Savoring the Gift

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“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
– Dr. Seuss –


It’s easy to want to be wherever I’m not.

It’s easy to miss the moment for the longing.

And it is so, so easy to want to tweak God’s gifts.

I laid on my back on a blanket spread over the cropped green grass. The sky was blue–oh, so blue–and the little ships of clouds scudded along the uncreased waves of air. Sun rained gold down on my skin. A wasp hummed by, in search of a warm place to bask.

But I wanted to add a P.S. on to my letter of thankfulness to God.

Truly, my heart was full as I stared up at a sky with such clear-toned color, I could not describe its blueness. I grinned up at the clouds. And then I wondered.

I wondered if a moment could be so perfect again. And I amended my letter of praise:

Dear Lord, thank you…but is this the only moment like this I will ever have? Will the people I love not ever get to see this with me?

Like a child letting the warm sand slip through its fists, I clasped the moment–wild with the glee of warm, pouring life and desperate to somehow bottle it up and immortalize the perfect instant. I was so afraid of the trickling time pouring warm between my fingers. I was so afraid the breathless moment would be lost for ever.

So fear crept into my glorying, and tainted my joy.

Climbing a mountain, I think about those left at the bottom. Walking along a river, I wonder if I’ll ever return to the perfect moment again.

With each gift, I’ve found that my heart bends the joy into a sort of ache. Instead of just enjoying the gift, I ask questions: Will there be another gift like this one? What if I can’t remember this gift? Why can’t others share this gift with me? How long can I keep this gift?

A glorious dinner of laughing and fun. A breezy neighborhood walk with the acorns crunching under foot. A cup of hot tea. The soft weight of a baby resting in my arms, wiggling her toes in thoughtless glee.

All these things I’ve had. All these things are gifts.

Why, then, do I persist in spoiling the moment? I think of the absent dinner guests. I wonder if tomorrow’s walk will be spoiled by rain. I wish for another cup of tea. I wonder how many baby toes I’ll get to wiggle.

“Our fall was, has always been, and always will be, that we aren’t satisfied in God and what He gives. We hunger for something more, something other.”
– Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts –

Yes, this is my fall: That I spoil the gift because I fail to trust the Giver.

I bow now, and repent. I give over myself–again, and again, and again. I will trust my God for His gifts. I will trust that He knows just what to give me–each day’s gift perfect for that moment.

Because every day…every breath…is truly a gift.


 “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.”

– James 1:17-18, NKJV –

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Grace for This Day

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“You say, ‘If I had a little more, I should be very satisfied.’ You make a mistake. If you are not content with what you have, you would not be satisfied if it were doubled.”

– Charles H. Spurgeon –


During my research for the recent posts on God’s will, I asked many of my friends to submit questions. Some of these questions made it into the Q&A, while others seemed to go beyond simply knowing God’s will. One friend brought up this great question:

“I know I’m in God’s will in what I am doing now, but feel drawn/want to do something else. How do I find contentment?”

Ah, contentment. As humans, we all suffer from dissatisfaction at times. As young people, we are at the threshold of so much future stretching out before us. There’s just so much Out There. It’s hard to hold back the desires that want to leap out into the stars.

As a young lady, I know how deeply the struggle for contentment affects us girls. For the young and unmarried among us, we sometimes feel like our lives are frozen in place, just waiting for the right guy to come along for our lives to really start. While singleness is not the only area of discontent that touches us, it is one of the most prominent in our thoughts.

Why is this? Why are we constantly wishing for what isn’t?

More importantly, what is the cure?

Why, why, why?

The idea to take something for ourselves before the time is rather…old. Very, very old. It goes back to the first people ever, in fact, when a snake enthralled Eve with a forbidden bit of pleasure.

” Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’”

Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. “(Genesis 3:1-6, NKJV)

One little nibble was all it took. The seed of discontent bore a fruit that tasted great…but how bitter it was in the end! That was true for the first people, and it is true for us still. Eve’s desires to satisfy her hunger,  her artistic sensibilities, and her intellect were not wrong desires. It was the way she tried to fill herself that was wrong.

When we deal with our hopes and dreams, they don’t have to be thrown away. They just have to be submitted to God. Eve’s weren’t. And, sorry to say, neither are mine a lot of the time.

I think I will always remember one night when I was sixteen. I sank beside my bed, struggling with the conviction that I had to offer up all my life to God, every aspect. I was afraid. Yes, I was afraid that if I said, “Yes, Lord,” that He would pack me off to be a missionary in South Asia or doom me to lifelong spinsterdom. Or probably both. (Don’t laugh. I was very serious. 🙂 ) With a multitude of tears and sniffles, I bowed my head and prayed that God would make me willing to surrender. If I wasn’t quite ready to fork over my “consent,” I was at least receptive to the idea. As one songwriter says, I was “willing to be willing.” And, in the quiet of the night,  His peace came.

I’ve had to go back to that place many times since then,  surrendering and re-surrendering. Marriage, health, opportunities–all these have come to the table to be sacrificed. I’ve found that the One who accepts my offerings is gracious. Sometimes the sacrifice can be a living one, subdued but released to caper around again like a spring lamb. Sometimes He hands back my dreams; sometimes He keeps them. But whatever He hands me next, I can accept it knowing that it is better than what I might have chosen. He is much wiser than I am, you know.

How can I find contentment here?

My friends, as much as we doubt it, joy is not a place. Joy is a choice. Joy is a gift.

A young woman, martyred for her faith, had this to say about her Savior’s faithfulness:

“And shall I fear that there is anything that men hold dear Thou wouldst deprive me of and nothing give in place? That is not so, for I can see Thy face. I hear Thee now. ‘My child, I died for thee. And if the gift of love and life you took from Me, shall I one gracious thing withhold to all eternity? One beautiful and bright, one pure and precious thing, withhold? It cannot be.'”

– Betty Scott Stam, “My Testimony” –

It cannot be, dear ones, that He will keep back anything good from us! The God who loves us for His own glory will not fail us.

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32, NKJV)

Trust in the love of God is the root of contentment. If we hold to our God in trust, we can let Him take us anywhere. It is with Him that we will be happy–and nowhere else.

Pride, on the other hand, is the root of discontent. “I deserve this” is my unspoken theme song–how about you? I hum along to it when I set my sights on something I simply must have to be happy. (Because, obviously, my happiness is vital to the continued functioning of the universe.) I chant the “Deserve it” lyrics when I presume upon a future I cannot control, plotting and planning my course (Prov. 16:9). The “I deserve this” mentality cripples many God-fearing girls who are waiting for a spouse. Christian thinker John Stonestreet calls this assumption “Princess theology,” a Disney-like happily-ever-after that we girls think we deserve for all the suffering we’ve been doing during our single years. But we don’t deserve happiness, if we think about it. We deserve nothing less than eternal hell for our sins. Christ’s atonement means that we can stand clean before God–but it doesn’t mean we now deserve our every whim.

But–if marriage is a gift we covet, we must also realize that singleness is not a curse. It is a gift too. The most powerful, beautiful, comforting thought I’ve ever read in this area was written by missionary and author Elisabeth Elliot:

“Single life may be only a stage of a life’s journey, but even a stage is a gift. God may replace it with another gift, but the receiver accepts His gifts with thanksgiving. This gift for this day. The life of faith is lived one day at a time, and it has to be lived–not always looked forward to as though the “real” living were around the corner. It is today for which we are responsible. God still owns tomorrow.”

– Elisabeth Elliot,  from Let Me Be A Woman, page 31

So, my friends, contentment is about today. Not yesterday, with its regrets. Not tomorrow, with its hopes. Today–the beautiful, undeserved, fresh place that God has formed for us right now.

How do you embrace today? Not by never thinking about tomorrow, but by giving up your right to tomorrow and realizing Who has tomorrow well under control.

Contentment is about today. Contentment is about faith. Contentment is about raising that white surrender flag and flapping it as hard and high as you can. Contentment is the path to joy.

In her book Singled Out for Him, Nancy Leigh DeMoss tells the story of young William Borden, who left behind his family’s fortune to serve God, dying before he even reached the mission field. While he moved straight into glory, the impact of his life continues through his motto, found written in the front of his Bible. May it be ours:

No reserves.

No retreats.

No regrets.

Amen.


“Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.”

– Jeremiah Burroughs –

Late for The Great Appointment

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“Faith don’t come in a bushel basket, Missy. It come one step at a time. Decide to trust Him for one little thing today, and before you know it, you find out He’s so trustworthy you be putting your whole life in His hands.”
― Lynn Austin, Candle in the Darkness ―

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“With the entirety of your heart, trust in Me…”(Prov. 3:5)

Oh, how cerebral is this, my trust! How prone to wander from its Object. My trust has myopia. Its legs are lame.

I’ve prayed and wrestled with a heart that lashes with as much powered angst as the sweeping timber-tail of a Texas gator. To this moody, carnivorous heart, I’ve begged more than once, “Trust Jesus. Trust Him.”

And with mind assenting,

lips confessing,

even heart, at last, bowed

I trust.

A soft, safe mental believing that I’ve fought to wrestle, reason, and generally talk myself into.

If a mustard seed’s portion of faith can shake mountain ranges, I’m ashamed to think how miniscule my own belief’s seed must be. I’m barely shaken myself.

Trembling, a question. “How much trust is enough?”

Cue the calipers, the electron microscopes, a scale so attuned that slightest breath of air sends a shiver through its needle.

Let’s crank up the old faith-o-meter.

“What Lord?” What’s that You’re saying?”

“Lean not on your own understanding…” (Prov. 3:5b)

“Oh–oh no. Not my understand…well, just this analysis, You see. I have to find out how much trust in You I have, and if it’s enough.”

“Oh, you of little faith. Why do you doubt?”(Matt. 14:31)

Flood of images, all He has brought me through. “Well…well, You–that’s my point. I have little faith, Lord. Why shouldn’t I doubt–doubt myself, at least?”

“By grace you have been saved through faith…not of your own doing. It is a gift from Me…”(Eph. 2:8)

“Grace is a gift from You, yes, I know. But faith…”

“It is the gift of God…so no one may boast.”(Eph. 2:8,9)

My deflated ego is fast surpassed by elated realization. “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”

“In all your ways, acknowledge Me and I will direct your paths.”(Prov. 3:6)

Some things are too simple for over-analysis.

Acknowledge Him. In all my ways. Just that simple. Just that terribly, terribly difficult.

Ridiculous, this penchant of mine to give God my whole life, but not offer up the next moment, as if my whole future is not made up of myriad present instants. When will I ever serve Him if I always hold one second–the next one–back?

Honestly? It’s easier to “surrender” my general being, pledge my all, than to give up the next breath. Yielding to Him, this “acknowledging Him,” in the present takes more courage, more trust, because it requires immediate response to the belief I claim.

Far easier, to check off the boxes and keep up the monochrome coloring in the lines and let life come to me on my terms.

But He’s challenging me.

Challenging me to enter into my surrender with my whole heart.

My whole, new heart.

I’m not just to lay down my life, but to rise again in new power.

To ask, this instant, for God to meet me in a thousand places,

to show me Himself in a million ways.

To pray for The Great Appointment,

that in every person He takes me to,

something will be sparked.

That the God of this Song will orchestrate my moments

so that the verse I sing will spill music

into other ears.

“You say, ‘But how can I serve the Lord? I’m not important. What I do is common and of little consequence. Anyone can do what I do”….And I say to you: ‘There are no useless, minor meetings. There are no dead-end jobs. There are no pointless lives. Swallow your sorrows, forget your grievances and all the hurt your poor life has sustained. Turn your face truly to the human before you and let her, for one pure moment, shine. Think her important, and then she will suspect that she is fashioned of God.'”

– Walter Wangerin, Jr., from the essay “Edification/Demolition” –

Who are we, we who claim Jesus? Who are we kidding, if our words don’t breathe Him, our faces don’t shine Him, and our hearts do not reach out as His?

Who do we fool, we who claim to be daughters of God? The world is not fooled–we prove ourselves to be just what they suspect.

Empty of power.

Unless our surrender is more than a token and our repentance is more than a show of tears.

If God’s grace settles down deep and we bow to its transformation.

If we embrace the faith He has measured out for us as a glorious gift.

And if we live for Him NOW.

Now, our all our ways must demonstrate in Whom we have put our trust.

Not someday. Not tomorrow. Not later in spare time.

Now.

“But when anything is exposed and reproved by the light, it is made visible and clear; and where everything is visible and clear there is light.Therefore He says, ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall shine (make day dawn) upon you and give you light.’

Look carefully then how you walk! Live purposefully and worthily and accurately, not as the unwise and witless, but as wise (sensible, intelligent people),

Making the very most of the time [buying up each opportunity], because the days are evil.Therefore do not be vague and thoughtless and foolish, but understanding and firmly grasping what the will of the Lord is.”

– Ephesians 5:13-17 AMP, emphasis mine –

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In what way is God calling you  to leave behind your own understanding and trust His leading?

What step of absolute belief must you now take?

 

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Thank you, Petr Kratochvil and Public Domain Pictures, for the lovely photo.

 

Before You Say Anything

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Some people rub me wrong, like stroking a cat’s fur against the grain.

I sit and bite my tongue and sort of smile to myself that someone can just be so aggravating.

I nod and smile and wonder how in the world these people can stir me up so much.

I’ve called myself laid-back. But at that moment, I feel about as easy-going as a coiled-up cobra.

So my eyes sort of roll back in my head and whether it is that person with the voice that grates or that one that sounds like Eeyore in the flesh, I start counting the minutes until I get to rush for the door.

But, the other day, stuck in the presence of a hair-raiser, a thought struck me.

That thought. It interrupted the on-repeat list of complaints rolling through my mind about the person sitting beside me.

That thought. If hearts had knees, the knees of mine buckled in that moment.

That thought. It pierced to that inner place that quivers at God’s thunder.

Before I let my mind ramble on, complaining about another’s inadequacy

Before I let the words tumble from my mouth, spreading around the discontent as soon as I can make my escape…

Before I start telling God about all the things I dislike about a person…

Have I prayed for that person?

Not a murmured complaint to the Creator, asking what in the world He was doing when he let loose this person to walk the earth.

Not a general “God bless so-and-so.”

A real prayer. A from-the-heart breaking that sees the inner person, sees that hurt behind the mask, sees the insecurity that surfaces as criticism.

Remember that everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something, and has lost something.

– H. Jackson Brown Jr. –

A prayer that understands the value of that person in the sight of God, that treats them as a precious jewel.

So, before you start the inner rant against that person that makes you bristle, what do you do?

Humble your heart and see that your complaints aren’t any holier than theirs just because you keep yours to yourself.

Marvel, because God gave you to that person in that moment, to build them up. Stop thinking about how depressed they are making you and start praying for wisdom. Pray for a gift to give.

In that moment, your Eeyore-like companion may just need a smile and an “I know you can do it.”

When the nails-on-the-chalkboard acquaintance starts to speak, maybe they need someone to really listen.

When eternity is weighed against that moment, the gift you could give that person matters so much more than how you feel.

So, pray.

Pray for wisdom to speak right words.

Pray for love for the one who makes you wonder how you could ever give back good for evil.

Pray for that person. Pray to really see, to understand the pain and the joys of another life. Pray for their spiritual growth. Pray that they would find satisfaction, fullest joy, in the Jesus who can make them whole.

Pray for yourself. For heart-change in the depths of you. For eyes to see past an exterior into a heart. For strength to give when all they do is take.

And, blogger Emily Freeman says maybe the way we give ourselves can make all the difference:

“What if the art we make – whether the work of our hands, the words of our mouth, the simple movement towards others in our ordinary days – what if these are the ways Jesus wants to show Himself to a weary world?

What if the art you make and live is a daily grace God has in mind for someone else?”

– Emily Freeman –

Don’t know quite how to pray, where to begin? The apostle Paul can give you a way to start:

“For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He had delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.”

– Colossians 1:9-14, NKJV, emphasis mine –

Amen, and amen. So let it be.

Thank you, Atalie Bale Photography, for another gorgeous photo. I think this one is my favorite!