on Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Finding joy in the busyness of life or when trials come is a challenge every believer will face. Tara Dew, wife of president Jamie Dew, adjunct professor, and director of Thrive, the NOBTS and Leavell College ministry wives certificate program, draws from John 15 to speak to this in her first book, “Overflowing Joy: What Jesus Says About a Joy-Filled Life.”

In all her roles -- including as the mother of two sets of twins and a growing ministry of her own as a speaker, teacher, and author -- Tara’s life is filled with schedules and deadlines. She knows “busyness.” Tara knows trials, as well.

But as she looks at John 15, Tara shares gems to show that joy: begins as God prunes the believer’s life (verses 1-2); is found only in God’s presence (verses 4-8); and grows to maturity through perseverance (verses 9-12).

Here are some of Tara’s thoughts that are reflected in this well-written book:

Question: John 15 begins with God’s pruning in our lives, but still the topic is uncomfortable. Why did you begin your book on joy with “pruning,” something no reader, no believer enjoys?

Tara:  Pruning is never a pleasant process in the life of a believer. In this world, we think that bigger is better. We don’t want to have superfluous things removed from our lives. But I started the book with this concept of pruning, because this is where Jesus begins in John 15. From the very beginning of this chapter, Jesus describes God as our Gardener who prunes our lives (the branches in verse 2).  He is all wise and all loving, knowing exactly where we are overstretched or overcommitted, and in His intimate ways, He prunes back those areas of our lives. He knows what is best for us. In order for us to “bear more fruit,” it requires His loving, wise, and intentional pruning. Though it is not pleasant for us at the time, it is evident when we look back at our lives that He knows what is best for us. He will bring joy from those seasons of suffering and dependence.

Question: You make an important distinction in Chapter 6, "Practice His Presence," between certain helpful spiritual practices and legalism. Is love then the key to "abiding in Christ?"

Tara: In Christ, we have been set free from the bondage of sin and legalistic tradition. We don’t just need to “try harder." In Him, we have liberty, not because of what we have done but because of Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross. We must remember this simple gospel that -- while we were sinners -- Jesus loved us and died for us (Romans 5:8). Now we are found “in Him.” Because of His death, we have been given life. Christ has redeemed us, so we no longer live for ourselves. We are called to remain with Him, to abide with Him, to dwell with Him. And we do that by remembering His love for us. When we truly understand that He loves us, it changes everything. No longer do we read our Bibles, pray, meditate on Scripture, and serve others because of our value or worth on our own. We do it because of the One who loved us. We long to commune with Him. We fix our eyes on Him who gave everything for us. What our heart loves determines where we set our gaze. No longer are our spiritual practices just a “check list,” but rather the fuel for our lives.  We abide with Christ because “apart from Him we can do nothing.”

Question: It's so hard to pray when life is falling apart all around you. What encouragement can you give to women who find they just can't pray or can't read scripture, in moments of crisis?

Tara: We live in a broken, hurting world. Our lives are not immune from these heartaches. In the midst of suffering, sometimes we can feel alone and paralyzed in that loneliness and sadness. We find ourselves in desperation, yet we can’t pray, we can’t read Scripture, we can barely survive the day-to-day. In these moments, remember the words of Elizabeth Elliott: “Just do the next right thing.”

Sometimes we must preach the truth to our minds and hearts: My God is good. He is with me. He loves me and promises that “in this world we will have trouble.” But I am to “take heart, because He has overcome this world.” Do the next right thing. Here are a few practical things that have helped me when I have felt this way: (1) Be honest with a close friend about how you are feeling and ask her to pray for you. Satan wants us to fight this battle alone but there is hope in community. (2) Open a Bible app, and let the truth of His word be read over you. Sometimes when we don’t have the strength to read the Bible, we can let His words of truth be heard by our ears and believed in our hearts. (3) Turn on worship music and sing through your tears. Even in your sadness, worship the Lord. He is worthy. He is God. And you are His child. (4) Sometimes, we just need to put one foot in front of the other. Just do the next right thing until our emotions catch up. Do what you KNOW you are supposed to do until you FEEL like you are supposed to.

Joy is found in this life, not based on our circumstances, but on our Savior. He is good. He is loving. And one day, He is coming back to make all things right.