Just like with money, we want to have as much joy saved up as we possibly can… so we can spend it whenever we need it, without having to worry about where to get it. So, why don't these times of joy, like we talked about yesterday, last for at least a few days?
Why can't we save up those great times with the people we love—those times when the problems and the pressures we face don't seem all that big or all that important? Why can't we store up that precious time with God, when He's so real it seems we could just reach out and touch Him?
Shouldn't the joy of a cookout with family last for a few days? Shouldn't the joy of a Friday night with dear friends last until Monday? Shouldn't a great devotional time in the morning last at least through the day?
We desperately want to store up whatever happiness we can experience, because the world is continually trying to suck all the joy out of us. We want what “was” so good, to sustain us in our present moment.
But God's economy doesn't work this way.
God [is] our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1 KJV)
God does not live in the past. No matter how wonderful it was, He does not live in last weekend's cookout, or in last Friday's get‐together with friends, or in this morning's prayer time. He was there… yes, He was there… but He isn't now. He's right here with us… in this present moment.
God is our very present help. He is our very (exceedingly, abundantly, mightily, vehemently) present (here, ready, able, powerful) help. He does not want us looking back.
Looking back steals our opportunity to experience joy in the present moment. It is simply impossible to see the joy right in front of us if we are looking behind us.
When the builders completed the foundation of the LORD's Temple, the priests put on their robes and took their places to blow their trumpets. And the Levites, descendants of Asaph, clashed their cymbals to praise the LORD, just as King David had prescribed. With praise and thanks, they sang this song to the LORD: “He is so good! His faithful love for Israel endures forever!” Then all the people gave a great shout, praising the LORD because the foundation of the LORD's Temple had been laid. But many of the older priests, Levites, and other leaders who had seen the first Temple wept aloud when they saw the new Temple's foundation. The others, however, were shouting for joy. The joyful shouting and weeping mingled together in a loud noise that could be heard far in the distance. (Ezra 3:10–13 NLT)
At that time, a wonderful thing was happening in Jerusalem. The temple was being rebuilt after it had been destroyed by the Babylonians several years earlier. But some of those present at the celebration of the foundation being laid were not experiencing joy. These older people were still alive when the first temple was still standing. And they could not get past the past.
Now some of their weeping could have been an emotional response to the prospect of a return to the glory days of the first temple. But it appears the weeping was primarily sorrow over a past they believed was lost forever, and could not be replicated in this new temple. Either way, these older leaders missed the joy of the occasion because they were looking back.
If you have trouble finding something to feel good about, if you frequently have an emptiness on the inside, I encourage you to consider that you may be looking back more often than you realize.
Regret is the silent killer of joy. Regret comes in two basic forms:
1. I regret that I cannot go back and redo my past to make it more like my present.
2. I regret that I cannot make my present more like my past.
In either form, regret kills a very present joy. Let me illustrate.
I would like a redo on much of my past—especially with my children. If you were to ask my three children what kind of a father I was while they were growing up, I would expect them to give me a decent grade. But compared to what I know now about being a father, I consider myself to have done a very poor job when they were little.
On an almost daily basis I have to resist a regret coming against me over what could have been:
- If I had only been less selfish.
- If I had only spent more time with them.
- If I had only spent less time on the rules, and more time teaching them about how to have a relationship with God.
- If I had better demonstrated my own personal relationship with Jesus.
I could go on and on… and you know where this gets me? Miserable…! This kind of regret steals my present joy. And when I am with my children in thought, on the phone, or in person, if I think back to what could have been (or should have been) I allow the potential joy of the present moment to be sucked out of our relationship.
The other form of regret focuses on wishing the present were more like the past. This form of regret is usually centered on a loss of some sort—the death of an opportunity, the death of a loved one—something in the past that was once wonderful, but can no longer be experienced.
As an example, I am thinking about a journal entry from April of last year. My most prized possessions are the big trees in our timber west of town. Due to the drought conditions here in southwest Missouri, some of the old‐timers started dying right before my eyes in the fall of 2011 and spring of 2012. I don't have another hundred years to wait for replacements, so I was filled with grief on that particular day in April. (While I realize this is much ado about nothing to most people, it wasn't to me; I would much rather lose my house than to lose those grand old trees.)
My joy of this beautiful spring day and God's creation surrounding me was completely stolen with my sense of loss. And as I began to admit to myself that I had lost something I could never replace, God began to speak to me in thoughts which I will paraphrase:
“I want you to train yourself to see life when you see something dead. I don't want you to avoid looking at things that are dead. I don't want you to pretend or imagine they are not dead. I want you to look at something that's dead and see life.”
My journal entry that day was incomplete for months. I did not understand what He was talking about. How could I see life when I could only see death?
What I didn't understand is that God does not dwell in my past. He is my very present help. Because He is in this present moment, if I am living in my past then I am separated from Him. He's not there… He's not in those regrets… He's not in those losses. He's here with me right now and if I'm anywhere else but right here and right now I can't be with Him. And when I'm not with Him then I can't hang on to any true joy.
But when I take my focus off of the past and put it on the present moment then I can be with Him, and see what He's doing, and experience fullness of joy—because nothing missing, broken, or out of place can live in His presence. He even turns what was only darkness to me into light. (See Psalm 139:7–12.)
Now let me tell you the rest of the story. I had a logger come in and clean up the dead and weak trees. Even though truckloads of trees were hauled off, this spring the timber looks as good as ever. And we even made some money in the process.
Do not allow the past to steal your joy in this moment. God makes all things new—even your past (see Revelations 21:5).
Have a good day,