Competent in Christ

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“Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.

2 Corinthians 3:5

I’ll never forget when my oldest child, my daughter, was a newborn. Being a first-time mom, I was exhausted and exhilarated and nervous all at once. I also didn’t know what I didn’t know. The time in the hospital had been a flurry of activity and, in retrospect, a bit of a blur. Someone was always close-by and I had not been alone with my newborn. I was ill-prepared for the first night of sleep, or lack thereof. Who knew that a little person so tiny could implode the normal sleep cycles of civilization? And who knew that one could survive with so little sleep? Apparently new moms throughout the ages were secret-keepers of this knowledge that a momma cannot grasp until she has experienced it firsthand. My immediate thought when I hear someone is expecting, after the congratulations of course, is they have no idea that their little newborn will be a tyrant who will invade any semblance of normal sleep. Yet, what I remember most of all from those initial weeks of being a brand-new mom is the pure panic I felt the first time I realized I was all alone with that baby girl and her well-being had become solely my responsibility. No nurses nearby to come to my aid and give me a breather. No mom to rush to my rescue. No husband to trade off with for a turn for sleep. Everyone had returned to normal life. Everyone except me. My normal no longer existed. I felt panicked when I realized people had left me alone with that sweet little baby girl. I wanted to shout to anyone who could hear, “Did you mean to leave me alone with her? How could I possibly be capable of caring for her? Am I competent enough to be her mother? How will I know what she needs?” By the grace of God, we managed just fine and she survived me and all of my glaring incompetence.

What a parallel that is to how we often feel about our callings in Christ. As believers, we know and understand that God has a plan and a purpose for each of our lives. We love to quote the verse from Jeremiah 29:11 that says “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD.”  Psalm 138:8 says, “The LORD will fulfill His purpose for me.” Initially, this truth excites us and we expectantly look to God to fulfill it in us, through us, and for us. Then, gradually, life begins to throw us curve balls. Challenges derail us. Insecurities assail us. Fears plague us. Satan deceives us. We grow impatient. We lose faith. We begin to forget the truth that God does have a plan for our lives. Somewhere along the way, we twisted our theology and thought that, because God called us to something, then it would be simple. And perhaps we even thought that it wouldn’t require from us more than we felt capable of giving. We take our eyes off of Jesus, much like Peter did in Matthew 14:25-33. Peter and his pals were in a boat, having gone on ahead of Jesus while He remained behind to pray. When Jesus was ready to catch up with them, He decided to take a walk to them–right on top of the water. Peter needed some confirmation that it was indeed Jesus coming towards them so he asked Jesus to tell him to come to Him on the water. Jesus told him, “Come.” Then Peter, like Jesus, walked on the water. But Peter shifted his gaze from Jesus and onto the surrounding storm and he began to sink. Jesus reached out and caught Peter, asking him why he doubted. Isn’t that what we do too?  Jesus beckons each one of us to join Him in the work of fulfilling His calling and His purpose for each of our lives. Many of us jump right out of the boat like Peter, initially confident in the fact that Jesus did summon us. But then the winds start to howl and the tidal waves of life threaten to overtake us and we take our eyes off Jesus and His calling. We begin to wonder if He did call us. Perhaps we heard Him wrong. Maybe He meant this calling for someone else, who isn’t me. Sadly, we fall into the comparison trap, even in Christian circles. We wonder if our calling is as important as that person over there. We question if our skills and qualifications merit the calling. We measure our success by the world’s standards. When we do this, we short-change ourselves from God’s blessing in our lives and we short-change others because we don’t live up to the calling. Ultimately, it reveals a lack of faith in the God who calls us. 1 Thessalonians 5:24 tells us, “The one who calls you is faithful and He will do it.”

Regardless of where we are in life, God wants to use each one of us and longs to fulfill His purposes in us and through us. Maybe your current season of life is a stay-at-home mom or dad and you feel invisible or even unimportant. Maybe you spend your days cleaning toilets. Maybe you have made one poor choice after another and no longer feel like God could have a purpose for your life now. Maybe you are a high-level executive at a successful company. It matters not because God can and will use and equip every single one of us when we surrender our lives and our callings to Him. He does not compare. He views each as important as the next and can use every situation for His honor and His glory. We must determine to keep our eyes fixed on Him.

Our competence for any position we hold is in God. Whether we feel overqualified, underqualified, or just right, our competency is in Christ. The Greek word for “competent” in 2 Corinthians 3:5 is “hikanos,” and it means “to reach, attain desired end. Sufficient; worthy, adequate, enough.” Doesn’t that change our perspective a little bit on any given situation in any circumstance? Not that we are sufficient, worthy, adequate, or enough to claim anything for ourselves, but our sufficiency, our worthiness, our adequacy, our enough-ness comes from God. Whew! The pressure is off of us. What is it God wants from you today? What is He calling you to? Don’t let your gaze focus on the surrounding circumstances. Don’t let your thoughts deceive you and make you think it all depends on you and that you are not enough. Friend, your worthiness, your adequacy, your sufficiency, your enough-ness–it all rests on God’s shoulders. He equips the called. The called merely need only respond. One step at a time. One foot in front of the other. Day-by-day. 2 Corinthians 12:9 reminds us that, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Jesus will use our weaknesses and make them sufficient. Take a step of faith today towards what God has been showing you. And I commit to do the same.

Blessings!

 

 

Say Less, Pray More

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“The LORD will fight for you; you must be quiet.”

Exodus 14:14

I have a love-hate relationship with social media because it seems to perpetuate a sense of courage from behind a screen to say whatever one feels or thinks with little regard to other people while at the same time presenting the image of a picture-perfect life. Therefore, for me, I cycle on and off of it. As I was praying through an area of my life from which to fast for a period of time, the Lord laid on my heart to deactivate my Facebook account temporarily. I’ve done this several times through the years but never have I felt as liberated as I have this time. Lately, it has felt like people have lost the ability to be kind. Posts become the catalyst for arguments that are public for all the world to see and somehow there is a false sense of security to feel free to say or spew rude and harsh comments. For whatever reason, I have been super sensitive and hyper-aware of this. This world is divided and hostile enough with Satan and his minions at work in it as well as amongst people that reading it from the screen of my phone has become an unwelcome intrusion. Our local news station has a Facebook page and they post articles consistently throughout the day. Reading the comments on their page makes me cringe. People have become so emboldened to lash out and post hateful rhetoric. Yet, aren’t we all susceptible to doing the same thing?

We, probably now more than ever, are full of opinions and thoughts. God has been pressing upon me this concept to say less, pray more. It’s not as simple as merely uttering those four syllables. But with the heightened awareness of it, I have begun to realize just how much we seek to speak rather than listen, to fight rather than forgive. It is a humbling experience. Honestly, no one cares what I think, right? Words are valuable and hold meaning. We have become a society that loosely throws out words without evaluating their weight and their impact. Words wound, just as words have the power to heal. The better you are with words, the easier it is to use them as weapons with precision. I have been on the receiving end of verbal assaults just as I have been the vessel through which they have been delivered. And I am saying enough is enough. It is high time to begin to use words to build up, to lift up, to encourage, to heal, to bring life, and to point people to Jesus. My knee-jerk reaction to being on the receiving end of words that sting is to rise up, defend myself, and argue. Or to take it and then blow off the steam to my husband or a friend. But God is teaching me a better way. He has begun to whisper in my ear, say less, pray more. When I want to interject my thoughts or opinions, even when I am not fighting with someone or arguing with someone, He gently restrains me and reminds me, “say less and tell Me instead.” We have only begun this undertaking and already I see results. Before I respond or speak, I consider if what I have to say is even necessary. I am learning that often it is not necessary. And when I want to vent, I am learning that if I pray first, then I feel less inclined to share it with others. And if I still share it, it has been tamed by my time with Jesus. I am hearing more. In hearing and listening, I am learning and growing. Silence and quiet have become a haven and a refuge and prayer has become a retreat. God reminded me of the verse in Exodus, “The LORD will fight for you; you must be quiet.” How can God fight for me if I am too busy running my mouth and fighting for myself and against myself? God wants to fight on my behalf. If I don’t leave Him margin or offer Him the floor, then He becomes a bystander and observer of my verbal malfunction which serves no purpose. The more I practice becoming quiet, the quicker it becomes my response. Even today, I experienced this. I wanted to challenge something but I felt the Holy Spirit urge me to be quiet and to be patient. I’m glad I heeded and surrendered my seemingly justified feelings because if I had plowed ahead with half of the facts, I would have looked foolish and have needed to apologize. So I submitted to the urging of the Holy Spirit and was able to glorify Him with my response and offer Him thanks for shutting me up with the holy hush.

I Peter 3:4 says this of beauty, “Instead, it should consist of what is inside the heart with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very valuable in God’s eyes.” That verse often leaves me feeling guilty and condemned. By nature, I am loud and outgoing, if needed. People are often surprised to learn that I am a true introvert, that I find my recharge and refreshment from times of silence, quiet, and aloneness. After being in groups of people, I am depleted and want to escape to solitude. I prefer one-on-one time or a select few with those that are my people. But, if you’re around me in that capacity, you quickly learn that I am loud and can have lots to say. Thus, this verse in I Peter makes me feel like I am failing as a wife or a woman of true beauty. What God is already teaching me through our concept of say less, pray more is that a quiet spirit is a settled spirit. I am at rest and do not need to always speak or fight my battles with words. A quiet spirit knows who I am in Christ and trusts Christ to fight my battles for me on my behalf. A quiet spirit has full assurance and faith in her Savior. A quiet spirit has become attuned to the leading and direction of the Holy Spirit within her. A quiet spirit exhibits self-control. And the payoff is always worth it. It is being able to speak but choosing, instead, to wait and to listen before moving forward. If only this had been a concept that had taken root sooner. But God’s timing is perfect and I am thankful that He is faithful to me and never gives up on me.

I can’t help but think of Psalm 46:10 as I conclude my thoughts. It is most commonly quoted as “Be still and know that I am God.” Many translations phrase is similar to this: “Stop your fighting–and know that I am God” (HCSB). This more aptly depicts an image of quieting one’s self before Him in total trust and surrender knowing that He will fight for us and His peace will transcend. As we each journey through our week, I encourage you to join me in practicing the simple concept of saying less, praying more. When I am tempted to speak, to react, to lash out, or to vent, instead may I turn what I am feeling, thinking, and wanting to speak into prayers to my Savior and my God who wants to fight for me. I pray that you will do the same.

Blessings!

Spiritual Training

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“But have nothing to do with irreverent or silly myths. Rather, train yourself in godliness, for the training of the body has a limited benefit, but godliness is beneficial in every way, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”

1 Timothy 4:7-8

The older I get, the more I treasure the words of Scripture. They hold life. They hold purpose. More than that, though, they are the spoken breath of God directly to me. God’s Word is truly alive and active. I feel it come alive each morning as I flip open its pages and my spirit stirs with anticipation at what the Father has come to say to me. I crave it, I thirst for it. At times, I am overwhelmed because it is vast and I want to remember every word I have read and desire for it to take root in my heart and affect how I live my daily life. Other times, I am frustrated because, as much as I long to live out what it says, I am baffled by how to do so and even feel like it is impossible because I don’t even fully understand it. Perhaps it’s just me who feels that way on occasion. Oh that I can absorb the words of Scripture into the marrow of my bones. In my quiet time this morning, it was no different. I found myself asking God to speak to me as I opened the pages of His book with reverence. Without realizing it, I had prayed these words to Him, “open my eyes that I may behold wonderful things in Your Law.” And then proceeded to dive into studying it. I encountered the verses from 1 Timothy listed above. And they have fixated in my mind and on my heart all day long–thus this post being the by-product of the meditation. I kept saying to myself, “train yourself in godliness. Train yourself in godliness.” Then I felt this tension come alongside it. “But how? How am I supposed to train myself in godliness? What does that even mean?” Of course, intellectually and even spiritually, I can answer that question. But my question goes deeper than rote answers. I can give those “spiritual” responses in my sleep. I was raised in the church and attended a Christian school so I know the “right” response. I don’t want the right response. I want the path that leads me to action that produces lasting and sustaining change and transformation by the Holy Spirit. So how, then, do I train myself in godliness?

Thankfully, as I have matured in my walk with Christ, I have learned to take those questions directly to the author of both my faith and the words about which I am confused. I asked God, “what does it look like for me to train myself in godliness? How do I prevent myself from settling into the routine or getting stuck in a rut?” And God, oh how He is faithful, for He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13). He faithfully responded to my question. He reminded me that I was practicing it already. I was in training. Even as I opened His Word, I had asked Him to open my eyes to behold wonderful things in His Law. At the time I petitioned Him for that, I was not even consciously aware that I was praying His own words back to Him, for those words are actually the words of the psalmist who penned Psalm 119:18. The words flowed from a heart and a mind that practiced meditating on God’s Word and memorizing it. By then, my wheels were turning.

If there is one thing I understand, it is training–at least in the physical sense. I applied the same approach to training in godliness. When I train for races, usually half-marathons, I begin with the end goal in full view. Run 13.1 miles in less than two hours. From there, I develop a training plan to make it happen. I research various training methods then decide on the one that best suits me. Then I make a commitment to follow the plan. Even when I don’t feel like it or even when it is 20 degrees outside and my bed beckons me to stay in it and stay warm. Hence, when I am training for godliness, the question is what is my goal? As a follower of Jesus, my ultimate goal is to love Him with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to be transformed into His image day-by-day. Be like Jesus! That’s the goal. In life. In love. In relationships. In secret. In public. In joyful times. In challenges and difficulties. When it is easy and when it feels impossible. Be like Jesus! That’s the goal–love Him and surrender to His transforming work in my life to become more and more like Him until that is perfected the day I meet Him in His kingdom. Since I know my goal, then I can develop the training steps to attain it. In order to love Him, I must know Him. I must communicate with Him. I must spend time with Him. And how do I do this? By being in His Word. And this is accomplished in many different settings. I am in His Word alone. I pray in private, in quiet, in the secret places. I sit under Biblical teaching in Bible study and under the spiritual authority of my pastors. I pray in community with other believers. I attend church. We discuss it in our home and seek to put God at the center. I study the Word and Bible commentaries to deepen my understanding and study words in the original languages to further inform my time in God’s Word.

Armed with the goal and the preparation, I must then commit to practice what God is teaching me during those private and corporate times of study and instruction. Implementation is usually the most challenging because, like with running, I don’t always feel like doing what I know I should. To activate the Word in my life, heart, and choices is the beauty of surrender and the strength of the Holy Spirit within me. Often, it won’t be the natural response or the easy path to take, but it is the right one and it is always worth it. Other times, like this morning, the words will flow in a heart attitude of prayer because I put in the work ahead of time. I knew what God said in His Word because I spent the time studying it and reading it.

There are moments when even the strongest believers face doubts and wonder, “is this all worth it? It seems like life around me is rapidly circling the drain and the faithless and godless are living their best lives.” God does not back down from those questions. His answer remains a resounding, “Yes.” The final part of the verse from 1 Timothy says, “but godliness is beneficial in every way, since it holds promise for the present life and for the life to come.” Take heart if you find yourself in this frame of mind today. Because godliness is beneficial right now and in eternity. The benefits may not seem immediate, but the promise is that they are coming. Following Jesus will always be worth the investment. The more I know Jesus, the more I love Him. The more I love Him, the more I love His Word. Fall in love with Jesus, friend. Fall in love with His Words. They are a salve to our souls. They hold instruction for life. They are our hope. Treasure them. Hide them in your heart. Then share them with others. People are hungry for God’s Word, for God’s truth, and they do not even realize it. Offer God’s light to those who are desperate for truth in this world. And continue to train in godliness–the results will be far too great to tally.

Be blessed!

Release the Reins

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“Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s honor.” Hebrews 12:1-2

What prevents us from stepping into all God has promised for our lives? The deeper I grow with Christ, the more questions I present to Him. As I read His Word, I ask Him questions about what He is saying and how it relates to my life and current circumstances. Each year, I prayerfully ponder what will be the focus or theme for the next 12 months. God faithfully reveals to me areas in which He seeks to refine, develop, and mature me as His child. In years past, I have had a word for the year and/or a theme. This year is distinctly different. God has four imperatives for me. “Expect. Believe. Wait. Seek.” Simple words. Challenging to execute. As my focus narrows on how God intends to manifest these concepts into my life, He is showing me that there are some things that have to go before the space is cleared for Him to enter and do His work. I must first release what is preventing me from the abundant life He promises.

Release. Let go of that which hinders me and slows me down. The writer of Hebrews said it best, “Let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us.” To lay aside something is to set it down, to cast it off, to leave it, to release it. In order to release something that is in my grip, I must open my palms. I cannot grasp tightly with an open hand. When my fist is clenched, I am holding on to something. I cannot simultaneously grip and release. To release, my hand opens. To hold tightly, my hand closes.

I began asking God about the things He wanted me to release. It is easy to fool ourselves into a false sense of comfort and security, believing we are living the surrendered life. Until something happens and our world tilts on its axis. Then, we no longer are able to hide behind our facade of faith. The question assaults us: was my faith only control under cover? Control and security go hand-in-hand. We feel secure when we feel like we have control over our circumstances, control over our finances, control over our families, control over our health, control over our schedules, control over whatever we can control. But it is all a facade. We are not in control. The age-old battle is the battle for control. Satan was cast from heaven because He wanted to be like God and to have the power. Power makes us feel like we can control things. Our culture deceives us and counterfeits God’s truth by saying we can control our destiny. God is the only one who sits on the throne. God is the maker and the sustainer of the universe. Yet, He is also intimately involved in the details of our everyday lives. Sure, there are some things we can control. Things like how much we eat, how much we exercise, when to go to bed, our tv time, how we spend our money, and how we spend our time. Those are choices within our control. Inherent in our spheres of control is the call to surrender even those to God. There is a delicate balance between our desire for control and faith, or lack thereof, in God. When I attempt to control things, I have stopped believing God is capable of handling things here for me. Subconsciously, I try to help out God with managing things in my little sector of the world. Oh how I long to believe God and take Him at His Word. This is one of those tenets of the Christian life that often is neglected, and, therein, stalls the believer’s walk with God. I have believed God for my eternal salvation. I believe in Jesus as the spotless Lamb of God who was slain for me. I believe He died, was buried, and raised on the third day. I believe He ascended to heaven, and I believe He is returning again someday. I trust Him with my eternal security. Yet, why do I wrestle with trusting Him with the details of the my daily life? Do I not think He is capable with my security on earth, only in heaven? Why do I often struggle to believe what He says about me? Why do I battle believing He will fulfill His promises on this side of heaven? Because I have fooled myself into thinking I have some modicum of control over those things. And when I feel like I have control, I have a sense of security. I cannot simultaneously hold on to my false sense of control while releasing and surrendering myself to Him. Jesus is my source of security–period. He is my security right now and He is my eternal security. Thus it is time to release my efforts to control.

God is saying, “Release control to Me. I am trustworthy, and I love you more than you can even fathom. I want good for you and your life. I allow challenges and difficulties into your life at times to refine, to strengthen, to prune, and to teach you. Trust my plan for you. My plans are better for you than any you could contrive on your own. Release your grasp on control, and take My hand. My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Today, the weight that He is calling me to lay aside is the unnecessary weight of false control. Today is the day to release to Him what is already His. Can you feel it–the unnecessary burden and weight of control sliding from your shoulders onto His? In a world that seems so out of control right now, take heart in Christ, dear friend, because God is in control and we don’t have to be. He is trustworthy.

Grasping Time

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“Making the most of the time, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:16

It’s New Year’s Eve 2020. I cannot think of one individual I know who may be sad or disappointed to leave this uncommon year in the rearview mirror. We simultaneously feel surprise that this year has already reached its final day and relief that the interminably long days comprising the year are nearly behind us. Our ears will shout for joy if they never again hear the phrase “unprecedented year.” Yet this concept of time seems to be surrounding me right now. In my quiet time this morning, the focal point of my study was time–and it was by two very different authors. Yet their points converged in my life on the same day. Coincidence? I think not. As sleep eluded me last night, I mulled over the passage of time. 2020 ushered me into a new decade of my life, my forties. Turning 40 has accelerated time for me. All of a sudden, I feel like I am running out of time to fulfill God’s purposes for my life. What if I missed it? What if it is too late to fulfill His call to ministry? What if I am wasting my time on things that will not matter in eternity? I am reminded that we have but one life to live. That is all we get. James 4:14 reminds us that our life is like a vapor–here one minute and gone the next. As man’s calendar turns the page on another year and closes this chapter, it is a prime opportunity to evaluate how we use our time. For me, I have spent my adult life being a mother, raising my family, supporting them, feeding them, clothing them, and ensuring their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs have been met. I have not been perfect in that role–far from it. Yet I pray their faith foundation has been poured. At the same time, I have pursued things that will not last in eternity. I have wasted time caring what other people thought, trying to prove that I was enough of a father and mother to my children. I yearn for something deeper, something substantial, something that will result in crowns when I stand before the throne of grace in eternity. Crowns that I may then cast at the feet of my King. I have wasted time forgetting my true identity in Christ. I am a daughter of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. I am a child of God. I am chosen. I am redeemed. I am adopted. I am a royal priesthood. I am forgiven. And I am deeply loved.

I asked the Lord this morning what we were going to leave behind in 2020 because I feel this urgency to live in such a way that I am constantly aware of the brevity of life and how the time for Christ’s return is drawing near. I don’t want to miss God’s purposes for me because I was too protective of my time for my own pursuits and selfish ambitions. I pray that I will delight myself in the Lord and then my desires will align with His and therein I will find and experience the abundant life. It’s time to set aside those things that hinder me from reaching towards God’s best for me. Time is racing past at lightning speed. No longer do I dare waste it on what will pass away and fade. No longer do I want to lose it by caring about how others will perceive me or what they think of me. I am rooted and firmly established in my identity in Christ. So I will be bold. I will be humble because I have nothing to prove. I will love, even when it is breaking my heart. I will forgive when I don’t want to or don’t think I am capable of my own accord. I will rest in the love and acceptance of Christ, and I will trust His plans for me even when they interfere with my plans and wreak havoc on my agenda.

I don’t set New Year’s Resolutions. I am not a big fan of them. However, it is the prime time to sit down in quiet before Jesus and ask Him how He wants us to use our time in the year 2021. He is faithful and He will answer. I so frequently feel like the days fly off the calendar and I desperately try to slow them down and catch them. I try to grasp time. I want to control it somehow. But God has shown me that I will never grasp it. It will slip through my fingers. Rather, His heart’s desire is for me to surrender my time to Him and to offer it on His altar. The eternal investment will always be worth it.

So, in 2021, take the time to make the phone call rather than shoot off a quick text. Make time to serve–because when we do for the least of these, we do for Christ Himself. Make time to slow down, to look up, and to glance around. We each are gifted one life–and we each will answer for how we spent our time. Are we making the most of our time?

Happy New Year!

Great Expectations

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“Be silent before the LORD and wait expectantly for Him.” Psalm 37:7a

Confession–I love snow. I absolutely love it! And in the month of December–oh please let it snow. Christmas songs like “White Christmas” and “Let It Snow” may have been penned with the likes of me in mind. Every year, my youngest son and I hope and pray for a white Christmas. I’m pretty sure that the Christmas temperatures last year were well above normal. Every year that we have asked for snow for Christmas, it seems we have gotten, well, exactly the opposite. And I tell Seth that obviously others need there not to be snow more than we want there to be snow. Yet every year, as Thanksgiving approaches, the desire for a white Christmas creeps in and I pray for it, knowing God can flood us with the beautiful white powder, not knowing if God will, and trusting that what He wills will be. But somewhere along the way in the last few years, I have stopped expecting snow for Christmas. I haven’t stopped expecting God to answer prayer, but I, somewhat sarcastically, think that we will never have snow again on Christmas. I watch my favorite Hallmark movies (and it is ALWAYS snowing for Christmas in these!) and explain to my dogs that the white stuff falling from the sky in the movies is called snow but they will not see any for Christmas. And this year? I definitely figure 2020 will NOT end with snow on the ground for the holidays because, well, it is, after all, 2020. All of those words just to say, imagine my growing surprise as I watch the forecast for snow for this week slowly increase in the amount of inches of snow to expect. Dare I hope we will actually have a foot of snow on the ground merely a week before Christmas?! Time will tell!

Funny and silly as all of that seems, God is moving and working something around me that encompasses the concept of expectations. As each year draws to its close, I begin praying for a word or a theme for the upcoming year. In retrospect, I find myself surprised once the year has passed and I see how relevant the word was for that year. God alone knows what the year will hold and I fully believe that He hears the prayers of my heart, and yours, when we come to Him, asking for a word or a theme because He alone knows what He wants to do in our lives. Ironically, or probably not ironically at all, the word God placed on my heart for 2020 last year around this time was “contentment.” What a word to cling to during this unprecedented and tumultuous year. As I sat in the hospital with my son in February, pre-COVID, I remember thinking what a word God gave me when He knew what we would encounter. Little did we know at the time that within four weeks, life would be shut down, literally. Yes, I have walked this path with God enough to know and to believe and to trust what He places on my heart as I look to Him, seeking His guiding hand. Lately, it seems that everywhere I turn and everything I read from the Scriptures to Bible studies to novels, the word “expect” is painted all over. When a girl’s been asking God for some direction and then all of a sudden, for weeks, the same theme appears, the girl sits up straight and takes notice. Several times, this week alone, I have heard myself saying, writing, or thinking “I never could have expected…” fill in the blank. When I caught myself saying it, it gave me pause. I am convinced one of the themes and words God has for me in 2021 is “Expect!” I have already been thinking on it and rolling it around in my mind. One overarching question assails me: when did I stop expecting God? I could pretty it up and make it sound less wrong and more holy. But, in a nutshell, I think life has conditioned me, and I have been a willing participant, to stop expecting from God. I grew up a church girl. We love to “tidy up” how God moves and works and make it all fit nicely and neatly into our theological boxes. We need Him to align with our thinking and theology about Him. Thus, it is easier to stop expecting because then we can stop explaining if God doesn’t respond in the way we expected Him to do so–or wanted Him to do so. By living this way, I have placed God in a box, and our God is way too big and way too wonderful to be reduced to life in a box. The baby boy born in a manger in Bethlehem tore down all the expectations of who the people expected their coming Messiah to be. That same Jesus no more fits into our expectations today. Several times this week I have been surprised (in a good way) by something God has done. With my new and heightened awareness of the word “expect,” I have laughed to myself wondering why I am surprised when I am asking God to cultivate a spirit of expectancy in my heart. I am asking God to open my eyes and open my ears to see and to hear, to bear witness all around me, of what He is doing and where He is moving. Not the major brushstrokes of the magnificent masterpiece, but the tiny shades that He is busy filling with color. Admittedly, I have put God in a box, and I have confessed that. I don’t want that to be my story in 2021. God’s theology is messy, and I don’t have to explain for Him when He operates outside of what my finite mind can fathom and process. He is God. My job, our job, is to trust Him. God is already delighting me with this concept of expectation. I am surprised but in a way that reminds me that God operates outside of our expectations in a grander and greater way. Therefore, I expect Him to do and to be the unexpected. Therein is the beauty. Therein lies the faith. Therein I find delight. Therein God leaps outside of any and every box placed around Him. It is Christmas magic, all year long.

Ephesians 3:20 says, “Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us.” Praise God He is not limited by the limitations I attempt to place on Him. It is time to put my faith to the test. Do I truly believe His plan is better for me than any one I can contrive or concoct on my own? I do believe, and, as the father cried in Mark 9:24, “I do believe! Help my unbelief!” The better question is, do I live like I believe His plan is better for me than the one I try make Him fit into? What God is showing me is that expectations on their own are incomplete. The 2021 theme is: “Expect! Believe! Wait! Seek!” My prayer is that I expect God to do, to be, to act, to answer in the most unexpected of ways. Then, I pray for faith to believe Him, that I believe what He says and who He is. Then, may I patiently wait expectantly for Him while I continue to seek Him with all of my heart.

On that first Christmas, not many expected the Savior of the world to be born into the most humble of circumstances. Not many expected the King of Kings in the form of a helpless babe. Not many expected that same King to be crucified by His own people and put to death. Not many expected what He meant when He said the temple would be torn down but rebuilt in three days. Jesus blew up all of the expectations of His day. Jesus still blows up our expectations, beyond anything we could possible think or imagine. It is time for us to stop fitting God into our own tidy boxes of theology and ask Him to reign supremely on the throne of our lives. Then, watch how He works and moves in us and around us and through us. “To God be the glory–what great things He has done!”

As we approach Christmas, may we also approach our King and Savior with humble, repentant, and expectant hearts. This is my prayer for 2021: “Lord Jesus, may I humbly, be bold. Graciously, may I do everything in love. Expectantly, may I grow strong in faith. May I pray without ceasing.”

Expect the unexpected from our Messiah!

Blessings and Merry, Merry Christmas!

The Wonder of the Moments

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“But Mary was treasuring up all these things in her heart and meditating on them.” Luke 2:19

Something about the holidays stirs within me a spirit of reflection. Reflecting on the year that is about to draw to a close. Reflecting on the passing of years. Reflecting on the possibilities of the coming year. Reflecting on the goals set, goals missed, and goals achieved. Reflecting on the possible goals for the year to come. Reflecting on personal growth, or lack thereof. Regardless of how old I become, each year Christmas fills me with a sense of wonder and excitement. It’s as if, during the Christmas season, I am reminded that Jesus’ birth was a miracle and He is still God of the miraculous. How often do I place parameters on God and limit His movement by my own lack of faith in what He may or may not accomplish? Christmas reminds me that miraculous moments do still occur, if only we have the eyes to see. Perhaps it is with a limited scope that I define miracle. That God pursues me and seeks to have a relationship with me is miraculous. His Word is alive and active. As I open it each morning, I feel the electricity within its pages as God moves through the written words and speaks directly to my spirit. Is that not a miracle? God sent His Spirit to indwell His children and He is always present. A miracle. Our minds have been conditioned to see only what is in front of us, if even that. In our age of technology we have become one-dimensional and have become adept at skimming the surface, rarely diving deeper or looking beyond what is in front of our faces. In many ways, we have lost the art of experiencing wonder at anything. Our heads are down in our phones and life is getting lived all around us and we miss so many moments. In those moments, how many gifts of our beloved Father have we missed? The hustle and bustle of life creates a frenzied state of emotions and we struggle to appreciate and enjoy the moments as they occur. We take for granted that there will be another one to come along, if we miss this one.

Personally, I am studying some in the book of James right now, among other things. Yet I was reminded just this morning that James, the half-brother of Jesus, recognized how fleeting life is, and how arrogantly we assume tomorrow. It is a stark reminder of just how little time we have here to do what God has placed us here to do. We get so caught up in the here and now that we forget that this world is not our home and we are just temporary citizens because our home is in heaven. Often, we don’t appreciate the value or beauty of moments until they have passed. And we wish we could return back to the moment and savor it, treasure it, and hold it dear. Recently, I saw a Facebook post that a woman posted of her children decorating the Christmas tree, acknowledging that it would be the last time before her child weds. That got me thinking about how I wish I had realized that, last year on the day after Thanksgiving, it was the last time all of my children would be here decorating together. The last trip where we all cut down our live Christmas tree. I felt this deep sense of loss, of not truly treasuring the moment as I wish I had or should have at the time. Not that I would have spent the day lamenting it would be the last time, only that, in hindsight, I wish I had not taken it for granted. The moments are the miracles. The moments are the gifts. Oh that we would wake up, open our eyes, and begin looking for the fingerprints of God all over our days. How much would our perspectives change! Our phones would become less engaging, and we would become more engaged with people and true connection. Our eyes would behold the majesty of a sunset amidst the clouds on a cold winter’s day. Our Good Father bestows abundant gifts that are personally chosen just for us. I am learning to delight in all of the seemingly minor blessings that would once upon a time go unnoticed. For example, I love deer. Growing up and living where I do, deer are fairly commonplace. But, it never fails. When I am in my kitchen and I see one traipse from the woods across our backyard, I am delighted. And I know that God did it just for me because it delights my heart so. Two nights ago, my dogs were acting silly, sillier than usual for them, and genuine laughter flowed from heart through my lips. God graced me with that moment. His creation delights me. He desires us to delight in Him, to delight in the wonder of His creation, never losing sight of Him as we enjoy it. Before this year, I had never given much attention to birds. For whatever reason this year, I decided I wanted to hang some bird feeders for our feathered friends that frequent our house, as it is set back into the woods. How much fun we have had with those this year! Each morning and throughout the day, I often lose minutes and catch myself standing at the door, observing their antics. And their magnificent beauty. We have a host of cardinals that visit daily. How vibrantly beautiful they are. I marvel at the intricacy of God’s creation. And I am amazed that not even a sparrow falls without His notice (Matthew 10:29). We have grossly underestimated the goodness and generosity of our God. In our modern culture, we don’t like to wait for things. We don’t spend time in nature like generations before us did. We spend so much time in cold and plastic worlds. But God is so rich in his blessings. We hear abundance and think of it materialistically. Material riches are nothing to our God. Oh that we soak and absorb in the abundant spiritual riches with which He has graciously blessed us. It is time for us to wake up, to look up, and to take notice. What better time of year to be reminded of the wonder of a moment than at Christmas?!

Mary, Jesus’ mother, she didn’t miss those moments. Imagine being the mother of God’s one and only Son. May we all take a lesson from Mary this Christmas season. There she was, this teenage girl, pregnant by the Holy Spirit, facing certain questions, judgments, and even humiliation. But she believed God. She was willing to be used by Him and was humbled that He would look upon her and choose her to be the mother of His Son. In the midst of the uncertain circumstances of her day, she did not lose heart. She did not lose sight of her role, though she certainly would have cause to. She gave birth to God’s Son in a stable, placed her baby boy in a manger, amongst the cows, the sheep, the camels, the donkeys, and whatever other types of livestock were present. Then shepherds visited them in the stable, telling them of the heavenly host of angels that appeared to them announcing the birth of the Messiah. What would Mary have been thinking? We don’t know exactly, but we do know that she treasured the events in her heart, pondered them, and meditated on them. Interestingly enough, that was not the only time we read of Mary responding this way. Fast forward to Jesus being 12 years old and visiting Jerusalem with His family for the annual Passover celebration. After the time of celebrating was complete, Jesus’ family trekked back home to Nazareth and on the third day, they returned to Jerusalem realizing Jesus had not been present in their traveling caravan. His parents found Him in the temple complex with the teachers. Jesus returned to Nazareth with them, after asking why they had searched for him because He had to be in His Father’s house. At the time, they didn’t understand His words, but Scripture tells us He was obedient to them. And again, we read in Luke 2:51 that “His mother kept all these things in her heart.” What that tells me about Mary is that she practiced this as a lifestyle. She treasured them in her heart when Jesus was a newborn, and 12 years later, we read she was still keeping these things in her heart. Mary treasured the moments. May we all be like Mary this holiday season and beyond. May this be the beginning of a new way to approach life, not just at Christmastime. May we wonder at the moments and treasure them in our hearts, recognizing them as the gifts they are from our heavenly Father above! And maybe, just maybe, when you see a cardinal, vibrantly red against a bleak backdrop, may you look up and smile, raising your arms heavenward in a posture of willingness to receive from God.

The Weary World Rejoices

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“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; a light has dawned on those living in the land of darkness.” Isaiah 9:2

Every year I am the embodiment of the crazed Christmas celebrator. I love all things Christmas. I love Christmas movies (shout out to Hallmark)! I love the sense of wonder and magic of the holiday season. I love the twinkling lights, the smell of fresh pine from our live trees. I love what Christmas is and who we are celebrating. I love Christmas music–especially the old Christmas hymns. The message of Christmas is so rooted in those songs. I will not admit when I may or may not start listening to the occasional Christmas song and I will not admit if it was prior to Halloween this year. I blame my son, Seth, for the early onset of listening to Christmas songs. The older I get, the more precious Christmas has become to me. Perhaps it is partly due to the sense of childlike wonder that accompanies the season, a reminder to reflect on the miracles of that long ago, first Christmas morning. Even more so, though, is that it is the gift of Jesus, light breaking through darkness, the Messiah come to save His people from their sins. Recently I was listening to one of the traditional Christmas carols, “O Holy Night,” and the lyrics struck me and resonated within my soul.

“A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices.”

The weary world rejoices. As I sang along with those words, I thought how much our world needs those words right now during this Christmas season. We are truly a weary world. I suspect that many of us would agree that 2020 has left us feeling weary, if nothing else. We are weary of life in quarantine, isolation, and social distancing. We are desperate for human connection. Weary indeed. But how many were weary even before the disappointment and disaster that has become known as the year 2020? Maybe it is weariness rooted in a health scare or long battle with a disease, affliction, or addiction. Maybe it is weariness from working a job that seems to be going nowhere and offers little fulfillment. Or it could be weariness from marital strife. Weariness from feelings of loneliness or doing life alone. Weariness over a financial situation. Weariness from a prayer that just has not yet been answered. Weariness of body, weariness of mind, weariness of spirit. But, on that first Christmas morn, rejoicing had come. Hope became manifested in the body of the baby Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Light broke through the darkness. The hope of Israel had come. The nation of Israel was well-versed in the concept of waiting. Prophecies foretold of the coming Messiah, but the people lived in anticipation and expectation of His arrival, never knowing when it would be. In our modern culture, we do not do waiting well. It is a lost art. Many of us no longer can stand more than a two-day wait for our Amazon packages to arrive. But for the nation of Israel, waiting was handed down from generation to generation. Imagine this, 400 years had passed since they had heard a God’s voice to them. In Old Testament times, God often spoke to His people through prophets. But for 400 years, after the prophet Malachi, God went silent. God was not inactive, but He was silent. Generations came and went with no word from the voice of God. And then, God broke His silence. His angel, Gabriel, appeared to the priest, Zechariah, and told him that he and his barren wife would conceive. The child would be born as the forerunner of the Messiah (Luke 1:5-25). At long last and after centuries of waiting, the weary world had reason to celebrate. God had broken His silence and the Messiah was coming. After the angel’s visit to Zechariah, he appeared to Mary and to Joseph, fulfilling the prophecy that “the virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). How weary must they have felt prior to the appearance of the angel. Perhaps their hope had begun to wane. Mine certainly would have. What would have made any of them think that their generation would finally be the one in which God would break His silence? Or that the Messiah would come? Oh how their weary world must have rejoiced with the thrill of hope.

We, too, have reason to feel the thrill of hope this Christmas. Our Messiah did come, did give us the greatest gift ever–His Spirit to indwell those who believe in Him now and eternal life with Him through the blood of Jesus Christ. We do not have to wait for the coming Savior because, with Jesus, came Immanuel, God with us. Yes, we may feel weary this year for a host of reasons. But we can rejoice. We should rejoice. Jesus Christ was the reason to hope and rejoice 2000 years ago, and He continues to be our reason to hope and rejoice, even in 2020. “This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5). Jesus summons us all those who are weary to come to Him. This Christmas, let us sing with hearts set on Him, “the thrill of hope the weary world rejoices.” Jesus is still the one who performs miracles. The greatest miracle of all is that He saved this weary sinner, and He loved me so much that He entered the world as a helpless baby boy and lived life in the tent of human flesh only to be tortured, crucified, and buried in my stead. Then, He rose again, conquering death so that I could have eternal fellowship with Him. He loves every one of us that much. That, my friend, is the reason for this weary world to rejoice and to hope expectantly for His return.

As we enter the season of Advent and celebrating Christmas, my hope and prayer for you is that you feel God’s presence, and with it, that you feel a sense of light breaking through your darkness. I pray that your weariness will abate and that you feel hopeful and expectant with joy and rejoicing. In the midst of it, be on the lookout for ways to be a source of Christmas light to other weary pilgrims on this journey of life.

Be blessed!

Thankful Hearts v. III

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“I will offer You a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and call on the name of Yahweh.” Psalm 116:17

How easy thankfulness can be when times are good. You know those times. The times when your heart is overflowing with gratitude because you feel abundantly overwhelmed by God’s goodness. I have those moments too. Sometimes they happen in the oddest of situations due to the strangest of things. I like those times. Partly because, in those moments, I am living fully aware of the graces I have been given. And partly because I like the way gratitude makes me feel. When I am thankful, my heart feels lighter, as though I have been freed from some unknown burden I had been carrying. Yet life isn’t always rainbows and sunshine. Life is hard. Many of us have felt that more so this year than any other. We reflect on last year at this time, and we think, “If only we knew. We had no idea what was coming. We never could have expected life as we know it to change.” I can say with all honesty that I didn’t realize just how much I took for granted. I never imagined that church doors would close for months, taking for granted each time I entered God’s house. I never imagined movie theaters would close down, taking for granted the pleasure of watching a movie on the big screen. I never imagined that my kids would not be allowed to attend school, taking for granted their access to human interaction, live instruction, and friendships. I never imagined that life as we knew it could change so abruptly, taking for granted what I had in those moments that have long since dissipated. What a tidal wave of emotions and experiences we all have encountered this year. I am reminded again of the Israelites wandering around in the desert, initially grateful for their freedom from the bondage and oppression of Egypt. But then their new reality set in, and they found themselves longing for the way life once was–they longed to return to the oppression that they knew. It’s easy for me to shake my head at them, both curious and frustrated at their response. But we also resemble them in so many ways. They grumbled and complained. They didn’t know where they were going, and when they reached their promised land, they let fear overtake them, ultimately preventing them from ever entering. God had provided for them food from heaven along the way. God provided guidance to them. He met their needs. He was offering them a better way of life, and they complained and grumbled. They quickly forgot how far God had brought them and from what He had freed them. In their minds, what they knew was more comfortable and it is what they longed for rather than anticipate where they were going.

What a parallel to life in 2020. I have found myself lamenting life right now, wishing for the way it once was. Yet how many blessings have been abundant this year? Has God not graced us with more of Himself in our lives during this pandemic? While life has changed for all of us, and while there is no going back, God is taking us to new places with Him. God has a destination in mind for us and it is for our good and His glory. 2020 did not occur by happenstance. It has always been slated on the kingdom calendar. We are faced with two options: look back with grumblings and yearnings for how life once was or look forward with the sacrifice of praise on our lips and the expectation of what God is doing and what is to come. I may miss a lot of things about life before 2020 but I don’t miss where I was in my faith. God has taught me much about Him and much about me during this year. To go back to before would lose the lessons learned.

As a nation, sadly, we have moved far away from God. But this time-out from the insanity of life has been a gift to us. We needed the reminder of what was most important in life: faith, family, loving God, and loving our neighbor. Busyness had become akin to godliness. Yet, the writer of Psalm 116 noted that sometimes, thanksgiving is the sacrifice we bring. We are such a culture of do, do, do, go, go, go that we have emphasized and idolized busyness. We mistakenly think that we must do for God and our relationship with Him can quickly become about works. Perhaps, God is asking us to slow down, to stop, and to offer Him the sacrifice of simple thanksgiving, even when life looks glum and bleak. From the belly of the fish, Jonah said, “but as for me, I will sacrifice to You with a voice of thanksgiving” (Jonah 2:9a). When Job learned of the great loss of his children, possessions, servants, flock, and herds, he stated, “The LORD gives, and the LORD takes away: Praise the name of Yahweh” (Job 1:21). Thanksgiving and praise were a sacrifice for both of these men. It cost them something to offer thanks to God in the midst of hardship. Jonah’s was at his own expense and Job’s was at the hand of Satan. Yet they were both sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving offered to God. Man’s natural inclination in those circumstances is not to be thankful. But when God is involved, we are able to look above our circumstances to the God of our circumstances and bow our heads, bend our knees, and praise Him. He welcomes, honors, and longs for our sacrifices of praise. It’s all about Him and for Him. The comfort is found in knowing that God acts for our good and His glory. Our suffering and our successes both serve a purpose. May we find the strength, the courage, and the humility to offer thanksgiving in both.

God has brought me a long way in 2020. He has turned my woes in rejoicing. The circumstances have not changed. But God has changed me. As this year draws to a close and we are offered a day to focus on thankfulness, may we look for more than the silver lining of 2020. May we ever be aware of the explosion of grace upon us through the person of Jesus Christ. He is the scarlet cord in the tapestry of our lives–may our eyes be on Him.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thankful Hearts v.II

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“Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights; with Him there is no variation or shadow cast by turning.” James 1:17

An attitude of thankfulness and gratitude begins in the heart. It is not something to be acknowledged and recognized merely because a holiday on the calendar reminds us of our need for it. Thanksgiving should be a year-long celebration, a lifelong pursuit. Often, I think we have it backwards. We feel thankful for our blessings in any given moment and we are struck afresh with a grateful heart. Perhaps, we need to readjust our thinking and let our thoughts guide our feelings rather than wait to feel thankful. Intentional thanksgiving. As I was walking my dogs the other day, I was overwhelmed by the beauty in nature surrounding us. My view was of the mountains, gloriously sprinkled with the colors of red, orange, yellow, and all things autumn. I was amazed anew by the artwork of the divine Creator. To behold such beauty. To behold such a beautiful Creator. I was wonderstruck by the intricate design of God’s creation. God is the Master Artist, the Original Artist. He made the colors. He made the trees. He made the mountains. He was present at their creation. Throughout Scripture we see that the heavens declare the glory of God. Psalm 148 calls for all of creation to praise the Lord. See what it says below:

Psalm 148
1 Hallelujah!
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
praise Him in the heights.
2 Praise Him, all His angels;
praise Him, all His hosts.
3 Praise Him, sun and moon;
praise Him, all you shining stars.
4 Praise Him, highest heavens,
and you waters above the heavens.
5 Let them praise the name of Yahweh,
for He commanded, and they were created.
6 He set them in position forever and ever;
He gave an order that will never pass away.

7 Praise the Lord from the earth,
all sea monsters and ocean depths,
8 lightning and hail, snow and cloud,
powerful wind that executes His command,
9 mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars,
10 wild animals and all cattle,
creatures that crawl and flying birds,
11 kings of the earth and all peoples,
princes and all judges of the earth,
12 young men as well as young women,
old and young together.
13 Let them praise the name of Yahweh,
for His name alone is exalted.
His majesty covers heaven and earth.
14 He has raised up a horn for His people,
resulting in praise to all His godly ones,
to the Israelites, the people close to Him.
Hallelujah!

We, too, are God’s creation. We, too, should offer Him our praise, and not merely circumstantial praise. The fact that so great a God is so intimately involved in our lives and has loved us so very much is cause enough for praise. I Thessalonians 5:18 instructs us to: “Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” We are not told to pick and choose when to be thankful or to wait for feelings of gratitude before we are thankful. Paul told the Thessalonians to give thanks in everything. As a believer of many years, I have heard various interpretations of this verse. Some say, we are not told be thankful for everything, especially the bad and painful things. They say we are to be thankful in those circumstances–highlighting the preposition used in the verse. Corrie ten Boom, however, followed the example of her sister by giving thanks for all things–even the fleas that infested them. Whether it is in all circumstances or for all circumstances is not really what matters most. What matters most is the One to whom our thanks is focused. We are giving thanks to Almighty God in all things, for all things, and He is our Sustainer. When He becomes the focus of our gratitude and thankfulness, the color of our circumstances fade in light of Him, in light of His grace. When we remember to give thanks, we must remember that our thankfulness is not about our gifts or our circumstances or our blessings or even our pain. Our thankfulness is about Jesus Christ. It’s not about us.

As I was pondering these things on that same day walking the dogs, God brought to mind the story of the ten lepers found in Luke 17:11-19. Jesus was traveling to Jerusalem when He encountered ten men struck with leprosy, and they were crying out for Jesus to have mercy on them. As was His way–and still is–He had mercy on them and sent them on their way, instructing them to show themselves to the priests. It was only while they were running to the priests did they receive healing. Yet only one realized that healing had occurred, and he returned to Jesus. “He fell facedown at His feet, thanking Him” (v.16). Only one returned to give thanks. Ten were healed. One returned. Only one remembered from whom the healing came. During my reflections on this story, I was convicted. Yes, I am working with Jesus to cultivate a thankful heart. I am intentionally counting my blessings, but how frequently do I, do we forget to say thank you to Jesus, the Giver of all the blessings? More often than not, we are like the other nine guys. We pray. We ask God for the needs of our heart, but when He answers and blesses us, we are quick to forget Him in the midst of it all. James, Jesus’ brother, wrote that every generous act and every good gift is from the Father of lights. God Himself bestows us with abundant goodness, abundant grace, abundant forgiveness, abundant life, and abundant blessing, as is His way. Even in the midst of the most fiery trials, Jesus stands with us, beside us, and never leaves us to face it alone. His Presence is our gift. I love the words of Asaph in Psalm 73:28: “But as for me, God’s presence is my good.” Do we live in such a way that our lives and our hearts and our thanks reflect that God’s presence is our good? Let it be so of me, Lord Jesus. The challenge before us is to be the one who returns with thanksgiving on our lips as we fall on our faces in the Presence of the Giver of all good gifts. Like His magnificent creation, we, too, should praise Him. Let us give thanks in all circumstances or for all circumstances, regardless of what they are. When we give thanks, let us acknowledge the One to whom is the praise given. May we never become so distracted by listing the blessings that we ignore the One who bestowed them. May our focus be on Jesus and that is reason enough to give thanks in everything, for everything, and through everything.

Friends, be blessed. Be the one to return, giving thanks, eyes on Jesus!