Last Tuesday, we had the privilege of hearing Joy Armstrong‘s story. The daughter of a preacher, Joy made the decision to follow Jesus at a young age, but for years, a bent towards legalism kept her from truly knowing God’s heart. Here’s what she’s learned about finding true joy.
When I started having kids, I struggled with postpartum depression and still to this day seriously struggle with this time of year. (Go away snow!) I remember sitting in church about 5 years ago when Tim Bohlke preached. He suggested finding a spiritual mentor. This really hit my heart because I was at a cross roads in my faith. It was dull and lifeless. I was also at a place in my parenting where I needed to explain spiritual things to my kids rather than just read them Bible stories, and nothing rang true in my own heart. Why was I choosing Jesus? None of my answers satisfied my soul. My life had been pretty “easy,” but I wasn’t full of joy on the inside – ironic since that’s my name.
Anyway, someone, who I thought would make a great mentor, came to my mind right away. The main reason I wanted to ask this specific person was because she had an overflowing love for Jesus that I could see. It took me a while to ask her because I could sense a bit of excitement and adventure on the horizon. Do you know what adventure usually means to me? Change, adaptation, sometimes uncomfortable situations. It means doing hard things and usually requires discipline or habit change. I knew once I asked her, she wouldn’t let me stay where I was. But, I really didn’t want to stay where I was. I finally worked up the courage to ask her, and we began meeting every other week at Starbucks at 6:00 in the morning. She talked about God like she knew him intimately. I wanted that. I thought I had done everything right to be close to God . . . so I really wanted to know what I was missing!
Can you guess what it was? I was missing an intimate, personal relationship with Jesus–a perspective-changing relationship where I saw people how God sees them. About this same time Pastor Bryan said in one of his sermons: “the reason we spend time daily with Jesus is because we are bombarded by lies every day. The only way to combat those lies is to remind ourselves of the truth every day.”
Slowly, something began to be a little clearer. I had thought for years that being in a Bible study or reading a really quick verse for the day was all I needed to have a relationship with Jesus. That was all I needed to be a good wife and mom and friend. But now I see that, for ME, I was mostly getting head knowledge and checking off a task on my Christian to-do list.
As my kids grew, I knew I didn’t want to just spiritually survive the rest of their years at home. I saw my kids growing and learning, and I wanted to do that in my relationship with Jesus, too. But to be honest, I never truly looked forward to reading my Bible every day and praying. Who has the time? I enjoyed doing Bible studies, but when it came to summer, I very rarely pursued time with Jesus on my own. If I did, it was because I felt guilty. It was the right thing to do, right?
But, because of God’s goodness for never giving up on me, and some things my mentor said, I started looking at that daily time with Jesus differently. Maybe it wasn’t just “the right thing to do.” Maybe it was more. Could I, in my own home, on my own couch, experience God and grow closer to Him without a Bible study to follow?
One day when I was meeting with my mentor, she said something that she probably didn’t realize was going to impact me the way it did. We were sitting there in Starbucks, with all of the old men that were up that early in the morning, and she said casually in conversation: “I hope I follow Jesus to the end of my life.”
I considered her a spiritual leader. Why wouldn’t she follow Jesus to the end of her life??? I was so thrown off I asked her what she meant.
And this was what she said: “It’s a choice you have every day. It’s a choice I have today. It’ll be a choice I have tomorrow. Spending time with Jesus every day leads to believing His truth more deeply, and you’ll start to see the world through his eyes. It’s a perspective change. We can possess eternal life yet never be ‘filled’ with God’s love.”
I chose eternal life when I was six, but I was living a life that was not overflowing with God’ love. My life was full of doing good things just trying to not feel guilty.
I’d been missing the personal decision to choose a growing relationship with Jesus EVERY DAY–no matter the cost.
That cost right now looks like getting up early before my family (and for years I was a self-proclaimed night owl).
Sometimes it means doing it despite the distractions of a child who woke up early.
Sometimes it doesn’t happen. I oversleep or get distracted too long and the day begins and I deeply miss it.
A daily discipline of spending time with Jesus is to learn his HEART. Why? Why is this such a big deal? Why is this what I felt like I was missing all of those years? Because I missed the motivation . . . the heart. Relationship out of guilt rather than love is an empty pursuit.
If you’ve ever learned how to play an instrument you know you have to practice every day to slowly get better. You can choose to stay mediocre (i.e. my piano skills) or you can choose to train your ear and your fingers to make truly beautiful music for all to enjoy. We choose to practice in order to build our skill level and because we love the music. Our relationship with God is so similar. We have to put in work to know truth and then our eyes will be trained to see the world through His eyes. We will love Him more deeply, and we will see his beautiful redemption plan for the world and therefore, our own life.
God has such a great way of dealing with me. I’ve known months that have been so great as I lived my life with intention. But the past month there have been things that have brought me to my knees asking, “how in the world do I do this life leaning into you, God?” In our social media age, it’s easy to look at the outside of someone and think they are happy or think they have very few struggles. But we should all know that isn’t the true picture. This is a war – not for what we look like on the outside – it’s a war for our minds.
Ephesians 6:10-12 says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials, and put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.
So you may be asking, like I was and still do, how can I discover the fullness of God? I remind myself . . . it begins with honesty. Be honest with God and honest with yourself. I’m a super practical person so I have a couple of questions that I’ve asked myself and maybe they can help you evaluate where you are in your journey with Jesus:
Do I look forward to spending time with Jesus each day?
Everyone is unique, but I was always wondering what people did during their time with Jesus. So I’ll share with you what I do. I read my Bible, I try to be really honest with God in my journaling, and I pray.
When I have something stressful come up in my life, what do I do?
This is such a telltale sign for me. Do I immediately worry about it and it’s all I can think about? Or do I take it to the Lord immediately in prayer and rest in the knowledge that “He will see to it?” The other day I was worked up about something in the evening and all night. The next morning I was getting ready, and as I was putting on my makeup, this thought of “have you prayed about it?” popped into my mind. And I hadn’t. This is something that is such a journey. It’s not easy, but if you haven’t had this experience just know that it is available to you today. Having a hard time finding friends? Pray about it. Having a hard time with your spouse? Pray about it. Say God, I know you see me. Help me to give (whatever specific thing) to you and help me know that you will see to it. Each time that worry comes to your mind. Pray about it, don’t try to control it.
I appreciate what Beth Moore said – “What we can do on our own, even at our human best, may be helpful to others but is not our divine calling. What God sets us apart to accomplish has always been well beyond our ability and skill. It takes Jesus to serve Jesus. So we need to daily spend time with him and get to know His heart.”
One last quote by Bob Goff in closing: “Don’t worry about all the steps. Begin.”