“Restore Your Joy” is sent online weekly to nearly 200 people in our Half/Time network but we wanted to make it available here for everyone to use and enjoy.
Some of the Steps suggested here may help you. Some may not. Either way, count on God cheering you on! Check back weekly for the following steps.
In His Love,
RESTORE YOUR JOY
Spiritual direction from Philippians, Step 1
It may be a while. It might seem out of reach right now. It’ll take some work. Spiritual work, that is. But if it’s true that “Joy is the serious business of heaven” (C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer) we’ve got heaven working hard for us. Our job is to co-sign the contract, renew it as often as necessary and keep doing our part, which as David prayed in Psalm 51:12 starts with “uphold me with a willing spirit.”
I’m inviting you to join me on a spiritual journey as we begin 2021. Not another study. Not more information. But concrete steps you and I may take towards restoring our joy. Our spiritual direction will be inspired by Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians, where the word “joy” or “rejoice” appears in almost every paragraph. Let’s begin with the first two verses:
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
- Identify someone who’s had a significant spiritual impact on your life,
- Reflect on the way(s) they brought God’s grace and peace to you,
- Thank God for His work in you through them.
RESTORE YOUR JOY
Spiritual direction from Philippians, Step 2
Last week we suggested Step 1 in our journey towards restoring our joy is to identify people who’ve had a significant spiritual impact on our life. This second step turns from receiving to giving.
Most of us carry some extra, unnecessary weight in our personal backpacks. In the sodden wool of thinking I’m alone and nobody understands or cares. In the freeze-dried form of unexpressed thanks. And in the shifting lead weight of impatience, accumulated hurt or giving up on someone in my life, thinking things will never change with them.
Step 2 is inspired by Philippians 1:3-6.
3 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, 4 always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.
- Thank God in prayer for someone who has been/is a real “partner” to you in your spiritual journey.
- Write a note/call/text/Facebook/email/or ?? someone you’d like to thank and really haven’t yet.
- Who could use a little more patience and grace from you while God continues His good work in them...and start giving it to them in little, subtle doses.
Spiritual direction from Philippians, #3
First an important caveat: Restoring your joy will most likely not be a sequential series of steps. Spiritual direction, spiritual disciplines, even spiritual steps are seldom if ever completed in a preset order. Or in a single transaction. As in “OK, I got this…what’s the next step?”
Fact is, spiritual growth is not a linear journey but more like hiking the Pacific Rim Trail. Up and down. Good days, bad days. Beautiful views, just more trees. Sweaty climbs, tootsie screaming descents. Awesome wonder, dicey weather and real dangers. Often, not always, a starlit ski overhead as you settle into your down bag.
We’ll keep numbering the suggested steps to help us mark the milestones in this journey. But take them as the Holy Spirit prompts you…or when your own sense of “I really need to do this…NOW!” is unmistakable.
This week’s Step is inspired by Philippians 1:7-11.
7 It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.
- Identify someone in your life who could use a little more of “the affection of Christ Jesus” from you and convey that to them in some personal way.
- Look for an opportunity to convey the love of Jesus to someone you encounter when you’re out and about this week and do it, however small a gesture.
RESTORE YOUR JOY
Spiritual direction from Philippians, Step 4
Historians, including that old curmudgeon Edward Gibbon of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire fame, tell us that one of the primary ways by which the Gospel began spreading throughout the Roman empire was through the military.
Our passage in Philippians this week identifies where this historically strategic movement quite literally might have begun. With Paul’s imprisonment! In the Mamertine prison, which you can still visit in the ancient Capitoline section of Rome. Not exactly a preaching forum. It was a life-witness venue. A conversation!
Imagine that! A conversation over a period of time, during the absolute zenith of Roman power, that ultimately changed the world. You never know where a conversation, even a momentary one, could lead.
This week’s Step is inspired by that reference in Philippians 1:12-14.
12 I want you to know, brothers that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
- Ask God to help you install, then maintain a spiritual check on your conversation. (Note: this may take way more than a week!)
- Ask yourself, “Is there anything different, especially in my tone, than the protracted, polarized, and slightly perturbed exchanges so common right now?”
- Think of each day as an opportunity to “advance the gospel” in your own world, even though most often your conversation only comes within a mile or two of John 3:16.
RESTORE YOUR JOY
Spiritual direction from Philippians, Step 5
There’s an improved attitude that can rise above current irritations, chronic annoyances, even unmistakable personal offences. But it comes “’Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts,” in Zechariah 4:6. Verse 7 continues with, “What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain; and he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it.’”
One of the most common joy snatchers is the insensitivity, actions or just outright rudeness of others. Question is, do we meet rude with rude, snark with snark, gloat with gloat? Our passage in Philippians this week offers an answer, but it’s not an easy one. This passage refers to preaching the gospel. But I think it’s also applicable in a wider inter-personal sense that can do much to commend the gospel if not proclaim it outright. Take a look at a beautiful picture of “Grace, grace to it” in Philippians 1:15-18.
15 Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16 The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.18 What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.
- Ask yourself, Has the “imprisonment” of the pandemic lockdown brought me closer to Christ, driven me further away or left me about the same?
- Has this pandemic season resulted in the deterioration of some important relationships in my life?
- What could I do to improve my answer to both questions, and where might “Grace, grace to it” be best applied in my world right now?
RESTORE YOUR JOY
Spiritual direction from Philippians, Step 6
One of the best single lines in the whole Bible is Philippians 1:21. When selecting the passage for this week’s “Restore Your Joy” I just didn’t want to go any further in Chapter 1 than verse 21.
While it doesn’t provide a complete owner’s manual on faith in Christ it does give us the bottom line. In this day of emojis and only the briefest of texts, Paul’s beautiful couplet here about life and death in Christ is amazingly prescient for our at-a-glance culture.
Here’s the whole passage, Philippians 1:19-21…
Yes, and I will rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this (imprisonment) will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
- Make sure Philippians 1:21 is securely installed on your heart drive.
“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
- ”Extra credit: Memorize Psalm 23:6
“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life;
And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
Philippians, Step 7
The Bible makes it clear that it’s “…by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God--not because of works, lest any man should boast,” (Eph. 2:8-9). Amazing! So far! But there’s more than God’s grace saving me. There’s God’s grace forming me.! Thomas Chisholm describes this in a hymn I grew up singing and have never been able to theologically disparage much less personally diminish.
Living for Jesus a life that is true, striving to please Him in all that I do;
Yielding allegiance, glad-hearted and free,
This is the pathway of blessing for me.
O Jesus Lord and Savior, I give myself to Thee
For Thou in Thine atonement didst give Thyself for me;
I owe no other Master, my heart shall be Thy throne
My life I give, henceforth to live, O Christ, for Thee alone
This week’s passage from Philippians for some spiritual direction in restoring your joy includes two words not commonly associated with joy: “Worthy” and “Suffer.” Here it is…
27 Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
- Reflect for a moment on this question: “In what way(s) can my life right now be more worthy of the gospel?” (Tip: start small and be specific)
- Suffering for the sake of Christ is not common for most of us. But dealing with some crummy things going on right now is. What crummy thing in your life right now can you place more firmly in God’s hands…and then do it, moment by moment, if you keep grabbing it back?
RESTORE YOUR JOY
Spiritual direction from Philippians, Step 8
Along with the prologue to John’s Gospel (1:1-14) Philippians 2 represents the high-water mark in what theologians call Christology, which is the study of who Jesus is.
Who Jesus of Nazareth is, is essential to appreciating, receiving by faith, if never fully understanding what Jesus has done in dying on the cross for us. When Jesus asked Peter at Caesarea Philippi (a place you can visit north of Galilee and enjoy their world-class humus,) “Who do you say I am?” Peter’s answer is one for the ages: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God…!”
It’s tempting to go right to the sublime Christology segment, beginning with Philippians 2:5 and not see the “life-ology” so clearly given in vv. 1-4. This passage is worthy of the most eloquent exposition in preaching, teaching, personal meditation and prayer. But it’s one of those many passages in the Bible so specific, so clear, so unmistakably instructive for life, especially vv. 3 & 4 no further explanation is really necessary than the text itself. The challenge is not what it means, but what does it mean for ME in relationship to others and am I willing to implement it? Here it is, Philippians 2:1-4:
2 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
- Is there a gap, an issue, a personal apathy that’s dividing you and someone else? If so, what step could you take to close that gap, make a stronger heart connection with them? And then implement that step. (Again, start small, and no need to announce. Just take the step.)
- Identify someone in your life, anyone really, that in humility counting them more significant than yourself would be a step in the right direction in restoring at least a spoonful of joy back into your life (and possibly theirs).
RESTORE YOUR JOY
Spiritual direction from Philippians, Step 9
Jim Rueb, March 10, 2021
On this date, March 10, 2021, it’s an incredible joy to celebrate our son's 50th birthday. That morning in 1971, Joy was taking a final exam at Cal State, LA and I was in my fourth year at Fuller Seminary. Joy arrived home just after noon, we left shortly thereafter, and Jeremy was born that evening at Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital about 7:00p.
Restoring your joy sometimes involves remembering your joy. Biblical remembering is not so much recollecting its occurrence as it is reactivating its reality! Which is what we do at the Lord's Table as well as what I’m doing today as I think about the birth of our first child, then our second child not quite three years later, our precious daughter, Jamie.
The fact that God loves us and has personally come into this world as an infant child, charges everything, everything, with meaning, hope…and ultimately joy! Including those dark seasons, disappointments, reversals, and tragedies we’ve never understood why God would allow not only in our lives but in Jesus' life as well. As Dorothy Sayers puts it however, “We have a God who took his own medicine…” I’ll add, “…and lived to tell about it, not only in time but for all eternity!” Philippians 2:5-11 summarizes the sublime meaning of His glorious birth.
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
- “Reactivate” a time, a season, a specific event or experience in which God so unmistakably brought His joy to you, and spend some time reflecting and thanking Him for that incredible blessing!
- “Reactivate” a time, a season, a specific event or experience when God allowed disappointment, defeat, or even disaster to force its unwelcome way into your life, leaving you initially disillusioned and filled with doubt, even anger…and then melded those difficult circumstances into unmistakable blessing in your life.
- A good question to ask, really about anytime and in almost any situation: “What of myself could use some emptying right now?” “What of my expectations, my rights, my aspirations could I give up and give over to God?” Then pray for God ‘s Spirit to help you do it!
RESTORE YOUR JOY
Spiritual direction from Philippians, Step 10
During my first year of seminary one of my professors asked a question I’ve never forgotten. Though it wasn’t a theology class per se, somehow the question arose in the midst of a discussion on Christian ethics or some other related topic. There were about sixty students in the class, and given that the seminary attracted students from various points on the evangelical spectrum it was a relevant question.
The question was, “Who is responsible for your salvation…God or you?” I won’t attempt even a summary answer to this big question. Proper theologians would have me for lunch if I did! I will however suggest that because of what we see in this week’s passage it’s a question not just for theologians but really for all believers. Here’s the passage, Philippians 2:12-13.
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
- Reflect on God’s incredible gift of salvation through Jesus. Thank Him for His love, His grace and Jesus’ sacrifice that made salvation possible for you. (Below are the words of a simple song some of you may know)
- Ask yourself “What dimension of my salvation could use some ”working out” right now? (like, for example, Which one of God’s promises, God’s expectations, God’s assurances, even God’s commands do I need to renew in my life today?”
- Pray that God will work within you the will and the strength to ”(live) for his good pleasure.”
Thank you, Lord, for saving my soul,
Thank you, Lord, for making me whole,
Thank you, Lord, for giving to me
Thy great salvation so rich and free.
|RESTORE YOUR JOY
Spiritual direction from Philippians, Step 11
This week’s passage from Philippians is intended, I believe, to re-teach some things that are too easily unlearned. At least for me. Especially as the desultory wake of this now infamous pandemic continues to rock our world and seems it’s never going to stop its rippling of fear, uncertainty and alienation.
Paul refers here to a “crooked and twisted generation,” which is an apt description of the serious structural damage happening in our world today. A world not unlike that of the Roman empire in which the original recipients of Paul’s letter to the Philippians were living.
It’s in this kind of tectonically troubled environment that God’s Word calls us to “shine as lights, holding fast to the word of life.” This passage, Philippians 2:14-18, also sounds an unlikely note of joy.
RESTORE YOUR JOY
Spiritual direction from Philippians, Step 12
This is the week that changed the world forever! Full stop. It’s commonly referred to as “Holy Week.” As such it comprises almost the full spectrum of what God has done in Jesus and what that can mean to the world, especially actuated in those who believe.
This week’s passage from Philippians anticipates the arrival of Timothy and Epaphroditus and perhaps even Paul himself to Philippi. It’s a very human section in this epistle, filled with the emotions of hope, love and expectation. Just seeing the face and, much more, feeling the warmth of a loved one’s presence can renew your joy…and your faith.
During this Holy Week we have opportunities to renew our joy and our faith in the experiences of Good Friday service, Saturday’s Stations on the Highway, and then on Sunday when we haul out the trumpets to celebrate the Resurrection. I capitalize Resurrection because it is the primary, and really only solid reason to rejoice, to hope and even to laugh during the unfolding of history. It’s in the kind of history we’re now experiencing that friends “who are genuinely concerned for your welfare” feel dearer than ever. And it’s in this kind of history Jesus has come, as He puts it in John 15:11, “that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Here’s the Philippians passage (2:19-29):
19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. 20 For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. 22 But you know Timothy's proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel. 23 I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me, 24 and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.
25 I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need, 26 for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill. 27 Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious. 29 So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men, 30 for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.
- Receive the joy of Christ anew for yourself!
- Be the joy of Christ to someone else!
RESTORE YOUR JOY
Spiritual direction from Philippians, Step 13
It’d be tempting, at least for me, to skip over this week’s passage in Philippians. As you know there are more than a few difficult passages in the Bible, including some of the things Jesus Himself said. On the other hand, there are so many veins of gold in God’s Word we could stay in that rich deposit and be just fine. But the difficult passages can render some insights that are invaluable to the life of faith. Philippians 3:1-8 is one of those passages.
What the Apostle Paul is concerned about here, it seems to me, is that anything other than the sheer grace of God and salvation procured through His atoning death and glorious resurrection is as we might say today “misguided.” The point Paul is making in this passage, at some risk of misunderstanding his intent or his humility, is that when you add everything up in what anyone would call an “I’m a good person” life, it just doesn’t close the gap between God’s holiness and our sinfulness. In making his point, and ultimately pointing to Christ, Paul’s humanity shows through, with more than a tinge of human pride. “You want runs on the board?” (to use a baseball analogy) I’ve got ‘em…in every inning!” He then says “But.” It’s one of the most important single words in the Bible.
Here’s the passage to read, reflect on and then take a concrete step:
1Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. 2 Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. 3 For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God[b] and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— 4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
- What, or even who might be some of the “dogs” distracting, threatening or throwing you off course in your journey of faith right now? In the power of God’s Spirit call them off!
- Ask yourself, “Where could a “but” restore joy in my life right now?”
- Take a moment and focus on one reason, just one, for the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus as your Lord.
RESTORE YOUR JOY
Spiritual direction from Philippians, Step 14
Today I received notice of the passing (more on that word in moment) of the daughter from a dear family I have known since beginning pastoral ministry years ago. This week I journey to Austin for the memorial of another very dear and very fun friend from our 27 year+ small group, a group we have continued notwithstanding our dispersion among several states some years ago. As one of the guys from that group said with a smile, “We’re at the age where stuff happens!” And he should know. He’s been twice to Cleveland Clinic for a heart valve replacement.
“Lord, help me make it through the night” is not only a line from a C/W song, but probably a version of the most common prayer we send up to our Heavenly Father. Paul does say later in Philippians that we outta pray about everything. So we do. TMI sometimes for even our closest friends, but not for God. So, let’s continue to go for it in prayer…about anything and everything!
At the end of the day, our day on this earth, Jesus not only acknowledges a death, but promises a “passing.” The way St. Paul puts it: to be “absent from the body is to be present with the Lord,” (2 Cor. 5:8). While we don’t fully know the details of this passage; what we DO know is that for believers it is indeed a “passing.” From death to life. Death? Yes. Life? YES!!
So, as we pursue restoring our joy, a major element in that pursuit is lifting our sights to what’s ahead. Surely ahead for all who put their trust in Jesus. Take a look at this week’s passage from Philippians 3:8-11. Then take one of the concrete steps below, or…identify what you think’d be helpful for you in lifting your eyes above the stuff that’s happening right now. Here’s the passage to read, reflect on and then take a concrete step:
8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
- OK. Where’s some rubbish you can (figurately) put in the can right now?? Caveat: NOT the “Recycle” can!
- Focus/meditate on the fact that Jesus offers you His righteousness, which is not on how righteous I try to be, but what He gives me as an essential dimension of my salvation?
- Not kidding about the rubbish. Take it out and drop it in the can and let God’s Waste Management haul it away, compressed into garbage by His grace.
RESTORE YOUR JOY
Spiritual direction from Philippians, Step 15
Life is commonly perceived in three timeframes: (1) the Past, (2) the Present, and (3) the Future. The Past is where we’ve been, the experiences we’ve had, the milestones we’ve reached, the people who’ve impacted us, the places we’ve been, the wins we’ve toted, the loses we’ve hopefully learned from, et. al. The present is how we’re feeling right now, the stuff we’re going through at present, the people close by, and all the exactions and pressures of the day. The future is, well, unlived, unexperienced, truly unpredictable, and literally, according to UC Berkeley professor Richard A. Muller in his (excellent) book, “Now: The Physics of Time,” as yet uncreated!
Years ago, I heard of a southern preacher who said to his congregation, “God isn’t so much interested in what you’ve done…God ‘s interested in what you’re gonna do!” Yes, the past may be prologue, and the present, well, pressing. But the future…ah…there’s where the real action comes, especially spiritually. We can’t relive or undo the past. The present is too precarious to manage. But the future? We can actually do something about the future.
This is what the Apostle Paul encourages us to do in Philippians 3:12-16. Take a look at this passage…but be sure not to miss the implication of both the process that’s involved for yourself in laying hold of the upward call and the space we need to give one another.
12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.
- What’s something from your past you really do need to finally forget and put in the grey WM trash can (not the blue recycle can!)?
- Do it…in prayer…releasing that thing to God’s disposal!
- Think of a single dimension (there are many) of “the upward call in Christ Jesus,” and with prayer for God’s power make that “what you’re gonna do!”
- Extra credit: Let someone in your life off the hook of your expectations, trusting that God will reveal it to him or her or even them in His time.
RESTORE YOUR JOY
Spiritual direction from Philippians, Step 16
It’s been four weeks since I last wrote and posted a “Restore Your Joy.” During the month of May my wife, Joy and I have been on an unexpected journey of a rare cancer diagnosed in her appendix, a flurry of pre-op testing and screening, Joy’s hemicolectomy at Virginia Mason, a welcome call from the surgeon after discharge with great news from pathology of the surrounding tissue, and post-surgery recovery proceeding apace. All drenched in a massive storm of prayer of dear friends and family. Most of all, this journey, which will now continue with tracking, scanning, testing and follow-up, has been a grace-filled glimpse of our eternal hope, buoyed up by the loving prayer and support of others, and a real time sense of our sure destiny in Christ and what that means in our thoughts and activities going forward. It’s been quite a month!
During this time, one of the songs I learned long ago played it simple words and music as a spiritual loop in my heart as we travelled these harrowing days. It goes like this:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace.
In this week’s passage the Apostle Paul is much blunter than this sweet and precious song. He probably needed to be for the good folks at Philippi. Absolutely needed at times for me. My god may not exactly be my belly, as Paul puts it here, but my mind is much too often set on earthly things. Good things, sure. But earthly things. Things that are passing away and will eventually be gone forever, replaced by the no-tears zone of the new Jerusalem described in Revelation 21:4.
Take a look at the personal challenge, the spiritual warning and the effulgent joy in this passage from Philippians 3:17 – 4:1. Then consider acting on one or more of the elements of Step 16 in restoring your own joy.
17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. 4 Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
- Think of a person in your life whose faith and life has been worthy of imitating, and in prayer say, “Lord, thank you for putting them in my life, and help me to be more like him/her/them!”
- Identify one God-replacing thing (doesn’t have to be a big thing, but a real thing) in your life that needs to be removed or at least put on the back burner and the heat turned down or OFF. And do it!
- Ask yourself, “What would it mean for me to “stand firm” in the hope available to me in Christ in the midst of what I'm now dealing with in my life?”
RESTORE YOUR JOY
Spiritual direction from Philippians, Step 17
This week’s passage from Philippians delivers something unexpected, given the otherwise positive tone of the whole epistle. It’s not a radically corrective word such as in, say First Corinthians. But it’s an important word about life together in the Body of Christ, even life together in a family or any other close-hauled grouping.
I once heard that a lot more strife is produced by taking offense than by giving offense. Which might explain why the two women called out in this passage have sometimes been nicknamed “Odious” and “Soon Touchy.” A slightly comic take on Euodia and Syntyche. But there’s nothing funny about strife, tension in the room, or antipathy between people in the church! Sadly, tension can snap-to between people who’ve been friends. Even dear friends. It’s the kind of thing that can take away a big chunk of your joy. Especially when you let it simmer and eventually solidify into real-deal resentment. Not unlike the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s in Pikeville, Kentucky.
One of the keys to restoring your joy is to release this kind of baggage. Forgive and move on. Or as Frozen’s Anna sang her heart out, “Let it Go; Let it Go!” One way or another we’ve just gotta let stuff go. Make amends, even if it’s only from my side. Paul “entreats” here because you can‘t command this kind of thing. You can only entreat it. And if we allow ourselves to be successfully “entreated” it’ll go a long way to restoring some joy in our life.
Take a look at the passage and prepare to be successfully entreated.
2 I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3 Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
- Start with an easy one: Identify one of your recent, little feuds and in prayer, forgive and ask God to help you forget! Let it go!
- Continue with a harder one: Identify one of your several-year feuds and in prayer, forgive and ask God to help you forget! Let that go!
- Now really hard, but with huge pay-off: Identify one of your long-term feuds and in prayer, forgive and ask God to help you forget, and let that go for good! This may take a while, so give yourself some time, but pray and…LET IT GO (finally!!)
Spiritual direction from Philippians, Step 18
Jim Rueb, June 16, 2021
Our passage this week consists of just two verses, Philippians 4:4-5. More than a few commentators identify verse 4 as the spiritual (and practical!) theme of the entire epistle. It should be no surprise that the call to “rejoice in the Lord always” is not just left there as a spiritual direction spoken only once. Why? Because a pretty high percentage of life doesn’t put you in a particularly rejoicing mood. Which is why the Apostle Paul follows with “again I will say, rejoice!” Fact is, more often than not we need that second wake-up call to look beyond, and get beyond, if only just a smidgeon, whatever’s sapping our joy right now.
The Greek word appearing in English here as “reasonableness,” is epeikes, which connotes inner calmness, gentleness, less flashing emotion and more, well, reasonableness. How? By realizing that no matter how counterintuitive it may be, ‘the Lord is at hand.”
Which is to say, “The Lord is present in this moment, in this situation, in this season of my life. I’m not facing this alone! I’m not in this alone. The Lord is here, and because of that I can rejoice…if not exuberantly right now, at least “inuberantly” in some small but crucial area of my soul!”
4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness[ be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;
- Read this passage aloud several times, until you can say it from memory.
- Let this spiritual direction from God’s Word continuously loop in your mind today, tomorrow and the next day until it becomes part of the inner narrative of your soul!
RESTORE YOUR JOY
Spiritual direction from Philippians, Step 19
You’ve undoubtedly heard the old adage “He’s so heavenly minded, he’s no earthly good.” Another aphorism making a similar observation is “She’s got her head in the clouds.” There was a season, a long one actually, where I thought it important to make sure my personal faith and the ministry of the church emphasized and perhaps even erred on the side of “Pie on the ground” and not just “Pie in the sky.” The fact is however, like so many biblical principles (and I have come to love this about the Bible) it’s rarely “either/or.” It’s more often “both/and.”
Step 19’s passage, Philippians 4:6-9, is a beautiful example of the “both/and” in God’s Word. Verse 6 tells us to “offer it up.’ It’s about the reality of a personal, accessible God to whom we can “pray about everything…and tell Him what we need,” (Living Bible). It’s about experiencing peace that passes all understanding. It’s a peace that we can experience by looking up. Towards heaven
Verses 8-9 encourage us to twirl the dial of our personal lens to stay focused on the honorable, the pure, the beautiful, the commendable, the excellent, the praiseworthy. With so much to distract us, misinform us, tempt us, mislead us, rile us, entertain us, anesthetize us, medicate us, bait-and-switch us, this passage is more relevant than ever! It promises that if we stay focused on the good, the beautiful, the honorable, “the God of peace will be with us.” It’s a peace we can experience by looking around. On earth.
Take a look at this passage, then consider following the two spiritual directives in Step 19.
6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 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. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
- Look up. Take one thing that’s weighing you down right now and offer it up in prayer. Ask God to help you become more heavenly minded about it, trusting it’s role, if unknowable right now, in God’s plan for your life.
- Look around. Focus on something lovely, beautiful, excellent. Can be as common as a daffodil, as majestic as the Olympics or as sublime as a Mozart piano concerto. Ask God to help you become more earthly minded, attuned to the amazing things which grace our broken but not godforsaken world.
RESTORE YOUR JOY
Spiritual direction from Philippians, Step 20
(last in series)
We’re going to finish this “Restore Your Joy” series with one of the best passages in the whole Bible: Philippians 4:10-13.
During this past year and a half many have discovered the sheer practicality of vv.10-12. We’ve both given and received care and concern for others when we’ve had need or opportunity. We’ve seen our country, our community, many precious businesses and some of our loved ones brought low. We have faced shortages (rubbing alcohol was absent from the shelves for 6-8 months…and let’s not even mention toilet paper!). An abundance of caution has also included an abundance of fear stoked by the vernier scale of the scientific community seeking to measure the danger, transmissibility, and treatment of Covid 19. It’s been quite a ride! A ride which has hopefully helped me make some personal progress on v 13, even if I’m not there yet!
Philippians 4:13, which sums up this passage, is a legit contender for “If I had only one verse on a desert island,” or, more likely as a refrigerator magnet delivering its encouragement each day to weary eyes. Some of you may remember Evander Holyfield having Philippians 4:13 emblazoned in gold thread on the right leg of his boxing shorts during his heavyweight championship years which included both wins as well as losses. It says: “I can do all things through (Christ) who strengthens me.”
Read Philippians 4:10-13 for yourself here, read it again, then again until you know at least v 13 by heart. Then consider the spiritual direction suggested in Step 20.
10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 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. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
- Thank God. Thank God for sustaining you through this difficult season, remembering not so much the deprivations but the provisions, spiritual, relational and material that kept you going.
- Thank God. Thank God for the “mere uncounted folk” (Kipling) who kept working behind the scenes to keep you…and our whole country…going during this time.
- Thank God. Thank God that your joy doesn’t depend on being happy or things going well, but is a by-product of being his beloved child who can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.