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

Advertisements

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

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

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

No Longer On Speaking Terms

I proclaim your saving acts in the great assembly; I do not seal my lips, Lord, as you know. I do not hide your righteousness in my heart; I speak of your faithfulness and your saving help. I do not conceal your love and your faithfulness from the great assembly. Psalm 40:9-10

What do you do when the person you’re counting on lets you down?  Not just once, but over a long period of time? You just don’t understand  what happened because the relationship is not platonic, but deep and abiding.  Many proclamations of love have been expressed over the years.  Then, just when you need them most, they aren’t there for you.

Perhaps the first thing you do is cry out in protest. “Where has your heart gone?  I need you? I thought you loved me?” But when your words do not move them to draw closer, you might stop talking and turn the other way.

Such can be the case when I perceive that God is failing me. I’ve prayed for things I believe I need right now. I reason that anyone who loves me wouldn’t withhold it. I try to muster up some faith so I can pray harder, and longer. I may make excuses for God to others but the first signs of disillusionment have already been manifested in the core of my soul. My testimony sounds hollow, even to me. Eventually, armed with the lies of the evil one, I turn away from God’s face and stop talking.

Did you see today’s scripture? David is speaking in glowing terms about God’s faithfulness. If I had to guess, I’d say that God just came through for David in some huge way. David is fresh off of some kind of mountaintop experience. But that would be the danger of taking these two verses out of context. David is, in fact, in turmoil and waiting on God. His soul is ragged and desperate. Yet, in spite of this, and in spite of the fact that his eyes have yet to see the saving help he ascribes to God, he is still talking.

This is the essence of faith; faith that I cannot manufacture on my own. In my need, in my disappointment, in my wilderness, and in my waiting, I brag on God’s love and faithfulness to others. Not only that, but I encourage them to put their lives in His hands. How can this be? Because the foundation of my life rests on the pillars of God’s promises! I know in my spirit that God has not abandoned nor forgotten me. I can, simultaneously, pour out my complaint in prayer and speak of His glory ~ whether in private or in public assemblies.

For all the years I shut You out, forgive me. Amen

Save

Say ‘Thank You’ And Make a Vow!

Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High. Psalm 50:14

Have you ever noticed how few people ever say ‘thank you’? We are, by nature, selfish and entitled. Because we believe we deserve better, saying ‘thank you’ doesn’t occur to us as often as it should. I can also be offended when I think another’s ‘thank you’ isn’t grand enough for what I gave them. Because they didn’t go into enough detail, or because it took them too long to send an acknowledgement, I call them ungrateful. While it may be true in some cases, my propensity to hold a grudge should be checked against my own sin of entitlement.

I’ve heard it said that Adam and Eve’s offense against God wasn’t necessarily pride but ingratitude. They had access to every single tree created except one but they felt that even that one should be theirs.

If I’m going to measure a ‘thank you’ against the weight of the gift that was given to me, then I’m guilty of not expressing a proper ‘thank you’ to God. The level of my acknowledgement is far beneath what it should be. I casually thank Him for forgiving me when I fail to realize what would happen to me if He hadn’t. I forget to thank Him for my health until I languish for a time under a chronic illness. God owes me nothing and yet He gives me everything. I pray that my thanks won’t be just a whisper under my breath but an audible, hearty alleluia.  Perhaps my thanksgiving will be contagious and I will help create an environment of gratitude where everyone considers taking part.

The Psalmist encourages an additional exercise ~ to perform vows to the Most High.  A vow is a serious thing.  It binds and it also brings about consequences according to the purity or impurity of our words.  Too many vows are spoken carelessly; vows to join a secret society, a fraternity, or a swearing to adhere to the ‘family way of doing things’, etc.  I can vow to never forgive, to never trust men, to never be poor. These entrap, these are binding and set my life on a set of railroad tracks. Jesus was clear as to the danger.  He said, “Don’t make false vows but only vows to the Lord your God.”

So Father, deepen my gratitude for the privilege of being your child. I vow to finish this race well. Like a bride who stands at an altar, I vow to love you all my life. I vow make you my treasure above all other people, and all other things. Amen

Not Meant For Time Travel

But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children– Psalm 103:17

I’ve done it. Have you? I’d not only attempted to live in the present, which is God’s will for me, but I’ve lived in the past and in the future. Neither of those options is good for me.

How can I know if I am living in the past? When I rehearse the past and wish there had been a different outcome. I review what was done to me and fantasize what life might be like had I not been victimized. I also review my sins, even the unintentional mistakes I made from not knowing better, and then I ache to travel back to fix them. I live in the wonderland of wishful thinking.

How can I know if I am living in the future? When I borrow tomorrow’s trouble and decide that I can’t possibly handle what’s coming. I assess things today and think enough of my fortune telling ability to cast the future in stone. Believing that my prediction is accurate, I succumb to a lifestyle of fear. How many times have I lived in the distress of ~ “I won’t be able to handle tomorrow because . . .”

How can I have peace about the past? How can I lay aside regrets? By believing that God is a redeemer of the past. I can’t mess anything up so badly that He can’t bless me today with abundant life. His mercies started afresh at 12:01 a.m. this morning. I put the past behind me and get up every morning in the faith of His goodness.

How can I abandon a fear of what’s coming? By trusting that He’s already written the future. Nothing is going to take Him by surprise. The scriptures about tomorrow are rock solid and will sustain the weight of my expectations.

The past and the future are out of bounds. I’m not supposed to play God. He is the only one who operates outside of time. He equipped me to live today on the wings of momentary grace. The spirit of Abba Father is within me. He’s speaking scripture to my soul. He reminds me of His sustaining presence. And when needed, He sends angel reinforcements to help me in my battle.

For my yesterday’s, redeem. For today, sustain. For tomorrow, give me confidence that You’ve got it covered. Amen