“Joy”, it says. “Can you find joy in this day? Can you find joy in this moment? Can you see the bright spots? Can you stand tall and brighten the day for the people around you?”
And as I turn to put the milk away, the watercolour hanging on the fridge, hand-painted by a friend, reminds me: “Be joyful always” (I Thessalonians 5:16 GNT). There too, in watercolour pastels, three sunflowers wink at me and remind me about the choices I face in every minute, in every task. How can I frame up my life to see the smile through the tears, the rainbow through the storm, the moon lighting up the dark night? How can I remember that God told Abraham He would “bless him and make him a blessing,” and the same is true for me?
My thoughts wander to all that makes me unhappy. Like the children of Israel, I am inclined to complain about my wonderful lot in life. And I think of the stories from the wilderness, when instead of thanking God for the freedom they enjoyed and ‘asking so it could be given to them’, the children of Israel whined and whimpered. Instead of asking in faith from a Father they adored, they stamped their feet and yelled at a Father they scorned. And you know which of those options would have ended well, perhaps in delight and thanksgiving instead of anger and consequences. The outcome that was ascertained by the pounding fists and cutting words – bread from heaven, water from a rock – would have been much the same, but so much more satisfying had they only asked nicely, and maybe added, “please”.
I see two keys to joy here.
In every situation, give thanks (see 1 Thessalonians 5:18).
What can I see, what can I remember, that I can be thankful for? Though, like the Israelites, I may forget “the whip of Egypt” too quickly, I easily retain “the taste of the cucumbers and onions and garlic”. And though I am very aware when there is a gnawing in my stomach, how easily I forget that I am walking free and unafraid. In this moment, in this task, can I see the blessings that have brought it about? Can I see the potential for blessing it might be?
Lining up the shoes that litter the entry, can I remember the day those beautiful babies that have grown to leave them there in a jumble were placed in my arms, a gift and a treasure of inestimable worth that made the heart bow in humble adoration?
Picking up the pile of work clothes beside his side of the bed, do I see that this means I have a husband, companion and friend, to share the road of life with me “until the Lord comes or death do us part”?
And those spills and crumbs, the onion peels and orange rinds, the stuck-on residue of the breakfast eggs – I need to look at the plenty in the cupboards, the food on the table, the wonderful variety so readily available, and remember that this work comes about because the Lord has provided us with food. How easy to bow the head in prayer before a meal and resent the time and energy it took to prepare it and now to clean it up.
That sunflower tells me that it looks up to find the sun, and so can I. “Look up,” it might say, “see the care of God in each of these small things, and give thanks for those blessings you might overlook that could take your breath away if you thought about them long enough.”
Ask and it shall be given to you (see Matthew 7:7).
There are times when I am in distress, I am in need. My throat is parched, I’m hot, and water is not to be found. My stomach is rumbling and queasy and I feel unsatisfied. But this does not require a temper tantrum. God’s ear is sharp and tuned to a whisper. He doesn’t need the volume and the dramatics. He is a heavenly Father whose love is untainted by any selfishness or ill will. There is no favouritism, no lack of self-control, no exhaustion that interferes with His dealings with us. He is attentive and aware. He already knows what we need. However, it is when we look up and give thanks for the blessings He has bestowed upon us before elucidating our need, we remember to ask in faith, and maybe add “please”.
There isn’t really much point in asking if He already knows, is there? Well . . . what would have happened had the children of Israel not asked at all?
Perhaps God would have delivered the groceries to them anyway, but the thanksgiving and awe that bring joy would have been lost.
Perhaps God would have left them to their own devices since they were not interested in looking to Him as the provider and fulfilment of all their longings.
Whatever the case, we know that God commands us to ask and thus provides us with an opportunity to express faith in, and love to, Him even as He loves us “with an everlasting love” and draws us “with unfailing kindness” (Jeremiah 31:3 NIV).
We acknowledge in our asking that He is the source of satisfaction, and it is only when He meets our needs that they are really met.
A friendship and a marriage cannot bear the burden placed upon them when they are expected to meet all our relational needs. He alone can satisfy those longings.
A church family cannot possibly give us the fellowship and belonging we crave in a flawless and unfaltering way. The Lord is the answer here as well.
Riches are here today, gone tomorrow, and the security and safety gained with these are fleeting illusions. But in the Lord’s hand, we are untouchable.
“Ask and it shall be given to you,” He says. “Look to Me, and be satisfied.” “Trust Me, and be filled.” “Rely on Me and you will find rivers of water in the desert.”
The path on the other side.
An interesting thing comes about when we insert these keys and follow where they lead. We end up with heads lifted, and the real possibility of doing for others what God has done for us. Rather than the self-pitying grumble that plagues us when we lower our heads and think of all the ways we would like to be blessed, we lift our heads, much like those sunflowers, and bring a smile and encouragement to those in our path. We brighten the landscape and bless those around us as we have been blessed. We share the light of a thankful heart, and find that we are more inclined to listen, like God, to hear the asking of the lonely next-door neighbour, the elderly woman whose hands and back can’t manage what they once did, the child who spilled the milk along with some tears and, like the rest of us, needs help cleaning up the mess he finds himself in.
And the loop completes itself . . . in floods the joy. There is the joy in receiving and thanking the Giver for all those small, often overlooked blessings that underlie the complaints. There is the joy of asking and trusting a Father who can meet all our deepest needs. And then, there is the joy of doing for others what we would have them do for us. Indeed, it is more blessed to give than to receive.
I pile the clean dishes in the second sink. I watch the stack of dirty ones shrink. I notice how the sun glistens off that sunflower, still smiling up at me. And I smile back as I remember a God who washes us from our sins, delights to bless us in so many ways, and means for us to be a blessing. His wisdom, far above ours, unlocks the doors and leads us up the path where we find joy blooming all around.