This time last year, God began working in my heart during a New Year’s sermon at my church. The verse that was used was “Lead a life worthy of the calling you received.”- Ephesians 4:1. The preacher told us to write out the verse as well as a few things we were going to work on and put it out as a reminder to us and those around us. On my piece of paper I wrote down I wanted to work on encouragement to others, kindness, forgiveness, focus, and not losing hope. I also prayed for a word for 2017 and God very clearly told me JOY.
The verse that immediately stood out to me about joy was Nehemiah 8:10 -“Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”
Many of y’all know the year before with my tough pregnancy and post partum depression was definitely marked with dejection and sadness. It was wave after wave of life hitting hard and I let it knock me down. One person came up to me one day and told me that it looked like my light had gone out and that she prayed it would come back because it was a light that was needed. A light gone out is not something that brings others to Christ and that really got me praying for a change.
We always talk about this particular verse in Nehemiah but I thought it was interesting what it says a few verses later: “So the people went away to eat at a festive meal, to share gifts of food, and to celebrate with great joy because they had heard God’s words and understood them.” Nehemiah 8:12
THEY HAD HEARD GOD’S WORD AND UNDERSTOOD THEM. That’s what gave them great joy. I can tell you that one of the main reasons that I let life get me down and I lost my joy is I started listening to my problems and my pain much more than I was listening to God. This time last year I was not joy filled, I was just moving through the motions, and I wasn’t doing much other than surviving. But the Lord sustained me and loved me through it all. And He used everything for my good just like He promised and looking back I wouldn’t change a thing because He’s used it in some of the biggest plans for my life.
I think that’s where my joy is coming from. Truly trusting God for maybe the first time in my whole life. I always thought that I trusted God but I don’t think I really did. I feel this sense of knowing for certain that He does work everything together for my good and that even if I don’t feel Him working, time always proves to me that He is and always has been.
Not long after God started me on this journey to joy, I was asked to take part in a Body & Soul Fitness class. The very first class I felt God speak so clearly to me and give me a lot of clarity on what He was trying to do in my life. A few months later, not surprisingly the theme for the semester was JOY. All of the songs spoke to my heart and helped me see exactly what God was wanting to teach me. In one of the devotionals it talked about how true joy is found in God alone. “You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” Psalm 16:11 I had been trying to find joy in other things of this world when it could only be found in God alone. My Body & Soul family really encouraged me and help me learn this important lesson. I’ve found joy in Godly community and friendship.
I feel like I have changed so much for the better and it’s because I’ve experienced God in a whole new way and started learning and understanding more truth about who He really is. In this fallen world where we deserve nothing but troubles, He has created so much GOOD. So much beauty and love and things to experience that point us to Him and give us the tiniest glimpse of what our forever home in Heaven will look like. And He will never leave us or make us go through anything alone. All of that just overwhelms me. His care for the details of my life just overwhelms me.
I’ve found joy in prayer. Really taking time to pray and really trusting God whatever His answer. I have prayed more this year than I ever have and it gives me this joy deep down and releases so much stress. I’ve realized more than ever that I’m not in control of much at all, but God is and He’s out for my good and on my side. If there’s one thing I can say, PRAYING is what has changed me the most.
I’ve realized what they mean by joy not being the same as happiness. It’s really the unwavering faith in the goodness of God and the promise He has for us that will not let us down. It’s the solid belief that even if everything around us is going wrong, God still is out for our good. But it also can feel a lot like happy, too. I read the other day that we shouldn’t let the well of smiling and laughter run dry and I couldn’t agree more. And the best reason to smile and laugh is hearing God’s word and truly understanding it because if we really understand it, then our hope and joy can’t help but overflow.
Abby Higgins is an Oklahoma City Body & Soul Fitness student. She and her husband have two boys, Luke (1) and Beau (4). Abby is the Prayer Team Leader for MOMS on Missions, a ministry that serves moms who have children with terminal illnesses and special needs.
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