Reflections on spiritual themes (and a few other things).

Tag: joy

Robbery & Gratitude

Matthew Henry (1662-1714) was a British nonconformist minister. He was highly respected, both then and now. His six-volume commentary on the Bible written and published from 1708-1710 remains popular even today. 

One night Henry was robbed as he was out walking. Later that night in his prayer journal he wrote, “I thank Thee first because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, because although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth because it was I who was robbed, and not I who robbed.” 

If I were robbed, I’m not so sure I’d be that gracious in my prayers. I’d more likely be quoting Psalm 58.6, where David prayed, “Break their teeth, O God!” (KJV)

Nonetheless, my first impression of Matthew Henry’s prayer of gratitude is its perspective. He acknowledged that he’d never had such an experience. He acknowledged that the crime could have been much worse. He acknowledged that his loss was minimal. Finally, he acknowledged that being robbed is fundamentally different from being a robber.

What I appreciate most about Henry’s prayer is its sense of priority. In keeping a sense of thankfulness, he also kept his priorities intact. Gratitude keeps things in perspective. Too often we complain about the silliest things, things that aren’t worth the worry, things that reveal where our hearts really are. Jesus was talking about priorities when he said, “For where you treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6.21). 

The apostle Paul said, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4.4-7). 

You may one day be robbed of your money. You may be robbed of your possessions. You may be robbed of your health, or your job, or your relationships. You may lose a little or a lot. 

But don’t let anyone or anything rob you of your joy, gratitude, and peace in Jesus Christ. That’s one thing none of us can afford to lose.

Your Happy Place

“Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. 
Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute 
with love, grace and gratitude.”

Denis Waitley

Waitley is a popular, long-time motivational speaker and writer. I remember attending a “Seeds of Greatness” seminar in college sponsored by his organization. If memory serves me correctly, I think his Seeds of Greatness was the first motivational book I ever bought.

His quotation is a good starting point for thinking about happiness. First, happiness isn’t a thing. It’s not something apart from us that we go and get. It’s not something to be purchased or acquired or traded. 

Second, as Waitley says, it’s a “spiritual experience”. Happiness is the melding of our experiences and our beliefs. Whatever we experience: good things or bad, success or failure, sickness or health, wealth or poverty, good relationships or bad, all of these are shaped by our belief system. Happiness is looking at our experiences in a biblical and constructive way.

Third, Waitley notes that happiness requires “love, grace and gratitude.” Biblically speaking, we are recipients of the first two, and cultivators of the last one. Regarding love and grace, the apostle Paul said, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13.14). If we receive love and grace, we must learn to extend love and grace if we want to find this thing called happiness.

Regarding gratitude, Paul also said, “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5.16-18). In other words, gratitude is a choice, and an action, and a frame of mind that’s cultivated by means of our relationship to God in Christ. 

We often speak of our “happy place.” Happiness isn’t so much a place as it is a way of thinking. With the right frame of mind, you can be in your “happy place” no matter where you are.


Growing up, my Mom had all kinds of jars around the house. She used most of them for canning vegetables in the summer. But she had other jars for other purposes: her spare button jar, her loose change jar, her spice tea jar, her sun tea jar, her jars for drinking sun tea, her cotton ball jar, and lots of other jars. 

Jars are useful for holding things. They’re designed to be filled. They’re functional. And even though Pinterest probably has all kinds of decorative ideas for jars, they’re primarily utilitarian. 

The apostle Paul compared Christians to jars: “Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work” (2 Timothy 2.20-21).

I suspect that most of us don’t spend our days contemplating the nature of being jar-like. Nonetheless, the analogy is useful. By way of application, I’d like for you to think about three things that can help you be, in Paul’s words, “a vessel of honor”.

First, jars come in all sizes, shapes, and materials. Different jars have different qualities and uses. That’s to be expected because that’s what makes them so incredibly useful. In the same way, Christians have different qualities and uses. No two Christians are exactly alike. Each of us brings different gifts, abilities, experiences, knowledge levels, maturity, and insight to the kingdom. Each of us has a place in the body of Christ. As the apostle Paul said elsewhere, “For the body is not one member, but many” (1 Corinthians 12.14).

Second, jars exist to be filled. The Bible speaks of being filled by God with many things. We’re to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5.18). Filled with joy (2 Timothy 1.4). Filled with knowledge (Colossians 1.9). Filled with righteousness (Philippians 1.11). Filled with comfort (2 Corinthians 7.4). Filled with the fullness of God himself (Ephesians 3.19). These are the things God gives to us in our relationship to him. We can’t achieve them ourselves, we can’t buy them, and we really can’t even control them. 

Third, and most importantly, jars must first be empty before they can be filled. When we’re full our ourselves, there’s no room to be filled with God or by God. Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9.23). We must empty ourselves of pride, worry, materialism, worldly ambition, busyness, doubt, lust, greed, anger. All the sinful things that occupy space in our hearts, we must empty.

God does the filling, but we do the emptying. If you want to be filled, start with an empty jar.

The Joy of the Lord

Then [Nehemiah] said to them, “Go, eat of the fat, drink of the sweet, and send portions to him who has nothing prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8.10)

When you have nothing else, you have the Lord. In this is joy.

When Nehemiah gave this admonition to the Israelites, it was after 70 years of exile. It was after generations of disobedience against the Lord. It was after their holy city had been razed, their homes destroyed, their dignity crushed, their humiliation complete. When all was taken away, they still had the Lord. This was their joy.

It was by sheer grace that the Lord allowed them to return to the land and restore their national life. Granted, there were some who were still dissatisfied. The prophet Haggai cautioned those who pined for “the good old days” (Haggai 2.3). He promised that whatever glory they thought they remembered would be eclipsed by an even greater glory from the Lord (Haggai 2.9). The text in Nehemiah showed a people overwhelmed by fresh memories of their sins. But even more they were overwhelmed by fresh compassion from the Lord.

The noun “joy” occurs about 180 times in the Bible. The verb “rejoice” occurs about 230 times in the Bible. Joy isn’t just something we have, it’s something we do. When God tells us to rejoice, it’s not a suggestion, it’s a command! This tells us that joy and rejoicing are choices we make about our lives. We choose whether or not we’ll have joy.

I might have expected Nehemiah to say that the strength of God is our joy, but he reversed that: the joy of the Lord is our strength. What Nehemiah was saying is that grace precedes strength. We draw strength as we contemplate and appreciate the good things God has done for us. 

So, if you have been blessed by God, rejoice! If God has taken care of your needs, rejoice! If God has helped you through a hard place, rejoice! If God has comforted you when nothing else could, rejoice! If God has chastened you to bring you back to him, rejoice! 

And as you rejoice, you’ll be stronger for whatever obstacles and challenges ahead of you. 

God’s people have every reason for joy every day. So, for today, do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!

Scar Tissue

On the same day Jesus was raised from the dead, he appeared that evening to his apostles who thought they were seeing a ghost (Luke 24.33-37). John’s gospel says, “…he showed them both his hands and his side. The disciples then rejoiced… So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you…” (John 20.20-21). We’re then told that the apostle Thomas wasn’t there and said that unless he could see and touch the scars of Jesus, he wouldn’t believe. A week later, Jesus appeared to the apostles again, this time with Thomas present. “Then he said to Thomas, ‘Reach here with your finger, and see my hands; and reach here your hand and put it into my side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.’ Thomas answered and said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!” (Verses 27-28)

How did the disciples react to Jesus’ scars? They believed, they rejoiced, and they had peace!

When we see the scars of others, we’re often repulsed or uneasy. We feel sorry for them and wonder how they got them, or we wonder about the pain. When we think of our own scars, we feel uneasiness or shame or embarrassment. Our scars can be painful or irritating. We don’t boast about scars; we hide them.

What’s true of physical scars is also true of emotional scars. They’re painful and ugly. They never completely go away. We’re shamed by them. Whether our scars are self-inflicted or inflicted upon us by others, emotional scars hurt.

How do we get rid of scar tissue? The short answer is, we don’t. We never really get rid of scars; instead, we let Jesus transform them into beauty marks.

As we just saw, Jesus’ resurrected body still had scars. Yet, the scars resulted in faith, joy, and peace in his disciples. This suggests to me that it’s unrealistic to expect our physical, emotional, and spiritual scars to just disappear. Rather, in the hands of Jesus, they’re transformed.

The apostle Paul was once burdened with a chronic health problem, what he called his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12.7-10). He prayed three times that God would remove it. “And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for [my] power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (verses 9-10). For Paul, his scars became sources of strength in Christ.

Maybe you have physical scars: disease, injury, surgery, accidents, or addictions. Maybe you have emotional scars: abuse or neglect, broken homes, marital woes, debt, job problems, neighbor problems, church problems, insult, or ridicule. Those scars will never go away. But, by the grace and power of Jesus Christ, your scars can become things of beauty and strength.


Do you remember in science class a thing called “inertia”? The popular definition is that “bodies at rest stay at rest, bodies in motion stay in motion.” It’s why a car traveling 60 mph don’t easily stop. It’s also why a car sitting at a stoplight takes a few moments to get back up to speed. 

Inertia may also explain Mondays and Fridays. When we’re at rest, we tend to stay at rest. Mondays come and we’ve been relaxing for a few days, and inertia makes it difficult to start. Likewise on Fridays we’ve been hard at work for several days, and inertia makes it difficult to slow down.

How do you prevent inertia from taking control of your life? How do you overcome it when you’re sluggish and don’t want to start? How do you slow it down when you need to relax? 

One verse that has always been helpful to me is Psalm 118.24: “This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” If I knew nothing at all about this verse, it would still be a boost for me when I’m struggling.

However, if we dig deeper, it has even more significance. Psalm 118 is a thanksgiving psalm that begins with a familiar formula: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his lovingkindness is everlasting” (v 1). Psalms 113-118 are called “Hallel”, which is the Hebrew verb meaning “to praise.” These six psalms were recited during various festivals, but especially at Passover.

Matthew 26.30 says, “After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” Here, Jesus had just celebrated his last Passover with the apostles, and then inaugurated the Lord’s Supper. The “hymn” they sang was the Hallel, including Psalm 118. Think about Jesus’ situation. He’s about to be betrayed by one of his own apostles; it’s the eve of his death; it’s the moment for which he came to earth. He’ll soon ask his Father to remove this cup of “nameless dread”. And on the next day, he’ll die for the sins of the world. 

Yet he could still say, “This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Friends, if Jesus could find joy as he faced the cross, surely, we can find a bit of joy in whatever circumstances we face. Maybe we’re feeling sluggish at work, or burdened with care, or hurting, or sad, or tired or just plain grumpy. Nonetheless, we have reason for joy.

“This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”