Eternity in Our Hearts

Bringing what endures into everyday life


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The change of seasons {and what-ifs, if-onlys, or what-abouts …}

With every waning summer, my daughter eagerly gathers school supplies (yet complains that she must actually use them). While my girl organizes her goods, I work alongside, sorting through dusty boxes of my parents’ possessions. She stacks brightly colored notebooks while I finger through crinkled photos and yellowed letters.

My daughter’s collection is new while mine is old, but our feelings are the same. We’re a little sad, nostalgic, and apprehensive about the unknowns ahead of us.

As we enter a season dotted with yellow leaves and school buses, I realize that the cycles of climate are relatively predictable but the seasons of life are sometimes not so.

These new seasons arrive by way of the inevitable passages of time, losses or gains, or circumstances that can’t be predicted or controlled. We tend to think of “new” as bright and shiny, like a streak-free, stainless steel refrigerator. But new doesn’t always arrive in a pretty package. The recent divorcee, widow, empty nester, or anyone with an unexpected diagnosis understands this. Either way, whether change causes rejoicing or sorrow, all of us must navigate the stresses and uncertainties of seasons where life looks different than it has before.

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Of Jesus’ disciples, I relate especially well with Peter (Who doesn’t, right?) From the first, adventurous moment he followed Jesus, Peter’s circumstances were as up-and-down as his impulsive personality.

As part of Jesus’ inner circle, Peter was eyewitness to glorious moments. He was the passionate leader of the twelve, and in Jesus’ eyes, the “Rock.” Even still, he experienced infamous growing pains, had devastating failings, and earned rebuke from his Master.

Although he had expected the Kingdom to come through uprising and triumph, Peter learned that following Christ is revolutionary in that the last will be first, the meek inherit the earth, and a cross precedes a crown.

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Peter must have struggled, as we all do, with “what-ifs,” “if-onlys,” and “what-abouts…” But if we flip between the pages of the Gospels and his epistles (1 & 2 Peter), we discover a man who became firm and faithful.

At first glance, head-strong Peter doesn’t seem the sort to worry with “what ifs …” He sees Jesus walking on the sea; Jesus says, “Come;” and Peter exits the boat. We know, however, that Peter’s faith and feet give way to the water, because he wonders, “What if I heard Him wrong?” “What if He’s not really there?”

In the past two years, I’ve asked the same questions more than I can count. I’ve experienced the strains of caregiving, lost my beloved father, took a new job, traveled on mission, become the mother of a teenager. In better moments, I trust Jesus despite turbulent winds and step forward with him into the mysteries.

But when the waves slap hard, I lose my focus. “What-ifs” take me down. But Jesus, always He is there, saying “It is I; don’t be afraid.” He extends His hand, my lifeline, and pulls me up time and again. And every day I have a choice, like Peter, to look upon what if or what isWhat if = fear of the unknown. What is = faith in the one who says “It is I. Don’t be afraid.” The two equations can’t coexist.

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Every day I make mistakes, and especially when a new situation stresses me out. Learning to navigate role reversals with an aging parent is tough. When I feel inexperienced and unsure, I beat myself up (as in “if only I hadn’t done this” or “if only I had done that …”)

Whenever I mess up, I have a choice to rehearse my “if-onlys” and stay stuck or to receive mercies with each new day and begin again. After a series of missteps and disgrace, Peter resigned himself to a boatload of regret and a lifetime of fishing (for real fish, not men).

But the risen Jesus walked where sand meets water to seek Peter out, to open a new chapter in this fisherman’s story. And Peter “threw himself into the sea” (again) to meet Jesus at the shore and embrace another chance. When we forgive ourselves, we affirm Jesus’ work on the cross. We remember that we are the receivers, not the achievers. We get to partcipate in His story, and His forgiveness and sufficiency cover us. With hearts saturated with grace, we can humbly move forward.

In Acts 3, we find Peter at the “Beautiful Gate” where he heals a lame beggar. As a crowd gathers, Peter proclaims the Gospel, and many who hear come to faith in Jesus.

In this passage of Scripture, the Greek word for “Beautiful” comes from the root “hora” – meaning the right hour or right season; beautiful in its timing.  Peter – emptied of his ego, freed from regret, and dependent upon the Holy Spirit – was finally the right man in the right season to preach at the Beautiful Gate.

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If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed but let him glorify God in that name” became the heart’s cry of a transformed man who had once cowered from identification with Christ (1 Peter 4:16).

In one of their final conversations, Jesus gives Peter a startling prophecy that Peter would die as a martyr, apparently by crucifixion (John 21: 18 – 19). But Peter doesn’t even absorb the gravity of the news before he asks about John: “What about this man?” And Jesus’ reply is freeing to anyone who struggles with comparison as I do – “What is that to you? You follow Me.”

Oh, how often I compare myself to people in different, seemingly easier or happier, seasons of life. But Jesus has given me a ministry in this place of life, and although it’s not what I hoped or anticipated, it’s filled with grace. He asks me to simply follow one trusting step at a time, and He produces fruit in due season.

During travels around Albania, friends and I toured a citadel built atop a steep mount. While I took pictures of the sweeping vistas, my friend was drawn to the ancient doors and beautiful gates. Since then, I see a gate as a metaphor for a place in faith where Jesus calls us forward. He doesn’t promise a wide-range view, and sometimes the way ahead is unclear to us. At times it’s painful.

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But I’m learning to receive new, perhaps difficult seasons, as hinges that open to deeper dependence upon God.  Yes, I occasionally stumble along an untried path, but even my fears and failures are stepping stones along an eternal course. Everything else may fall away, but Jesus is forever. His will prevails. His grace holds fast.

Friends, let us swing wide opportunities to place everything into the hands that opened the gates of heaven for us. Let us believe that God is the master of every season and makes everything – every heartache, regret, and transition – beautiful in His time. One certainty remains. Since Jesus secured our eternal destiny, surely He is trustworthy in every path along the way.

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There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens.

God has made everything beautiful in its time … and has set eternity in our hearts ~ from Ecclesiastes 3.

I am the gate; whoever enters through Me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture” (John 10:9).

 

 


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Don’t Draw the Line

It’s just been THAT kind of week, I think as I peer into the oven at a cake that won’t rise. This is the second attempt at this cake; we inadvertently left out an essential ingredient the first time around. And as I wash dishes from tonight’s dinner of chicken and crunchy rice (also known as undercooked), I think about how we left a bag of perishable groceries outside overnight and made extra trips to school because of forgotten things and called a locksmith when our dog locked us out of the car.

Gently – persistently – for what seems like the hundredth time this week, the Holy Spirit whispers, “Don’t draw the line.”

Several years ago, my daughter came home with a “Fifth Grade Blue Card.” She started each week with 10 points and received a reward if she maintained them without deductions. As she pulled her card out of her folder, I saw “Grace” instead of “Grade” in the bold heading. The stem of the letter “d” in “Grade” had faded so that it looked like a “c” instead.

As I studied the card, it struck me how slight is the difference between the words “Grade” and “Grace” in print. Just one little line, a mere downward stroke.  Conceptually, though, “grade” and “grace” are opposites. A grade is a mark of measurement; it orients us toward performance. But grace orients our hearts toward peace with God, ourselves, and others.

When I have days like these, when I’ve missed the mark by my weakness and/or my outright rebellion, the stem of the letter “d” – the turning of “grace” into “grade” – feels like a measuring stick that tells me again and again that I have failed.

Drawing the line happens when I say things to myself like –

“You’re so stupid.”

“Why do you even try?”

“You can’t change.”

Sometimes I wield that same little line like a rod of criticism against my people, either silently or aloud.

“What’s wrong with you?”

“You’ll never understand.”

“Why can’t you change?”

But this week, in the midst of the inconveniences and the numbskull things that we’ve done, the Spirit has prompted me to notice and then pray for the fading of the line, the stem that differentiates “grade” and “grace.” I come frustrated and broken and rejected, and He erases the marks that I hold against myself by reminding me that the Cross is Jesus’ exclamation mark:

You’re loved!

You’re accepted!

You’re chosen!

You’re forgiven!

You’re Mine!

I think about the One who wrote the Ten Commandments with His fingers. But as He knelt beside a woman caught in adultery (direct disobedience of one of the Commandments), Jesus skimmed those fingers across the sand. We don’t know what He wrote, but He didn’t grade, accuse, or draw the line against her. Jesus wrote her a new story, calling her to a redeemed life of purity. No, she wouldn’t become perfect but I believe His love perfectly changed her from the inside out (John 8:1 – 11).

Grace reminds me that our acceptance in Christ is never achieved, only received, and our worth lies not in what we do but only what He has done. His love is so freeing, and I feel the line fading … I mess up and fall short daily but Jesus doesn’t grade me. He graces me. A drive for achieving stems from insecurity. Am I enough? But a posture of receiving secures my identity in Christ. Jesus’ grace is enough.

And when we see ourselves as receivers, we become releasers as well. God pours out His love to not only to satisfy us but to spill from us as grace to our people.

Jesus, thank You. Your banner over us is love. You are the embodiment of Grace and Truth. There are no deductions in this life in Christ. In fact, You delight in us! (Zephaniah 3:17) In You …

We’re loved!

We’re accepted!

We’re chosen!

We’re forgiven!

We’re Yours!

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Romans 8:1 ~ There is no therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

I John 3:1 ~ See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

“We all get to choose where we set up the stage of our lives — before the Crowds, the Court, the Congregation, the Critics (inner or otherwise)-– or the Cross of Christ. All except One will assess your performance. Only One will accept you before your performance … Only in Jesus is there 100% acceptance before even 1% performance.” :: Ann Voskamp

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“If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within, you’ll be depressed. If you look at God you’ll be at rest.” ~ Corrie ten Boom

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Prayer is the place where God never tires of telling us that life’s not about earning anyone’s love, but believing that we already are His beloved. ~ Jennifer Dukes Lee

Jesus wants us to trade our purses of “perfection” for a much lighter load instead. He offers us security in place of striving. Full hearts instead of full schedules. Receiving instead of trying to buy our way to acceptance. ~ Holley Gerth


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Hope for Mighty Warriors {and you’re one of them}

I wanted to write a letter to cancer. Because I intended to tell this thief of vitality and health and loved ones that one Day it’s time will be up.  But it was 2:30am, and though I was forming vengeful words in my mind, I asked myself: “Why personify cancer that way? It has no ears or perception to receive your insults … Go to sleep.”  I had been thinking of Kara. Her dying by degrees weighs heavy on my mind and heart since I first learned of and wrote about her.

The next morning – Sunday – I learned that a friend’s husband – a young man, a cancer fighter – had entered his new, glorious Home on New Year’s Day. And, with many, I thought often of Stuart Scott who passed away on Sunday after his lengthy battle and reflected on his words:

You beat cancer

And so, on Sunday I decided to write, not to cancer, but to Kara. Of course I said ‘thank you.’ Because this young mother, in keeping with Scott’s words, is showing us how to be victorious.

Kara’s words challenge me:

Cancer is growing in my hip and weakening my leg. So I’m learning new weakness, finding other strength to compensate for the lack of strength … Mostly we are savoring our moments … I am praying to spend my strength well, my time in love, and my moments cherishing those around me. Who are you cherishing today? How are you spending the love that was given to you to give today?”

As I expressed my gratitude to Kara, my thoughts turned to some of my favorite words in Scripture – God to Gideon: “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior. Go in the strength you have” (read Gideon’s story in Judges 6-8).

As Priscilla Shirer notes in her Gideon Bible study, the Lord was not bound by Gideon’s limitations. Gideon behaved like a scared farmer in hiding, but God’s presence was the reality behind Gideon’s potential and purpose. Gideon’s story shows us that divine strength is displayed in weakness. No matter what makes you and me feel like hiding, it’s true for us too.

I think this is what Kara would want you and me to know. Countless people are being inspired by the God-strength that shines through her honest hurts and struggles.  Redemption is something that becomes real in our lives when God, the One-With-Us, exchanges our spiritual poverty for His saving provision; when He takes everything that beats us up within and makes it beautiful; when He calls us out from a shameful hiding place and gives us hope.

Yesterday, before I went to visit a loved one as she sat among chemo patients in the oncology center, I read this truth in my devotion:

God is not limited to working with our strengths.” (Henry & Richard Blackaby)

And I kept this thought in mind as I looked around. I saw yellowed complexions, burnt-red splotches from radiation, and tiredness, lots of tiredness in the faces around me.  But in the midst of the physical realities, I observed God’s presence. It came in the loving touches of caregivers and in the gentle faces of nurses, but perhaps because of my Dad and Kara and Stuart Scott and my friend’s husband, I saw God’s presence best in those without strength to call their own.

My grace is sufficient for you for my

Cancer does something to our benefit – it teaches that achieving is not enough. Believe me – I saw a fighting spirit in Daddy ‘til the end, and I understand the patient often undertakes extreme interventions to gain ground against growing malignancies.

God is not limited to working with the best that medicine has to offer. He can speak one word and heal, but whether He chooses to do so this side of Heaven is not known or decided by us. And sometimes, because He’s not constrained by our understanding, permission, or capabilities, God gives us more than we can bear.

But the Father can bear and redeem it all – every broken body and each wrecked heart.  Here we learn that those in grace are not achievers anyway.  At our core, we are the receivers.  This is why God made us with eternity in our hearts. And try as we might, eternity, and ultimate healing, doesn’t come to us through achieving.

Our bodies have this terminal wiring, and all the technology in the world cannot elude eventual death.  But our souls have eternal wiring, and if we live with our need for a Redeemer ever before us, we learn that receiving from Him is all we could ever want.

Hear the receiving in a dying woman’s words: “Mostly we are savoring our moments … ”

Kara is teaching me that strength is not achieving but receiving. It’s not the world’s way of grasping for more, getting ahead, or being known. It is living open-handed to receive what Jesus gives and to release it back to Him with thanksgiving.  And thanksgiving yields more receiving – not necessarily things in our hands but peace in our hearts.

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During his encounter with the angel, a trembling Gideon presented his offering – the meat and the broth – and the angel asked him to release it – to literally pour it out.  In such symbolism, the angel pointed forward to Jesus who would pour out His life-blood. Then Gideon built an altar which he called “The Lord is Peace” and received strength in place of his weakness. This is a picture of life in Christ – Receiving, Releasing, Receiving, Releasing.

“When we live in thanks we receive the love given knowing we are undeserving vessels, but thanks shouts- I SEE THE GRACE BEING POURED OUT!  Thank You!” ~ Kara Tippetts

“Terminal” is not only defined as “fatal;” it can also mean “a place of transportation, as in an airport.” A woman with an incurable illness who opens her soul to receive God’s peace and who releases thanks in the midst of the hard shows us that His grace will indeed carry us.

And so, I write – not to cancer which is only a tool in the hand of a defeated foe. Instead I write to say “thank You” to God for making me terminal – for giving me the grace to loosen my grip on anything but eternity and for giving me Jesus to carry me there. I write these words to my heart and yours:

The Lord is with you, mighty warrior. Go receive your limitless grace-portion, savor your God-gifts, release your self in worship, and spend your strength in love.

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Linking today with encouragers at Kelly Balarie’s #RaRaLinkup, Jennifer Dukes Lee’s #TellHisStory, and Holley Gerth’s Coffee for Your Heart.

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My Wish for Us in the New Year

Every now and then, when driving, I realize that I’ve traveled a distance without being consciously aware of surrounding sights and sounds. (Does this ever happen to anyone else?) The radio is playing as usual, and my car traverses the intended course, and – as far as I know – I’ve observed all traffic laws.  All of the senses commanding my vehicle, however, are seemingly on auto-pilot.

This time, the real action was going on inside my mind, driving me further down a regretful road of would-haves, could-haves, and should-haves, and a remembrance of all my shortcomings and doubts was buckled securely in the passenger seat.

When I “came to,” I heard O Holy Night on the radio and reached to change the station. (Though O Holy Night is a cherished hymn of Christmas ages, I confess it’s not a personal favorite. Who – except those with voices that belong in the heavenly chorus – can hit all those notes?) But my ears – and my heart – heard this, as if for the first time:

Long lay the world in sin and error pining, Till He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.

As we welcome a new year, when we typically choose our resolutions or our “one-word,” I want this ‘the soul felt its worth’ – this reason for the incarnation – to inhabit my heart.  This one phrase was a gift to me in the moment, yet my soul needs more than momentary relief. I need to re-open the truths of who I am in Christ every day.

And I think of my daughter and my mother and my family & friends and you, dear readers, and I ask the Holy Spirit to transform us with the truth that those in grace are not the achievers but the receivers. Grace doesn’t say “if only you had kept last year’s resolutions” or “what if you don’t deserve love?” Grace comes to us only in the “what is” – the unstoppable, unchanging, unrestricted love and favor of God.

And so, may our souls deeply feel their worth in Jesus, the One who loves and redeems us. In the year to come, it remains true – our acceptance in Christ doesn’t depend upon our achievements.  The Father purchased our souls with the priceless, life-giving blood of His Son. Once we’ve received this gift, there is no failure, no disappointment, no would-have, could-have, or should-have on our parts that can invalidate it.

Rather than resolving to fix ourselves, may we fix our eyes on the One who clothes us in His peace and righteousness. I wish for you and for me the kind of release that comes when we live for Christ, not under a yoke of compulsion, but with a heart compelled by love to worship and serve Him. May we always reach to change the station when our inner critics hit the airwaves. Let us rest in the understanding that our worth lies not in what we do but only what He has done, and may each day find us receiving more of His grace-gift.

What’s more, understanding the worth of souls is understanding that Christ died for our neighbors and the sex slaves and the orphans and the refugees and the people of a different color or nationality or faith.  May that truth transform how we see and treat life – whether young or old; rich or poor; able-bodied or impaired; slave or free; weak or strong.

And may worship happen as we live our lives as the image-bearers, offering our souls the space to breathe and receive grace, allowing God to design the canvas, yielding to the vision of the Artist, and ascribing all worth to Him. The weight of maintaining self-worth is more than we are meant to bear, and we will never have true peace or satisfaction until our souls turn to the purest, most-worthy Object of our worship. The beauty of our lives is drawn out of our response to God, and He meets us, not just on Sundays (and not only if our voices hit the high notes).

May our worship – our ascribing worth to God – be deeply drawn and offered from a place of receiving and honoring worth in our and every soul.


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A Season to Receive {When Christmas Doesn’t Feel Merry}

For the second consecutive year, I pass by the Christmas tree in the hospital lobby, and the sight of ribbons, ornaments, and lights punches me in the gut.

It’s not fair.

Where is God in this?

Why?

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You’ve had the same experience, perhaps? While we wish that illness and mourning and worry would take a hiatus during the holidays, we understand that doctors and funeral home directors and debt collectors are fully in business in December.

Sometimes the expected festivity of Christmas smacks hard against our circumstances. Perhaps this year it’s true for you that while others are immersed in parties, cookies, and presents, you feel buried under uncertainty, loss, or disappointment. They are holly-jolly, and you are heart-broken. My friend, I understand.

But after many times of pacing past the Christmas tree in the hospital lobby, the scowl on my face softens as I begin to marvel that such decorations are prominently on display in this public place. How long will it be, I wonder, before someone complains and the tree disappears for the sake of “correctness”?

Yet you and I can see it all around us: despite a societal discomfort with Jesus Christ, our souls really do ache for a Comforter.

And, whether we profess the reason for the season or not, we put up the trees and bring out the red & green and honor long-held traditions in private and public ways. Some might say that people celebrate Christmas because, in the bleak midwinter, we will do anything to be festive. But I see it as a stirring of faith.

At Christmas, more than any time of year, I see in the human spirit a longing for returning. We want the Christmas tree to look as it always has and we bake the same cookies and we bring out the same clothes (even if they are re-purposed for the ugly-sweater-party) and we sing the familiar carols and we traverse the neighborhood streets, expecting that the displays will look as they have in years past.

Can you see it – in these acts of returning – the longing for home?

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The Word tells us that God has set eternity in our hearts, and Home is not as much a place as it is a personal experience with His presence in our souls. It is a returning to the reason we were created. To the reason for Christmas.

And so, I stand in the glow of the hospital Christmas tree and I understand that it is fitting and right. The Light beckons us, and anyone who has felt a bleakness in the soul understands the yearning for hope to pierce the darkness. Here, in your most un-merry of places, is a yearning for the Messiah. Here is where He meets you.

God Is With Us. (Matthew 1:23)

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Eventually, the only material thing that lingers after December 25 is the fruitcake. As decorations are stored for another year, it’s natural, I think, to evaluate – was it a good Christmas? Did your house sparkle and did you score with the presents you gave and did the meals satisfy and did the family get along? And it’s pretty natural, I think, to feel some degree of let-down because we act as if Christmas joy is achieved rather than received.

One blessing of a broken-heart at Christmas, I’ve found, is that it hushes the demands of the season, if we will let it. We can see Christmas apart from the materialism and receive the manger-King who came to die. We can see afresh that Christmas’ true meaning doesn’t replace suffering but redeems it. The grace-gift, wrapped in the way of the Cross, is what Christmas is all about.

God is For Us. (Romans 8:31)

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And so, may we choose the comfort of receiving over the chaos of achieving. Instead of trying to do it all, may He be our all. May we choose to lay aside the happiness expectations and receive a holy experience in their place.

I learned this lesson last year while shopping for a black dress and waterproof mascara as Have a Holly-Jolly Christmas played in the background. At first I was resentful and bitter. But suddenly – not of my own thought, I know – I realized that I was likely not the only person in the store with a broken heart. Somehow I remembered that, whether my fellow shoppers were merry or mournful, they were pilgrims like me, on a journey with a longing for home.

As I unexpectedly had patience for the overwhelmed cashier and the lady in front of me who wrote a check,  I realized that my heart was heavy but not hardened after all. The Holy Spirit helped me to choose a response contradictory with my feelings and my circumstances. And I learned once again that joy isn’t limited to a season or a feeling of heightened revelry.

Through highs and lows, joy is found in a posture of hallowed receiving.

God is In Us. (John 14:16-17)

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If you are hurting, friend, my prayer for you is that you will lay aside all the expectations of a happy Christmas and receive the season in its holy meaning.

Receive the hushed experience of the One who still gently enters into messy, needful places.

Receive the love of the One who chose to lay aside His advantages to give us the Advent of peace.

Receive the simplicity that the Grace-Gift offers.

Receive the filling of self-emptied worship.

Receive the fellow pilgrim who needs hope.

Receive the Light as it penetrates the dark.

Receive the Carpenter of your eternal Home.

Receive the Promise-Kept and the promise that His goodness and glory will prevail.

Receive the relief that your Christmas is not going to look like everyone else’s Christmas, and that’s okay.

 Receive a Christmas of receiving.

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Nativity images used under license granted by Lightstock.

 

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Linking with Holley Gerth and encouragers who energize the spirit @ Coffee for Your Heart.

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Linking with Lyli at Thought-Provoking Thursday and Crystal at Thriving Thursday. Please check out these communities of inspiring writers.

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Saving Thanksgiving

A few weeks ago, I wrote about 2 small words: what and if. When put together, these little words can steal peace in a big way.

Like you, I wrestle with the hard things of loss and brokenness.  I hurt when relationships are messy; I struggle when hopes fall apart; and I cry out when my weaknesses persist.  Even still, I find comfort in trusting that God sympathizes with my difficult questions because He knows my fragile heart and finite understanding.

What if I make the wrong decision?

What if there’s not enough at the end of the month?

Often I find that ‘what-if’ works in tandem with its counterpart ‘if-only.’

While what-if robs my peace, if-only has a greedy eye on my contentment.

If only we could afford everything on the Christmas list.

If only I didn’t have to deal with this difficult person.

If only I could overcome this habit that drags me down.

Something about this time of year evokes in me a sentimental desire to have everything just right (and Pinterest doesn’t help). My mind is prone to wander toward the what-ifs and if-onlys (What if I burn the casserole again? If only Daddy was here…). 

But here – this place with its unmet longings and dried-out turkey – is where I learn thankfulness in circumstances, not necessarily for circumstances.

The spirit of true thanksgiving chooses to focus on what is given:

Though the fig tree does not bud and there is no fruit 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 triumph in Yahweh; I will rejoice in the God of my salvation! Yahweh my Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like those of a deer and enables me to walk on mountain heights! (Habakkuk 3:17-19).

Habakkuk, the prophet, doesn’t say “if only the fig tree would budWhat if the fields remain barren? If only there were fruit on the vines and sheep in the pen.”  His gratitude rises from his experience of “what-is” – the salvation and strength of his Lord.

When I live with a “what-if” and “if-only” frame of mind, gratitude comes if I think things are right. But true thankfulness is a “what-IS” perspective.

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Gratitude claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift. In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy. ~ Henri J. M. Nouwen

When I hold fast to “what-is” – the things I know to be true of God and who He is – the what-ifs and if-onlys lose power to irritate, worry, or depress me.

What if I make the wrong decision?

  • I will instruct you and show you the way to go; with My eye on you, I will give counsel (Psalm 32:8).

What if there’s not enough at the end of the month?

  • My God shall supply all your needs through His riches in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).

If only I could overcome this habit that drags me down…

  • In all these things we are more than conquerors through Christ who loved us (Romans 8:37).

In the midst of uncertainty, knowing more of Jesus transforms the what-ifs into faith, for I find that He is my true security.

And in the midst of disappointment, knowing more of Jesus transforms the if-onlys into contentment, for I find that He is my true satisfaction.

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Dear friends, as we enter the holidays, may you receive grace to protect your soul from the weariness of what-if and if-only. May your heart find rest in “what-is” realities, knowing that God is With Us. May you truly rejoice in the God of salvation. And may your Thanksgiving be rich in gratitude for the eternal givens.

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“Our circumstances may sometimes be hard, our experiences painful, and we may see nothing in them to make us glad. But faith teaches us that God is always good and always kind, whatever the present events may be. We may be thankful, therefore, even when we cannot be glad. Our hearts may be grateful, knowing that good will come to us even out of pain and loss.

“Every day of our years should be a thanksgiving day. He who has learned the Thanksgiving lesson well has found the secret of a beautiful life.

“Christian thanksgiving is the life of Christ in the heart, transforming the disposition and the whole character. Thanksgiving must be wrought into the life as a habit—before it can become a fixed and permanent quality. An occasional burst of praise, in the midst of years of complaining, is not what is required.

“Songs on rare, sunshiny days; and no songs when skies are cloudy—will not make a life of gratitude. The heart must learn to sing always. This lesson is learned only when it becomes a habit which nothing can weaken. We must persist in being thankful.

“When we can see no reason for praise—we must believe in the divine love and goodness, and sing in the darkness. Thanksgiving has attained its rightful place in us, only when it is part of all our days and dominates all our experiences.”

~ From “The Thanksgiving Lesson” by J.R. Miller, 1912

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Now humanly speaking, it makes no sense to rejoice when things are going badly. But Christians are not always “humanly speaking,” are they? We’re speaking divinely. We are using the words of God on which to found our faith. We stand on a rock that never moves. The world passes away, the grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of our God shall stand forever. So trust is the ground for our thanksgiving, no matter what happens. ~ Elisabeth Elliot – Trusting is the Ground For Thanksgiving

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We won’t stop confessing He is good and we won’t stop thanking Him for grace and we won’t stop holding out our hands — and taking His hand. We won’t stop believing that “God is good” is not some trite quip for the good days but a radical defiant cry for the terrible days.

That “God is good” is not a stale one-liner when all’s happy but a saving lifeline when all’s hard…. Thanksgiving in all things accepts the deep mystery of God through everything. ~ Ann Voskamp, When the Holidays Just Seem Hard

 


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What-If or What-Is {when you need peace for tomorrow}

Today, I’d like to share these wise words from my favorite author, Elisabeth Elliot:

Do Not Forecast Grief

Sitting one still and sunny afternoon in a tiny chapel on an island in the South, I thought I heard someone enter. A young woman was weeping quietly. After a little time, I asked if I could help. She confided her fears for the future – what if her husband should die? Or one of her children? What if money ran out?

All our fears represent to us, I believe, the fear of death, common to all of us. But is it our business to pry into what may happen tomorrow? It is a difficult and painful exercise which saps the strength and uses up the time given to us today.

Once we give ourselves to God, shall we attempt to get hold of what can never belong to us – tomorrow?

Our lives are His; our times are in His hand. He is Lord over what will happen, never mind what may happen.

When we prayed, “Thy will be done,” did we suppose He did not hear us? He heard indeed, and daily makes our business His and partakes of our lives. If my life is once surrendered, all is well. Let me not grab it back, as though it were peril in His hand but would be safer in mine!

Today is mine. Tomorrow is none of my business. If I peer anxiously into the fog of the future, I will strain my spiritual eyes so that I will not see clearly what is required of me now.

I first read this devotion when I was in a relatively carefree place in life. Inexplicably, however, I woke up one night with a weight of dread sitting on my heart. My thoughts were swept into a foreseen overwhelm of parenting a teenager and facing my parents’ aging and passing. Haunted by “what-ifs,” I returned to Elisabeth’s words and clung to the promise that my tomorrows are in God’s hands.

And here I am now, in that place I once imagined and dreaded. But in the midst of the hard, here I am in God’s hands. My life has changed but He has not, and it is well.

This morning, I read these words from the Apostle Paul in Philippians 3:

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Paul, having already endured suffering and persecution, knows that he will inevitably be martyred for the sake of the Gospel. But as he strains toward the future, there’s no hint of dread in his words; no desperate what ifs?; no discouraged if onlys.

Instead, Paul’s hopeful gaze on “what is” allows him to press on. Paul doesn’t need to know about tomorrow. Knowing Jesus is enough for him. Once everything in his life is surrendered, even the worst what-if (death) is a passage to the best what-is (Heaven).

Every day we have a choice, like Paul, to focus upon what if or what isWhat if = fear of the unknown. What is = faith in the known. The two equations can’t coexist.

In the next chapter of Philippians, Paul exhorts Christ-followers to think on what is good, honorable, excellent, and praiseworthy. Because what is true about God never changes, the difficulties of the past year have led me to a place where I know Christ more deeply, as the kind of knowing that resides in my whole being and not just my brain. I know for sure that the Lord is an ever-present help. I know He gives grace in daily portions.  I know He is enough.

Friend, what do you know for sure? Is your mind set on what if or what is? May we exchange our fears for tomorrow with faith for this day.

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The words of Jesus: “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” Matthew 6:34, The Message

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The community of “31 dayers” are halfway through our October challenge (whew). My 31 day series is “31 Days of Speaking Life,” found here.

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Here’s a bit of what I’m learning:

* Speaking life by not speaking (how to comfort the grieving) – “When There Are No Words

* God is the decider (thoughts pondered on assisted suicide) – “From Life’s First Cry to Final Breath

* Scripture-based prayers are powerful – “Speaking Life through Prayer

* 5 things your teen wants you to know & 7 ways to praise your child – “Speaking Life to Your Child

* I can thank God for the way I’m made – “Do You Know God Never Says ‘Oops’?”

* I can be a voice for a young woman who lacks a voice in her country – “#we believe in girls”

* God’s work is best seen in surrendered people, not skilled people – “Start There

* It’s important for my preteen (and me) to know the differences between image, identity, and influence – “Leave Something on Someone’s Heart