Tag Archives: Elizabeth

“Consider it Joy” (Again)

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Bring joy to your servant, Lord,
    for I put my trust in you.

Psalm 86:4 (NIV)

For centuries, followers of Jesus around the world have annually recognized different seasons of the calendar year as they relate to celebrated holidays (or Holy Days) of the faith. We are currently in a season called Advent, in which followers of Jesus prepare hearts and minds to celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas.

One of the metaphors that followers use in this season is the advent candle. Each of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas, and then on Christmas Eve, candles are lit reminding us that with Jesus’ birth the “Light” of heaven had come to earth. Each of the five candles represents a theme. This past Sunday was the “Joy” candle. “Joy,” as it was described among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers on Sunday is the soul’s deep happiness, contentment, and sense of well-being which is experienced regardless of circumstances.

Joy has a specific meaning for Wendy and me. Over the years I have shared in these posts about our journey through the valley of infertility. Joy was something Wendy and I found in that journey, and not a Christmas goes by without being reminded of the story of Elizabeth’s miraculous deliverance from barrenness, Mary’s miraculous conception, and of course Jesus’ humble birth. Each year I am reminded of the verse tatted on Wendy’s forearm, where it can be a constant visual reminder for both of us:

“Consider it joy when you encounter various trials…” (James 1:2)

She and I learned that sometimes joy must be consciously considered, sought after, and found as one finds buried spiritual treasure. Finding joy requires surrendering the momentary, circumstantial pain in order to seek something deeper; We reach for joy which is always “further up and further in.” The joy of Christmas is found despite the often unconsidered circumstances that stare me right in the face: a socially outcast little girl, her scandalous teen pregnancy, her equally outcast husband, and the exilic, compulsory, uncomfortable journey to a strange town. The humility of having nowhere to stay, the realities of childbirth, not in a luxurious modern birthing suite surrounded by talented caregivers, but alone in a dirty barn. I sing Joy to the World but only because I’m looking back with 20-20 hindsight at the larger story, knowing where it led.

As I read today’s chapter, Psalm 86, I was a few verses in before it struck me that it’s the first song of David I’ve encountered in Book III of the psalms. The lyrics are so personal. They are coming from deep in David’s heart. It’s another song of lament which was written at a time of personal distress. What fascinated me is that David doesn’t share any real specifics about his personal distress until the very last stanza. The song is front-loaded with David’s faith, hope, and trust. He dwells on God’s goodness, faithfulness, love, and deliverance. Only then does he describe his circumstances in light of these things.

Today’s psalm is David’s version of “Consider it joy.” And how many of his songs contain that theme? “Consider it joy” is not a one-and-done deal. It’s a perpetually repeated exercise along my spiritual journey.

It often amazes me how this chapter-a-day journey leads me right to the thing I need to read on the day I need to read it. Like David, I’ll spare you the specifics. Suffice it to say that there are days when I have to be reminded, once again, to consider joy: Surrendering the circumstances of that day in order to reach further up and further in to take hold of it.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Grappling With “Never”

“And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.” Luke 1:20 (NIV)

“I don’t know what to with never,” Wendy confessed to me one afternoon.

There are some moments in this life journey that are etched indelibly in my brain’s memory bank, and this is one of them. When the two of us were married Wendy inherited two teenaged daughters. Still, we had always desired to have a child together. After multiple surgeries and what seemed like endless months of fruitless attempts to conceive, Wendy’s admission of fear as we stood silently in our despair on the back porch felt like a giant weight on our souls.

The story of John the Baptist’s parents in today’s chapter holds a special place in my heart. There is so much happening in the subtext of Zechariah’s conversation with the angel Gabriel that is completely lost on any reader who has not walked through the long, depressing, desolate path of infertility.

A few of observations:

  • I find it ironic that Dr. Luke diagnoses Zech and Liz’s infertility as “Elizabeth was unable to conceive.” Perhaps there’s more to this story than is told. Nevertheless, having walked this journey I know that it’s also possible the low sperm count or poor motility were the culprits of their childlessness. Of course, this medical knowledge was not available in their day, but it makes me sad that Elizabeth got the blame.
  • I’ve been digging into the theme of exile on this chapter-a-day journey over the past months. The truth is that Elizabeth and her husband were in a personal exile of their own. When you are walking the path of infertility you realize that the vast majority of people don’t understand and it’s usually emotionally painful when they try. Furthermore, you’re not sure you want to talk to those who’ve been through it themselves. Those who walked the path and ultimately conceived are just a depressing reminder that it hasn’t worked for you. Those who never conceived are a reminder that “never” is a possibility which you don’t want to face and don’t know what to do with (a la Wendy’s confession). Infertility can be horrifically isolating for the couple going through it.
  • When the angel tells Zech “Your prayer has been answered.” My husband’s heart shoots back with a cynical “Which one?” If Zech’s heart was like mine, then there’s a section of it calloused over from month-after-month, year-after-year of fervent, unanswered prayers and wiping away his wife’s river of tears.
  • When Zech asks Gabriel “How can I be sure of this?” he is, once again, being defensive and protective of the hearts of both his wife and his own. Infertility is a vicious cycle of summoning faith, raising hopes, and having them dashed again and again and again and again. The last thing the elderly husband wants to do is put his wife through it one more time.

It’s easy for the casual reader to point the finger at Zech’s lack of faith. I’m sure many Jesus followers will hear messages this Advent season comparing Mary’s simple acceptance of Gabriel’s message to Zech’s rather obvious doubt. My heart goes out to the dude. He’s been made the Steve Bartman of the Christmas story for two thousand years, but I get where he’s coming from.

In the quiet this morning I find myself contemplating the long-term effects that disappointment and unanswered prayer can have on one’s spirit. As for what to do with “never,” Wendy and I worked through it together with God. We discovered, and continue to discover, deep lessons about joy, grief, faith, perseverance, character, maturity, and hope. At the same time, there is a lingering sadness that rears itself unexpectedly at odd times, which in turn pushes me back to the lessons already learned. I plumb their depths once more.

Still, if Gabriel showed up in my office this morning and told me Wendy was going to have a baby, I totally believe that the subtext of my reaction would land somewhere between sarcastic and cynical.

Zechariah would understand.

Dreams, Visions, and Bad Pepperoni

source: h-k-d via Flickr
source: h-k-d via Flickr

For God does speak—now one way, now another—
    though no one perceives it.
In a dream, in a vision of the night,
    when deep sleep falls on people
    as they slumber in their beds,
he may speak in their ears
    and terrify them with warnings,
to turn them from wrongdoing
    and keep them from pride,
to preserve them from the pit,
    their lives from perishing by the sword.
Job 33:14-18 (NIV)

I woke at 2:30 this morning out of a deep sleep and disturbing dream. Like most dreams it was surreal and strange. A thread of storyline was wound loosely around snatches of scenes and emotions. Terrorists were after me. I could trust no one and spent much of my time hiding and trying to avoid those who I knew were enemies bent on my death. I found myself entering what appeared to be a pre-game meeting with the Judson University men’s basketball team when I realized that the room was set to explode. I ran for the door and was barely outside when the bomb went off. Suddenly I was in the custody of two or three of the terrorists and they were dragging me away. I struggled from their grasp and ran for my life. I turned a corner and found that a large contingent of people from my alma mater had arrived (basketball fans, presumably?) and were getting off a bus. If I could just reach them I would be safe, but everything was moving in agonizing slow motion.

I’m not sure what to make of all that. Perhaps it was simply the effect of some bad pepperoni from my pizza the other night.

My local community of Jesus followers has been exploring the subject of dreams and visions of late, beginning with a look at the dreams, visions, and visitations surrounding the Christmas story. There were a lot of them when you think about it:

  • Zechariah (John the Baptist’s dad), had a vision in which the angel told him his barren wife was pregnant.
  • Mary had a visitation telling her she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit with the Messiah.
  • Joseph had a dream telling him not to put Mary away, but to marry her.
  • The shepherds were visited by the angelic host telling them of Jesus’ birth.
  • The Magi were warned in a dream to go home and avoid Herod.
  • Simeon had received a vision that he would not die before he had seen the Christ.
  • Joseph was warned in a dream to flee with his family to Egypt to avoid Herod’s murderous wrath.

I have no doubt that God speaks to people in dreams, in visions, and in visitations. It happens time and time again throughout God’s story. Elihu makes a point of it in his words to Job in today’s chapter. God can and does speak to people through dreams. I believe it a gross mistake to deny this, to close myself off to the truth of it, or harden my heart against the possibility that God might speak to me in such a way.

By the same token, I don’t believe that God speaks to all people through all dreams. A dream may be spiritually significant, inspired by Holy Spirit. A dream may be the surreal by-product of memories, thoughts, and emotions inspired by bad pepperoni. I tend to think that the latter is a common reality, while the former is more the exception than the rule. When signs and wonders become common, everyday occurrences they cease being wonders.

Today, I’m thinking about the wonder of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth, and the role that dreams, visions, and visitations played in this most momentous of events in human history. I’m thinking about my own life journey in which wondrous events of divine design seem to happen on prescribed occasions for specific purpose. They are interspersed by long periods of mundane, daily toil. I’m thinking about finding and maintaining healthy balance and perspective in all of this. I don’t ever want to be guilty of chasing after  obscure, hidden meaning in my dreams while ignoring the plain truth presented clearly in God’s Message.

By the way, I’m also thinking about the Judson University men’s basketball team who blew up in my dream last night. Sorry guys. I’m not a prophet, and I really don’t think that was from God. Blame the pepperoni. Go Eagles!

source: 15918528@N00 via Flickr
source: 15918528@N00 via Flickr