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Surprised by Joy

There are so many times in my life that I have been surprised by joy. One of the most vivid was the birth of my first child, Rachel. Her birth was a total surprise in that she was three weeks early. I was so excited to meet her; I remember telling the doctor in the office that day how anxious I was to hold this sweet baby. All the anticipation and expectation could not come close to what it felt like to actually deliver a healthy human being into the world—in 3.5 hours of labor. (I felt you needed that detail to understand how extravagant my joy was.) I just could not get over the fact that I had cooperated with God in this act of creating a new life, an eternal soul. I never slept a second for a 24 hour period; I was so struck by joy.

I’ve been surprised by joy in hard times. I have experienced spiritualwarfare in ministry that was taking down others who were ministering with me,but the more I submitted to God the greater joy I felt. I could not contain thejoy. It made me feel sorry for the others who had to be around me because I knewmisery loves company and I couldn’t help the spiritual reality that washappening in my soul.

Joy is not the same as happiness; it is much deeper and much higher. It has nothingwhatsoever to do with the circumstances you find yourself living through. Joyis catching a glimpse of heaven.

The shepherds were transformed on Christmas night into joyful bearers of goodnews all around the town of Bethlehem. Luke 2:16-18 describes their behaviorsafter they heard the news from the angels that Jesus was born: So they hurriedoff and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. Whenthey had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them aboutthis child, all and who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. Theword “joy” is not mentioned as an adjective describing the shepherds,but their actions remind me of times of joy in my life, hurrying, seeing, spreadingthe word in a way that raises amazement in others. I wonder if the surprise visiton the hillside set them up for greater joy. Surprise is often linked to joyas well.

Recently I was surprised by joy when I followed my own instructions for beginningthis Advent Season by rising before dark (Jesus’ favorite time to pray)and spending time in quiet reflection. In Texas, that first day of Advent wasan unseasonably warm morning with a cloud covered sky. My first surprise wasthat the darkness lingered and the birds welcoming the day were silent for muchlonger than I expected. I came to this time expecting things to be a certainway and though they looked much gloomier, they produced deep joy.

If you are finding yourself wishing for joy, let me tell you a guaranteed placeyou can find it. God says that you will be surprised by joy when you stop lookingfor joy in the things that please you. Isaiah 58:13-14 says, If you keepyour feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day,if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, andif you will honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please orspeaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will causeyou to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of yourfather Jacob. The mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Joy is riding on the heights and feasting on your inheritance; it is an emotion that only the Lord can give you and it is fully satisfying to your soul.


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