Here is a devotional from one of the moms in our local homeschooling group. I trust you’ll be as blessed as I was. DW
Our theme for tonight is “Leaving a Legacy of Joy” and honestly this would be a challenging topic for me even if we weren’t nine months into a worldwide pandemic. So, you can rest assured that I have prayed A LOT over this message. And as always Emmanuel is right here with us, always speaking to us all and guiding us into all truth. People describe joy as many things… feelings of great pleasure or happiness. Joy is a constant sense of well-being… feeling fully alive and fully free. Joy is what occurs when creativity can be fully expressed. Joy is attained when we feel connected to God and loved by Him. Joy is a habit of turning your focus outward or something we experience when we achieve selflessness to the point of sacrifice. Joy is weapon. Joy expressed in laughter is a language understood anywhere on earth. C.S Lewis called joy “the serious business of heaven.” Helen Keller said joy was “the holy fire that keeps our purpose warm and our intelligence aglow.”
Joyful people are generally more patient and kind. Joyful people have more efficient brain activity. Joy boosts our immune systems, maintains a healthy blood pressure, lowers cholesterol levels, lessens chances of heart attack and fights stress and pain. Mother Teresa said, “Joy is a net by which you can catch souls.” Joy therefore is a vital factor in making our children desire the legacy we are trying to leave them. And yet, still many wonder if they have ever really experienced joy at all.
What does joy mean to you?
For me, joy begins as a deep work that with a certain element of force burbles and rises… and burbles and rises until eventually it just has to erupt and spill over in an overflow that provides streams of cleansing, refreshment and renewal that is simultaneously there for the taking and also able to replenish and provide the momentum required to continue the cycle. To me, joy is a well… a spring… a fountain… and Christ of course the water of life. Isaiah 58:11 says “And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.”
Since this virus hit Canada our lives have been at times isolated, dismal, fearful, chaotic, toilsome, eery, rude, unproductive, mournful, hard to find our way through and leaving us thirsty for refreshment… desperate for joy. These adjectives also aptly describe a desert, specifically the ancient Negev desert located in Southern Israel covering some 16,000 square km. Today due to various techniques of terracing, irrigation and conserving winter rains, it is actually a thriving agricultural area. But the 3 Biblical accounts we will discuss occurred when it was the typical harsh, dry environment usually associated with the term. In each of these accounts we will see how God desired to be recognized as the single most important thing we need to survive on this earth… and how in Him is fullness of joy.
Our first story begins in Genesis 16 with an Egyptian servant named Hagar who served Sarah the wife of Abraham. I’m sure you all know the story of God promising that Abraham would be a father of many nations while Sarah was barren. Sarah decided Abraham should have relations with Hagar in order to fulfill the promise. What do we know about Hagar? Not a ton. But I think we can interpret from scripture that Sarah was domineering, manipulative, insecure… and someone who intended to profit from Hagar’s ability to have sex. And then dealt harshly with Hagar (the Message called it abuse) which resulted in Hagar running away. I think it’s safe to assume Hagar was not in a great mental space at this point. Then in Genesis 16:7 it says an angel of the Lord finds Hagar by a spring of water, tells Hagar to return to Sarah and that she will have a son and she is to name him Ishmael. So Hagar named that well “Beer Lahai Roi” which means “the well of the Living One who sees me.” I believe this is where Hagar began the deep soul work of joy because she knew full well that Sarah was not going to treat her better. However, Hagar simply feeling “seen by God” in her trials seemed to be enough reassurance that she would be okay. Her story picks up again 13 years later when Sarah gives birth to Isaac and kicks Hagar out. So Hagar is now homeless, wandering aimlessly in the middle of the Negev without food or water and finally she turns her back on Ishmael and cries out to God, “please don't make me watch him die” and then verse 19 of every version I looked through said “God opened her eyes“ which tells me that the well had always been there. The only thing that changed was her perspective. I don't know what the deep soul work of joy looks like for you, but I do know it is work… especially in the beginning. Almost like priming a pump.
For me joy begins with perspective and gratitude… A few years ago I came face-to-face with my own discontent. I was bitter over many things and starting to realize that it was poisoning my life. The book that impacted me most was 1,000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp. I know many of you have read it. But I knew I had to do the soul work, so I did the study by myself and started my own gratitude list. As of this morning I am at 801 and I know I won`t be stopping at 1,000. I`m not claiming to be a wellspring of joy, but I am not the same person I was and I`ve seen how this simple practice has been a long, winding journey of six things:
Learning to slow down to capture moments of exhale: • A fluorescent red tree. • A pack of several hundred birds chirping and taking flight from my driveway. • Driving through Effingham after freshly fallen snow. • The smell of sun-burnt leaves and vineyards ready for harvest.
Determining to focus on the positives: • When the kids forget to ask for screen time. • All the illnesses, pain, natural disasters and tragedies that I have never experienced. • Baby-sitters that go the extra mile. • My childhood. Never being exposed to abuse or addiction.
Opening my eyes to the unseen beauty in the mundane and ordinary: • The “bottomed-out stomache” feeling you get from swinging too high. • Opening the blinds 1st thing in the morning. Letting the light in. • Braids and pigtails on my little girl. • The earnest dinner prayers of children. • Chats on the deck with Cam at the end of a long summer day. • Hearing my mother-in-law laughing downstairs. • The single curl at the nape of Theo`s neck. • The tingling of my toes on the edge of a diving board. • Making bubble hats with Evia in the tub.
A place for precious moments that I honestly would have forgotten had I not written them down: • Debbie’s tears on her last day of watching my kids in nursery after 6 years. • Playing basketball with my nephews at Jubal. • Toby making our 80 year old neighbour a Valentine. • Teli asking to make a pool that angels touch so people can come to be healed. • The boys tearing up a little as we finished the Narnia series. • Overhearing Teli say of his math, ”okay, this is going to be easier than it looks.”
Learning from difficulties and learning to be truly grateful for them: • God closing the door on my leading worship so I could see my identity had been too dependent on it. • Seeing that every time I feel rejection, God uses it to remind me of my purpose and gifting in community. And lastly…
Recognizing `monument stone moments` where my life notably changed course: • An email from the parent of a child I was coaching that revealed that my inability to affirm the kids came from deep hurts I still had from how I had been coached. And that God was still waiting to heal them. • Watching Toby help his baby brother get dressed to go outside, my heart stilling for a moment in complete adoration for them both. Later, as I was making my bed, sensing God say, “the way you felt while watching the boys back there… that`s how I feel as I watch you now.” • The revelation that I cannot raise these kids to honor God, give them an education AND enjoy the process apart from God. And the freedom that knowledge brings. Proverbs 4:23 “Keep your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” If we want joy to come out and overflow onto our children, we need to be diligent in filling it with gratitude. Our 2nd Biblical account of a woman who found springs of living water in the Negev is Achsah, the daughter of Caleb the commander of the Israelite army. Her story is in Judges 1:12-15. And Caleb said, “He who attacks Kiriath-sepher and captures it, I will give him Achsah my daughter for a wife. And Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb`s younger brother, captured it. And Caleb gave him Achsah his daughter for a wife. When she came to him she urged him to ask her father for a field. And she alighted from her donkey, and Caleb said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Give me a blessing. Since you have set me in the land of the Negev, give me also springs of water.” And Caleb gave her the upper springs and lower springs.”
So, we don’t know much about Othniel. He could have been a handsome fearless warrior any woman would be happy to be pledged to. He could have been like Gaston in Beauty and the Beast…able to win a fight, but not really husband material. Or he could have just been her 1st cousin that she had grown up with and known her entire life! We don’t know how she felt about the marriage contract. But we do know that she didn’t sound too thrilled about living in the Negev. I did some homework and Kiriath- Sepher, the part of the Negev that Othniel captured which was also bordered by upper and lower springs called “Gulloth-mayim” was later known as Lo-Debar the ghetto in which Mephibosheth the lame son of Johnathan hid from King David. So let’s just say that Achsah’s dowry had room for improvement. So, she urged her new husband to ask her father for a field, alighted from her own donkey (assumably meaning that Othniel didn’t agree) and said to her father, “Give me a blessing. Give me springs of water.” This was very uncustomary and even worthy of severe punishment for a woman in ancient Jewish culture. And yet, I sense a familiarity here. A daughter who knew she could approach her daddy with this sort of request. If I am to weather this terrain for the unforeseeable future… could you sustain and refresh me? Could you keep me spiritually alive? Could you fill my heart with joy? And of course her father gave her more than she asked for. I actually read somewhere that the lower springs represented an earthly provision and the upper springs represented a heavenly provision. I admire Achsah’s boldness. And I think we need to know that asking God for joy is not selfish. He wants us living in the fullness of life in Him… Picture with me a grand banquet table set just for you with a huge, delectable, luscious platter… of love, joy, peace, patience, kindess, goodness… That is what He wants for each of s! And if we can’t quite reach the table, our heavenly Father would be overjoyed to pick us up, place us on His lap and watch us enjoy His good gifts…. If we would only ask. John 16:23-24 “This is what I want you to do. Ask the father for whatever is in keeping with the things I’ve revealed to you. Ask in my name, according to my will and he’ll most certainly give it to you. Your joy will be a river overflowing its banks!”
Our third and final story is a familiar one, that of the Samaritan woman at the well. And we have all likely heard it in light of salvation, and maybe even in light of how Jesus breaks barriers of class, race, and gender by initiating this conversation. But I think it also depicts a woman who finds great joy. Picking up in John 4:9 Jesus asked her for a drink and she replied, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. (I’m going to skip ahead a few verses to) The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”
So, anytime I’ve read or heard this story I’ve thought, this woman must have had had daddy issues, or been really insecure or some other brokenness to have failed marriage 5 times. But when I looked at this story with a joy lens, with a water lens… I saw that for this woman her husbands became (at least in her own mind) dull, unsatisfying, and stagnant…like lukewarm water in a canteen with too much backwash. And instead of just seeing her as a broken woman, I saw her as a woman desperately searching for joy but unable to see past the idol in her own heart. Earlier this fall, for reasons unbeknownst to me, I got really obsessed with the false gods of the Old Testament and studied everything I could for weeks. I don’t typically do stuff like that. But one thing I found fascinating was that Samaria had once been a part of Israel (tribes of Manasseh and Ephraim) but had broken away. One source said they settled into 5 distinct groups each of whom worshipped a different god. So we can see imagery here of the Samaritan woman representing the bride that left the bridegroom (God) for 5 other lovers, or idols. So in addition to salvation and everything else, I believe Jesus was speaking to her and also to her people and saying they had no room for joy in their idol-occupied hearts. Today, idols are not made of wood or stone, but they exist all the same. Just 1 example is Baal… a god who demanded perfection… his name was actually synonymous with “Boshet” which means “striving” and “shame.” How many times will this idol steal my joy in a homeschool day before I throw it out my house? This is just one of many.
Jeremiah 2:13 says “For my people have committed 2 evils; they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” Cisterns that we stuff with comfort, identity, food, substances, phones, education, material things, entertainment even friends or family. They are stagnant waters that leave us unsatisfied, and yet we chose them daily instead of the Living water we know to quench our every thirst. Psalms 46:3-4 “Though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the most high.
SO… how can we, living in this season where everyone is pre-occupied with a virus, have a joy so contagious that others (specifically our children) would draw near to purposely catch it? We prime the pump with the deep soul work of shifting our perspective, making gratitude a daily habit and “lifting our eyes” like Hagar to see the wellsprings He has provided for us in the mundane and the difficult. Then we boldly ask our Father for joy abundant as Achsah did, believing that it is His good pleasure to bring us into His fullness. And finally we rid our hearts of the idols that leave us broken and joyless so that God can heal our brokenness like He did for the woman at the well… so that we can not only receive his Living Water but be an overflow to nourish all who come near.
“Now may God, the inspiration and fountain of hope, fill you to overflowing with uncontainable joy and perfect peace as you trust in Him.” Romans 15:13 Spring up oh well, within my soul. Spring up oh well. And make me whole. Spring up oh well. And give to me, that life abundantly.
By Stephanie Marconi