Monthly Archives: April 2013

the choice to be grateful

happy

That seems to happen quite often, doesn’t it? Wishing for more happiness than we already have and we tend to find ourselves instantly dissatisfied with all that we’ve been given. I know I’m not alone in this. I’ve been there; done that. But, I’ve learned that in and through Jesus, life doesn’t have to be that way.

John 10.10 states that Jesus came so that “[we] may have life, and have it to the full.”

Beautiful, isn’t it?

As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been working my way through Sharon Jaynes’ A Sudden Glory (found here) again and the eighth chapter really hit home for me again this week. Jaynes broaches the subject of seeing God through the lenses of gratitude and grace. I’d like to dig a little deeper based on my own study of those same scriptures this week.

Our world is littered with traces of “I want(s)” and”I need(s).” Everywhere we look, our culture pulls on the strings of our hearts with advertising and ideas claiming that “if only we had [blank], we’d be happy/fulfilled/content…” (you name it). Broken people lead dissatisfied lives…no thankfulness…no grace. It’s empty. Dark. Alone.

That’s no way to live.

I’ve often considered how all of this got started and well, we can point back to the garden. Everything points back to the garden. Have you ever wondered what whet Adam and Eve’s appetite for wanting something more than constant communion and union with God? Have you ever considered what stirred the desire for more and made them vulnerable to the serpent’s enticing suggestion?

It may have had something to do with ingratitude.

Adam and Eve simply were not satisfied with that life. Like me (time and time again…still learning here folks), Eve felt that God was holding out on her…on some level. She had issues with simply trusting in His goodness and that He had her best interests in mind. He does that with all of us and yet, we don’t trust Him. It’s too good to be true.

So…what do we do about the lack of gratitude in our world? How can we rise above the ashes of this world and see that true beauty that God provides in the midst of our struggles/wants/needs/desires/etc.?

With gratitude.

I firmly believe that in cultivating a heart of gratitude in the midst of this life, one cannot be dissatisfied/overwhelmed or be dejected over their circumstances at the same time. It isn’t possible. Sure…a person can fake being thankful, but only for so long…but that’s not what I’m talking about here.

Jaynes writes that “gratitude is the most effect way to deepen your consciousness to the fact that you are the object of God’s affection and love. Giving thanks awakens your sense to see God, to hear God, to taste and see that He is good” (emphasis mine).

Ingratitude laced with grumbling, complaining, and murmuring is an easy and ugly trap to fall into. It’s also very contagious. There is nobody more miserable than an ungrateful person. Have you ever found yourself near the types of people I like to call “joy drains”? Where all they see is the negative; all they do is complain? It’s easy to fall into the habit of cynicism and pessimism; to fall into that thought cycle…even for an optimist like me. It is so easy. Too easy.

Gratitude, on the other hand, turns what we have into enough. It can change your perspective on the simplest of mundane tasks and/or circumstances and transform them into moments of intimacy with our Creator.

Paul wrote to the Thessalonians: “Give thanks in all circumstances.” In reality…most of us are thankful for very little. Have you thanked God for the fact that you opened your eyes this morning? That you have a warm bed to sleep in and roof over your head? Have you thanked Him for the people He has placed in your life; for the friends you have; for your children/family; for any relationship you’ve been given? I could go on, but you get the picture.

James also writes that we should “consider it pure joy…whenever you face trials of many kinds.” (James 1.2) That can be anything.

The Bible doesn’t command us to feel thankful in all circumstances. Instead it commands us to “give thanks in all circumstances.”

Jaynes put it well when she penned:

“Gratitude changes the lens through which we see the circumstances in [the little slice of time we’ve been given.] Thanksgiving changes our perspective despite broken dreams, broken relationships, tumultuous circumstances, and unfulfilled longings. As you praise God for who He is and thank Him for what He’s done, your perspective of Him grows larger and your problems grow smaller. As a result, you will experience a deeper sense of intimacy with God as the emotional gap between what you know to be true and how you feel at the moment closes.” (pg. 158)

Truth.

The moment you start to think about all that you have to be thankful for, your perspective changes, the color scheme of life brightens, and you just may catch a glimpse of that silver lining.

Just ask yourself: What am I thankful for?

It’s an easy question to answer when you think about it. For instance:

  • I’m thankful for the life I’ve been given
  • that last breath of fresh air I took during my walk on my lunch break today
  • that Jesus chose to give His life so I could living in communion with Him now while I wait for His return
  • grace…amazing, sweet grace
  • my health
  • seventy degree days with lots of sunshine (or days with sunshine, period)
  • my family
  • good friends
  • my job
  • the fact that I get to enjoy my evening catching with some girlfriends from my home church in South Dakota
  • this new and significantly important relationship God recently brought into my life

…the list goes on.

What are you thankful for?

Try it. You sense the shift. It’s impossible not to.

We see this shift throughout all of scripture. Remember the Israelites wandering through the desert? They were an ungrateful group of people…I honestly don’t think I’ve read of any single group of people or a person who were as dissatisfied (granted, I’m sure not all of them felt that way…but, as I mentioned earlier, it’s contagious…). Or how about King David? The man shifted from depression to rejoicing in a matter of seconds…just read through the Psalms. He didn’t wait until God changed his current struggle/situation. He chose to be thankful in that moment.

Let me share one more verse with you:

Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
Habakkuk 3.17-18

Personally, I think it’s pretty cool how God works through that. In choosing to focus on the trust we can have in Him and on His blessings rather than focusing on our current circumstances, we realize just how big and good God is and, in turn, can be grateful for all He’s done. Everything else seems moot when you put it in that perspective.

B-E-A-U-tiful! (Thank you, Jim Carey…)

And when we choose to the do the same, our perspective will change as well.  “A thankful heart opens the windows of heaven that allow us to peek at the glory [God has chosen to reveal to us here on earth].” (pg. 160)

Part of the beauty of mankind is that God gave us free will. We have a choice. We always have a choice; a daily choice.  Will you choose to praise Him for His grace and trust in His goodness today? Or will you choose the way of the world, allowing ingratitude to seep in? I’ve chosen the former and I’ve come to realize just how truly blessed I am today…and every day.

hope: in light of the incident in Boston

“I wonder…if the rent in the canvas of our life’s backdrop, the losses that puncture our world, our own emptiness, might actually become places to see.
To see through to God.”
– Ann Voskamp –

My heart aches

…aches for those in Boston

…for those affected by yesterday’s events.

I can only imagine what it would be like to live through that ordeal…and the more I think about it, the likelihood of that happening in my lifetime, directly to me or to those around me, is higher than it would have been the year I was born.

Oh, the world we live in.

darkness

sin

brokenness

And yet…there is hope.

Hope because we’ve been saved; by grace through faith.

Hope in Jesus.

Hope in His Kingdom to come.

Granted, I see events (am somewhat indirectly affected by them, rather) like yesterday’s bombing and I want nothing more than to go Home. I also know how difficult it is to see the hand of God in those types of situations, but He’s there…and He’s very much alive.

I’ve been rereading through A Sudden Glory by Sharon Jaynes (find book review here) and taking part in her online Bible study the last seven weeks and this week’s lesson really hit home today: “Trusting God in Tough Times.” She asks some pointed questions right in the first chapter: Could it be that the puncture wounds in the canvas of [my] life might actually become the rent places of the soul through which you can see God? …through which you can see His light burning through the openings?…How do we allow life’s difficulties to become see-through places? How do we see those glory moments?”

I’ve been working on another entry for quite some time – and I hope to have it up soon, but you know how temperamental writers/artists are; not including the fact that I’m a bit of a perfectionist – regarding such an experience. Did you know you can experience those moments on a daily basis? It’s true. It’s easy to find God when things are going well; when life is coasting by with the pay raise; the new home; a new love interest; a new addition to the family – but…

but…

when life gets dark…

when life gets tough…

when the road gets hard…

Where is God in all of that?

Jesus Himself states, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). And the beautiful thing? He has overcome the world! That statement, in and of itself, makes my soul smile. Have you ever experienced that feeling?

“When we experience shattered dreams, broken relationships, tragic losses/events, or unfulfilled longings, it can be difficult to feel God’s presence, to see His hand, and to hear His voice. Moments of His glory cease when we close our eyes in pain and tune God out in anger” or hurt. But that doesn’t mean that God isn’t there. He is.

People let us down. Life disappoints. And so does God…in a sense. We expect Him to move one way and He doesn’t. We show Him the roadmap we’ve drawn out for this situation in our lives according to the way we think it should go and He doesn’t follow it to a tee. Then, like a lover wronged, we guard our hearts against future disappoint and lower our expectations and trust. But…God understands. He’s been there. He knows exactly what you’re going through; what I’m going through.

He sympathizes.

He sees.

El Roi

“The God who sees me” (Genesis 16.13).

I’ve always thought the ancient Hebrew language was beautiful…and (on a side note) I’m thankful for the scholars, theologians and researchers who have done research and studied to uncover these truths about the Word of God that make the emphasis and its power that much more real…to me, at least.

Instead of following our tendency to be the child throwing the temper tantrum, maybe we should take God at His word and simply “be still.” I know…easier said than done, right? But not impossible. We simply need to shift our focus from what we see (but don’t completely understand) to what we cannot see (2 Corinthians 4.18). It may not make sense today, but some day? It will.

Isaiah 55.9 reads: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

I stumbled on a fellow believer’s blog entry posted by a friend on Facebook today – which can be found here. Tim Meier asked a valid question: How do we respond to these events?

And, being human, I would tend to agree with his answer…and in agreement with Obama: justice. But…

but…

I also know that just punishing these people, while the right thing to do, won’t end a culture of violence or hateful evil.”

Ending that cycle starts with us.

And we must remember that God will bring judgment due to those based on what they’ve done with the life God gave them. That breaks my heart…the thought that thousands of could-be brothers and sisters won’t be saved before Christ returns. It’s my responsibility to live out His gospel on a day-to-day, moment-by-incredibly miraculous-moment basis; to show others what it means to have life to the full; to follow Jesus.

We may never understand the actions behind the tragic events of yesterday’s attack in Boston. But I know that God was and continues to be there. He is omnipresent….everywhere at once. He did not write the story of our lives to simply sit back and watch it play out. He is in the story with you; with me. In fact, He has the leading role.

Does that surprise you?

It shouldn’t.

We try to butt in and take the spotlight…often. Remember the statement I made earlier about showing Him your life’s blueprints? Yeah…we do that all too often. I’m guilty of it. You’re not alone on that.

Imagine this:

Imagine getting to heaven and looking at your playbill…personally, I think it will be the entire tapestry and I’ll automatically see that role He gave me to play in His bigger picture…and you’ll see that God had the leading role all along. His life covers ours. Our names will be listed in supporting roles as a display of His glory.

And His glory can be found here:

  • in your current timeline.
  • in the community that came together to help following yesterday’s events.
  • in the lives that were/are being saved.

Our limited vision doesn’t allow us to see how God is working behind the scenes, but we must believe that He is there. “Difficult times are pregnant with glory moments just waiting to be birthed in the lives of those willing to labor through the pain. The key is to not allow bitterness and anger to make our hearts infertile to God’s gifts.” Those moments in difficult times are not dependent on our circumstances but on our focus.

But how do we focus on God during trying times?

By cultivating a grateful heart…being thankful for all that you have…and keeping your focus on God through it all. Trials test and stretch us (read the book of James); they rip away the flimsy fabric of self-sufficiency and become the raw material for God’s miracle in our lives. God is far more interested in developing our character than doling out a life or comfort and ease. “Consider it pure joy,” James said, “when you encounter various trials.” (James 1.2). Note that he said when not if. It will happen. Believe it. And be prepared to grow in faith and character because of it.

C.S. Lewis (enjoy his work) stated, “If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place of training and correction and it’s not so bad.”

Phillip Yancy also wrote: “Faith means believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.” That is so true. Often times, I’ve looked back over past journal entries and have been recognized God’s hand in my life during a past struggle…when I didn’t feel His presence or couldn’t see Him at that precise moment. He was there.

He’s here now.

The dark places are simply opportunities to trust that He knows the way – and the perfect time to hold on…

…hold on to faith.

…hold on to hope.

…hold on to Jesus.

Video – Give Me Jesus – Jeremy Camp

Works Cited:
A Sudden Glory: God’s Lavish Response to Your Ache for Something More. Sharon Jaynes. 2012.
When Terrorism Comes Close. Tim Meier. <http://www.theunitive.com/when-terrorism-comes-close-the-boston-marathon-ill-never-forget>

free fall into the unknown

Trust in the Lord with all your heart…” Proverbs 3.5heart-of-god

Nothing in life is a guarantee. There is no guarantee that I’ll be here tomorrow. There is no guarantee that my plan to go to the gym this afternoon will come to fruition. This includes any dreams I have; any hopes I have for my future. The only guarantee I have is that I get to spend eternity with the God who created all I see; the One who created me and knows me…intimately. Thinking about that one word freaks me out…just a little. Okay. I’ll be honest. It freaks me out a lot and yet, I find it comforting. He knows every little minute detail about me. My faults. My passions. My desires. My every need. My thoughts. Every. Thing.

And yet…

yet…

He loves me.

His Word proves that:
You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.You discern my going out and my lying down;you are familiar with all my ways…Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Psalm 139.1-6

I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. Jeremiah 31.3

He. loves. me.

…just as I am. But He loves me too much to leave me there.

I can’t help but ask:

Will I trust that He has my best interest in mind?

Will I trust in His goodness?

Will I be okay if my dreams never come to fruition?

Will I continue to trust in His goodness; accepting the next step in the dance of this Divine Romance as it comes?

Recently, I’ve found myself in the midst of a possible change in my life…a small adventure, really, at the moment. It’s something new…

something mysterious…

something profound…

something beautiful…and a little terrifying.

I won’t delve more into that, for now. Just know that I’m being tested, in a good way…and, to you, my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ: please lift this little adventure up in prayer. God knows I need it; all parties involved do.

I was pouring over Jeremiah 29, among other portions of scripture, during my devotional time this morning: ”’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you…I will be found by you.” I’ve been aspiring to take comfort in those words; in that love, trusting that He holds my tomorrow and striving to keep my heart hidden in Him.

I’ve come to take comfort in the following:

The Lord is righteous in all His ways and loving toward all He has made. The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear Him; He hears their cry and saves them. Psalm 145.17-19

“…Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” Hebrews 13.5b

I do not know what tomorrow holds, much less the next minute. But I do know that God will be there in that next moment; in my next breath; covering my tomorrow. In that, I will trust. In that, I will fall. He’ll either catch me or give me wings to fly.