Finding The ‘Thank You’ In Your Heart

 I will give thanks to you, LORD, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.  Psalm 9:1

Thanksgivings, like any holiday, can be wonderful or imperfect, in varying degrees.  During the push to get ready for the big family dinner, feelings can get put on a back burner.  The days following, however, are often difficult because we re-live what was missing.

Life is all about perspective.  We know that.  But when things get difficult, God’s children struggle to find a perspective that means something deeply wonderful.  There is a list to encourage us to think thoughts that go upward instead of outward.  Looking up alters discouragement.  How does it work?

  • When loved ones will be missing from my table because of distance, emotional or geographical, I  will still be thankful that God hears every prayer I pray for them.  He will be near them though I will be far away.
  • When normal holiday sentiments get stuck in my throat because times are difficult, I will be thankful that glorious eternal sentiments are mine no matter the circumstances.  I am God’s child.  He is my Father.
  • When I see the faces of those I love around my table, I will be grateful that my love for them is just a little glimpse of the great love the Savior has for each of us.
  • When thoughts of the future overwhelm me, I will be grateful that it is only the immediate future, not my eternal one, which may be challenging.  For every difficulty, God will take me by the hand and walk me through it, smoothing the way.
  • Many of my family are in heaven and will be missing from my Thanksgiving table.  I can give thanks that we will sit together at another banquet table, one that eclipses the most beautiful gathering on Thursday.  Jesus will be the One serving us.
  • If, by chance, I have to look into the face of one who has not loved me well and I find there is pain with the memories, I will give thanks that I belong to One who is not like that.  Anything I need, He is.  He is the great ‘I am’.

Thanksgiving is not confession made through gritted teeth.  God does not force children to be polite little robots.  Instead, He encourages thanksgiving for what He has already given us and what is yet to come.  If I’m short on a list because of the imperfections of yesterday, I need only open the scriptures and put my name in the meta-narrative of redemption.  Every stunning promise is mine.  Every beautiful thing awaits me.

With tear filled eyes, I will thank you!  Amen

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When I’m Generous and When I’m Not

Wealth and riches are in their houses; and their righteousness endures forever.  Even in darkness light dawns for the upright; for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.  

Psalm 112:3-4

We once had a family friend in the small town where I grew up who was quite wealthy.  My aunt and uncle took him in as a young man when he was destitute.  He never left.  His life’s goal was to amass a fortune and he didn’t care how he did it.  Was he driven by greed?  In his case, no.  Fear was his taskmaster.  He lived through the depression with a mother and several siblings.  Hungry, he had gone to work at seven years old to deliver papers in order to put food on the table.  As a child, he declared, “I swear I’ll never be poor!”   His entire life was shaped by those words.

With a vow so far from God’s heart, it’s good for me to think about God’s generosity. The biblical concept of generosity is this ~ Someone who loves to give and just can’t help himself.  He almost dances when the opportunity comes his way.  

There are many reasons why I don’t give generously.  Fear of deprivation, fear of giving away something that I’m attached to, fear that it won’t be received, or fear that I will get nothing back.  Greed is not always at the center of why a person withholds.  What is the cure?  One I might not expect.  Paul said, You will be enriched to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God.  2 Cor. 9:11  God promises, through Christ, to make us so rich that we’ll give it away – confident that He will more than compensate.  And when we give recklessly, others won’t understand it and just might give glory to God.

If I’m not a good giver, it is only because I have not fully realized how much God has given to me and how much I have yet to claim.  How well do I know His promises?  There are many resources from heaven’s bank account that I’ve not yet drawn upon.  Only when I stop living like an orphan, looking to the earth to give me what I need and looking to my Father whose arms are full of gifts, will I be overwhelmed by His generosity.  I’ll know I’m on the right track when I am compelled to share it with somebody.  Until then, I’ve only just begun to realize what is mine in Christ.

I know some people who love to give.  I think they love to do it more than I do.  I’m looking hard at the reasons, Lord.  Amen

Save the Day and Take the Credit

Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God. Revelation 19:1

God is jealous for His own glory and won’t share it with anyone. It’s not because He’s stingy, nor is He a narcissist, but it’s because we were created to worship, not to be worshipped. We corrupt His plan, just like Adam and Eve did, when we maneuver to become the center of our world.

Three things belong exclusively to God – according to this verse from Revelation. Salvation, glory, and power. And sadly, these are the very three things I often steal for myself.

  • SALVATION: My lack of self-worth and significance make me desire the attention I’d get if I saved the day. I desire to be someone’s best friend, or their best advisor, or the one who ultimately intervenes to make a huge difference. A ‘savior’ is how I want them to think of me but I only provide a temporary life raft on their ocean of need. Only God makes the permanent rescue. I should be carrying them to the Savior, not trying to be one.
  • POWER: Satan would love for me to believe that my enemy is helplessness. It’s terrifying, wouldn’t you agree? It takes a lot to abdicate control. Until it happens, I exert personal power and ingenuity to solve my problems. Pride is insulted when I realize that I can do absolutely nothing to save myself. God has all the power and He offers it against the backdrop of my admissions of need.
  • GLORY: If I’m set on saving others and wielding personal power to solve life’s problems, I put myself at the center of my life. Glory is mine and Satan makes sure I enjoy the ride.  But I will eventually live long enough to encounter  situations I can’t control, people I can’t change, money I can’t acquire, poor health I can’t cure. I am rendered childlike. It is then than I am free to see God’s glory and my small-ness.

If I could encourage you to do one thing today, it would be to yield control of your life.  Jesus is the Savior and is willing to save. He is all powerful and is willing to exert it in my impossible situations.  Jesus is glorious and is kind enough to often let me see glimpses of it.  Need and my helplessness are really my friends.

To You, Lord, belong all glory, power, and salvation. Come today to all my ragged places. Amen

The Object of Someone’s Wrath

Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you? Psalm 90:11

Many live as the object of someone’s wrath. Through no fault of their own, they share the same last name with someone who harbors rage over the ways their life has failed to deliver what they think they deserved. As the list of offenses pile up, so does their anger. The reservoir is full and it just takes the mildest of annoyances to cause an overflow. When I think about an explosive person, I picture them as having no elastic left in the rubber band of their patience. It has already been stretched out by stuff prior to a present day encounter. It just takes something minor for the band to snap.

If you’ve lived long enough as the object of someone’s wrath, these things are probably true of you:

  • You assume that you’re the problem. Angry people are skilled at blame shifting.
  • You suffer from extreme anxiety. You never know what is going to cause an explosion.
  • You cease to become yourself. A life of appeasement is your insurance policy against outbreaks.
  • You hate yourself for being weak. But you fail to see that what appears as weakness is often prudence to ensure survival.

While implementing spiritual coping skills is the topic of another devotional, there is something far more pressing to talk about. If I am a child of God, I was once the object of God’s wrath. Now that is terrifying. I could do nothing right. My sin marked me. I couldn’t fix it. Only Jesus could. His wrath condemned me to an eternal place of wrath. But hell was not created for me.

Paul said it like this ~ We were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us . . . Eph. 2:3-4 Never has there been a transition in scripture more beautiful than this. “But God. . .” Because Jesus took the wrath God had stored up for me upon Himself, I am now under His favor. When the heavens open, the light of God’s radiance pours down on me. I can stand tall, cast off the shame, and look up confidently for reassurances of God’s love.

Now the real tragedy is this ~ many of God’s children act as though God is still angry with them. The news from the soapbox of this ministry today is broadcasted loud and clear. God is not mad at you.

I am loved with Your everlasting love. In Your name, I silence the mouth of the enemy who tells me something is still wrong with our relationship. Amen

Refreshing People

So that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company.  Romans 15:32

The word ‘refresh’ is found 17 times in scripture.  In most of them, the spirit of one person is being refreshed in the company of another.  This got me thinking.  What really happens when I am refreshed?  Who is it that refreshes me? And most importantly, am I a person who refreshes others?  Do I leave them feeling stronger or weaker?

I jotted down names of people who refresh me when I’m in desperate need of it.  What is it about each one?  Each is:

  • Someone who is deeply at rest in the Lord.
  • Someone who is permanently unshaken by life.
  • Someone who has had their needs met in Christ and can listen well without self-distraction.
  • Someone whose heart is full of the scriptures and it comes out of their mouth at just the right time.
  • Someone who inspires faith, not blind optimism.
  • Someone who whispers courage based on God’s presence and promises.
  • Someone who prays for me, by name, with intuition and discernment.

I know it’s possible to be refreshed by someone who is kind and positive.  Perhaps they’re not even a believer but their personality and attitude toward life are contagious.  But, when I need more than a pep-talk and someone to speak God’s words into my life for perspective and strength, I won’t get it from them.  Without Christ, there is no foundation to their strength.  Their encouragement has no substance even though their personal fortitude is admirable.

Paul knew that if He went to Rome to be with the Roman believers, he would be refreshed.  Weariness and discouragement would be replaced by hope and renewal.  If I don’t have others in my life who refresh me, I need to ask God why and possibly make changes about those with whom I fellowship.  Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs ~ so important was the spiritual refreshment that happens between two people who love Jesus.

Make me more like the ones on my list, Jesus.   Amen

Why Are You a Good Girl?

Offer right sacrifices and put your trust in God. Psalm 4:5

As a little girl, I remember hearing my parents say, “Now, we want you to be a good girl!” That often meant that their reputation was on the line and I might embarrass them. I was compliant only because I feared the punishment. Was my choice to behave properly the right kind of sacrifice, the kind David talks about? Hardly. I was selfishly saving my own neck.

From the very beginning, we have acted religiously in an attempt to distract ourselves from our own sin. It hasn’t worked. Down deep we know that we are flawed. And down deep we fear that God is not fooled. In spite of this, we still keep doing it to feel good about ourselves. We hope to appease an angry God but underneath all this striving is the shame of our sinful nature.

I heard someone pose an interesting question the other day. ‘Is it possible for an unbeliever to please God?’ Immediately, I thought of all the selfless acts that arise in the worst of times. People offer their lives to save another. They give generously to charities. They love their families and sacrifice for their well-being. But does all this please God? The answer, I believe, is no. The only acts that please God are the ones that are done with Him at the center of our motivation. He must be the point of my good deeds – not me.

So if unbelievers can’t please God, does this mean that believers will automatically get it right? No. So much of what I do is still selfishly motivated.

By God’s grace though, my intentions are getting cleaned up. I’m maturing just as I did in my childhood. I’m thinking about what happened as I got older and left grade school behind. My motivation for doing the right things began to change. My love for my parents grew and I wanted to honor them. I couldn’t bear the disappointment they would face if I made bad choices. This desire to honor them is the right foundation for a good sacrifice.

After all is said and done, I need to love God more. Easy to say but how is that accomplished? By knowing Him and receiving His love for me. God is the initiator of love and I am the responder. “We love Him because He first loved us.” I cannot simply will myself to love Him more. That encourages more performance and the need to prove something. My love needs to be of the genuine kind, born out of intimacy and amazement.

How could You love me? And yet, You do. Refresh the Gospel message in my soul. In Jesus’ name, Amen

Don’t Miss Promised Insight!

As it is written in the Law of Moses, all this calamity has come upon us; yet we have not entreated the favor of the Lord our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth. Daniel 9:13

Behind every sin is a world of insight. Repentance is often done quickly at an altar but seeking God as to why the sin was committed can never be momentary. Sometimes, I can be careless, sin easily, and then say I’m sorry over a slip-up.  But, most of the time, sin results from years of struggle in a certain area. Iniquity that emerges out of old strongholds is the kind that Daniel references here in his famous prayer.

Israel sinned against God over a long period of time. God wooed, sent prophets to warn, but still they went their own way. Not only did they miss the sweet fruit of repentance but they failed to gain insight about their detour away from God. Their hard-heartedness kept them from recognizing that rebellion started with small considerations to do their own thing. What attracted them at the beginning? How did they whitewash sin as it progressed? How long did they enjoy the detour before calamity hit? Were they aware that their sins got bigger and bolder over time? Do they remember caring less and less as sin grew? These are the questions that accompany true restoration.

When God has done a deep work in me, it took years, not days. He shed light on my wayward path, helping me see it as the result of making one small choice after another. The decisions I thought inconsequential were really weighty. There was no insignificant step on the path. My selfish road was a long and winding one and so was the review as God gave me spiritual insight into my own heart. It took me a long time to dismantle my life and God took a long time to rebuild it. All this was done against the backdrop of a breakdown in my forties.

You may think this sounds grueling and depressing. But it is not. That’s the thing!   Grace wraps this journey of restoration. While learning, while grieving, there is also joy that I am no longer wandering and vulnerable; but safe in God’s cocoon. His voice is instructive and His manner is merciful. His truth just clicks. It’s clean, simple, yet profound. Satan’s thinking is cobwebbed. Estrangement from God is marked by fog and confusion. Exhaustion and futility are the result.

If you find yourself in a place of rugged introspection, suffering from the fallout of sinful choices, do not fear the way home. Home is where God is. Your companion is Jesus. He is a friend, not an enemy. He is a gentle teacher and is kind with the pace. If you weep over your sin, He holds you and soothes you. Repentance, that thing our carnal nature abhors, is the really the thing that unlocks the door of heaven.

‘Thy kingdom come’ to every life who asks for a second chance today. Amen