Thursday, February 25, 2010

Our training ground...

So often life's difficulties get us down and discourage us. But I wonder...

Would they be easier if we fully realized that today is the training ground for glorious tomorrows? If we could see everything that God sees...if we could see ourselves standing on top of an awesome mountain that stands in our future...would that keep the cliff we're struggling up right now from discouraging us?

Did the marines who planted that flag on the top of Iwo Jima finally understand why their training had to be so difficult? Do the Olympians that stand atop the medal podium feel that the years of pain and exhaustion and discouraging moments were worth it? What about the Olympians who never made it to the podium? They still got to walk in the Opening Ceremonies. They still get to bring home the glory of being an Olympian. In fact, I'm sure that thousands of those walking in the Opening Ceremonies knew they would not stand on a podium and feel a medal around their neck, yet they considered their training worth it anyway.

What about those who didn't make it to the Olympics, but who successfully made it to their country's national competition? What about those who successfully made it to state competitions? Or how about those never went to any competition, yet continue to train, just because they feel better, and it lowers their stress levels?

In sports and in the military, it seems rather obvious that, yes, the prize is worth the sacrifice and struggle of training. It also seems obvious that, the tougher the training is, the greater the prize will be.

So why is it so hard to remember this in the training ground of life? Why do we not always trust our Coach? Why is it difficult to believe that the training He's putting us through is necessary for the prize?

Perhaps it's because the prize doesn't seem as tangible. Perhaps this is a new-to-me level of depth in the verse this blog is named after: "I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe."

Because we need to know the prize we are training for. We need to see and know that it is worth everything our Coach asks us to work through.

Do you know what prize you are training for?


Some more additions to my list of 1000 gifts (even though it's not Monday).

45. That God is more powerful than me

46. Words with which to praise Him

47. That God's righteousness is not anywhere near the same level that mine is

48. That His faithfulness exceeds my own and

49. That His faithfulness is not dependent upon my own

50. That He always knows exactly what He's doing, even when I don't have a clue

51. The hyacinth beginning to bloom on my dining room table

52. The puppy that looks at me with love and devotion

53. Warm lemon zinger tea

54. Housecoats

Monday, February 22, 2010

Thanking Him for...

holy experience

This is my first Monday blog post dedicated to being thankful. Last Thursday's blog post explained 1000 gifts, so read that first, if you want to. Then join your own thanks to mine--on your blog, in your own private list, or in the comments here.

Now it's my turn to continue counting 1000 gifts that my Lord and Savior has given me...

#11. The sunshine that we got to enjoy over the weekend.

#12. Today's rain

#13. Something very specific and special about my dh. God knew what He was about when He brought us together.

#14. The music on the 1000 gift website that is inspired and beautiful and peaceful and just makes me want to rest in God's presence.

#15. Moments in the night when I felt His presence

#16. Yesterday's worship

#17. The self-discipline in schoolwork that my children have learned

#18. God's quiet whispers that I am struggling to hear

#19. Lidj

#20. Mom

#21. God's favor, though I'm still waiting to discover its full meaning

#22. My littlest brother who, for some inexplicable reason, loves to listen to me talk, and never seems to get tired of Internet chatting with me

#23. The way my daughter would rather read snuggled up against me than anywhere else

#24. Winter

#25. Spring

#26. Mom Mom

#27. Melting icicles

#28. The $5 blanket that is wrapped around my shoulders

#29. Silence

#30. The poem Ann started her own 1000 gifts post today with. I hope she doesn't mind if I share it:

do not let anything keep you
from flinging out into the streets
to pant it in the marketplace
the back alleys, the front fields,
across the crackling wires

that you have seen, yes, you have seen,
and with these very eyes,
and you hear it even now, how
the rocks cry out

and you cry it too, stammering it, stumbling it
into every willing ear
that you opened your eyes one day and ran right into Him
and He ravishes and He kisses wounds and He serenades
and Beauty has branded you,
marked you with awe

and awe is why I grab the pen and I make the record,
and Beauty is why I scratch it down late, day after day,
and He makes the pulse race and brushes the tear clear and cups the life tender
and this is why I hurtle over the high fear
and disparaging words can't keep me and splaying shortcomings can't keep me and illness, work, obligations can't keep me,
and He is my blaze and He is my burn and and I cannot be muzzled because what can separate from Him and the telling once the eyes have seen?

Could there be anything greater than this,
the bearing witness
to the sighting?

I give testimony.

And I cannot

-Ann Voskamp

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The power of thanksgiving...

The Bible is full of scriptures that hint about how powerful praise and thanks are...that "attitude of gratitude" that we've all heard about. There are verses that say that the lack of thanks leads to unrighteousness.

God ordained sacrifices of thanksgiving, which, interestingly enough, were tied into peace offerings. There's a connection, for Paul said that our supplications must be offered with Thanksgiving if we want the peace of God to rule in our hearts. In fact all prayer is to be given in thanks!

God even said that the sacrifice of thanksgiving was "so that you may be accepted."

All too often, though, we allow ourselves to forget to stop and thank God. Or maybe we think about it on Sunday and follow the prompting of our worship leader to thank Him. But that's not thanking Him in everything. That's not even following Daniel's example and stopping three times a day to pray and give thanks.

Today I discovered a "Gratitude Community" which pretty much began and grew up on accident. (Not really. I'm sure the Holy Spirit knew exactly what He was doing.)

The goal for each person is to build up a list of 1000 gifts from God, for which to give Him thanks. You often we write lists of gifts we want. But this woman was inspired to write a list of gifts she already had.

Some are keeping their lists personal and private, while others are blogging them. The woman who started it writes that it "changed her life." I can well believe it!

I want to join this community, both for my own sake, and for the purpose of making it clear that this blog...this place where hope a place of praise. A place where God gets the glory. A place where we remember to thank Him in everything.

Monday is the "official" day for blogging your praises, but I'm starting today. Hopefully I'll quickly be able to get into the habit of adding more to my list every Monday, but perhaps you'll see additions to the list tagged onto the end of other blog posts as well.

holy experience

1. Salvation, both for eternity, and for every moment of every day. Salvation from fear and anger. From depression and despair. From selfishness and pride and all the things that I am still discovering pull me down.

2. Hope. For God is my eternal, never-changing Hope, no matter what comes against me.

3. The Internet. Some might laugh, but without it I would not get the chance to discover just how many thousands of people are serving my Lord alongside me.

4. Music. I cannot imagine my life without music. Without anointed praise songs. Without the haunting strains of a violin and the gentle whispers of a piano. Without the heartbeat of the drums and the pulsing of the electric guitars in my church's worship service.

5. My hands. So much of my life revolves around the use of my hands. I play the music I love so well. I type and write. I create things that soften my home and show others that I love them. I serve my family and my Lord. God asked me once if I would give Him my hands--give the use of them to Him. Was I willing to let Him take them from me, if He so chose? It was one of the most difficult things He has ever asked me to do. But when I finally surrendered them...when my heart finally reached the place where I knew I would still love Him if He took them...He gave them back and told me that He'd placed healing in my hands. I long to see that healing flow. May the songs I play be filled with the healing power of His anointing. May the words I write come from His heart that they may touch and heal broken hearts. And may the things my hands do for my family heal my own heart and cure it of the complaining I am tempted to do over those very things.

6. My family. I am truly blessed.

7. My home. It's not my dream home. Yet my dream God lives inside of me, and if my home is His, then it is glorious!

8. The healing He did on my husband's hand two days ago.

9. My church, for they are my spiritual family. I am blessed to serve with them.

10. This laptop that I'm writing on, which is a gift from my husband, but also from God. It allows me to write in the warmth of my living room, rather than the cold of the unheated basement (where the old computer makes its home).

Anyone want to thank Him with me? Start your own list in one of those old notebooks you have laying around. Start blogging your gifts. Or just post a few things here in the comments that you praise God for! Testify of His goodness in your life!

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Favor means...

I remember the first time I discovered what "favor" means. I was told that it means someone is smiling upon you. If you have favor with God, then God was smiling upon you and blessing you. If you have favor with men, then people just want to do things for you. So if I'm waiting in line at the grocery store and the woman in front of me with the full cart invites me to go in front of her, that's favor. If a doctor's office reduces my bills, that's favor.

But recently, before Christmas, our radio station was telling the Christmas story. I was hanging Christmas cards, I think, when they read these words from Luke 1:30: And the angel said, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God."

I froze, for in that instant I thought about how Mary's life was different from all the other women around her--women who apparently hadn't favor with God.

Mary had to endure the stigma of being an unwed mother.
She had to flee the country because the king wanted to kill her son.
She had to watch her son die the most awful death imaginable.
She had to watch at least one more of her sons die (James), because he followed her first son.

To put it bluntly, Mary's life was far from easy! And why? Because she found favor with God!

I have to admit...until that moment, I always assumed that "finding favor with God" was synonymous with "my life getting better." And that, of course, meant that my life should get easier. Didn't it?

I remember turning around to my sister, who was visiting, and saying, "You know, finding favor with God doesn't necessarily mean your life gets easier, does it?"

She looked at me, and I think it struck her the same way, because she got that look in her eyes, and she said something like, "Lots of people in the Bible found favor with God. And I don't think any of them had easy lives."

Noah found favor with God...and then had to live through years of ridicule while he built an ark, and then had to endure an entire year in that ark with the animals, and then had to start his life over from scratch, completely.

Joseph found favor with God...and was sold into slavery, falsely accused, thrown into jail, and forgotten.

Moses found favor with God...and he had to deal with a million cantankerous, complaining, rebellious people. And he had to do it for forty years because of the people's sin!

Daniel surely found favor with God, though it doesn't say those specific words...yet he was carried away into captivity as a youth (and mostly likely never saw his parents and family again), rounded up under sentence of death not long after because of a king's crazy ideas and other people's failure to please the crazy king, had the kingdom he'd become a leader in fall and the city captured (which couldn't have been an enjoyable experience), was surrounded by peers who were so insanely jealous of him that they plotted and succeeded in getting him thrown into the lion's den (which, at that moment, would have made me doubt that I had God's favor), and who knows what else he went through.

Jeremiah must have found favor with God, in order to be chosen as a youth and told that he was being given the power to overthrow kingdoms...yet his job was to continually preach to people who ignored him, he was thrown into a well, he had the work he'd slaved over destroyed, he was carried away into captivity, as well as a lot more that I just can't think of at the moment.

And, of course, Jesus found favor with God, yet his life was full of temptation, persecution, never being home, knowing that his life was sought...and of course, a death so terrible that I cannot really imagine it.

All of that leaves me wanting to know what it really does mean to find favor with God, because it's obviously somewhat different from when He gives us favor with men.

Honestly, I feel like I'm missing something really important here. There appears to be a piece of the puzzle that I just don't see. And I want to see it. I want to know what God's favor actually means.

What do you think it means to find favor with God? And after reading through the list above, do you still want God's favor on your life?
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