O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol;
It had been several years since we hiked to Spruce Flat Falls. In the past I thought of it as a relatively easy hike. It is only a mile to the falls. We didn’t even start out very early. However, the trail wasn’t the way we remembered it. It seems that while it is a well-marked and well-traveled trail, it isn’t a maintained trail. There were many places where the trail was worn away and now there were large steps over roots and several places where the trail was covered by rocks that had to be climbed over. It seemed more like rock climbing than hiking. If this had been our first time to the falls we probably would have turned around halfway. But we kept going because we knew what was at the end of the trail, one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the park.
There are many difficult trails in our lives, times we thought would be easy. We take trails that can lead us far away from God and we turn away from him. We can get so lost we wonder why we keep going. Then we remember that God restored our lives from the pit before and we keep going on the trail to see the beauty that awaits us. We experience God’s discipline and weep, but joy comes in the morning. Beauty, peace, and rest rise before us as we sit again in his presence.
Lord of the Morning
Remind us of your love and presence along difficult trails and during dark nights. In the morning we sing praises for your beauty as we sit in your presence.
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.
It has been stormy and cloudy for the past two days. I had hoped that this morning the weather would be different but the predictions weren’t promising. I just wanted to see a special sunrise this morning. I decided that it wasn’t going to happen and that I would not try to go to a special place to see a sunrise. Instead I would just get up before dark and read the resurrection stories.
So this Easter morning I sat in my sunroom and read my bible in the dark (you can do that if you read your bible on an iPad). It was very cloudy but I just happened to look out my window that faces east and saw a slight bit of color. I grabbed my camera and put on my coat. I didn’t have time to change lens, get my filters, or tripod. I ran up the hill and through a neighbor’s yard that I knew wouldn’t mind to the field on the other side of my neighborhood.
And there was this beautiful sunrise, unexpected glory. I was so glad that I didn’t just sit in my sunroom. It is cloudy again now with the sun behind the clouds. When the women went to the tomb that first Easter morning they only expected to see Jesus’s body, but that was not what they saw. I believe that Jesus still comes to us in unexpected ways. And when he comes he brings light to the darkest night. When we follow him, he will always show us unexpected things.
He is Risen! He is Risen!
Open our hearts to the unexpected and give us courage to follow you into new life.
Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negeb!
The spring weather in East Tennessee is very unpredicatable. One day you can have snow and ice and the next day the temperatures can rise to the sixties. When this happens the melting snow drips down the rocks onto the vegetation below, encasing everything in an inch or two of ice. As the sun reflects and shines through the ice the plants become like sculptures glistening with diamonds. They seem to just reflect joy. The ice is still present but there is the promise of spring.
When everything in our lives seems as cold and hard as ice it is important to look back to past times when the icy times of our lives melted into bright, sparkling joy. We need to think of our tears as watering the ground preparing us for the new life that Jesus brings. When we trust God to restore our lives then he will turn our tears to bright, glistening joy.
Walk with us through icy winters of sorrow and sadness. Melt the ice of our hearts and restore our joy.
For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth,
Sometimes we just need to marvel at God’s creation. There are so many things in creation that are metaphors of God and his word - light and dark, day and night, spring and winter. The flowers bud each spring and teach us of the new life Jesus has given us. They bring us joy and remind us that God promises a new heaven and a new earth that he will create filled with joy and gladness. May the flowers of spring remind you of God’s love and bring joy.
Teach us to rejoice in the world you created for us. Show us your beauty this spring day. Remind us of your promise that everything you create will be for joy.
Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.
I live close to the mountains so I don’t often get the chance to see a sunrise or sunset over a large body of water. I don’t think that I have ever actually seen the sun seem to be kissing the edge of the water and then watch it move out of sight as I did that evening on Lake Superior. It was just an amazing thing for me to watch something that I had never seen before. It filled me with excitement and joy. I find joy in many places, like photographing that sunset, but the best joy, the joy that lasts, the joy that changes me, is the joy of the Lord that I find when I really study his word.
In Nehemiah we find a description of this kind of joy experienced by a people who hadn’t heard God’s word in a long time. The people had returned to their homeland from exile and under Nehemiah’s leadership had been rebuilding the city wall. After the wall is finished they have a special worship celebration and Ezra, the teacher of the law, is called on to bring out the book of law of Moses. He stands on a platform to read the Law at the city gate; a place where all can be present women, men, clean and unclean; a place where decisions and judgements were rendered. They listened to teachers who were there to help them understand what was being read. They were overcome and wept with emotion. The people that day found a joy that can only be found in the Lord. In that joy they will find the strength to re-establish their home. I pray that you find joy in studying God’s word; a joy that will sustain you even when there are clouds that cover the sunset; a joy that stays in your heart as you go about your daily life.
Dearest Lord, Source of Joy
Thank you for the strength that results from the joy that can be found in your word. Open our hearts to hear your voice and see your beauty in your word and world.
For the LORD takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with victory.
Being able to see my grandchildren enjoy Christmas was a true delight. Now that we are back home I close my eyes and see the joy and excitment in their eyes as they open their gifts. I hope that they will always know how special they are to me and what delight they bring to my life. And to think that God takes this same delight in us. I know how much I love my children and grandchildren but that loves pales in comparison to the love that God has for us. God takes delight in watching us grow and our response is joy, like the joy and wonder of children on Christmas morning.
Thank you for loving us, for taking delight in us. Thank you for giving us the gift of your son to come and save us. Help us to be faithful and to find our joy in you.
Because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
The sun broke through the clouds this morning on the way to church. For a short moment there were blue skies. The clouds have returned and it is raining now, but my heart is filled with joy. There will always be cloudy days but today I rejoice for those days when the darkness is gone and the splendor of light that can only come from God breaks into our lives. On this day, I pray that you find joy by looking to Christ and thereby find light. Join me as I sing this hymn by Walter Smith that tells of the “splendor of light,” as my prayer.
Immortal, Invisible God
Immortal, invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible, hid from our eyes,
Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great name we praise.
Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, Thou rulest in might;
Thy justice, like mountains, high soaring above
Thy clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love.
To all, life Thou givest, to both great and small;
In all life Thou livest, the true life of all;
We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
And wither and perish—but naught changeth Thee.
Great Father of glory, pure Father of light,
Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight;
All praise we would render; oh, help us to see
’Tis only the splendor of light hideth Thee.
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
One place that I can find peace at least for the moment is the mountains, especially on early mornings when the crowds haven’t made it yet. But I can’t stay in the mountains forever and I need a peace that is more than just a fleeting moment. Paul wrote to his dear friends in Philippi who were facing hard times and gave them a way to find peace in what seems an unusual way. He told them to rejoice always, to develop an attitude of rejoicing, which I think is more than just happiness that results from good circumstances. Rejoice for all the Lord had done for them and then with thanksgiving tell God what they needed. As a result the peace of God which transcends all understanding would guard their hearts and minds. These words teach us also the way to find peace.
Develop in us an attitude of rejoicing in you. Teach us to lay aside our anxieties and replace them with thanksgiving knowing that you will hear our requests and give us peace that surpasses time and place.
Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth. Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”
As I read these words this morning, “he has done gloriously,” I started thinking about all the glorious things in this world. I decided that a good picture for this verse would be one that I took on our trip to the Rocky Mountains. While those mountains are surely awe-inspiring and are certainly glorious works of our God, I decided that I didn’t images taken from a long distance away. There are many places close to home that certainly reveal God’s glory. I think sometimes we think we can only see God’s glory in special places and at special times. I have learned that we can see God’s glory everywhere, if we just look.
I remember the evening I saw this sunset sitting on the curb at the pull off on the Blue Ridge Parkway with my camera on the tripod. I remember the tears of joy silently running down my face as I looked into this sky. And as beautiful as that evening was, the more glorious thing, the thing that makes me sing for joy no matter where I am, is that God is in our midst, this great God, who “has done gloriously” when Jesus walked in our midst and gave his life for us.
We sing for joy for your glorious works. Open our eyes to your glory today. We kneel in awe that you would walk in our midst.
The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save;
When you are driving along the Little River Road you will see this pull off that is a little longer than most by a stone retaining wall. If you stop and look back across the river in the dark forest you will see these falls, hidden away but in plain sight. We can all feel like this, hidden away in a dark place but in plain sight, as the Christmas carol says, “in this world of woe.” Sometimes the woe can be of our own making and sometimes the woe is not of our doing. The prophet Zephaniah wrote these beautiful words to the people of Israel who were experiencing times of woe after he had taken then to task over their rejection of God’s ways. His words comforted the people in dark times with this promise of God that there would be a time when there would be rejoicing again because the “Lord your God is in your midst.” In your times of woe, God speaks this same promise. Let God’s love quiet you and bring you peace. And while you may not hear it all the time, just like you won’t see these falls if you are not looking, the Lord God will sing over you like a mother sings over her child.
Emmanuel, God With Us,
Quiet us with your love and open our hearts to hear you singing over us and then open our mouths to share this joy with all we meet today.
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day:
I enjoyed almost every single day of our trip to the Great Lakes this fall, even though most days were cloudy, for each day brought more amazing sights. This was the first time that I had seen the Great Lakes since I was a child on a family vacation. Seeing them as an adult helps you to understand why they are called the Great Lakes. When you stand on the shore you realize that there is something amazing about their vastness. You have to keep reminding yourself that you are not at the ocean; that this is a lake filled with fresh water. As vast and amazing as these lakes God created are, they pale in comparison to the vastness of God’s grace and mercy. He bids us to come and draw our salvation from him and in so doing find our joy. In turn our only response is to sing his praises and tell others of his greatness.
We rejoice and give thanks for the vastness of your love and for wells of salvation that will never run dry.
Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.
We all cry; we all have times of weeping and sadness. We weep over difficult circumstances, over our families and loved ones, and over our own sin. God doesn’t promise to take away our tears, he promises to turn our tears into songs of joy. He will do this in his own timing. In a physical garden it takes time for a plant to grow and bloom. Beautiful blooms don’t happen overnight, they come in their own time. We must trust the Master Gardener’s timing and wait for the seeds watered by our tears to turn into songs of joy.
Help us to trust in your timing that will turn our weeping into songs of joy.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
Sometimes all we can do is to make a noise - the joyful part just won’t come. I find that I can make my way out of those times when I think about serving the Lord by serving others. At this season of thanksgiving there are many opportunities to serve others. Take one of those even if at first it is without gladness. Slowly the door to joy will open again and you can walk into his presence with singing.
Open our eyes to those around us who are having a hard time making a joyful noise. Show us the best way to serve them so we can shine your light of love in their lives.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
I love willow trees mostly for their contradiction. They grow strong and tall but their leaves are small and move so easily with just the slightest wind. From afar they look so fragile and wispy and soft but up close the trunk and branches are strong. In one of my new favorite songs by Ken Medema, “Have a Blessed Day,” a song about the Beatitudes from Jesus’ teachings, he defines the word meek as gentle and strong. He sings, “blessed are the gentle and strong for the earth shall be their happy place.” Ken’s song made me think about this verse in a new way about being gentle and strong.
When you are gentle and strong you see a beauty and find a joy in God’s world that you don’t see when you are only strong or only gentle. When you are only strong you focus on taking action and getting the job done and don’t take time needed to see beauty. When you are only gentle you don’t see the complexity of God’s world and see only the few things on the surface. But when you are gentle and strong you see past the surface to the deeper things and then take the time to intently gaze at God’s beauty. God’s world becomes a place where you have the strength and gentleness to see beauty and joy in the place where you live.
Strong and Gentle Master
Teach us to be both strong and gentle and to see beauty and joy in the world you have created.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!
As I was just sitting and watching the sky toward the end of our day in the mountains, the sun that had moved behind the clouds suddenly broke through and reflected beautiful color all around. It was as if the sky and clouds were breaking forth into joyous song of praise. I am more likely to make a joyful noise when I am praising God than when I am thinking about myself. Sing his praises, like the clouds and sky, and you will break forth into a joyous song of praise.
Thank you for the joy we see in your world. May we fill our lives with praise to you and break forth into joyful song that shares your love.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Flowers bring great joy, especially in spring. After a cold, dark winter we rejoice in seeing the first buds of spring and the promise of beautiful flowers. To live a joyful life we need more than just the emotion of seeing flowers in bloom. We need the joy that can only come from the security of the saving love of Jesus. When we walk securely with Jesus we no longer have the anxiety of trying to save ourselves. We trust him to hold us and it is in that security that he gives joy. We are now free to share Christ love and salvation with others so that they can can come to know the joy of Christ’s love.
Thank you for the flowers of spring that remind us of the promise of salvation. Restore our joy and hold us in your love.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
Most of the time picnic tables sit empty, waiting to be used by anyone who comes along. Sometimes that is just a simple meal of sandwiches, but other times picnic tables are places for wonderful celebrations. A lot of work goes into one of those outdoor celebrations that are overflowing with joy and love. God has prepared a celebration for us. He has done the work, he has prepared the table. Don’t let the picnic table sit empty. Come to the table and sit down unafraid in front of whatever enemy you face - loneliness, betrayal, physical illness. Feast on the table God has prepared in his Word. Trust him to meet your needs for only God can fill your cup to overflowing.
Lord, Preparer of Banquets,
Thank you for the table that you have prepared for us - that allow us to look straight into the difficult times we face without fear. Fill us with your joy and may our overflow bless all those around us.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Flowers remind us of bright, sunny days. We give them to our friends and family to bring them joy. But any joy we have from flowers pales in comparison to the joy we have in Christ Jesus. At Easter we have no other response but to rejoice for our King has come.
Great and Mighty King,
We bow in gratitude for our hearts are filled with joy at your coming.
And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.
Looking in one direction you see the clear blue skies and the promise of a joy-filled day in the the mountains. Looking the other direction you see the dark clouds and a possible storm that will send you running for cover. For the disciples, the days after the resurrection were like this. They had lost their Messiah on a Roman cross and they marveled at the stories of a risen Jesus. They thought they knew Jesus after three years of being with him every day. They thought he was the Messiah that would release them from the bondage of Roman captivity and set up an earthly kingdom. He wasn’t that Messiah, but he was the Messiah that would release them from the bondage of sin in a kingdom that would last forever. Now they had to come to know Jesus in a totally different way.
Who is Jesus to you? Do you sometimes disbelieve with joy like the disciples? Have the stories of Easter become too familiar? Do you need to know Jesus in a new and deeper way? Speak your disbelief to him and just like he did with the disciples, Jesus will make himself real to you again and will turn your disbelief into joy.
Forgive us when we forget to marvel at who you are and try to keep you safely tucked away as just a story to tell on Easter. Show us your wounds, walk with us, and bring us joy in serving a risen Lord.
When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. Mark 16:1-2, ESV
The only way to see a sunrise is to get up while it is still dark. The women who followed Jesus were up and ready to go while it was still dark for they had a job to do. It wasn’t going to be an easy job and they had no idea how they were going to do it. They had only been able to begin to properly prepare Jesus’s body for burial on that Friday. They had followed the command and rules for the Sabbath and could do nothing more that day or the next. I wonder if, in their shock and grief, they had eaten or slept any since they were forced to leave their job undone.
When you actually leave in the dark and get to a place to watch the sunrise, there is a rush of joy as you see it come over the horizon. For these women, finally the sun was up and they had no idea the joy that was to follow. For when they got to the tomb, Christ was not there. Unbelievable! It took several trips to the tomb and seeing the risen Christ for his followers to begin to understand what had happened.
He is Risen ! Rejoice!
Fill us with joy this Easter Day. You have walked through the long dark night and conquered death for us. Remind us that true joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5). Give us the courage to share that joy with the world so that all may know the joy we have in you.
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