What if instead of putting Band-Aid fixes on your outlook to keep your happiness level patched up, you could experience lasting joy – no matter the circumstance? Is this even possible? In this episode, Leslie tackles that question by surprising you with the secret to finding constant, unwavering joy. (Hint: It may not be what you were expecting to hear!) Listen and uncovers practical keys to cultivating joy by turning your gaze away from self to serving those in need … starting right where you are today.
Leslie Ludy: Hi, everyone! It’s Leslie Ludy, host of the Set Apart Girl Podcast: Biblical Encouragement for Women of All Ages. Today I want to talk to you about one of the amazing secrets for finding joy, and it’s something you might not expect – turning outward and serving others.
Unlocking the Secret to True Joy
Leslie Ludy: This is something I learned at an early age. I was about 18 years old, and I had so many things in my life to be grateful for: I had a wonderful family, wonderful church body, God was unfolding an incredible love story with Eric in my life, and yet, a lot of the time I found myself not feeling completely happy; feeling unsettled; feeling depressed. And I wasn’t really sure why.
I remember talking with a woman who was a godly older woman in my church that I really looked up to; telling her some of my struggles, and asking her for any advice that she had. Surprisingly, she said, “Well, it’s very simple. You need to be turning outward and serving others more!” I was taken aback by that because I thought Well, I serve my family, and I do this volunteer thing in my church, and I’ve gone on a missions trip … But my life wasn’t built around serving and pouring out for others.
Also, I didn’t equate serving with a secret to finding joy. I thought that the more I focused on my own needs, that’s when I would really gain the joy that I was seeking. But she was saying, “As you turn outward and focus on the needs of others, that’s when you will experience an incredible, sustaining, lasting joy.” Letting God work through you and use you as part of His body to serve others is such an incredible, joyful opportunity!
I began to take that advice and look for ways that I could live more of an outward-focused lifestyle. My brothers and I started volunteering at a local nursing home every week. I began witnessing to neighbors. I found some women in my church who were going through hard times or sickness and I began taking meals to them. I began volunteering at a homeless ministry in the inner city where we lived, and I discovered the incredible joy of serving and giving. It wasn’t like I was adding a bunch of projects and service things to my life just so I could have a full life. It was truly because I wanted to learn how to turn outward, put my selfish issues aside, and think of the needs of others. And as I did this, I noticed that some of my depression and stress started to fade away, and even some of the distracting health problems that I’d been having for a while disappeared. It was hard to believe, but developing an attitude of outward-living was a much better cure for anxiety, stress, and depression than any self-help suggestion that I had ever heard of. I have never forgotten that lesson!
Whenever life seems to be weighing me down, I’ve learned that making a purposeful effort to turn outward and serve others provides an amazing way to exchange sorrow for joy.
I heard one time about a woman who came from a very abusive and tragic background. She gave her life to Christ at around the age of 60 after facing decades of heartache, abuse, and sin. The missionary who won her to Christ struggled with helping this woman overcome the scars of her past. She thought, If we’re going to have to talk and pray through every horrible thing that has ever happened to this woman, it is going to take forever!
But then the woman discovered an unexpected solution to overcoming her emotional baggage and it was serving – giving to others. As she visited the sick, the elderly, the impoverished people in her community, and she began practically meeting their needs and sharing the love of Christ with them, she was miraculously healed and restored from all of her inward struggles simply by turning outward. She began to glow with genuine joy as she shared how Christ had set her free from her past and given her a new beginning.
Isaiah 58 describes God’s “chosen fast.” It’s a pattern of outward-living that leads to joy, strength, healing, and protection. He says, “Is this not the fast that I have chosen … to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; When you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard” (Isa. 58:6-8).
That is an incredible promise! We live in a world that insists we should be putting ourselves first, and this pattern that God is describing here feels foreign and sometimes even uncomfortable. So many of us are hesitant to embrace this kind of outward-focused lifestyle. Often we feel too bogged down by our own issues and problems to be much concerned with the needs of others, and we think that if we give and serve too much, we’ll be in danger of burnout and exhaustion. Even many Christian messages today tell us that we should be careful not to people-please.
But if you take a closer look at the life of Christ, Paul, the Apostles, you see that a radically-given life – an outward-focused life – is the kind of life that we are truly called to. Despite the many challenges and trials that come along with living an outward-focused life, there is joy and fulfillment in serving that can’t be found any other way.
Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus Christ endured the cross for the “joy that was set before him.” And the Apostle Paul, despite the unbelievable trials that he faced in sharing the Gospel with the unsaved, said, “I would to God that … all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am …” (Acts 26:29). Paul didn’t want any other kind of life. In fact, he wished that others would experience the amazing joy and peace that he walked in every day.
How to Cultivate an Outward-Focused Lifestyle
Leslie Ludy: If you feel the need for greater joy in your life, and you want to know more about what an outward-focused life really looks like, here are a few practical things that I want to share with you.
1. Understand the Call
Leslie Ludy: First of all, we need to understand the fact that an outward-focused life is the call of every Christian. Sometimes I think when we hear about missionaries that are serving in some distant country, or families that are fostering and adopting children, or people who work with the homeless, it’s easy to think, Well good for them, but I don’t think I’m called to that. The phrase “I’m not called” is all too easy an excuse to build a self-focused existence rather than an outward-focused life. It’s true that we’re all called to different things, and we’re not all going to be called overseas, or to foster children, or to work with the homeless. But we are all called to live an outward-focused life; we’re not called to a self-centered lifestyle.
In addition to Jesus’ command of fulfilling the Great commission in Matthew 28 as well as the sobering reminder of the sheep and the goats on judgment day in Matthew 25, you could also look at these qualities of a godly woman that are found in God’s Word.
Scriptures to Study
Leslie Ludy: In Proverbs 31:20 it says “She extends her hands to the poor, yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy.” And in 1Timothy 5:10 it says, “.. well reported for good works: if she has brought up children, if she has lodged strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has relieved the afflicted, if she has diligently followed every good work …” And then, of course, James reminds us that, “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (Jms. 1:27).
I love the statement from William Booth who was one of the founders of the Salvation Army, which is one of the most powerful outreach ministries in all of history. Here is something that he said to a bunch of Christians who felt that they ere not called to turn outward,
“Not called!” did you say? “Not heard the call,” I think you should say. Put your ear down to the Bible, and hear Him bid you go and pull sinners out of the fire of sin. Put your ear down to the burdened, agonized heart of humanity, and listen to its pitiful wail for help. Go stand by the gates of hell, and hear the damned entreat you to go to their father’s house and bid their brothers and sisters, and servants and masters not to come there. And then look Christ in the face — whose mercy you have professed to obey — and tell Him whether you will join heart and soul and body and circumstances in the march to publish His mercy to the world.”
That’s a powerful and convicting quote! If we say, “Oh, I’m just not called!” Very likely we just haven’t heard the call or we haven’t really understood the call in the Word of God. The reality is that God has prepared good works in advance for each of us to walk in. (See Ephesians 2:10.)
I encourage you to ask Him to show you what that means for you today. It doesn’t necessarily mean going overseas an starting an orphanage. It could be as simple as serving a needy neighbor; or it could be as big as starting an overseas orphan ministry. It could be as simple as sharing the Gospel with an unsaved coworker; or as grand as becoming a missionary to an unreached tribe. Turning outward is all the same in God’s eyes. It doesn’t have to look epic and amazing in order to be an answer to the call of God to walk in those good works that He has prepared in advance. So even if He puts something in front of you that doesn’t seem glamorous but is that outward-focused life, remember how valuable it is to say yes to that call.
The key is to embrace the call of God rather than thinking, That’s not for me; that’s for someone else. If you want to live an outward life, it really starts with a new heart-attitude that says, “My life is no longer my own; I’ve been bought with a price. I’m ready to put aside selfish, shallow pursuits, and make myself available to You, Lord, no matter the cost.” If you say yes to that call and ask Him to lead you, you can be sure that your life will soon become the great adventure – the poured-out life that God intends it to be – even if you’re simply serving right in your own home.
2. Reject Shallow Living
Leslie Ludy: Another thing that I would encourage you to do is to reject shallow living. Shallow living is excused in the Christian church today and [in] so many churches. We think we can go to church on Sunday and live the way that we want the rest of the week in self-indulgence, pop-culture, pleasure, entertainment, and yet God has called us to so much more than that. If we live in a shallow, selfish way, it’s only going to lead to emptiness and depression. If we live in the depths of all that Christ has for us, it leads to fulfillment and joy.
In other podcasts, I’ve talked about the Victorian woman named Lillias Trotter who gave up her wealth and her art career in order to serve among the poorest of the poor in Algeria. That seemed like a foolish decision to so many prominent people in her life. The favor the world was literally handed to her on a silver platter, but her eyes were not fixed upon the temporary sparkle the world. She had her eyes fixed on a better prize. And many years after making that staggering decision to give up everything and serve in a foreign land, Lillias wrote these words that were an inspiration for the hymn, “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.” She said,
“Never has it been so easy to live in half a dozen harmless worlds at once — art, music, social science, games, motoring, the following of some profession, and so on. And between them we run the risk of drifting about, the “good” hiding the “best”… It is easy to find out whether our lives are focused, and if so, where the focus lies. Where do our thoughts settle when consciousness comes back in the morning? Where do they swing back when the pressure is off during the day? … Dare to have it out with God … Ask Him to show you whether or not all is focused on Christ and His Glory … Turn your soul’s vision to Jesus, and look and look at Him, and a strange dimness will come over all that is apart from Him.”
Even in the early 1900s, Christians were getting caught up in art, music, social science, and motoring – I guess motor cars were a new phenomenon at that time – and going from one thing to the next, but the good was hiding the best. We need to follow that example that Lillias set and say with our lives, “The good can not hide the best. I’m going to pursue what God has for me and not just the shallow things of this world.”
All of us would do well to take those words to heart, do some soul-searching, and ask ourselves: What are our lives built around? What are our thoughts centered upon? Is all truly focused on Christ and His glory?
And if not, we need to turn our eyes to Jesus; to spend time in His presence and in His Word and start building our thoughts around Him and not the things of this world. Until finally a strange dimness will come over all that is apart from Him and nothing will matter to us any more except things that are eternally focused – that’s how we know that our lives are focused in the right place.
3. Receive His Enabling Grace
Leslie Ludy: The last thing I want to encourage you when it comes to living an outward life is to receive God’s enabling grace. If living an outward life, a servant-hearted life feels impossible. If you’re afraid to share the Gospel; if you’re afraid to reach out to others, remember that God will never ask you to do something that He won’t equip you to do. If you try to serve others in your own strength, you’ll fall flat on your face, but if you serve in His strength, the world can be changed one life at a time.
Amy Carmichael, who was a missionary to India, once wrote about God being a “very present help in trouble.” She said He is so present that even a whisper will bring the help that we need, right at the moment that we need it. “Do you need courage? All you must do is whisper, ‘Thy courage, Lord!’ and it will come. Do you need patience? Just whisper,’Thy patience, Lord!’ and it will come — not tomorrow, but right now.“
That’s really what it means to tap into God’s enabling grace. Grace is not just the hug and favor of God, it’s the supernatural strength for the impossible life that we are called to. Receiving God’s grace begins with an attitude that says,”Lord, I can’t but You can.” We have to remember that He who calls us is faithful who also will do it (see 1 Thessalonians 5:24).
Leslie Ludy: I want to close with a little tidbit about Eric’s grandmother who died before he was born. She had this amazing habit that whenever she felt discouraged or depressed, she would look for someone far worse off than she was and begin serving them. Incredibly her own problems started to seem a lot less weighty as she did this, and so many times her sorrow was replaced by joy.
If you have problems in life that seem complicated, stressful, and overwhelming – the answer to finding joy may be simpler than you think. It feels counter-intuitive, but I encourage you to put your own struggles aside for a while and find someone that you can selflessly serve. It’s not that God doesn’t care about your personal needs and issues, and there is a time and place to wrestle through your own concerns with Him, but don’t let the enemy fool you into thinking that you have to wait until all your own issues are resolved before you can turn outward and become Christ’s hands and feet to this dying world. You can begin right now. You’ll be amazed at how much healing, strength, and true joy flows into your life the moment you embrace those good works that He has prepared in advance for you to walk in today.
I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s episode. If you would like to learn more about joyful living in every situation, I encourage you to join us for our Set Apart Conference, May 25-26, 2018. You can join us in Windsor, CO or anywhere you are via simulcast. Our theme for this year is Joyful Living, and we will have messages that can transform your entire perspective in how to rise above circumstances in your life and walk in the joy of the Lord. This is a great event for women of all ages! You can learn more at www.setapart.org. We do have registration open now! I hope you’ll join us that weekend, and I pray you have a blessed and Christ-centered week.