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Christian Life, Faith, Parenting

How to cultivate joy

January 23, 2018

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
– James 1:2-4

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
– Philippians 4:4-7


The last 10 days at the Pontius household have been rough ones, with Kelly, Micah, and I all in various stages of being sick with running noses, throbbing headaches, and endless coughing. Being sick is tough enough when you only need to take care of yourself but, as any parent knows, having a sick kid doubles the challenge.

For the last several nights Micah’s been awake 4-5 times a night with a wracking cough. It’s painful to listen to. Even more painful is the fact that it means we’ve spent a significant amount of time rocking him back to sleep or in some cases, sitting awake with him for an hour or two until he realizes it’s 3 AM and he’s still tired.

“Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters,” James says. The Apostle Paul echoes, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” Challenging words when living sick on 5 hours of sleep. And being sick and lacking sleep are, in the grand scheme of things, small troubles. What of when you lose a parent? When you’re diagnosed with a terminal cancer? When your internet is slow. Kidding on that last one, obviously. But seriously.

Regardless of the circumstance, Paul and James are relentless about joy. James is specific; count your trials as joy. Paul agrees, both in word and deed as he sits in a jail cell worshipping after being stripped and beaten in public in Acts 16. In the eyes of these apostles joy isn’t a soft and fuzzy thing. It’s a necessity for Kingdom living that is to be cultivated with almost fierce intentionality. The question, of course, is how? From these oft-quoted verses I see at least four answers to that question.

Set your mind on joy.

We are to calculate troubles and trials as something of joy. When we encounter a hardship and are determining which side of the emotional scale to place it on, we are to place it on the site of the positive.

This isn’t something that comes naturally. It takes an intentional set of the mind – a determined reckoning that says “I will count this trial as joy.” When it’s 2 AM and Micah wakes up coughing, requiring Kelly or I to drag ourselves out of bed to go soothe him back to sleep it will require a determination in our semi-conscious minds to agree with Heaven and say “this is joy.”


Look to the outcome, not the moment

James says that it’s because testing and trials results in endurance or steadfastness, which leads to our being made complete that we are to calculate trials as joy-bringers.

If you’re struggling with joy it’s probably a problem of perspective. Odds are that you’re more focused on your current pain, tiredness, frustration, disappointment, etc than you are on where God’s taking you in the future. Faith isn’t stuck in the present; it has vision that sees the future as beautiful. Just like Jesus “who, for the joy set before him, endured the cross” (Heb. 12:2), we are to look beyond the moment and by faith behold the glory of the outcome.


Look at Jesus, not the problem

Paul’s words in Philippians are similar to James. He says that when we’re lacking joy it’s a problem of perspective. Where are we to find our joy? “Rejoice in the Lord,” not in circumstances. Only when we learn settle our emotions in the immortal, unchangeable Father can we enter into the joy that Paul learned to practice. We do this settling doing what, to again quote from Hebrews 12, is like “fixing our eyes on Jesus”. By intentionally redirecting our minds away from the immediate problem and setting it instead on who Jesus is and what he has done.


Then do it again. And again. And again.

“Again I will say, rejoice.” There’s a reason that Paul repeats himself here. This looking to Jesus isn’t a one-time decision that will forever loft us into heavenly floatings of joy. No, it is a repeated practice. A continual resetting of our mental bent until the supernatural activity of counting trials as joy and rejoicing always is as ingrained in us as breathing.

As we become those people we will discover a peace and happiness in all circumstances that frees us from so many of the trappings that we think we need. Anxiety will fade away and be replaced by hopeful expectancy. Shame will lose it’s power over us and we will be loosed to proclaim the goodness of our Savior anew.


Tonight may be a trial. Micah may wake up a dozen times, or may not sleep a wink. You may be in the midst of the most painful season you’ve yet to encounter in life. The next week may look like an impossibility. Take a deep breath. Determine it in your spirit that by the Spirit you will count it all joy. That you will take your eyes of yourself and your circumstances and rejoice in the Lord.

My guess is that we’ll get to the end of this and be amazed at how good God was in the midst of it.

Book Highlights, Faith, Spiritual Growth

Finding Fullness of Joy

December 5, 2016



We humans naturally pursue what is pleasurable. We were created with innate longings for joy and enjoyment and spend our lifetimes capturing it wherever we can. That longing is a good thing, planted by our Creator to draw us like a magnet toward the fountain of pleasure that is found in Him.

The problem is that sin has distorted things and we’re constantly getting drawn into poisoned pleasures that lead to death. As the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 8, the mind set on satisfying the cravings of the flesh is death. The earthly pleasures found in sex, food, entertainment, days off, observing the beauties of nature, and the like ultimately all fall short. We consume them and walk away needing more. The pleasures and joys of this earth aren’t full. We need more than what they offer.

Where pleasure is found

In Psalm 16 David gives an answer to the pleasure-seeking ache that every human has. He writes,

“You make know to me the path of life;
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
At your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
– Psalm 16:11

Where are we to find the joy and enjoyment that we need? In the presence of God.

Almost every Christian I know would agree with this in general, but in practice we tend to function as if we don’t quite believe what David’s saying here. Note that it’s not in the Bible that David says joy is found. It’s not in church. It’s not in quiet times. It’s in God’s presence. That means that if we’re in God’s presence we can have joy and pleasure.

The question is, where is God’s presence? If we want joy and pleasure and it’s experienced by being close to God, then we must know where God is and go there.

The Apostle Paul states what echoes throughout the Psalms and the rest of Scripture when he declares God, “is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘‘In him we live and move and have our being’” (Acts 17:28). God is present throughout all the earth. He fills his creation as the waters fill the sea. As David wrote in another Psalm,

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
– Psalm 139:7-10

Long story short, God’s presence is everywhere. You can’t get away from it.

This truth has amazing implications for our search for joy. If it is both true that God is present in all places and that in his presence there is total joy and pleasure, that means we can walk in constant fullness of joy, regardless of our location or situation. In the midst of family conflict we can have joy. In the midst of moving to a new city and knowing no one we can have joy. When nothing goes according to plan we can be pleased, because God is present and in his presence is pleasure forevermore.

How to get there

In another Psalm we read,

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
– Psalm 100:4

Want to get into God’s presence where there is pleasure and joy unending? The way to get there is is thanksgiving and praise. Thanksgiving gets you through the gates, praise into the courts of his presence. If we want pleasure and joy we must put praise and thanksgiving as high priorities in our lives.

When you’re feeling dissatisfied with life is your response to start thanking God for all the good he’s given you? When you’re stressed and joyless do you turn on the praise by declaring to God his glorious character and promises? God is present in all places and at all times, and we can encounter that presence in a real, mind-and-emotion-impacting way through thanksgiving and praise.

If you’re struggling to grasp joy and find pleasure in God or in life, set aside regular time to worship. Read the Scriptures and respond with verbal, out-loud declaration of thanks when you read something good. Write out a list of what you’re thankful for in this moment. Turn on worship music and soak in the lyrics. Inevitably you’ll find that as you do so your heart and Spirit rises to the joy and pleasure that is found in the presence of God. And that, my friends, will make all the difference.





Journal, Life, Parenting

Parenting and Shrinking Joys

August 18, 2016




I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
– Philippians 4:12-13


Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame. If you draw a giraffe, you must draw him with a long neck. If, in your bold creative way, you hold yourself free to draw a giraffe with a short neck, you will really find that you are not free to draw a giraffe.
– Chesterton, Orthodoxy


It’s been nearly a month since our son Micah was born. Crazy how fast the past few weeks have gone.Leading up to his birth I’d had this expectation of some explosive revelation moment when we first met our boy. I’d heard so frequently that having a kid gives you a deeper understanding of God’s love for us, and apparently I’d figured that realization would come all in a rush there and then when we held him for the first time.

Maybe for some people it does. For me it didn’t. And, in all honesty, the last few weeks really haven’t been particularly enjoyable. Oh, there have been beautiful moments, but the vast majority of our time is spent feeling somewhat inadequate and frustrated as we try to to figure out feeding schedules, how to get a little human to fall asleep, how to do everything one-handed while holding a baby, how to operate on 4 or so hours of sleep a night, etc.

The first weeks of parenting aren’t particularly rewarding on a human level. Oh sure, we’ve got a really cute little human to hold whenever we want to, but all the work that comes with it is just hard. There’s a reason why more and more people are opting to have children later or not at all. It costs a lot, financially, physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

I still haven’t had a huge moment of revelation or anything, yet as I sat next to Micah several nights ago watching him sleep, praying over his life to come and that Kelly and I would survive to see it, I realized how much my view of the world had changed and just how good that is.

Things have shrunk. Our joys and pleasures have become much smaller than they were. That may sound like a negative thing, but I don’t think it is.

The world’s expectation

The world tells us that our pleasures should always be increasing in size, scope, and intensity. This year you went on a vacation to Florida for a week. Next year you should take a two week vacation to Hawaii. The relationship you were just in was good, so you shouldn’t settle for anything less than amazing in the next one. We’re trained to be disappointed if our future experiences don’t outdo our past ones.

A prime example of this is seen in the continual increase of large, explosive scenes in the movies that we watch. Contrast the slow, intricate emotional impact of Twelve Angry Men, a film from 1957 that takes place almost completely in one room, with the city-destroying explosions and two-second cuts of the recent Avengers films. We expect the next spectacle to outdo the previous, or we feel disappointed.

The problem with this is that it burns our senses out, increasingly numbing us to the daily pleasures of life. If you’re used to the explosions and constant action, the pace of films from 20 years ago seems lethargic and boring. We build up a resistance to experiences just like we do to drugs or alcohol.

There’s a reason why billionaires still search for satisfaction despite the fact they can buy anything they want.

What these first weeks of parenthood have taught me is that the small joys bring lasting pleasure. The grand, world shaking ones fade away in an instant.

God of the shrinking joys

In stark contrast to the world, God seems to delight in drawing us into smaller and smaller joys so that the grander things seem ever greater. Witness Elijah’s experience of God speaking through the small, still voice rather than the whirlwind. The quiet encounter made the nation-shaping miracles seem all the more powerful.

Whereas previously a great night for Kelly and I was going out to eat, watching a movie, and staying up late it’s now several minutes of quiet with Micah asleep before we go to bed. A weekend trip has been replaced with the smaller joy of two hours out to eat when grandma comes to watch the baby.

Pleasures have shrunk, but not lessened. The things that were becoming for us commonplace are now precious. We are being taught to take joy in small things and as a result the big things become even bigger and more wonderful. As G.K. Chesterton says, it is limitations that make art art, and therefore beautiful.

Don’t buy this world’s demand that you always need more than you currently have. Instead zoom the frame in, shrink your joys into the concentrated power of simple pleasures and learn to delight in the nuances and small gifts that God showers upon us each day. Attempting to constantly increase the grandeur of your pleasures will drain you and leave you empty. Embracing the God of shrinking joys will lead, ultimately, to eternal pleasure and joy.

As I sat there next to Micah’s tiny sleeping form and soaked in the joy of a peaceful moment, two weeks of a thousand frustrating moments melted away. I am, indeed, learning to be content in all circumstances, and in that there is great reward.




Christian Life, Culture

The Age of Choice

April 6, 2015

A couple weeks ago Kelly and I sat down to watch a movie on a quiet Saturday night. We hadn’t settled on a specific movie to watch. No worries though, with a redbox less than a mile away, Amazon Prime and Hulu at our fingertips, and a large movie rental store maybe 3 miles away, we had plenty of options.

We pulled up Amazon Prime and started browsing, found a few movies that looked worthwhile, picked one, and settled in. For all of about 10 minutes. The movie wasn’t all that interesting. No problem. There were still others that had looked interesting, so we switched to another movie. 15 minutes in we were still dissatisfied. On to another movie, frustrated with the wasted time.

After about an hour of indecision and flipping between movies we gave up and went to bed unhappy. What had been set to be a nice night at home watching a movie turned into an hour cursed by the amazing breadth of choices we had in front of us, an increasingly common problem in our world with the growing list of options in every realm of life. Whether it be in the realm of entertainment or college degrees or churches or where to live, we have a massive amount of things to choose from. Technology has opened up a realm of possibilities and we’ve entered the age of choice paralyzation. Rather than picking one thing and sticking it through and enjoying it we’re almost constantly evaluating the option we’ve chosen against the ten other options that we can find pictures, blog posts, and videos of online.

I know several people who’ve added at least two years to their college career by switching majors two or more times because other options seemed more interesting. We begin attending a church and after a couple weeks start wondering what the other churches in town are like and end up hopping from one to another, never settling in. Our significant other is great for the moment, but we’re keeping our eyes open in case something better comes along. Sure, our lives are ok, but look at the lives that are out there on Pinterest and Instagram. Why can’t I have a house/family/job/car/fashion sense/body like that?

The first and biggest problem with our constant search for something new is the fact that it speaks loudly to the fact that we don’t believe God has a good purpose for where we are now.

Secondly, it kills the hope, joy, and peace that we are meant to have throughout all of life. The followers of Jesus are to be the most joyful people, at peace regardless of their circumstances and saying with the apostle Paul, “I have learned in all situations how to rejoice. ”

Thirdly, it prevents us from learning what God has given us to learn and growing up into the person that he wants us to be. Tying in to the first point, God has put you where you are now because he has something that will be for your good and his glory there. He wants you to learn and grow and become. We are to be like David, who served in his imprisonment with excellency rather than spending his days pondering what it would be like to be somewhere else. As a result of his focus and excellence he grew in character and was exalted by the Lord to the place of second in command in the nation .

Instead of always looking at the greener grass on the other side, lean into where God has you now, whether that be your job, schooling, relationship, or even the body he has given you. He has you there with a purpose that’s awesome. As you own that space with excellence and faithfulness he will lead you to open doors that will take you beyond what you had ever imagined for yourself.

Don’t waste your time. The Psalmist was right when he wrote that our lives are barely a breath. Don’t be like Kelly and I were on that Saturday night, digging ourselves into frustration rather than enjoying and being satisfied with what we had chosen. There’s joy in every situation, hope in every inch of your life, and peace anywhere that Jesus is (which is everywhere!). Lean in and watch the amazing happen.

Christian Life, Commentary, Spiritual Growth

Being Blessed

September 12, 2013

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

(Psalm 32:1-2, ESV)


We define being blessed wrongly. A few weeks ago in our Threshingfloor community we spent some of the evening talking about Ephesians 1and how God has “blessed us with every Spiritual blessing” through Jesus (Eph. 1:3). We came to the conclusion that most of us don’t live believing that we truly blessed. Instead our emotions and opinions of ourselves are often determined by our circumstances. If we receive a compliment on a job we did then we’re successful. If we’re older than 25 and still single then there must be something wrong with us. If our days goes well and everything aligns and goes smoothly, then we must be blessed. If everything is hectic, we’re late for every appointment, and we have car troubles then we functionally feel, think, and act as if we’re cursed.

How does God define being blessed in his Word? Psalm 32:1 makes the clear statement, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven.” Blessedness isn’t about your situation today or tomorrow. It doesn’t relate to your success or failure. If your sins have been covered by Christ’s blood you are blessed. You are blessed abundantly beyond your wildest imagination.

To have gone from under the crushing, eternal wrath of God to being seated in Christ in the heavenly realms is a transition of breathtaking magnitude. Paul likens the power it took do move us there to the power that raised Christ from the dead and gave him authority over everything in existence. (Eph.1:19) Thousands of years earlier the Psalmist experienced the joy of that transition and declared that everyone “against whom the Lord counts no iniquity” is blessed.

When trouble besets us we need to preach our blessedness to ourselves. Remind yourself of how blessed you are by looking at where your sin would have led you. Look at the wrath of God against sinners in passages like 1 Kings 21 where God tells the wicked king Ahab that dogs will lick up his blood from the ground (1 Kings 21:19), Psalm 3:7, which declares that God breaks the teeth of the wicked, God’s bowls of wrath in Revelation 15, 16, and 17, and hundreds of other places throughout scripture. Had your sins not been covered by Christ you would be laid flat before that terrible wrath. But – thanks be to Christ! – our sins have been forgiven. We are blessed indeed. As we learn to believe that our lives will overflow with joy and the people around us will begin to see that it is indeed a good thing to be in Christ. We need to be constantly reminding ourselves, “blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven.” Don’t let yourself forget your blessedness.

Poetry, Spiritual

Ocean Divers

July 21, 2009

We have hope
like clouds over mountains
in a world of flatlands
where nothing ever moves

As our joy, like a rainstorm
turns deserts into seas
going from gray to water colors
and teaming coral reefs

and our laughter rolls
like the dunes before an ocean beach
calling all the world to run
and taste the salty spray.

So we’ll swim like divers
down where everything’s clear
beneath a tidal wave of rushing love
where creation’s finally free

and when we break the surface
we’ll tell all our friends
that we’ve found a sunken treasure
on a golden sunken ship
that is work more than we ever imagined
and is free for those who seek.


Through Ocean, To Heaven (further up, further in!)

February 4, 2009

We’re going home, my love;
we’re going to a place we’ve never been.
We’re pouring it out all at once
and flying across the Sea,
flying to take a new world by storm
and see what we’ve never seen.

There are stars and valleys held in massive array
with the colors of the sunrise
on every growing tree;
there are mysteries hid deep down,
hidden in crystal caves
where you and I and a million more
will stand and discover what we once were;
there are cities, castles, and mountainous heights
in places where the glory awaits
when all the chosen are brought to life
and are carried in to all that’s bright.

I’ll sing with you, out beneath those skies
on the peaks of the world we’ve always dreamed
in that crisp, brilliant, blinding air
where angels have waited for men to tread.
We’ll stand and sing a thousand things
till the summer comes to catch our breath
in its winds that sweep the flowered cross
up to joy borne out on eternal hope.

Oh, we’re going home, my love;
we’re going to a place we’ve never been.
We’re pouring it out all at once
and flying across the Sea,
flying to take a new world by storm
and see what we’ve never seen.

There are massive forests,
where wonders will slowly grow and move
beneath the redwoods formed by word of God.
There are waterfalls
of emeralds and star
that will bathe men in their ocean pour,
there are clouds, up where the air is thin
where we will dance until we can barely breathe.
There are fires in colors we’ve never seen
and things we never knew could exist.

I’ll love you, like I never have
before the rainbowed throne of the King,
as angels roar to shake the worlds
and we speak what no men can speak.
We’ll bow low and tremble with terrible fear
as our minds are torn apart
only to find they’ve only grow larger
and that fear is just the start
of a glory that lasts far beyond a moment
and drifts out into stars.

We’re going home, my love;
we’re going to a place we’ve never been.
We’re pouring it out all at once
and flying across the Sea,
flying to take a new world by storm
and see what we’ve never seen.

And I’ll laugh there, as I never have before,
caught up in our Savior’s arms.
I’ll give myself away for the first and fullest time
to really live, and really love
beneath those massive, wild, and ancient skies
when we’re finally taken Home.


A Tornado’s Grace

January 13, 2009

My God is a fire, and I am steel;

a heart of stone made to melt in Him

and be formed to something free

My God is a swell, and I a ship upon the sea

soon to be dashed upon the shore

unless He rescue me

But more joy could ne’er be found

than to be crushed by my King;

to drown in all His breaking waves

and melt as He breathes,

So I will sit and sing within the fire

and laugh at the lashing seas

as the winds of a tornado’s grace

lift to carry me

and I am swept up into that wild abyss

that is the love He brings.