How to Have Great Joy

“I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.”  3 John 4

I’m not a parent myself*, but I imagine that every parent would agree with John – that there is no greater joy than knowing that your children are making good decisions, living honest and honorable lives, and especially that they are walking with God.  It is what every parent seeks, works hard for, prays for, hopes for.

But John is not talking about his physical children.  He is writing this to Gaius whom he loves dearly.  Gaius is not his physical child – he is John’s disciple.

Paul often uses the imagery of children to talk about those whom he is pouring his life into.  He refers to Timothy, his closest disciple, several times as his child and his son.  When he writes to the Galatians, he uses the metaphor of birth labor to describe his involvement in their lives to see them become more like Christ (Galatians 4:19).  He tells the Corinthians that he became their father through the gospel (1 Corinthians 4:15).  In 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul compares his involvement in their lives as he disciples them to being both a mother and a father.

disciplesEven though I’m not a parent, I am still able to deeply understand how John feels.  That’s because the Lord has graciously enabled me to disciple dozens of women over the years, especially when I worked with Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ).  One of my very first disciples in 1987 is serving on staff with Cru with her husband.  When I arrived at Clemson University in 1994, the Lord gave me an incredible group of freshmen women to pour my life into for four years.  All the women who were in that Bible study for all of those years are still walking with the Lord.  It amazes me, overwhelms me, and gives me great joy.  These are just a few of the “children” God has graciously given me.  How thankful I am for His work in their lives and the ways He is using them for His kingdom wherever they are.

John’s statement gives me encouragement.  One is that all of us can experience the joy of children walking in the truth whether we are physical parents or not.  Paul never got married, but he saw himself as having children everywhere he went.  I hope that is encouraging for all women who are infertile, those who may have lost a child, and those who never married or married too late to have their own children.  Instead of focusing on what we don’t have, let’s go after making disciples and having children anyway!

Another encouragement is the reminder of a way to have great joy.  Of course, Jesus said that He came that His joy would be in us and that our joy may be made full (John 15:11), and joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).  So whether we are making disciples or not, we can have joy.  But if you are struggling with joy, consider pouring your life into someone else to encourage them to know and walk with Christ.  Proverbs 11:25b says, “He who waters will himself be watered.”  As we give to others, it comes back to us.  When you feel “dry”, sometimes the best thing to do is give to someone else.

Jesus calls all of us to have “children”.  In Matthew 28:18-20, He commands us to make disciples of all the nations.  This is His plan to spread His kingdom both near and far (Acts 1:8).  You don’t have to have a seminary degree to make disciples.  You just have to be a few steps ahead of the person you are discipling.  Of course, for those who are parents, their children are their disciples.  But God calls all of us to go further, to pour our lives into others like Paul and John did, and to make disciples who walk in the truth and make disciples of their own.  THIS is a source of great joy!

Who could you disciple?  Maybe it is a co-worker.  Maybe another woman at your church.  Maybe a neighbor.  They don’t necessarily have to be younger than you in age.  It’s a step of faith and a commitment of time and energy and love, but the joy it brings as you see God work in their lives is worth it.

*Full disclosure – When I got married, I became a step-mother to two boys who were in their early twenties.  While I love both of them, I know that it is never the same as being their birth parent.

Being Light – A Story

The following is a true story.

As I was leaving Sunday school, I was chatting with a friend, and I could tell that Jim was kind of hanging around like he wanted to talk to me.  I’m not sure if I had even spoken to him before.  I had been gone for two months that summer on a Cru mission trip, and he had started coming to the class during that time.  As we got off the elevator into the lobby, he initiated a conversation with me saying, “You don’t remember me, do you?”

I frowned, looked at his face real hard, and tried to place him.  Then I remembered and said, “Krispy Kreme!”

Krispy KremeI had first “met” Jim on Match.com.  After some emails through the website, we decided to meet in person one Saturday morning at Krispy Kreme.  (The location was chosen because I had listed it on my profile as one of my favorite things.  Yes – I know how to attract men!)  The date was fine, but there weren’t sparks on either side, and that was the end of our communication.

I told him that he looked different to me, and he looked away and mumbled something about having lost some weight.  He told me he had moved near the church that summer and that was how he ended up in my Singles Class.  Then Jim said that he was sharing his testimony in our class on the Sunday before Veterans Day, and he wanted to be sure I was there to hear it.  Of course, I was happy to do so.

As I drove out of the parking lot, I realized that Jim looked different because his countenance was different.  It was because God had changed his life in the months since our date.

Well, that Sunday finally came, and Jim began to share his story.  He was in the military and had been in the first Iraq war in the early 1990’s and then went back to Iraq after 9/11.  After coming back in the fall of 2005, he began to go through post-traumatic stress disorder and became suicidal.  He shared in detail how that Christmas he had planned to commit suicide and yet each night, he could never follow through on his plan.

Then he fast forwarded the story to that past April.  He told how he went on a date with a girl to Krispy Kreme and how she prayed over her doughnut.  He said it reminded him of his mother and that it was the first light he had had in years.  God used it to spur him to come back to Him which led to his coming to my church and to our class.  He then shared that one day in August, this girl from the Krispy Kreme date walked in the class and his heart leapt in his chest only to fall when he realized that she didn’t remember him.  At this point he shared that the girl was me – and I corrected him by saying that I remembered him but didn’t recognize him!

I have a lot of crazy stories that have happened in my life, but that is definitely one of the craziest.  I share it not to say that I am great because I’m not any different from you.  I think many Christians have these stories – they just don’t know them because they don’t see the person again.  I share this story because it taught me some things about being light.

  1. Your consistency matters.  It’s not enough to just live out your faith in those times when you know people are watching.  You need to live it out all the time because you never know how it will impact someone around you.  (I will mention that I do not remember praying over the doughnut and, honestly, I don’t usually pray over doughnuts.  But apparently I did that day and God used it.)
  1. You have no idea how God is using you.  In God’s sovereignty, somehow He led Jim to come to my church and even to that specific class.  Jim didn’t know I went to church there – he wasn’t looking for me.  Amazingly, God decided to have our paths to cross again, and I just happened to get to hear how He used me.  But what if I had never seen Jim again?  God would have still worked in his life through shining a little light into it.  I just would have no idea.  I think that there are amazing ways God has used you as part of what He is doing to change a person’s life, but you just don’t know it.  I think that when we get to heaven, we’ll get to learn all our doughnut stories and rejoice and reflect all the glory back to God.
  1. Don’t limit what God can use. How many women go on Match.com dates thinking about being light and glorifying God?  How many trips to get doughnuts seem to carry eternal impact?  But God uses all kinds of things – things that seem significant to us and things that don’t.  Don’t limit Him.  Keep being salt and light in the big and the small.

Jim went on to meet his future wife in that class.  And God used Match.com to allow me to meet my husband in person just a few weeks after I met Jim.  His plans are sometimes a little crazy, often surprising, and always good.

So keep on being salt.  Keep on being light.  In the big and small.  Even while eating hot doughnuts.