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The Battle and Joy and Rest 

Have you ever been on a road trip and you're moving on down the highway, the traveling is pretty smooth at first and you think to yourself,"Wow, what a great trip!  I can't believe there isn't any traffic, and the sky is so clear and beautiful!"

About two seconds later you hear a huge CRACKBOOM and lightning strikes on the horizon.  The sky darkens and it begins to rain, a spattering at first which quickly turns into a downpour that makes it impossible to see.  Couple this sudden storm with the bumper-to-bumper traffic that appeared out of nowhere, and you begin frantically to look for a place to stop, be safe, and catch your breath. 

Just recently I have found myself enjoying my days.  That might not sound like a big deal to a lot of people, but for me it was pretty huge.  Days went by and I was able to talk myself out of a funk several times.  I was walking, sometimes twice a day.  I was smiling a lot.  I didn't mind my kids moseying down the sidewalk instead of hurry-hurry-hurrying.  My birthday was really fun and special.  And any time a situation cropped up that started to make me angry or frustrated or feel the beginning tinges of despair I firmly said to myself (maybe even audibly),"I am not going to let this take my joy away!" 

Soon it felt like the harder I was trying, the more situations were cropping up.  Maybe it just felt that way because I was more aware and engaged...or maybe the battle was really on.  The last two days have been very difficult.  I have been such a grouch!  My allergies have been in overdrive and it alters my already-unbalanced personality; my nose literally turns into a faucet even after taking two Benedryl.  And try reading to your child when you are loaded up with Benedryl!  You say things like,"I'm making a cake for my morning!" instead of "I'm making a cake for my mommy!"  My patience level is down, my motivation is's so discouraging to see myself get so far along and then seemingly come to a screeching halt.   Just like that trip that seemed so pleasant and easy, which all of a sudden becomes a bit threatening and treacherous.

I know I need to remember that I cannot, in fact, sustain a joyful disposition.  I cannot will myself to have joy in spite of what is going on around me, in spite of the sameness of our crazy life.  I will have to keep seeking out the One who is the joy-giver.  I find myself thinking often of the quote from St. Augustine,"Lord, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee."  I feel so restless!  I long to rest in the Lord, but I haven't figured out what that means or looks like yet.  I'm sure there is no formula, and that it is actually a process which looks quite different for each person.  I guess I'm trying to say that I need God to help me.

I don't like help!  I don't like to think I can't do it all by myself (What am I...three?!).  Facts are facts, though, and it is abundantly clear that I do need help. 

So.  Here I am, asking God to help me, right now in this moment after these two days of struggling against mundane yet often annoying and even subversive events in my life.  These things that are seemingly insignificant somehow end up having so much power...and only the Lord ought to have power in my mind and heart. 

There are several verses in 2 Chronicles which speak of God in battle on behalf of his people.  Asa, one king of Israel/Judah who followed and loved the Lord (unlike many before and after him), prays to God before battle,"'LORD, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, O LORD our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this vast army. O LORD, you are our God; do not let man prevail against you.'" After victory in battle and encouragement from a prophet, Asa calls upon his people to commit to the Lord and take an oath.  After they do this,"All Judah rejoiced about the oath because they had sworn it whole-heartedly. They sought God eagerly, and he was found by them. So the LORD gave them rest on every side." (emphasis mine)  This rest lasts until King Asa turns away from God and makes an alliance with a foreign king and stops relying on God alone for his peace.

Later King Jehoshaphat (Asa's son) is also facing an enemy's army; he calls out to God,"'O LORD, God of our fathers, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you...O our God, will you not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.'"

The Lord responds to the king through a prophet,"'Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God's...You will not have to fight this battle. Take up your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the LORD will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the LORD will be with you.'" (emphasis mine)  After the battle (which they do not even have to fight, for the enemies fight one another and destroy each other) the Israelites return home.  The passage continues,"'Then, led by Jehoshaphat, all the men of Judah and Jerusalem returned joyfully to Jerusalem, for the LORD had given them cause to rejoice over their enemies...And the kingdom of Jehoshaphat was at peace, for his God had given him rest on every side.'" (emphasis mine) 

What strikes me about these stories is that the kings are facing vast armies, mighty enemies.  They are trained and armed for war.  Yet, the people of Judah follow the king's lead and trust the Lord not only to protect them, but to bring them victory over these warriors.  In Jehoshaphat's case, he literally says their army has no power and know not what to do, but will look only at God for direction.  Man, that is how I feel!  I am powerless, and I don't have a clue what I'm supposed to do.  I am up against what feels like a huge army, and I'm afraid and discouraged (I even used that word up above!).  But here is the solution!  DO NOT TAKE MY EYES OFF OF THE LORD! 

Do you know what it brings?  Looking to the Lord brings joy and rest!  Isn't that what we are all longing for?  It's simply what we want, what we are designed to and rest.  Think of Adam in the garden, before he disobeyed.  He was so joyful; he walked with the Lord and was not burdened by anything.  He worked in the garden, but it was a delight.

This heavyness is something that has been carried by people throughout the history of our world.  We all know what it feels like.  When we read about someone else who is feeling pain, suffering through a situation, we feel for them, because we know what it's like to hurt, to long for wholeness.  And we won't know true wholeness until all things are made new (which couldn't happen fast enough for me!)...but until then we can be comforted by God's promises.  He has promised that all things will, indeed, be made new.  And he promises that the battle is not ours, but his.  And some of the most beautiful words ever said came from Jesus as he spoke to his disciples (and maybe others?),"'Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.'"  So many years after the kings of Israel were fighting for rest and peace, Jesus is offering that same rest and peace, but even more so since it is within.  Who wouldn't want to learn from someone who is "gentle" and "humble in heart"? 

This is one lesson that I am still learning, even after many times of sitting in on the teaching!  I often choose the hard yoke, and the heavy burden over what Jesus offers.  May I truly begin to take Jesus' shoulders are hurting!

Making a deliberate choice to be joyful is coming easier these days...and on the days when it isn't, I will learn to lean.  I think that sometimes we are enabled in a way that makes it seem like we are naturals.  And some days it is more evident that we are always enabled. 

I hope that makes sense. 

And as random as it seems, this little flower has been bringing me joy for the last week or so...


When, Not If

Psalm 20:5a

We will shout for joy when you are victorious
       and will lift up our banners in the name of our God.


Throughout the history of Israel, God fought for them.  He was for them, and he was before, behind, beside, and among them.  He led, he brought up the rear.  He shielded and defended, and made a way for them in battle.

God has not changed, although the battleground may have.  He goes before us, he guards behind us, he stands beside us, and he moves among us.  He is leading us into whatever battle we may be entering and he is bringing up the rear, still.  He is our shield.  He is our mighty defender.  He is making a way for us that will lead to victory.

In fact, he is already victorious.  The battle, the great battle has been won.  We are still bound by time, though, and so we are anticipating this victory from the vantage point of soldiers in the middle of a war.  Even though we know the battle is won, there is still fighting going on.  While this carries on here, this side of Heaven, we will see victories.  And for those victories we can praise the God who defeats and we can "shout for joy" every time we witness him conquering an enemy.  Right now, for me, the enemy in my life is in my mind.  Paul says,"For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.  The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.  On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strong-holds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." (2 Corinthians 10:3-5, emphasis mine)  This is my battleground.  And sometimes I want to retreat!  But, I won't!

Lift up your banner, acknowledge his might!  He can do what seems impossible...he is the LORD!

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