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Does Your Life Rock?


(one of the most rocking people I know, my son Michael)

Can you scream at the top of your lungs, “MY LIFE ABSOLUTELY ROCKS!!!“?

If you can (and you’re not under the influence of some drug), then stop reading this and go out and let the world bask in your awesomeness.

But….. if you’re like most of us, and don’t feel your life absolutely rocks right now, can I ask you one question?

Why?

Why don’t you feel like your life rocks?

Are you mentally ticking off things like, oh, I’m 20 pounds overweight, or I haven’t found that special someone, or I found someone and they didn’t turn out to be nearly as special as I thought, or I’m between jobs or I don’t like the one I’m in, or I don’t have any friends, or I’m struggling with this illness, or…..

Have you thought about it? Do you have your list of why your life doesn’t rock?  Good, now here’s your next question:

What would it take? What would it take to make your life rock?

What would need to change on your list? Would you need to look younger, lose that extra weight?  Find that partner of your dreams? Land that dream job? Have money to burn?

Let’s get specific. How about starting with that bank balance that popped in your head?  Go ahead, don’t be shy, fill in the blank, if I had $______ in the bank my life would rock.

Now notice something:  You just made a choice.  You just decided where to set the bar for your happiness.

Think on that some more.  You made a conscious, personal choice about what it would take to make you happy.

Now think on this:  Could you make a conscious personal choice to revise that number up or down?

What if you said it would take ten million dollars to make you happy— couldn’t you choose instead ten billion dollars– or ten dollars?

No, no, no, you say, I couldn’t choose ten dollars, that would be silly.  Oh really?  What if you were five years old?  Or living in Somalia?  Then your world would be rocking with ten dollars in your pocket.

You say you need to win an Angelina Jolie / Brad Pitt lookalike contest for your world to rock– have you ever considered that there might be someone who would be grateful to have the looks you have right now?

You say that the place you live is dingy— but aren’t there millions of people who would give anything to live where you do?

You get the point: you really can consciously choose where to set the bar for your happiness, and you really can consciously choose to set it RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE RIGHT NOW.

Yes, you got it, you can choose for your world to be rocking RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE RIGHT NOW.

But, John, what if I really do want to find that special someone, or add another zero to my bank account balance?  I would tell you, go for it, keep reaching, keep dreaming, but let your dreams be to make your already rocking life even more awesome.  Do you think that Bill Gates went around in a funk, moping and sulking until he made his first million? or his first billion? Of course not!  It’s people whose life is on fire from day one who end up achieving their dreams.  It’s a little like Jesus once said, that it’s the people who handle things well when they have just a little who get the opportunity to handle more.

Think of all you have right now, think of what God has blessed you with.  Most of all, think about how much He loves you, and how He is pouring infinite unconditional love into your soul like a fire hose this very minute, if your soul looks on Him to receive it.

So, one more time: Can you scream at the top of your lungs, “MY LIFE ABSOLUTELY ROCKS!!!“?

There, I thought you could.  Now get out and let the world bask in your awesomeness. :)

Enjoying Life

I am beginning to realize that God gave us this life to enjoy.

The problem is, we often don’t know how to enjoy it properly.

Sometimes we try to wrestle it to the ground and try to force it to give us exactly what we want (as if we could ever know what would really make us happy or ever could get life to bend to our feeble misdirected will).

Sometimes we try to suck it dry, trying to wring every last drop of pleasure from it, as if experiencing pleasure was the only way to enjoy life.

And sometimes we decide that life has forever cheated us of joy, and so we spend our days wailing our private (or public) laments of how life has mistreated us.  I have erred greatly in all three of these ways– wrestling, wringing, & wailing.

Instead, the path to enjoying life is rather like walking along a beach, which I happened to do today.  Enjoying life walking along a beach requires no grasping or striving. You just need to open your eyes, and there joy will be, moment by moment.

As I pen these words I am sitting under a beach umbrella, listening to the sounds of my children laughing and the waves crashing along the shore.  I look at my family and feel the wind gently patting my cheek. This is the way to enjoy life, and this is as God intended it to be.

What Scale Are You Using?

 

Every day, you use a scale.

No, not two metal bowls that you put items in, but rather a scale in your heart.

It’s the  scale that determines whether you are happy or sad, content or frustrated.

It’s the scale of what matters to you.

Think about it: How are you feeling, right now?  Are you happy?  Are you sad? What emotion do you have?

Ok, now consider this: why are you feeling this way?  If you’re happy, why are you happy now, and not sad?  Why are you frustrated, and not content?

It’s because that you’ve weighed your life in your scale of what matters, looked at the result, and said to yourself, “Ah, life is good, I am happy” or “Crap, life stinks, I feel bad.”

What’s Your Scale?

So the real question is: What scale are you using?  How are you determining whether life is good or life is bad?

This is a vitally important question.  The scale you are using will determine the life that you live, but often we live on “automatic pilot”— we  don’t consciously think about what scale we are using in the back of our minds, and so we careen from one emotion to the next without realizing what is causing us to feel happy or sad.

To make things even more complicated, we usually are switching back and forth between multiple scales.  We might start the day using the scale of success, how we are doing in our job or if we feel fulfilled in it.  We might look in the mirror & use the scale of our physical body, how fit or healthy or attractive we are.  We think about our last conversation and use our scale of relationships, how well we are liked or whether the people in our lives are meeting our needs.  We see a sporty car at a stop light & start using the scale of money and material possessions.  On & on it goes: we have so many different scales of what can make us happy to choose from.

But there’s actually the key: we have the ability to choose the scale. We aren’t locked in to using the scale we use now, or the scale that our parents or friends or the rest of society use.  We have the freedom to choose which scale we use each day.  Which brings us to the obvious question:  What scale should we choose?  What scale will bring us the greatest lasting joy?

A Scale Without Fail

Let’s look at the example of one person who was filled with joy & contentment no matter kind of day he was having: Saint Paul.  Some of his most famous words are in his letter to the Philippians:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. (Philippians 4:11-12)

This letter is sometimes referred to as Paul’s “joy” letter, because there are a dozen references to joy and rejoicing in the letter, even though it was written while he was in a Roman prison.

So what was Paul’s secret to maintaining joy and contentment no matter what his circumstances?  Obviously he wasn’t using the scale of success or material possessions.  He couldn’t have even been using a scale of being free or having a full stomach.

To discover Paul’s scale of what mattered to him we just need to turn a few pages back to Chapter 3:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…

Paul had only one scale:  his union with Christ.  That’s all that he needed, and he consciously chose to abandon every other scale he had (“whatever gain I had, I counted as loss”).  He had a position of great social, academic, and political power, leading a lifestyle of privilege, and he gave it all up to “know Christ and the power of His resurrection.” (verse 10)

Why Christ?

Why did he do that?  Why did he bank all of his happiness on the one scale of union with Christ?  The simple explanation is that CHRIST WAS WORTH IT.  Life with Christ far outweighed any other possible joy in Paul’s life.  He was an example of the parable which Jesus taught in Matthew 13:44-6–

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.  “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

Jesus said union with Him, life in the kingdom of heaven, is so precious that the person who realizes its worth will in joy be willing to give up everything else in his life to have it.

One Final Question

Which leaves us with one final question:  Do you put Christ in your scale?  Is He your hidden treasure?  Is He your pearl of great price, which you would gladly sell all your possessions to have?

If He is, then you have a foundation of joy that can never be shaken, for your union with Christ can never be broken.  As Paul wrote in Romans 8:35-39–

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

If we are always focusing the scale of our heart on Christ, we can always feel content and joyful regardless of other circumstances.  May we pray daily for God to turn our hearts to be wholly focused on Him.

Are You Chasing Happiness or Cultivating Joy?

flower fields by natalia photos via flickr

Happiness: A Futile Chase

In her book Happy for No Reason, Marci Schimoff points out a problem that all of us fall prey to: basing our happiness, our positive emotional state, on the external circumstances of our lives.  Step back and take a look at yourself: how often do you find that your minute to minute emotional state is directly based on “how things are going”?  Do you only feel happy & positive when you’re having a “good ” day of things going “right”?  Are your emotions always in turmoil when things are going “wrong”?

Since everyone wants to feel happy, we often find ourselves chasing whatever external circumstances will give us that emotional state.  It doesn’t take long to realize all the problems we encounter with this approach to life.  We can become short-sighted, doing things (like eating that double chocolate fudge sundae) that give us a quick fix of happiness but will harm us in the long run.  We can become selfish, doing things (like having an affair) that make us happy for now but will later harm others.  Some who chase happiness will derail the whole course of their lives into addictions and other self-destructive behaviors. 

In the final analysis, we have to conclude that chasing happiness is futile.  Even if we could focus all our energy into pumping more happiness inducing circumstances into our lives, it would never be enough.   Chasing happiness is like a child frantically stuffing cotton candy in their mouth until it makes them sick, then finding out their stomach still feels empty because cotton candy isn’t actually nourishing their body at all.  Happiness based on external circumstances is a good & pleasant experience for the soul, but it can never deeply nourish and sustain us.

Joy: The Better Alternative

So, what is the alternative to chasing happiness?  What path can we take that will actually work for us, that will truly nourish our soul?  Schimoff labels it as being “happy for no reason” to contrast it with happiness based on “reasons,” the external circumstances of life.  I like to use the word “joy” instead— the emotional and spiritual state of deep & stable happiness, peace, & groundedness.  Fundamentally, joy is an “inside-out” state in contrast to happiness being an “outside-in” state.  The difference is hard to describe in words, but easy to sense in your soul. 

Joy, not happiness, is what we should pursue. And since joy comes from within, we do not have to chase after it at all, but rather cultivate it, like a well-tended flower garden that radiates beauty for all who enter into it.  Cultivating joy will beautify not only your life but the lives of everyone you touch.

So, how do you cultivate joy? Using the garden metaphor, let me suggest five steps in cultivating joy in your soul:

Plant Good Seed:

Jesus used the word picture of seed in the parable of the sower to represent the truths of Scripture.  Everything has to have a beginning, and letting truth enter your soul, germinate, & grow is the beginning all true joy.  As we read, ponder, & meditate on the truth of God, His love, His forgiveness, His holiness & righteousness, His paths to walk in, then joy will be the result.  Are you planting good seed in the soil of your soul every day?

Get Plenty of Sunshine:

Everyone knows that flowers can’t grow without getting plenty of sunshine.  Likewise, we can’t see joy grow in our lives without bathing our soul in the light of the glory of God.  Through daily worship & prayer, we can spend time in the warm, nourishing presence of the One who loves us.  John Piper has written, “Seeing and savoring Christ’s glory is the spring of all endless joy.”  Psalm 16:11 reminds us that in God’s presence is all fullness of joy.  Have you spent time in the light of God’s presence today?

Plant Plenty of Companions:

Every gardener knows that some plants go good together:  corn and beans complement each other, while certain flowers will act as natural insect repellents for vegetable plants.  The same holds true for our lives.  We all know people who are a blessing to be around, who seem to always be bringing in buckets of joy to pour into our lives.  God has put these people in our lives for a reason, and we should nourish & cherish the relationships we have with them.  We should regard our friends as precious diamonds in our lives. Are you spending enough time around the encouraging & joyful people who love you?

Weed Every Day:

Every garden has to be constantly protected against weeds.  The weeds in the garden of our souls consist of false thoughts & of unrepentant sin.  Studies show that most people think thousands of negative thoughts every single day.  They are constantly telling themselves things like “I probably won’t get that job” “She probably doesn’t like me”  “I can’t lose this weight”— constantly making assumptions that often aren’t true.  Paul in Philippians 4:8 urges us to focus our thinking on what is true & honorable & just & pure.  Pulling up the weeds of negative thoughts will allow the flowers of our garden to bloom much more brightly.

The other type of weeding we need to do daily is that of sin. If you’ve ever had a physical garden, you know how easy it is to ignore the little weeds sprouting up.  Even though we know weeds are easier to pull when they’re little, we avoid the hard work of weeding, and then suffer the consequences later.  In the same way, if we “nip sin in the bud” before it has had a chance to develop a foothold in our hearts, we both increase our joy and avoid so much pain.  Have you weeded the garden of your soul today?

Enjoy the Beauty:

Well, this life is not all work and no play! Yes, you have my official permission to stop & smell the roses today!  Enjoy the beauty of your garden!  Take time to experience & savor the joy that God has blessed you with, say a prayer of thanks to Him, and then share that joy with the rest of the world.  Through savoring, gratitude, & sharing, your garden of joy will grow, & you will make this world a more beautiful place. 

Remember that God earnestly desires for our lives to be filled with joy, the joy of a life well lived in His presence. By filling your life & the lives of others with joy, you bring glory to your joyful God.  Make it a priority to cultivate joy in your heart today.

Book Review: Happy for No Reason

Everyone wants to be happy, right?  I know I sure do.  So, why not a book that tells you how to be happy?  That’s the idea behind a book I recently read titled Happy for No Reason, written by Marci Shimoff, an established self-help author & speaker.

For a book written by someone who does not follow Jesus, she admirably gets some things right.  She rightly understands that trying to be happy just by doing or having things that make you happy is a dead end street.  Instead, she realizes that true lasting happiness is an internal state of the soul not connected to any external circumstance.  That’s a Biblical truth that even many Christians have yet to live day by day.

She also gives out some very practical & valuable wisdom in the book.  Some that I particularly agreed with included  looking for the lesson and the gift in any trial you are experiencing, realizing that you must question your thoughts and reject the ones that aren’t true, focusing on gratitude & forgiveness, & understanding that a properly nourished body helps our brain to function properly.

However, this good advice is immersed in a heavily new age philosophy & practice, from “going beyond your mind and letting go” to “listening to your inner voice” & “tuning in to your body’s wisdom.”  

In her world there is no need for the death of Christ to establish a connection with God, no need to realize that I’m born spiritually dead until Jesus gives me life, & no need to take up a cross & die to my desires as I follow Him. I’m quite sure she wouldn’t realize that much of what she practices and advocates as a path of happiness is actually a path away from the one true God, & not toward Him.

Her “breakthrough approach to happiness” is indeed a much better path than what most people take in this life, but ultimately still falls short of the simple path of following Christ above all.  Not recommended reading.

Book Review: This Is Your Brain on Joy

Can knowing if your cingulate gyrus is overactive change your whole life?This Is Your Brain on Joy by Earl Henslin

Can the right drug or herb do more than just cover up depression or anxiety, but actually restore & heal the brain?

Can physical dysfunction in the brain rob a committed Christian of the joy that is possible in Christ?

If you read this book, you’ll discover the answer to all these questions is an unqualified YES. 

This Is Your Brain on Joyis a highly readable introduction to cutting edge concepts of brain function in health and emotional disorders.  The author, Dr. Earl Henslin, is a practicing psychologist who has collaborated for ten years with Dr. Daniel Amen, a pioneer in the field of brain imaging.  They treat people suffering from depression, anxiety, panic, rage, “ADD” and other problems not by labeling them with a disease, but by considering what anatomic part of their brain is malfunctioning, and then helping them through supplements, therapy, medicine, & other supportive & healing measures.

This is not the typical paradigm that was taught to most physicians, including me.  ”Business-as-usual” medicine is to fit a person’s symptoms to a standardized diagnosis, then use a drug recommended for that diagnosis.  That approach was formalized decades ago, when we had few tools to see function & dysfunction within the living brain.

There is a better way. Physicians like Dr. Amen are performing advanced brain scanning on tens of thousands of patients and seeing the correlations between symptoms and brain function, and seeing how different therapies targeted toward specific areas of the brain can bring radical improvements in people’s lives.

This book starts out with an introduction to the relationship of a biochemically healthy brain to a joy-filled life, and how damage or dysfunction within the brain will sabotage any effort to live a fulfilling life.  The second section of the book details what dysfunction in each of the brain’s mood-related centers (prefrontal, cingulate gyrus, basal ganglia, deep limbic, and temporal lobes) look like, and details specific therapies to help each area.  There is a final chapter which draws on the New Testament book Philippians to list six ways to increase joy in your life.  The book’s only major weakness is that it largely overlooks the spiritual components to a life of joy such as freedom from sin & the new birth, but it is understandable that this book’s focus be on the physical/biochemical, while there are many other fine books to read dealing specifically with the spiritual.

If you or a friend or family member struggle with any emotional or mood disorder, this book will give you new insight, new hope, & new ideas on how your brain & your life can be all that it can be.  Highly recommended.

How to Start Your Day Right


Self Portrait by the very talented Meredith Farmer

What got you out of bed this morning?

No, I don’t mean whether it was your alarm clock going off or your spouse jabbing you in the ribs.

Instead, I want you to consider what your motivation was to get out of bed this morning?  What did you say to yourself, what was your internal self-dialogue that finally resulted in setting your feet on the floor?

I recently took a personality test that asked that question.  At first, I was a little embarassed.  I realized that my internal dialogue was often a variant on, “Well, I’ve waited as long as I can.  If I don’t get up now I’m going to be late.”  If we were honest, many of us would admit we sometimes voice something similar to ourselves.

But then I thought, “How is that preparing me for my day?  How is that setting the course of my mind, emotions, and expectations?  What kind of day am I going to have if I’m launching it with those thoughts?”

So, I pondered, “How can it be different? How can I change my first thoughts to change my entire day?”

A good question to ask.  Here is my answer, what I now say before my feet hit the floor:

Today is a gift from God, a display of His love for me.

Today I am grateful & excited to open this precious gift & see all that it holds.

Today with this gift I can love & laugh, learn & grow.

Today with this gift I can bless many people.

Today with this gift I can walk with God.

I love the word picture of this day being a gift.  What do you think & feel about a special gift from someone who loves you?  You see it as precious.  Feelings of love & gratitude well up inside you.  You can’t wait to tear off the wrapping paper & see what’s inside and use it.  You can feel this way even when you don’t know what the gift is, because you know who gave it to you.  That’s exactly how we can feel about each day: it should fill us with anticipation, excitement, & eagerness, even when we don’t know everything that will happen, because we can trust our God who is giving it to us.

Whatever happens during this gift of today, we can be sure of three things:  First, we know that we can take whatever circumstance comes our way & choose to use it as an avenue for personal growth & fulfillment.  We have the opportunity to love & laugh, to learn & grow from both the “good” & the “bad” IF we choose to.

Second, we know we have the opportunity to positively impact the lives of others:  our family & friends that we care for, the stranger on the street that we smile at, the coworker that we take the time to listen to, the job that in some way will touch other lives far away.  We all have opportunities countless times every day to to fulfill the Golden Rule & love & bless the lives of each other.

Third, we know that we can experience God and walk with Him, through celebration & trial, through joy & sorrow, through life & loss.  Nothing can separate us from the fellowship of God’s love & care.

We all have this same opportunity to start our day out right, so that it will lead us to a day filled with love, excitement, & joy.  How will you start our your days this week?

Are You Living in Your Shack or Your Palace?

Once upon a time, a man received a letter stating that he had been named in the will of an obscure third cousin of his half uncle.  Upon arriving at the attorney’s office, he was astonished to find that he had inherited two houses, tax-free.  He was promptly handed the deeds, keys, & directions to both houses as he walked out to his car. 

He drove to the first house and discovered that it was a broken-down deserted shack:

Somewhat disheartened, he nonetheless drove on to the second address and feasted his eyes on twenty million dollars of opulence with its own paid-for staff:

Here’s the question: Which house did he choose to spend his evening in?

“What?” I hear you say.  “Anybody who owned both houses would choose to spend his time in the beautiful, comfortable house that would bring him joy.”

Yes, I agree, it is the obvious choice.

But do you know that YOU have the exact same choice today?

You, yes YOU, are in possession of two houses right now.  They are not houses of wood and brick but houses you have built in your mind.  One house, your shack, is constructed of all the things that are wrong and that you don’t like about your life plus all your emotions, attitudes, and reactions to these unpleasant things.  The other house, your palace, is constructed of all that is good and beautiful and loving and true about your life, and all the emotions, attitudes and reactions you have to them.

Picture in your mind’s eye both of your houses.  Picture your shack filled with all the disappointments, failures, bitterness, & lost dreams you have, past & present.  Look in its rooms and see your bad job (or no job), failed relationships, money problems, poor health, or whatever causes you grief or pain right now.

Now picture your palace and fill its rooms with the people who love you and whom you love, your relationship with God, the beauty of God’s creation, simple pleasures like a sunset or a good meal, and all the joy, peace, and gratitude that go along with them.

Now, I ask you:  Which house are you living in, right now?  Your shack or your palace?

I’m not asking you to ignore problem areas of your life or pretend they don’t exist.  Your “shack” is real, and you may need to spend some time remodeling it.  BUT DO YOU NEED TO LIVE THERE?

No, you don’t. You can freely choose to let your thoughts and your soul dwell in your palace. Remember the words of Saint Paul when he wrote, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

Choose to live in your palace today.

The Most Important Choice You’ll Make Today

choice love garden path

Each day is a series of choices.  Some days the choices seem to come fast and furious in a helter-skelter chaotic blur.  Other days there seems to be only one choice, the one that seems to scream for your exclusive attention and leaves you emotionally petrified and mentally exhausted.  Whatever kind of day you are experiencing today, let me draw your attention to the most important choice you will make today, one that will affect every other choice and every other part of your day.

The choice is both simple yet difficult: simple to say, difficult to do.  Here it is:

Today I choose to love, embrace, & enjoy God, others, and life.

Take a moment to savor and reflect upon each word:

Today…  There has been much said about the importance of living in the moment, in the now, and it is true.  You must live today, and the choices you make must be for today.  You can choose to live in a past which you can do nothing about, or live in a future over which you have no control.  Choose to live in today.

I…   no one else will make this choice for you, and no one else can hinder you from making this choice.  It is up to you.  Choose.

Choose…  again, it is your choice to make.  Live intentionally: know that you are making the choice, and know what choice you are making.  Don’t let your life and your soul be a ship shoved in whichever direction the storm is raging; let your choice be the anchor that keeps you firmly where you want to be.

Love…  the pre-eminent commandment from the Bible is to love God, and then love others.  It is that simple.  And yet it is still our choice to love.  Sometimes it is a hard choice, but the alternative, not to love, empties our souls.  Love God, love others, and love the gift of life.

Embrace… All is a gift: receive it and embrace it as such.  God has given us Himself as the most precious gift of all.  Embrace Him.  Every person in our life is there for a reason, even if they seem to be indifferent or even hurtful to us.  Choose to embrace them.  We can merely live life, or we can give it a big bear hug, even with its pain.  Embrace life.

Enjoy…  Loving and embracing opens our hearts to joy.  Genuinely enjoy God as you love His beauty and embrace His presence.  Enjoy everyone in your life for who they are and what they bring to your life.  Enjoy your life, amidst both the victories and defeats, the peaks and the valleys.  Enjoy every day, enjoy every minute.

Love, embrace, enjoy.  It really is your choice.  Choose God, choose others, choose life today.

For those interested, the garden path photo was shot by me at The National Aboretum in 2006.  The text was added via the very cool editor at www.picknik.com.  If you’d like a copy of the picture, you can download it in various sizes here.

Accepted by God

To the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved.  (Ephesians 1:6KJV)

Acceptance.  It’s a beautiful word, one that speaks deeply to our hearts.  Acceptance is one of the greatest blessings that God gives to His children, and so it’s important for us to understand the nature of God’s acceptance and then to rejoice in it.

What is it to be accepted by God?  The Greek word used in the above Bible verse is charitoo, which roughly translates “to make graceful.”  To really understand what that means, you first have to go to the definition of the root word charis, which means “that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness.”  Next, you have to see that we are charitoo, made accepted, “in the beloved,” that is, in Christ.  Putting it all together, the verse means that God looks at us and it gives Him joy, pleasure, & delight because He sees the charm and loveliness of His Beloved Son, of Jesus, in us.  That is absolutely dazzling to me, realizing that God has joy when He looks at me (at me!), because of Christ. 

Another insight into how precious this acceptance really is can be found in the only other use of the Greek word charitoo in the Bible.  In Luke 1:28 the angel Gabriel comes to Mary and says, “Greetings, O favored (accepted) one, the Lord is with you!”  Yes, the way that God looked at Mary, the one He chose to be the mother of Christ, is the way that he looks at us once we are in Christ.

How incredible it is, to be accepted by God.  This acceptance goes beyond love; for you can love someone without accepting them.  You can act in love, being kind and gracious and even sacrificing to them, without seeing them with joy in your heart, without them being beautiful in your eyes.  But not so with God: He both loves us and accepts us.

When I meditate on God’s acceptance of me, I remember that it is full, it is free, and it is forever.  The best illustration of this is seen in the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15.  When the father accepts his wayward son, it is full acceptance: the son immediately is given a fine robe to show his father’s favor, and a ring to show he once again has legal authority as a son of his father. 

The acceptance is free: no conditions are stated; no action or any goodness at all in the son merits the Father’s acceptance of Him.  Actually, under Jewish law the son could have been put to death for his behavior, and at the very least the father should disown him.  But no, the father both forgives him and fully and freely accepts him.  For those of us who have had experiences of conditional acceptance in relationships, the preciousness of full and free acceptance is very real.

Lastly, for the Christian God’s acceptance is forever.  Nothing can snatch us out of God’s hand (John 10:28-29), and nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:35-39).  We can rest in God’s complete and uninterrupted acceptance no matter the fears and doubts that may assail our hearts.

What are the results of focusing on God’s acceptance?  As already mentioned, it brings great peace and joy to our hearts.  It also gives us the freedom to accept others as God has accepted us, in the same way that relishing in God’s forgiveness of us helps us to forgive others (see Matthew 18).  Knowing God’s acceptance also encourages us in our quest for righteousness and holiness.  Knowing that God sees us as lovely, we long to become ever more lovely in His sight, yet we now do not do it out of compulsion or fear or bargaining, but out of a joyful, loving, and grateful heart.

Dwell on God’s acceptance of you today, and let it spur you to feel more loved, to be more loving, and to become more lovely for God’s glory.