians. Since the Christian ethos has been dominant, it has also been a pathway to success. …this has deeply ingrained in us a massively unbiblical mindset, namely, a mindset of at-homeness in this world and in this age….we have developed a deeply ingrained assumption that things should go well for us, and that this is our world and our age, that being a good Christian and being well thought of must go together, and that poverty and sickness and suffering and death is the worst thing that can happen in a land of health, wealth, and ease…

“And so we have developed a form of Christianity to support this ingrained expectation of acceptance and comfort and prosperity. This Christianity begins by focusing on our felt needs (not our eternal ones…), and it makes its appeal on the basis that Christianity will make life a lot better for us in this world. It is not a call to suffer as an alien, but a call to prosper as a respected citizen—and to be very indignant and angry if we don’t. But we have gotten these things out of proportion. We have elevated the relatively minor this-worldly spinoffs of faith so highly and made them so dominant in our…expectations that the New Testament pattern of Christianity seems almost incredible to us.”

Challenge: Are health, wealth, and ease the source of your joy? Could you joyfully accept the confiscation of your property?

Prayer: Lord, this hits me hard. My joy is usually connected to positive circumstances. But I want the kind that could rejoice in suffering for your name’s sake. I want joy independent of circumstances. Deepen that kind of joy in me. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Friday When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, your consolations delight my soul.  Psalm 94:19

Anxiety disorders are at record highs across the world. Depression and anxiety were already bad, but COVID was a rocket booster. Fears, new challenges, and uncertainty about who or what to believe have become our new norms. And nothing steals joy like anxiety. Worries wake us at night and dog us through the day until we feel like drowning swimmers tangled in seaweed. Nothing helps, so many turn to addictions to try to escape. In depths of anxiety, joy seems as far away as Jupiter.

Anxiety is not unique to our culture; even Bible people suffered with it. But the human body was not designed to function in 21st century America. We mass-produce stress and force-feed it to every citizen. We’re online, teched-up, over-scheduled, and buried in paperwork at the expense of our health and sanity. But those who follow Jesus have an advantage. He’s boots on the ground. He’s written us hundreds of instructions, comforts, encouragements, and promises when anxieties multiply within us. But God’s promises are reserved for those who fear Him (Ps. 25:14). When life gets overwhelming and we don’t know what to do, we can look up at our strong God. If He’s the one we worship in good times, He’s promised to sustain us in bad times.

Challenge: Where do you run when anxious thoughts multiply within you?

Prayer: Father, I struggle with this. I try to cast my care on you, but it comes back. Help me to so ingrain your promises in my soul that even when anxiety soars, they are my delight. Teach me to have joy in the midst of anxiety. In Jesus’ name, amen.