Saturday, October 8, 2011

Gratitude Comes Before Joy

A dear friend recently sent me this fabulous photograph.  I loved her unexpected gift, but it made me realize it's been nearly three months since I've written a new blog post.  I apologize for the delay ... time to move forward!
Maybe the reason I haven't written is that I've been absorbed in author Ann Voskamp's writing--her book, "One Thousand Gifts." Another dear friend gave it to me, and it has profoundly impacted my life.  It is both poetic and practical, a rare combination. I am prompted to ponder and practice a fresh way of living ... recognizing the events of each day as grace, and choosing gratitude in each one.  Realizing that a wholly good and loving God is the One who ultimately orders all aspects, I see that my definitions of "good" and "bad" are often too narrow.  In my first post to this blog, I talked about how the storm is the prequel to the rainbow ... without the rain and dark clouds, we would miss the glory.  If there was only sunshine, we would never see the magnificent wonder in the sky!

Ann Voskamp says that gratitude always comes before joy. Giving thanks precedes the miracle. The Bible portrays Jesus, sharing the Last Supper with His disciples even as His death loomed near, "When He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them ... " (Luke 21:19)  This is a pattern found throughout Scripture, Old and New Testament alike. When Job heard of the destruction of his property and family, he blessed the name of the Lord.  When Mary heard of her untimely pregnancy, she proclaimed the greatness of the Lord. When Paul and Silas were in prison, they sang praises to God.  And these are just a few of many, many examples.

I Thess. 5:16-18 describes an intriguing progression, "Rejoice ever more; Pray without ceasing; In everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."  Prayers of petition sandwiched between expressions of gratitude. I often pray for God's will in my life. Maybe that has less to do with changes in circumstances, and more with how I respond to what's going on around me right now, recognizing the gifts He offers in struggle as well as joy. His presence and peace, His power and purpose. In those realities I can always give thanks, and always find reason to rejoice.

God's thoughts are not my thoughts, and His ways are not my ways. They are immeasurably higher and better, far beyond what I can imagine or think. That's where I want to live. How about you? :)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Shades of Life

I love wide open spaces like this photo portrays.  I also revel in mountain grandeur and ocean glory. It makes me wonder ... why do these diverse natural scenes inspire such similar reactions? I'm reminded of the unity God displays each time He paints a rainbow in the sky. Embedded within the light we usually see as singular and white, there is an array of vibrant hues ... from bright yellow to smoky violet. In the same way, I see Him coloring my life in so many shades of experience and emotion. Just today, my surroundings ranged from a busy  university campus at noon, to a sparse nursing home room in the afternoon, to a lovely neighborhood park this evening. Emotions spanned joy, doubt, peace, fear, hope, anxiety, gratitude, and more. Yet I recognized that in and through it all, there was one purpose--to recognize and celebrate God's help and hand. He is the unchanging focus and center. James 1:17b describes Him as " ... the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow."  Psalm 139:12 says, "Even the darkness is not dark to You ... darkness and light are alike to You." No matter what shade my life is at any moment, the Lord promises to provide all the light and love I need to find my way.  Hallelujah.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Promises on Repeat

When I think about why God created rainbows in the first place--as a visual guarantee that He would never again flood the earth--I'm amazed at His generosity. He could have just spoken the promise, and it would eventually be written in Scripture, but He decided to paint a glorious splash of color in the sky that appears over and over again, generation after generation. And, we often get not only one, but two rainbows at the same time! It seems He knows that we need reminders, lots of them, to keep us focused on His Truth. In Isaiah 41, the Lord says, "Do not fear ... I will help you," three times in three verses (10, 13-14). In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus devotes ten full verses to "Do not worry." Although I typically find repetition annoying, in the Bible it is deeply reassuring. In times of anxiety, I find verse after verse telling me I can be at peace. If I am feeling down, Scripture provides so many examples and encouragements to give thanks and rejoice, infusing my heart with fresh hope. How about you? What are some of your favorite "promises on repeat"?  I hope you'll share them! **The photo above was taken at the Mike Silva International Evangelism Festival, in the Dominican Republic, just last week. Some 160,000 people heard the Gospel. Hallelujah!!!

Friday, June 24, 2011

For This Day

Rainbows remind me of a classic line from Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Life, "It's not about you."  I can't create a rainbow, nor can I determine when or where it will appear. All of that is strictly up to God. And for some reason, He's decided that rainbows are only momentary wonders ... seemingly random and fleeting in duration.  They appear to have no rhyme nor reason, yet they are intentionally orchestrated for His good purposes.  In a similar way, I am learning afresh that He is arranging my days, one at a time, according to His divine design. I may have some influence on how situations play out, but ultimately it is up to Him.  And in His timeframe, grace and help are granted for each day ... no more and no less. I often find myself resisting God's distribution schedule, worrying and begging for provision reserved for His perfect timing. In God Works the Night Shift, author Ron Mehl wisely observes,"Why do we feel as though we don't have enough strength or emotional energy or wisdom or courage to face the day before us? Why do we feel empty-handed ... and panicky? Perhaps it's because we're trying to cover yesterday and tomorrow with today's provision."  In the Old Testament, God provided His people with only enough manna for each day. In the New Testament, Jesus' model prayer included, "Give us this day our daily bread."  The Lord continues to allow circumstances that require me to trust Him for this day, and believe He will make a way for the next one, too. It is not an easy process, but I know it is good.  He continues to keep His promises, right on time.

"But as for me, I trust in You O Lord. I say, 'You are my God.' My times are in Your hand." Psalm 31:14-15a

Monday, June 13, 2011

Choosing to Chase

The title for this blog site came to me after an unusual outing.  It was one of those evenings when the eastern horizon looked threatening, while the western sky radiated golden sunlight. Conditions seemed just right for a rainbow, but I couldn't see one from my house. I decided to get in my car and drive to higher ground. I needed to gain a broader vista. About five minutes into my journey, I saw a vibrant arch of color in the distance.  My "rainbow chase" was a success!  Travelling home, I realized that if I had stayed within my nearby surroundings, I would have completely missed that marvelous moment.  It's been almost a month since then, yet I find myself still thinking about it.  I recognize that my vision is often so narrow that I fail to see the glory and faithfulness of God. I dwell in a "mental cubicle," defined by personal concerns.  Not that it is wrong to care about those issues, but I can easily allow them to fill me with anxiety and rob me of joy. The Lord calls me to look beyond what is immediate, to see a bigger picture, seeking Him above it all. I love the example of Psalm 121:1-2, 

"I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from where shall my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth." 

God invites me to know His goodness, but I must choose to make it my focus. I want to align my perspective with His, to see the past tunnel vision that limits my view.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Glory in the Darkness

 A few weeks ago, at the end of an especially tiring day, I opened my front door and was stunned to behold a full rainbow, bold in color and dazzling in brilliance. I literally stopped breathing for a moment, then found myself smiling ear to ear.  While my neighborhood looks different than the one pictured here, the blackness of the sky was just about the same. Then it hit me. Without the darkness, I wouldn't see the glory. That is the lesson God is teaching me right now ... to look beyond what seems scary & unknown, to that which is certain and defined by His Word. He calls me to rejoice in the rainbow, choosing to let its radiance outshine the shadows of life's ever changing challenges.

"We walk by faith, not by sight. We are of good courage." 2 Cor. 5:7-8a