In the list of the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22, joy comes second after love. It is an emotion that all of us would love to carry and many try to capture through striving for things that they think will bring it to them. They look to have material goods or orchestrate circumstances to their favor, but they are looking in the wrong places.
Psalm 16:11 tells us where to find joy: "In Your presence is fullness of joy..." (NAS) Joy is a manifestation of the presence of the Lord. If we want joy, our goal must be to get into the presence of the Lord. How do we do that?
1. Be thankful for the things that God has already done in your life. Look at Psalm 100:4. "Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name." Not only does our thanks draw the Lord closer to us, but it builds up our joy.
2. Learn to be content in every circumstance. Great respect for God and all He has done for us directs us into contentment. "The fear of the Lord leads to life: Then one rests content, untouched by trouble.” (Proverbs 19:23) Paul shares about his experience of contentment in Philippians 4:12-13. "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can to everything through Him who gives us strength." When we are content, it brings joy.
3. Put your hope in the Lord. "...Those who hope in me will not be disappointed." (Isaiah 49:23) Hope fosters joy. Paul tells us in Romans 12:12, "Be joyful in hope..." Joy and hope travel hand-in-hand.
4. Look for ways to bless others with acts of kindness or unexpected gifts. The Bible tells us this: "A man reaps what he sows." (Galatians 6:7) If we intentionally sow joy into another's life, that is what we will reap.
Choose to rejoice in the Lord. Our belief in Him fills us with inexpressible and glorious joy.
(1 Peter 1:8)
Driving out of my community I pass a row of large Ash trees—all of them dead. My suspicion is that they have been attacked by a foreign predator called the Emerald Ash Borer. This insect is not native to the United States but to China. Our government officials unknowingly let the insect slip in on wooden packing material brought by cargo ships or airplanes. The borer is actually an exotic beetle that is less than half an inch in length. While the adult eats the trees' foliage, the larvae feed on the inner bark so that the tree cannot transport water and nutrients. The borer was first discovered in 2002 in southeast Michigan. It was found in New Jersey in 2014. As of October 2018, it has been found in 35 states. According to the Arbor Day Foundation, since the borer has no natural predators in this country, it has killed tens of millions of ash trees and cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
What lesson does the Emerald Ash Borer teach us? I believe we can make an analogy between this foreign intruder and the foreigners who brought their idols into the culture of the Israelites. God knew that it would be important for His children to be holy and set apart from the world around them. He warned them about adopting the life patterns of other cultures.
In 1 Kings 11 we can read what happened to King Solomon because he did not follow the Lord's instructions concerning marrying foreign wives. (Deuteronomy 7:1-4) He married women from nations that the Lord specifically spoke against. "You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods." (1 Kings 11:2) Early in his reign, Solomon demonstrated great wisdom; however, as he began to accumulate riches, worldly goods, and foreign wives, his heart became hard. "As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods...So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord..." (1 Kings 11:4, 6)
I would imagine that Solomon did not intentionally slide down the slippery slope of rebellion. Though his marriages were for political gain, he became attached to his wives and began to worship their gods. As the number of his wives increased and he became more intimate with them, his heart became hard toward the Lord. His actions eventually killed his own kingdom. Like the borer that came into the Ash trees unnoticed, so was the influence of the foreign wives.
Peter warned against false prophets and teachers and the way they would influence the thinking of believers. "They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them..." (2 Peter 2:1) God told the children of Israel after they entered the Promised Land that they were to be a people set apart from the nations. "You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own." (Leviticus 20:26)
We have an enemy who deceptively introduces us to patterns of sin. They start out small but send us down a slippery slope that lands us into full-blown sins. As we gradually succumb to the lusts of the flesh, we become trapped in a lifestyle that leads to death. Let's be diligent to take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5) before we are enticed into a worldly behavior that leads us into darkness and death. Be encouraged. "God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear..." (1 Corinthians 10:13)
It has been written that Susanna Wesley is "the mother of Methodism" even though it was her sons John and Charles Wesley who started it. Methodism was an offshoot of a club that the brothers oversaw called "The Holy Club." The men in this club adopted rules for right living. In a book titled Wesley Gold. Pure. Refined, Ray Comfort compiled information about the Wesleys and the way they lived. He says this about the people who belonged to The Holy Club. "They divided their time into exact hours for study and for religious duties. They allotted as little time as possible to sleeping and eating, and as much as possible to holy devotions. They fasted until 3 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays, received Holy Communion once each week, studied and discussed the Greek New Testament and the Classics each evening in a member's room, and methodically brought all their lives under strict examination by each other. Because of this, it wasn’t long before they were being called The Holy Club by other students to mock their emphasis on devotion and righteous living. The precision with which they regulated their lives caused one young man to say, 'A new set of Methodists have sprung up.'...John Wesley, in his English Dictionary, defines a Methodist as 'one that lives according to the method laid down in the Bible.'"
When we investigate the details of the way of life established for the men of The Holy Club, we can trace their beginnings to the way Susanna Wesley raised her children. She was definitely a woman of influence where her boys were concerned. As a woman with strong devotion to her faith and family, and with a passionate love of the Lord, she taught her children disciplines that would stay with them for their entire lives.
It was at his mother's funeral in 1742 that John shared her advice on how to raise children. Here is some of what he shared:
I thought it fitting that we give tribute to this godly woman on Mother's Day. She was known as a woman of prayer whose petitions to the Lord had their intended result and a woman of uncompromising devotion to the Lord. Her strong faith and the impact it had on her children and others should be an inspiration. Susanna's life is a perfect example of a Proverbs 31 woman. "A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised." (Proverbs 31:30) One day all of us will appear before the Lord. We cannot stand before Him empty-handed. Let her life be like a pattern for all of us to follow.
Before taking the children of Israel to the Promised Land, God wanted them to come to His holy mountain, Mt. Sinai. When Moses met God, He told him this: "I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain." (Exodus 3:12) God determined that this would be the first destination for the children of Israel after leaving a life of slavery. He had much to teach them about Himself.
Exodus 16:1 tells us, "The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai on the 15th day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt." God's greatest desire is to have intimacy with His children. During the days from Passover to their arrival at Mt. Sinai He would concentrate on introducing Himself to the Israelites. On their trip, God began to show them who He is through several miracles. The bitter, undrinkable waters of Marah were healed when a stick/tree was placed in them and they became sweet. The Lord announced, "...I am the Lord who heals you--Yahweh Rapha" (Exodus 15:26) Food called manna, quail and water from a rock were provided by Yahweh Jaira--The God who Provides. "...Then you will know that I am the Lord your God." (Exodus 16:12) Victory was given to the children of Israel in a battle against the Amalekites. They learned that victory comes through praise, as Moses held up his hands. "Moses built an alter and called it The Lord is my Banner or Yahweh Nissi. He said, 'For hands were lifted up to the throne of the Lord...'" (Exodus 17:15-16)
The Israelites started to have a more personal relationship with God through getting to know him during the second month of the year, Iyar--sometimes called Ziv--meaning radiance. The second month of the year is linked with light or increasing revelation. During this month of transition from slavery to identity as a child of God, they were coming into a new level of intimacy with Him. It was during this month that God revealed the details of His covenant with His chosen people. The letter from the Hebrew alphabet that is linked to it is VAV which means connection. As they came to understand the goodness of God, they drew closer to Him. This is the month when we should do likewise! I see the Lord as a many-faceted diamond where there is always another facet of Him to know. This is a time to press into a deeper relationship with the Lord. "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things (things to eat, drink and wear talked about in Verse 31) will be given to you as well." (Matthew 6:33) "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you..." (Matthew 13:11) As we become more intimate with the Lord, we shall see more of the manifestation of His Kingdom.
The tribe of Issachar is associated with the month of Iyar and is known for their understanding of the times and seasons. They are linked with prosperity, intercession and blessing and show us how important it is to seek the Lord for deeper manifestations of His personality. We should make it our quest for the next 29 days to seek a greater manifestation of the three characteristics of God that He introduced during this time frame. God wanted His "kids" to know these characteristics before He gave them Torah in the third month. I believe there is a greater grace for healing, provision and victory as we celebrate the anniversary of what God demonstrated. (Iyar begins at sundown tonight.)
We have been grafted into the family of God (Romans 11:17-24) and are part of the covenant He made with the Israelites. It is time for us to pursue a deeper understanding of the God who loves to pour out His gifts, those introduced on the journey to Sinai and others such as mercy, faithfulness, righteousness, unconditional love and peace. Perhaps we will discover another facet of Him that we have not experienced before.
Joan E. Mathias