Therefore, I Hope

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“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but not crushed and broken. We are perplexed because we don’t know why things happen as they do, but we don’t give up and quit. We are hunted down, but God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going. These bodies of ours are constantly facing death just as Jesus did; so it is clear to all that it is only the living Christ within who keeps us safe.”

 – 2 Corinthians 4:8-10, TLB –


Something buried deep inside the human soul clings to hope.

Once I heard the story of a baby born months prematurely, at 23 weeks and 6 days gestation. Four months early. She was incredibly small, her skin bruising dark from the gentlest touch, her internal organs so delicate that they could give out at any moment.

Her parents didn’t know what to expect. The baby, whom they named Juniper, seemed always on the threshold of death. But time after time, she pulled through the night. Her tiny chest would still be rising and falling the next day, no matter how many times she flatlined in the night.

Her father began reading to her every day. Inexplicably, the child’s heart rate would lift as she heard her father’s voice reading a story he loved and wanted her to love too. He imagined that Juniper was interested in the story. I imagine that the voice of her father broke into that baby’s pain and gave her something to cling to.

She made it. Today she is five years old and bouncing with good health.

As unbelievers, her parents and the others who tell her story discuss ethical implications, viability, Roe vs. Wade, and the unearthly aura of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit they affectionately call “Nick-u.” They have straddled life and death.

In their daughter’s story, they perhaps see evolutionary triumph, or the inexplicable emotional attachment of a parent to a child.

I see the hope that God kindles in the heart of every living soul, a will to survive. Juniper’s survival declares to me that nothing is by chance, and living isn’t a coin toss. Living–hoping–is engrained in us.

Someone once said, 

“Man can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air…but only for one second without hope.”

It’s true that, short of despair, we grasp furiously at existence. Something deep inside drives us to “live and life abundantly,” and as long as hope lives, humanity’s will to survive is incredible.

I believe God placed this desire in us. More than just an instinctive fight for supremacy, hope is a highly spiritual thing.

Do I have a reason to take another breath? Yes or no?

Humans again and again weigh their options in the balance, stacking up pleasure against pain, measuring heights of clarity against depths of confusion.

Those who do not believe in the hope of God often lose sight of hope entirely. Rejecting the possibility of His goodness and power, they unknowingly reject the one and only unshakeable hope.

People pin the happiness of their existence on many things. Wealth, pleasure, love, success, conquering. When their anchor of hope can no longer hold them down, what is left for them?

Every object of hope changes, fails, ceases to satisfy.

Except Jesus.

He never changes, never fails, never ceases to satisfy, because He is our Creator God. He made us to thrive in His presence. Nothing else can ever quite fit the bill.

You know, I’ve set my hope in other things. And I see people around me all the time trying to fit something human into this God-shaped need. It just doesn’t work.

So a world full of people are on a desperate hunt for hope…and only a few actually find it.

What does Christian hope look like? What does it do?

Hope is something believed in, something that keeps people alive, some ideal they see as worth their devotion. Hope is our internal answer to the “why” of existence.

Christian hope is turning away from sin and turning to Jesus Christ as your only chance for this life and the next. It is placing the weight of your belief in His simultaneous divinity and humanity, His death that satisfied God’s justice on your behalf, and His miraculous resurrection breaking the power of sin and death. It is giving Him sway over your entire being, which, incidentally, is already His anyway. You stop running from Him and start running to Him.

This hope is a true anchor for the soul (Hebrews 6:19).

This is why, really, only Christians can be real Optimists. Of course things in this world are messed up. Of course it is sometimes awful, painful, and dark. But something good is coming. We know this for certain.

This is why the theme verse of this post rings true:

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but not crushed and broken. We are perplexed because we don’t know why things happen as they do, but we don’t give up and quit. We are hunted down, but God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going. These bodies of ours are constantly facing death just as Jesus did; so it is clear to all that it is only the living Christ within who keeps us safe.”

 – 2 Corinthians 4:8-10, TLB –

Christian hope can propel us through absolutely anything. We have a Savior who is both near and powerful, strong and kind, just and overflowing with grace.

To grasp on to this hope, we fix out eyes on Him.

He is the already-salvation who makes life livable, and the not-yet salvation who, one day, will make all things new.

Do you have this hope? If not, I assure you that nothing else you try is going to work. Jesus is the only hope that will satisfy the cries of your soul. Believe in Him.

If you have believed, but the pain of life is smothering your hope, don’t be afraid. Keep believing. This life may be marred, but it is marred beauty. It may be corrupted, but it corrupted joy. It may be dark, but darkness can never overcome light. Very soon, the marring and the corruption will end and the dawn will become noonday. Believe in Him.

Faith is the substance of things hoped for. In believing, you take hold of what is sure to happen, because God never fails, never changes, never ceases to satisfy.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever–the same Creator, Redeemer, and Restorer.

Therefore, I hope.

But seek His kingdom, and these things will be provided for you. Don’t be afraid,little flock, because your Father delights to give you the kingdom.

 – Luke 12:31-32, HCSB –

 

 

 

 

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The Best Place to Be

 

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“Let my soul smile through my heart and my heart smile through my eyes, that I may scatter rich smiles in sad hearts.”

– P. Yogananda –

Every once in a while, I stumble across something that thrills me through and through with so much joy that I realize what souls were made for.

It’s not always the same thing.

Sitting in the sun sharing Chex Mix with two children whose father abandoned them, loving them in their blunt, innocent pain.

Nina at the nursing home, who wheels her chair up until she rams the piano bench and keeps offering to be my sister, since I don’t have one of my own.

It’s not so much a place or an activity as a pattern. The Lord sets me in opportunities, and I realize with surprise that this is what I was created to do. This is where I belong. This is where my strange, mysterious, unexplainable mix of qualities can flesh out healing and love and joy.

On Thanksgiving Day, a friend and I were discussing personality types over turkey and mashed potatoes. We have very similar personalities, so we were enjoying comparing our in-common experiences with people.

“I often tell people ‘I understand’ when they are telling me about terrible things I have never experienced, ever!” I confessed to my friend. “I know I haven’t gone through those things, but I feel a little of what it must be like.”

Sometimes, that can be a lot of pressure. To discern the pain that someone is feeling and knowing that you have to do something is a big responsibility. Another friend wrote me about a woman fighting sex trafficking, who said:

“I know too much to not do something.”

Story of my life. Like that woman, I know too much not to do something.

Recently, another friend and I were talking about this mysterious piece of me, and I felt a little overwhelmed.

God has given me this strange, crazy ability to be able to deeply feel people’s’ pain, absorb their discomfort, cry their tears, exult in their joy.

And it’s a little scary. I have to be vulnerable–not only to my own life’s trials, but to all the pains and aches and bright places of the lives around me. I have to open myself up to others even when, at times, I long to insulate myself from the suffering of a broken world.

But as I thought about my personality this week, I realized something:

My happiest moments–the times when I feel most alive, full, and complete–are when I am loving God (and loving others through Him) in the context of my design.

That’s the best place to be.

If you’ve been questioning how you were made, wondering why you were given a particular gift…If you’ve been struggling to understand your calling…If you’re afraid of the hard, painful work of sharing love with the hurting and the hopeful…If you’re wondering why your life has played out the way it has, to bring you to this very place–this encouragement is for you.

“Our constant sacrifice to God should be the praise of lips that give thanks to his name. Yet we should not forget to do good and to share our good things with others, for these too are the sort of sacrifices God will accept.”

 – Hebrews 13:15-16, Phillips paraphrase –

I’ve come to believe that it takes vulnerability to embrace God’s gifts in our lives. The point where He made me to be strongest is also the point with the most potential to overwhelm and devastate me.

But it’s worth it.

When I’m doing what I’m created to do–and surrendering myself to coming out the other side changed and even scarred, if necessary–that is when I best worship God with my life.

When I am faithful to my design, my soul sings, because that is what it was made to do.

Maybe you’re wondering if it’s too risky to do what you know God have gifted you to do. Maybe it’s outside your comfort zone. Or maybe it’s your immediate instinct, but it costs you.

Are you afraid to give your special design, your amazing gifts, to God in worship? Are you running from your compassion, your teaching ability, your serving heart, your analytical mind, your artistic talent, your leadership capabilities, because you fear that diving in will cost too much?

I sometimes feel the same way.

But we know too much to stay quiet and unmoving:

“Tell those who are rich in this present world not to be contemptuous of others, and not to rest the weight of their confidence on the transitory power of wealth but on the living God, who generously gives us everything for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in kindly actions, to be ready to give to others and to sympathise with those in distress. Their security should be invested in the life to come so that they may be sure of holding a share in the life which is permanent.”

– 1 Timothy 6:17-19, Phillips –

We are the rich of this world–many of us literally, all of us spiritually. As Christians, we have everything we need to do the works that God has prepared in advance for us (Ephesians 2:10). “By his divine power the Lord has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of the one who called us by his own honor and glory” (1 Peter 2:3, CEB).

That means He has given you resources and personal gifts that are too precious to waste. And trust me, nothing will give you greater joy than resting in the love of your heavenly Father and then sharing His love in the context of your design.

It’s what He made you to do–glorify Him by doing what He commands with a redeemed heart of love.

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

– James 2:14-17, NIV –

If the Spirit of Christ fills us, we are equipped. We are ready. Nothing can hold us back from joyful obedience, when we surrender to His Spirit. He gives us all we need. Trust God with how He made you to love and go take the risk of loving. Put those scary, wonderful gifts He’s given you to work.

It sometimes hurts. It sometimes bursts over you with fullest joy. Sometimes, it is a mix of bitter and unexplainably-sweet.

But the center of His design is always, always the best place to be.


“And God is able to make all grace [every favor and earthly blessing] come in abundance to you, so that you may always [under all circumstances, regardless of the need] have complete sufficiency in everything [being completely self-sufficient in Him], and have an abundance for every good work and act of charity.”

– 2 Corinthians 9:8, AMP –

Grace upon Grace

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 “The growth of trees and plants takes place so slowly that it is not easily seen. Daily we notice little change. But, in course of time, we see that a great change has taken place. So it is with grace.”

– John Owen, from The Holy Spirit, p. 108-109 –


My mom and I drove by a ramshackle house a few days ago, with littered yards and patched-together exteriors. Scrap metal of all kinds dotted the yard. Faded flags and neon orange plastic netting decorated clotheslines and posts.

“Do they think that’s attractive?” I wondered. Honestly, it looked like a dump.

On the bedraggled porch sat a little terra cotta pot. This pot held tiny, pitiful green things, supposed to be a flourishing miniature garden…but, like the rest of the place, had never gotten past an attempt at beauty.

And then I caught my breath, realizing that I decorate the same way.

This must be how my efforts at cleaning up my own mess look from the outside. Just like that homeowner trying to make a cultivated, beautiful spot with her sad little plant, I tidy up a little corner inside of me and say, “There! Now I’m all fixed!” Meanwhile, the rest of me may be in shambles–ripped mattress in the front yard, bare engine sitting in the driveway, rusting-away lawnmower gathering weeds around it in the middle of the grass.

Seeing that poor little dwelling reminded me of just how useless it is to try to make myself beautiful or acceptable before God. Our most diligent efforts are like that dried-up little terra cotta planting: dead, lifeless, useless.

 I will never outgrow my need for grace.

This past weekend, I stood singing these words: “And needing more each day Thy grace to know…” (from “We Rest on Thee,” by Edith Cherry)

I realized that, however subtle, the idea had crept inside me that, as I grew in the faith, I would get stronger and need less grace. Somehow, I thought that I’d outgrow it.

“But you, my friends whom I love, are forewarned, and should therefore be very careful not to be carried away by the errors of wicked men and so lose your proper foothold. On the contrary, you should grow in grace and in your knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ—to him be glory now and until the dawning of the day of eternity!”

 – 2 Peter 3:17-18, Phillips Version –

I don’t know where I got the notion that grace was merely a good starting place. I guess that is why we are warned to beware the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13).

In reality, grace is the air we breathe as Christians. I can outgrow grace about as easily as I can outgrow my need for air by running faster. Actually, the opposite is true, isn’t it? The faster I run, the more air my body needs. The more mature my faith is, the more grace I need to live it out.

Spiritual growth doesn’t plateau into an easy ride to the finish line. As long as we live, it is an uphill climb, plunging us stronger and deeper into Christ with each step.

It is far too easy to coast as a Christian. Those few words of that song reminded me of my built-in need for God. He is not trying to grow me into an isolated, self-sustaining being. He knows that my best future lies in Him, seeking His glory. As John Piper puts it, “…God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in him.”

So I can be like that little gardener, trying to coax life into my one attempt at beautifying myself, or I can see the futility of cleaning up my own mess and turn to the One who can actually make ashes into beauty, my only True Satisfaction.

Happily, grace doesn’t get old. Like God’s mercy, grace doesn’t run out, grow stale, or fall short.

Toss out the terra cotta plantings in your life and cling to the grace of the Master Gardener. He alone can breathe life into our dried-out souls and make us grow, grace upon grace, into a well-watered garden that He alone has planted.


“How refreshed I am by your blessings! I have heard the doom of my enemies announced and seen them destroyed. But the godly shall flourish like palm trees and grow tall as the cedars of Lebanon. For they are transplanted into the Lord’s own garden and are under his personal care. Even in old age they will still produce fruit and be vital and green. This honors the Lord and exhibits his faithful care. He is my shelter. There is nothing but goodness in him!”

– Psalm 92:10b-15 (TLB paraphrase) –

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 –

Happiness Is…

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What is happiness, exactly?

Have you ever noticed how much the culture talks about it?

It comes in subtle and not-so-subtle waves.

Self-esteem. “Me” time. Get the credit you deserve.

101 Ways to Be Happy. Top 7 Tips for Becoming the Best You.

Ever seen something like that?

One article reported that some big companies have even hired Chief Happiness Officers to help their employees find some joy in life.

Happiness is an obsession with us all. We all look to be satisfied, filled, purposeful, enriched. We look inside ourselves to find an answer–and when that inevitably fails, we search for something else to anchor us, something to bring meaning. Something, anything, to make us happy.

Superior knowledge, intellectual prowess, cutting wit. Entertainment, work, sports, hobbies. Music, art, books, media. Cosmetics, physical fitness, romance.

It all rings hollow.

Why else would Solomon say this:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
Everything is meaningless.”

– Ecclesiastes 1:2, NIV –

And trust me, Solomon would know. He tried it all–women, money, power, wisdom, fame. He’d tasted what the world had–and it went stale in his mouth. Soggy and tasteless and worthless.

Some of us go back to being stuck on ourselves and thinking we’re the best thing since buttered popcorn. But how does the self-obsession pan out? Solomon says it all–meaningless, meaningless, meaningless.

So if I asked you where to find true happiness, what would you say?

Would you parrot “Jesus” like the five-year-old Sunday School kid who has that same answer to every question?

Or would you really mean it when you said that only God can satisfy?

More than meaning it, have you experienced it?

The theoretical fact that God fills doesn’t do you or me any good unless He fills us–personally, deeply, individually.

And this joy–here it is:

That we are worthless, yet valued as rubies.

That we are unlovable, yet loved beyond measure.

That our deeds would kill, yet the One who died did it for His murderers.

That these dry bones would live again.

That this love is contrary to all we deserve. That we can’t ever delight in our bigness.

That the heavens and earth tell a story….

And that story is NOT about us.

John Piper said this well:

“It is about the greatness of God, not the significance of man. God made man small and the universe big to say something about himself.”
— John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life —

And that’s the good news.

It was never supposed to be about us anyway.

Which is why navel-gazing is so woefully unfulfilling.

So the solution? How to find joy in this life, right here?

Giving. Thanking, Dying to self, on this day. And tomorrow, And the next.

John Piper says that the joy is in the giving.

Ann Voskamp says the wild happiness is in the thanking–for the little, the big, the everything.

Laura Story says the blessing is in the storm.

Most importantly, my Jesus says the life is in the dying.

Isn’t this the hardest kind of dying, the kind that must be done every day, every breathing minute?

The kind that stretches out the hand even when its the last two pennies to your name?

The kind that keeps thanking God when you can’t for the life of you see the sun?

The dying that crucifies flesh and self, again and again.

“There is a warning. The path of God-exalting joy will cost you your life. Jesus said, “Whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” In other words, it is better to lose your life than to waste it. If you live gladly to make others glad in God, your life will be hard, your risks will be high, and your joy will be full. This is not a book about how to avoid a wounded life, but how to avoid a wasted life. Some of you will die in the service of Christ. That will not be a tragedy. Treasuring life above Christ is a tragedy.”
— John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life, emphasis mine —

So, here’s your ultimatum.

Are you willing to die?

Willing to risk, to give all, in order to find the true riches?

To “sell all” to gain the treasure?

To give today, every day, knowing that all the way it’s all Christ and none of you?

Because somehow, in His gracious way, even our faith-filled inability is promised reward.

That He can pour into a life and bring a child home, and then heap praise on victories won in His strength.

Can we ever give enough back to a God like this?

No, but we can try.

Happiness often sneaks in through a door you didn’t know you left open.
– John Barrymore –

Or, maybe through a door Someone Else opened?

How about being His hands, being His feet and being a helper of someone’s joy today?

(2 Corinthians 1:24)