Friday, July 31, 2009

Turning My Misery into Joy

I just got home from a week at 4-H camp.

One of my friends jokingly called it my "week in paradise." Let me assure you that it is anything but that. Another friend teasingly wished me a wonderful week at "Club Mud" because of the rainy weather we had ... Club Mud is definitely a much closer description than Club Med! I honestly don't think there can possibly be any comparison between Camp Grant Walker and a spa resort vacation.

Yes, it rained every single day at Camp Grant Walker this past week. Some days it rained all morning or all afternoon or both. It was the miserable kind of rain, where there is just no way to keep from getting soaked to the bone. Naturally, this being a camp and all, many of the activities are outside activities. Unless the weather is truly severe (lots of loud thunder and lightening), the kids are kept to their normal camp activities (minus the pool and canoeing). This week the rainy weather was often the kind that was sans thunder and lightening. Therefore, I spent a great portion of my time this past week standing around outside looking for all the world like a losing contestant in a water balloon fight or a professional car washer or something along those lines. Being wet can be fun at first, and can sort of help bond everyone together, which is a rather good thing at camp. However, it really doesn't take very long before the novelty and the fun is over. You really just want to put on some dry clothes ... or at least that's the way I felt about it.

Thanks to all that rain, the sandy campgrounds turned to a nasty, gritty kind of mud that just got everywhere. All day long, I'd walk around the campgrounds and the sand would work its way between my toes. I'd go to the cabin only to find that there was wet, dirty sand all over the floors. The bathhouse was even worse ... wet sand covered everything from the floors to the shower stalls. I couldn't seem to get all of the sand off of my body, and so it got in my bed ... not to mention the 22 very sandy little girls who liked to come sit next to me on my bed and chat about all of their adventures at camp. I don't have to say it, but I will ... my bed got covered in sand. There isn't much way to get wet sand out of a bed, and attempting to sleep in wet and sandy sheets is a rather miserable task.

This past week was in many ways a miserable week. This summer has been in many ways a miserable sort of summer. Lots of unpleasant circumstances ... things that wear me down and make me feel utterly miserable. And yet, I have to say that God's been teaching me a lot though my personal circumstances this summer.

The first thing I'm learning is that I'm suppose to give thanks in everything ... not just for those things that bring me joy, but EVERYTHING. That means being thankful even when I've got sand between my toes and sand in my bed and an a/c that doesn't work for over a month in the hottest part of the summer. Those things can be miserable ... in fact, more than miserable. These are certainly not things that I feel like thanking God for at all. I'd rather complain about them. I'd rather ask God to remove them from my life as soon as possible.

Truly, it doesn't even normally cross my mind to thank Him when I'm miserable. And yet, this is His very clear instruction to us ... in all things give thanks. I looked up verses about being thankful in the Bible and there are quite a few. Here's just a short sampling of what the Bible had to say about the importance of thanking God.

Oh, Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever. Ps.30:12

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Romans 1:21

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Philippians 4:6

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17

Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:18

It doesn't seem to me that being unthankful is really an option ... that is, if I'm taking God and His word to me in a serious sort of manner. And I don't think that God necessarily expects us to feel thankful. He simply wants us to intentionally choose to be thankful ... no matter what.

Secondly, I'm learning that God expects me to live in a state of joy despite the discomforts of this world. Being miserable and suffering is not an excuse for me to spend my time complaining and venting and spreading my misery ... even if there is a lot of sand between my toes and sand in my bed and no a/c in my office for over a month during the hottest part of the summer. Instead, I'm suppose to allow Christ to be in me so much that there is a depth of joy that even the most unimaginable miseries of this earth cannot destroy.

Quite frankly, the lack of a/c at work or the sand invading my bed and my shoes really is not the sort of misery that is unimaginable. I just finished reading the book "The Hiding Place" by Corrie ten Boom. Speaking of unimaginable miseries, this fine Christian lady went through some truly unimaginable horrors during the holocaust. Her story is inspiring, for through it she tells how she is thankful for fleas in her bed, ants as her only companions for 4 months, and many other unspeakable cruelties at the hands of the Nazis. She tells how she and her sister Betsy sought to bring comfort and peace from God to those suffering with them, and even the very German soldiers who were bringing the misery to their lives. She tells how God gave her joy even those dark days ... days that we know as one of the darkest times in the entire history of the world.

I read that book at camp during the first two days I was there, and afterwards found it hard to complain about walking through the wet, sandy muck for 4 1/2 days. I knew that I'd be going back to the comforts of home in just a few days. Corrie ten Boom had no idea when the horrific life she lived while at the mercy of the Nazi soldiers would end. What the ten Boom sisters lived through was not just a short-lived miserable situation, like the wet, sandy conditions at camp or the heat of my office without a/c in July. I will likely have forgotten much about sand in my bed at camp before the end of August, but the horrors and effects of the holocaust still haunt our world today. Corrie and her sister Betsy lived a joyful life, despite the horrors all around them. They found that depth of joy in their relationship with Christ and never stopped being a light for Him. I felt both inspired and convicted as I read their testimony about the joy of walking with Jesus.

I've found a few verses on joy in the Lord as well. In fact, the Bible verses on joy were abundant. This is truly just a few of them:

Then I would still have this consolation— my joy in unrelenting pain— that I had not denied the words of the Holy One.
Job 6:10

He will yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy. Job 8:21

But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you. Psalm 5:11

You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. Psalm 16:11

Sing joyfully to the LORD, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him. Psalm 33:1

When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul. Psalm 94:19

A cheerful look brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones. Proverbs 15:30

It really seems that a joyful attitude is another thing God expects from His children. Not just joy when things are going our way, but a joy that is so deep that the little daily miseries or the big, horrible miseries cannot take away the joy that is in our heart.

Earlier this summer, God started off showing me about the importance of being thankful. That was why I mentioned it first. Learning about joy came next, but almost as an addition to what I was learning about being thankful and not as a separate thing. So imagine how thrilled I was to find this verse as I was looking up references for my thanksgiving and joyful verses that I wanted to share:

The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.
Psalm 19:8

If God commands us to be thankful in all circumstances, then we are promised that when we do offer our thanks to Him, He will give us joy in our hearts. How amazingly simple: A joyful heart is the fruit of a thankful heart! So very simple and yet it bears repeating: If I want to be joyful then I've got to be thankful!

I've been learning these lessons all summer, and I'm still learning even in the midst of writing this little note on what God has already shown to me. Even as I sit here pondering all these thoughts that are racing around my head, I am not at all sure that God is close to being through with showing me how important it is to be thankful and joyful in all of life's circumstances. I readily admit that I can be a slow learner at times, often taking 2 baby steps forward only to turn around and take 3 giant steps back. I may not be a quick study, but tonight I'm hoping and praying that I'll be an eager learner who diligently and intentionally tries to put what I'm being taught into practice each and every day.

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Roman 12:12

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