I have been absolutely amazed in the last 8 months of writing the literature for our small groups at how God has so clearly spoken to me on which topic to write on each month. They aren’t always topics that I prefer (ahem….anyone remember September’s?) but they are necessary. I am thankful that God knows what we need better than we ourselves do!
I am really excited about what God has for us this month! About five years ago, I read the book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. It had such a profound affect on me that I committed to reading it at least once a year. In this book, Ann Voskamp expresses her hunger to live her one life well. She asks the question, “How do we find joy in the midst of deadlines, debt, drama, and daily duties? What does a life of gratitude look like when your days are gritty, long, and sometimes dark? What is God providing here and now?”
So for the month of November, we will be focusing on how to open our eyes to gratitude and a way of becoming present to God’s presence that brings deep and lasting joy.
The Difference Between Joy and Happiness
Did you know that there is a difference between joy and happiness? I have always defined the difference like this:
Happiness is the feeling we get when our circumstances are favorable. Joy is a state of being despite circumstances.
Happiness depends on our well-being. Joy depends on God.
We tend to think that our circumstances determine the quality of our lives. So we pour our resources into controlling all of the variables that we think will add up to our happiness. We feel happy when things are going well but when things don’t go as we had hoped, we despair.
1. What does happiness look like for you? Give real life examples of circumstances that make you happy.
2. Do any of those things bring you lasting joy?
The truth is, sweet sisters, true and lasting joy can only come from God. There are plenty of things in this life like our houses, cars, jobs, church family, etc,. that bring us happiness. There are also plenty of people in this life that will also bring us happiness like our husbands, children, grandkids, etc. But all of things can and will fail us. Christ never does.
My hope is that we will come away from this study knowing that it is possible to be content in any and every situation. Our well-being does not have to depend on our circumstances. Take a look at these verses:
“I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. “
3. Give examples from your own life when you were “brought low” but still felt the peace of God and joy despite your circumstances.
Fight for Joy
Take a look at Philippians 4:12 again. How does all of that relate to the day in and day out routines of life? The mundane? How does it relate to the unpredictable troubles that we face in this life? I mean, sure, I know that Christ should be my source of joy but I don’t always feel joyful.
In my (almost) twenty-eight years, I have come to realize that true joy is not going to be handed to me on a silver platter. Joy is something that we must deliberately pursue. Joy is something that we must fight for. For the believer, joy is always there, it just gets clouded out by trials, mundane routines, busyness of life, etc. We live in a broken, sinful world and there is much darkness to be seen. The darkness is sometimes much easier to recognize than the light.
4. What are some things that steal your joy?
No matter your circumstances, for the believers in Christ, light shines ever-so-brightly upon every one of us. It’s there-always present, but in order to recognize it, we must train our eyes to see.
Training Our Eyes
After reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, I came to realize that we must fight for joy through deliberate recognition of God’s grace upon our lives. John Piper put it this way, “ If you want to be really alert to seeing Jesus’ divine beauty, his glory…then make sure you tune your senses to see his grace.”
We are all intended to come to Jesus like this––as a child…to have child-like faith….to see wonder all around us. To slow down enough to notice what is right before us. And to stand in awe of the One who created it all for His glory and our joy. This, I believe, is the key to experiencing life to the full. To relish in the grace of God––the favor He continually pours upon us.
Have you ever wondered why children seem to have an intense sense of wonder that is lost on most adults? Have you noticed their eyes dance in amazement at simple, little things we take for granted?
What if we could revert back to this child-like innocence that hasn’t been marred by the darkness of life?
The truth is , we can! But we must start by training our eyes to see all of the grace that God pours out all around us.
When our joy is threatened, we can usually trace it back to one thing: We have lost sight of all the many ways we have been blessed and we focus on the negative. Our joy begins to slowly slip away. We become discontent.
I like what Ann Voskamp has to say about when we find ourselves without any joy:
“The habit of discontentment can only be driven out by hammering in one iron sharper. The sleek pin of gratitude.”
In the midst of trials, irritation, mundane tasks, etc., the last thing we tend to do is focus on our blessings. But if we are going to learn to fight for joy, we have to change our habits. And habits are overcome by habits.
Even in the most dire situations, all of us have things to be thankful for that we can focus on. Philippians 4:8-9 says:
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
The God of peace will be with you.
5. What does this verse mean to you? Has there been a time in your life when circumstances were horrible but you found your joy by focusing on your blessings?
Ladies, the truth is, real change takes intentionality. And we are going to have to be intentional about fixing our mind on God. We are actually going to have to do something.
Jean Pierre de Caussade said this:
“When one is thirsty one quenches one’s thirst by drinking, not by reading books which treat of his condition.”
The same goes for us. If we are longing for joy, just reading this bible study is not going to quench our thirst. We are going to have to lift the cup of gratitude to our lips and drink…
But how do you drink the cup of gratitude in the midst of death and divorce and debt? Is that possible?
According to Paul, it is. Take a look at Philippians 4:11-12 again:
“I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little.”
To learn how to be grateful with hands full or hands empty is the key to joy. Will you take the journey with me?
The Power of Writing Things Down
Ann encourages others to begin to list each and every grace, or gift, seen in our lives and in the world around us. We must list our gifts so we might properly recognize them.
“If you want to change the world, pick up your pen.” (Martin Luther)
So in the midst of list-making-season, I challenge you to make a different list that your probably haven’t ever made before….A Gratitude List.
I keep mine in a journal that I have entitled “Evidences of Grace”. When I first took Ann’s challenge 5 years ago to literally count my blessings, I had no idea that it would be so life changing. The joy that came from listing my blessings amazed me. I had no idea that taking the time to really focus on all the things going on around me would bring me so much joy…to be really present in all the moments…to be all there…so often we do not fully know how truly blessed we are because we do not “live in the moment”. We are so distracted by a million other things vying for our attention, that we do not give enough attention to the little details. …We do not realize that God’s fingerprints are on everything. We miss out on so many blessings. We miss out on so much joy.
For the rest of November, pray that your eyes be opened to all grace––in, through, and around your life. Number the ways God has been good to you. Recount His deeds. His creation.
Today, set aside time to begin a journal. Begin counting the gifts you’ve been given because, after all, everything is from the Lord. And all is grace, even that which appears to harm us will ultimately be used for our good. So count them. Count them today, tomorrow, and every day henceforth––giving thanks to the One from whom they’ve been given. To the One who loves you immeasurably more than you will ever conceive.
Let us practice thanksgiving. Let it not be something we think about merely one day each year on Thanksgiving Day, but let us become a people known for our thankful hearts. Let us become a people known for our joy….Joy that can only come from God.
And in case you need some help starting your gratitude journal, let me get you started with three things that you have to be thankful about:
1. God is with you and will watch over you wherever you go
2. He will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches
3. Nothing in all creation will be able to separate you from His love