Cultivating the Soul, Part II

To live with happiness we must cultivate the happy side of life.

Norman Vincent Peale

The cultivation process has two parts: One is to do the weeding; the second is to get the soil ready for the seed. The good gardener will aerate and water and fertilize in order to make sure the soil is properly prepared for the good things that he or she wants to grow. It's the same in life. If we want the happy existence that God has planned for His children, we will have to weed our lives of the bad influences and then put in the good things conducive to contentment. I know that this is not an earth-shaking revelation, but it is amazing to see how many miss out on a lifetime of joy because they miss the second step.

So, where do we find these proper ingredients for the happy life? Is it from self-help books, perky e-mails, the advice of well intentioned friends, a really good prescription drug - or maybe that elusive guru atop some distant mountain? I don't believe that any of these things are even close. What we really need is instruction from the Master-Gardener, and the only reliable source for His instruction is the Bible.

I know that many people will be disappointed at this assessment, primarily because the Bible is a really big book and it looks really hard. Did you expect something as wonderful as a life filled with productivity and contentment to be easy? The fact is that it will take great effort - quality results always do. But, a bountiful harvest awaits those who are willing to take the time necessary to properly cultivate the garden of their soul. And, a really wonderful part of this process is that the harvest will include many of our loved ones who have been motivated to do the same. The harvest is guaranteed, for the Lord Himself will provide the increase. It is there for the taking for those who are willing to roll up their sleeves and get to the work.

Do you have a cultivated heart?

"Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times." Then Jesus said, "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." 

Mark 4:8-9, NIV


Cultivating Your Soul

To live with happiness we must cultivate the happy side of life.

Norman Vincent Peale

This quote from Dr. Peale contains an idea that is well worth exploring. Every gardener knows that a good garden requires the hard work of weeding. One can "cheat" to a certain degree by using chemicals or organic sprays, but when it comes to a proper garden you will eventually have to roll up your sleeves and start weeding.

I have been thinking about the irony of how we live at times. Instead of removing these weeds from our lives, we often go to great lengths to actually accumulate them. We watch the news and pay particular attention to the gloomy side. We listen to our children's problems at school and our spouses' problems at work. We start to focus on our own minor difficulties - both existing and potential. And we add one weed after another to our lives. We sow the seeds of discontent and then wonder why we don't reap a more joyful harvest.

If this is you, may I suggest that you begin to cultivate the garden of your soul? I am not implying that we should ignore the serious issues that require our attention. I'm merely suggesting that we pay a bit more attention to the roses that God has placed in our lives. To do so will require a good deal of weeding of the unnecessary worries that creep into our world.

Too many times we feel that happiness just happens, instead of realizing that true contentment will require the effort of getting rid of those weeds that choke out the beauty of the Master's garden. Dr. Peale was right when he pointed out that those who want to live with happiness will have to cultivate the happy side of life. The world will provide a fresh supply of weeds each day, but that doesn't mean we have to let them take root in our soul.

But may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful.

Psalms 68:3, NIV


Count Your Blessings

Count your many blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord hath done. Johnson Oatman

Occasionally we forget. We forget all that God has blessed us with and we let our momentary problems get us down. We permit ourselves to get the "poor me's"  and begin to question the quality of our lives, from our families to our jobs to our nation.

We do this because we forget what we are here for. We focus on the physical and then we begin to actually think that we are here for our jobs or school or making payments or whatever else might be on our radar screen on a given day.

It's not that these things are unimportant (just let one of my kids decide not to show up for school one day), it's just that they are not to be our focus. This life is a test, and sometimes tests are hard. God wants to know if we will serve Him in good times and bad, so there are uncertainties in life and things will not always go as planned.

This is when many allow defeat to creep in. We have financial hardships, or relationship problems or health concerns and we think that life is over. This is when we count our blessings: Our family, our friends, a free nation, plenty of food, clothing shelter. Not enough? How about a Father who loved us so much that He gave his only Son to die for our sins so that we could spend an eternity with Them? What in this life is so bad that the first 10,000 years of Heaven won't make up for? Will we allow ourselves the luxury of self-pity or the joy of counting our many blessings?

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. II Corinthians 4:17


Continual Joy

My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but just enjoy your ice cream while it's on your plate - that's my philosophy. Thornton Wilder

When I look back on the various stages of my life, I realize that my happiest times have been those that I simply enjoyed the moment I was in. I also see that the times of greatest stress were those times when I thought along the lines of, "Sure, this is good now, but it could get bad in a hurry".

This is when Mr. Wilder's advice comes in so handy. Why, while in the process of sampling a tasty cone, must we even think about the fact that it will soon be gone? Isn't it far better to enjoy the process, rather than to fear the inevitable outcome. It's true that the fleeting pleasures of life will by definition come to an end, but why not just go ahead and enjoy them while they last?

At no time, I suppose, has this been as true as during this past year. With droughts on the front burner and financial crises on the back, it just seems that the entire year has been consumed with thoughts like, "Today is okay, but if it doesn't rain soon, we will be in real trouble" or "It's true that I have a job and can pay my bills now, but what if the recession spreads to this region, or I become sick and can't work, or something bad happens to one of my loved ones, or..."

The fact is that bad things do happen. It's also true that we cannot go through life with blinders on, and that we must be ready to act in times of unexpected hardship. But truer, still, is that God is in Heaven and He is in control.

So, if He has blessed you this year - enjoy it! You don't have to feel guilty, nor do you have to fear that He will somehow take His eyes off of you and let something happen that you cannot handle. Bad things do occasionally happen but, more often, good things happen. And we are blessed! 

So go ahead and enjoy that ice cream before it melts. It's not wrong, nor is it failing to be a realist. It's called gratitude and a joyful person will, with a heart filled with thanksgiving, enjoy every minute of this beautiful life that God has blessed him with. Bad things can and will happen to us all, but we are going to Heaven someday. So... enjoy the ride and don't forget to be grateful along the way! 

Be joyful always. I Thessalonians 5:16, NIV


Conditional Blessings

The Lord is with you, when you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you, but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you. Azariah

The account of King Asa is an amazing part of Israel's history. Asa was the great-great grandson of King David. At the outset of his rule, God sent His prophet Azariah to relate the above message and for 35 years, Asa enjoyed many blessings from God. But then, a funny thing happened: Asa got to thinking that he was a great king as a result of his own doing, so he decided he would do things his way... and God left him.

Before leaving Asa, God sent another prophet - Hanani - to relate this message: "The eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him". But Asa did not pay any attention to God's words - after all, he was the king. So Asa suffered and then he died.

This seems to be a harsh lesson, but it is one that we all need from time to time. We correctly understand that God's love is unconditional, but we often then draw the incorrect conclusion that His blessings are unconditional... so we suffer. And sometimes, people die with that false understanding. Why do we do that?

I cannot speak for anyone else, but I know why I do that - it's because I think that I am the ruler of my own life. We like to be in charge and we like to do what we want to do when we want to do it. Then, when trouble arises, we think that God has abandoned us. But the fact is that God is always with us, when we are with Him. It was true 3,000 years ago during Asa's days, and it is true for us today.

God will never leave us, unless we leave Him. Understanding this will spare us from a lifetime of pain. And, understanding that God is literally searching for those whose hearts are committed to Him will give us the confidence we need to meet all of life's challenges. God's blessings are not unconditional, but they are always available. They are available to anyone wise enough to resist the urge of attempting to sit on the throne that belongs to God and His Son. Who reigns in your life? The correct answer to that question will open the floodgates of blessings for you and your loved ones.  

The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad... Psalms 97:1, NIV