Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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Infinitely Large, Intimately Small

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Stepping out onto the sunlit terrace, it took a moment to realize the intricacy of the vast wall before me. A sea of green in countless shades fluttered in the bay breeze. Moving closer to the Living Wall at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, I marveled at the thirty-foot high, 4400 square foot expanse in front of me. It was impossible to count the number of different plants that were growing out of tiny fist-sized outcroppings in the concrete wall. The more I looked, the more amazed I became. Stepping closer, I began snapping close-up photos to capture the stunning array of shapes, sizes and shades of green.

Eventually, my friends and I moved on to enjoy man-made works of art inside, but I couldn’t stop thinking about that wall and God’s infinite creativity even in the simplest things. He had a whole world to build yet he chose to make leaves in more colors and shapes than I could count. That’s pretty awe-inspiring and more than a little humbling.

The God of the universe sees the big picture and cares about the smallest detail simultaneously. He can be attentive and engaged with every person that calls upon him. We never have to wait our turn, take a number or be placed on “hold.” We can pray about anything and everything, trusting that he listens and cares because we matter to him.

 “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31, NIV)

Sometimes when I feel overwhelmed, I overlook God’s attentiveness. I try to work things out on my own strength and wisdom and I end up anxious, exhausted and no less burdened than I was before. I forget the invitation Jesus extends to us:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:27-29, NIV)

When I accept this offer, I find peace even in the midst of the challenges I’m facing.  The best part is that God is strong enough to carry my burdens, yours and everyone else’s simultaneously. Not only that, he loves it when we ask him. And he does all of this while he holds the world together, without overlooking a single detail.

It’s hard to comprehend that God is infinitely big and infinitesimally small. The Living Wall exemplifies this paradox so beautifully. From a distance it’s just a massive expanse of green, but the closer you get, the more you realize its subtle nuances and minute details. The more you look at it, the more beautiful and complex it becomes.

Jason Gray’s latest song “Sparrows” reminds me to appreciate our God that is exponentially larger than we can comprehend. At the same time, he is intimately involved with the smallest details in our lives and in the wide world all around us. Click on the link to enjoy the song and be encouraged today.

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Communicating Your Gratitude

Brandishing an unspent gift card, my son looked at me with a gleam in his eye. “Can I bring this to buy a Lego set when we go on errands today?”

Curious, I asked, “Where did you get that card?”

“Four months ago, for my birthday!” He answered before adding, “Don’t worry, Mom, I already wrote a thank you note for it a long time ago.”

If there is one thing my boys know about me, it’s that I am adamant about showing gratitude—whether it is for a gift we’ve received, an act of kindness someone has done for us, or time spent on our behalf. They learned long ago that we would not leave a sports practice or a game until they had shaken hands with the coach and said “thank you.” Although it’s human nature to focus only on what we’ve received, we try to help our kids remember the giver too.

Expressing gratitude is the best way to combat the entitlement so prevalent in our culture today. It reminds us that the many blessings we have are not rights, but privileges. A grateful heart enables us to give and receive God’s grace more freely because we recognize it is a gift we don’t deserve. Learning to be thankful in all circumstances also helps us to keep our eyes on God, no matter what we are facing. Gratitude prevents bitterness and negativity from taking up residence in our minds. Maybe that’s what the apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote:

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, NIV)

The Thanksgiving season provides an annual opportunity to recognize our many blessings instead of just taking them for granted. But is just feeling thankful enough? What about acknowledging those who deserve our thanks, starting with God?

“Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:16-17, NIV)

I would be bothered if my boys received a gift in the mail, opened it and then held it up and said “I’m thankful for this,” but never bothered to tell the person who sent it. The giver would have no idea that they appreciated what they received. And yet, there are many things we regularly enjoy or appreciate without taking time to express gratitude.

Feeling thankful should prompt us to communicate how we feel. There are little things we take for granted every day that repeat so frequently we may forget we’re thankful for them. In that spirit, I’d like to share a few of the things that are part of daily life that I’m thankful for this year:

-The spiritual gifts God has given me to use for the sake of others. I have discovered more joy in the past three years than I’ve ever experienced before as I’ve had new opportunities to share the gifts of encouragement, teaching and shepherding. These gifts would be worthless if I kept them to myself, but are invaluable and infinite when shared with others.

-My husband’s constant support and encouragement. I couldn’t write, speak, teach or pour into others to the extent that I do if my husband wasn’t providing for our family and supporting me emotionally and spiritually. We are a team, always looking for ways to further God’s kingdom together and individually. Never once has he questioned the amount of time I spend writing, studying or connecting with people. He cheers me on every step of the way and partners with me whenever the opportunity arises.

-My teenage boys who still talk to me and spend time with my husband and me. They delight, amaze and amuse me almost daily with their antics, their stories and their insightful observations. I thank God for the relationships we have and for His obvious presence in our household.

So how about you? Can you make some time this week to identify a few things in your daily life that make you thankful? Start by telling God. Then, tell the people closest to you that you are most likely to take for granted.

For inspiration, click on the link to enjoy Chris Tomlin’s song of praise, “Good, Good Father.” It’s a great reminder of the most basic truths about God that we sometimes take for granted. Happy Thanksgiving!

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Bitter or Better

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The people were parched and weary. After three days of walking in the Wilderness of Shur, they still hadn’t found water. Finally discovering a small spring, they stooped eagerly to scoop the refreshing liquid into their dehydrated bodies, not caring if it ran down their beards or soaked their dirty robes. But, there was a problem: “they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter. Therefore the name of it was called Marah. And the people complained against Moses, saying, ‘What shall we drink?’ So he cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree. When he cast it into the waters, the waters were made sweet.” (Exodus 15:23b-25a, NKJV)

The Israelites’ first reflex always seemed to be negative, despite the miracles they witnessed and God’s constant provision for them.  Any time they experienced a difficulty they reacted with grumbling. The water they couldn’t drink at Marah was bitter, just like their attitudes.

Conversely, we see God demonstrating His patience with them each time Moses cried out with humility asking for help. God took their bitter water and made it sweet. There is no mention of the Israelites showing gratitude to God for performing this miracle.

This story illustrates a truth we can apply to our own lives: living through seasons of hardship can make us bitter people or better people. The choice is ours, but the decision affects all the people in our lives. Each stop on a journey through the wilderness presents a new opportunity to learn, grow and trust God, if we are willing. Priscilla Shirer explains, “This is what God does when we cry out to Him, displaying our vulnerability during seasons of distress and giving Him our need for emotional healing in the face of disappointment. He is the One who can turn the bitter into the sweet.” (One in a Million, p. 65)

I can think of no better example of God making bitter things sweet than Corrie Ten Boom’s classic tale The Hiding Place. It takes place during World War II and tells the story of two unmarried Dutch sisters in their mid-fifties who are sent to Nazi concentration camps after being caught hiding Jews. There are times when I’ve been reading the story aloud to my son that I’ve paused to blink back tears and swallow the lump in my throat. I’m in awe of the example set by Corrie and Betsie Ten Boom.

At one point near the end of the book, the sisters are moved to Ravensbruck, a notorious women’s extermination camp in Germany. As they are ushered into their quarters in Barracks 28, they discover a cavernous room housing four times as many women as it was designed to hold. Corrie describes the scene: “Our noses told us, first, that the place was filthy: somewhere plumbing had backed up, the bedding was soiled and rancid. Then as our eyes adjusted to the gloom we saw that there were no individual beds at all, but great square piers stacked three high, and wedged side by side, and end to end with only an occasional narrow aisle slicing through.” (The Hiding Place p. 208)

As the sisters attempt to settle into their new living situation, Corrie laments to her sister, “Betsie, how can we live in such a place?” It takes Corrie a moment to realize Betsie’s answer is a prayer: “Show us. Show us how.” (p. 208) Within moments Betsie remembers a familiar passage of Scripture and realizes it is the answer to her prayer:  “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all. See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone, but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14-18 NKJV)

The two sisters marvel at how fitting the passage from First Thessalonians is for their situation and feel it is God’s Word meant especially for them. Rather than being bitter about their horrific circumstances, they begin to thank God, naming specific things for which they can be grateful. First they thank Him that their captors have not separated them and that they are able to endure their trials together. Next, they thank Him for the tiny New Testament they were able to smuggle into the camp. They also thank Him for their cramped living quarters, which will give them ample opportunities to share the hope of His Word with their bunkmates. However, when Betsie suggests they even thank God for the fleas in the bunks, Corrie says “There’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.” (p. 210).

Their first night in the barracks, the two sisters listen in distress as “among exhausted, ill-fed people, quarrels [erupt] constantly.” Betsie clasps Corrie’s hand and prays: “Lord Jesus, send Your peace into this room. There has been too little praying here. The very walls know it. But where You come Lord, the spirit of strife cannot exist…” (p. 211).

Over the subsequent weeks the sisters begin sharing the hope of God’s love with anyone who wants to listen.  They hold nightly worship services where women gather around their bunk eagerly awaiting the next portion of the New Testament they’ll read aloud. The atmosphere in the barracks slowly changes as Betsie’s prayer is answered and the women replace their quarreling with love and support.

The two sisters are cautious about advertising their nightly “church service,” fearing they’ll be found out by their Nazi captors. However, they grow bolder as the days pass and they realize the bunkroom never seems to be patrolled. They are mystified but grateful for their freedom in the barracks.

One day, Betsie discovers the reason none of the Nazi guards will enter their quarters: it’s because of the fleas. Corrie says “My mind rushed back to our first hour in this place. I remembered Betsie’s bowed head, remembered her thanks to God for creatures I could see no use for.” (p. 220) Realizing that God deserves thanks even for the fleas leaves Corrie in awe of His attentiveness to every detail.

The Ten Boom sisters could waste their time lamenting their circumstances and being angry with God for allowing them to be arrested for their good works. Yet, they choose to thank Him in the midst of their trials. Rather than turning inward to fixate on self-pity or simple survival, they choose to participate in expandiing God’s kingdom in a place that would rival hell itself.   They care for the physical, spiritual and emotional needs of their fellow prisoners. They even pray for their ruthlessly cruel guards.

It’s humbling and inspiring to read about these two women. What an incredible impact they had because they chose to become better people instead of bitter ones in the midst of their trials.

Between the example of the Israelites and the Ten Booms, it seems clear that grumbling and negativity lead to an attitude of bitterness that infects others. Conversely, gratefulness and a positive perspective are blessings to others and expand our opportunities to have a positive impact on them. The Apostle Paul describes this in his letter to the Philippians:

“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation. Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.” (Philippians 2:14-16, NIV)

In spite of their horrific wilderness experience, Betsie and Corrie Ten Boom shined like stars in their generation as they held firmly to the word of life. I’d like to do the same in my generation, how about you?

Laura Story’s Song “Make Something Beautiful” captures the essence of letting God use our hardships to honor Him and bless others. Click on the link below to enjoy the song.

Shirer, Priscilla; One in a Million: Journey to Your Promised Land; Lifeway Press; 2009, 2014.

Ten Boom, Corrie (with Elizabeth and John Sherrill); The Hiding Place; Chosen Books; 1971, 1984, 2006.


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Grateful, Thankful, Blessed

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Preparing my heart for the upcoming Thanksgiving celebration, I’ve been reading through a familiar Psalm lately:

“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth

Worship the Lord with gladness;

come before him with joyful songs.

Know that the Lord is God.

It is he who made us, and we are his;

we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving

and his courts with praise;

give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;

his faithfulness continues through all generations.” (Psalm 100, NIV)

Although I’ve read it many times, a few things struck me in new ways (I love that about the Bible). Maybe some of these things will resonate with you too.

-It’s important to recognize truth about God’s character:

A big part of worshiping God and being thankful involves knowing who He is and what He’s done. Reminding ourselves of God’s attributes makes it possible for us to be even more thankful. The psalm reminds us of the foundation of our faith: He is good, His love endures forever and His faithfulness continues through all generations.

-It’s important to understand God’s superiority as well as His loving care:

The psalm points out that He is God, He made us, and we are His.   We are the sheep of His pasture, which means He watches over us and cares for us. Everything we have is from Him and we would not exist without Him.

-It’s important to approach God with a thankful heart:

Entering into God’s presence with a thankful heart enables us to draw near and praise Him. Sometimes I’m tempted to start my time alone with Him by asking Him to meet my needs first, but this psalm reminds me to start with praise and thanksgiving. Often when I do this, it gives me new perspective about what I need. Praising and thanking Him first puts both of us in our proper places- it elevates God and humbles me.

On my birthday last year my husband and sons gave me a throw pillow with the words “Grateful, Thankful, Blessed” printed on it. The pillow sits on my family room couch and reminds me daily to reject the attitude of entitlement that has infected our culture. When we believe we “deserve” things, we become self-centered and superior. Having a thankful heart requires humility. Seeing the words “Grateful, Thankful, Blessed” when I start my day encourages me not to take the many blessings I have for granted and to be grateful for all that God has done for me.

In light of this, I chose a few phrases from Psalm 100 that caught my attention and personalized them:

-God made me, which means He gave me my intellect, my gifts, my abilities, my body, and my personality. If I’m ever tempted to feel prideful or critical about any of these things, I have a distorted view of myself and am being ungrateful to God.

-I am His. I can find peace knowing that He holds me in His hands, even when I feel anxious or overwhelmed. He is with me and He is sovereign.

-His faithfulness continues through all generations. He was there with my parents and grandparents and He is there for my family now. He will be with my kids and their children after them. His faithfulness has no limitations and is not bound by time or place.

As you read Psalm 100, what phrases can you apply to your life? Can I encourage you to make it personal before you devote time to shopping, preparing food, or setting the table? Thanksgiving kicks off a holiday season of busyness, but don’t let the true meaning get buried under your “to do” list.

Here are a few ideas to think about before you pray your own psalm of thanksgiving:

What qualities of God’s character are you thankful for today?

What comforts you about knowing you are His?

How has he shown His faithfulness to you?

Is there anything you’ve been taking for granted that you can thank God for now?

For further inspiration, click on the link to hear Matt Redman’s song “10,000 Reasons.”

Happy Thanksgiving!


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God + Me = A Majority

 

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The music from my car’s radio turned to static as I wound my way through the Santa Cruz Mountains on Highway 17. I clicked the knob off and breathed a prayer: God, thanks for being with me wherever I go. I’ve prayed a lot about this trip and you know what I need, so I’m not going to keep saying it. Please help me to be silent now and just feel your presence.

Half an hour later I was pulling into a parking space at the conference center. My heart thudded in my chest as I walked past a cheerful sign saying “Welcome Mount Hermon Christian Writers.” I chastised myself silently: Yesterday you spoke to a room full of women and assured them that “God + Me = A Majority.” Do you believe that’s true in your own life today?

It was my first time to the conference and I’d felt some dread in the months leading up to it.   I was nervous about spending four nights away from my family with several hundred writers, literary agents, editors and publishers. Knowing I was a rookie and that I didn’t know a soul attending didn’t help. To say it was a step out of my comfort zone would be an understatement.

I found reassurance reminding myself that I wasn’t alone and never would be. I tried to let the title of my talk travel from my head to my heart: “God + Me = A Majority.” I repeated the line several times to grasp its truth. God came up the mountain with me. He would also meet me there and connect me to others who knew Him. I could trust Him because His promises were true.

I thought about all of the people I’d referenced in my talk the day before. Throughout the Bible God promised many people He would be with them: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Joseph, Jeremiah and Gideon—to name a few. In Hebrews we find this promise for all who follow Jesus: “God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’” (Hebrews 13:5b)

The only reason we can claim this promise is that Jesus made it possible for us. His death on the cross allows us to have direct and permanent access to God. As we celebrate Holy Week, it seems only fitting to consider the price Jesus paid so that we will never be forsaken by God.

While He walked the earth, Jesus took great comfort in knowing His Father was with Him. On the night before He was crucified, He told His disciples in the garden: “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.” (John 16:32) He knew His closest friends would desert Him in His hour of greatest need, yet He took comfort knowing His Father was there with Him.

A day later, Jesus had been arrested, beaten and nailed to a cross.   His pain was not only physical, but also spiritual and emotional. This was the only time in His earthly life He could not find comfort in His Father’s presence. As He suffered in agony, He cried out the words of David from Psalm 22 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The Wycliffe Bible Commentary explains: “The Father withdrew from communion with the Son. No longer did he evidence his love toward the son. Instead Christ had become the object of the Father’s displeasure, for he was the sinner’s substitute. Christ became ‘sin for us’ and a holy God cannot look with favor upon sin.” (Wycliffe Bible Commentary, 1990 edition, p. 1024)

Jesus took the punishment that we deserved so that we never have to experience being forsaken by God. The very thing that comforts us most as Christians was denied to Him.

Thinking about this makes my heart swell with gratitude. His sacrifice on the cross not only enables us to have eternal life, it also allows us to have the comfort of knowing He walks with us daily.

Knowing this truth should make us passionate about sharing it with others. How could we keep it to ourselves when there is a world desperately in need of hope?  One of the best ways we can show Jesus gratitude for His work on the cross is by being lights for Him.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

There are so many different ways we can do this with our actions, attitudes and words. Our neighborhoods, schools and secular workplaces provide abundant opportunities to shine for Jesus.  When we help an underserved population locally or overseas, we are bringing light to darkness. Sometimes it can be as simple as showing love and grace when we’re tempted to dish out judgment and criticism. The options are limitless. God gives us the gifts we need and equips us to bring light to the darkness. Our job is to step out obediently to use what He’s given us. This might sound a little intimidating, but we can rest assured that He will be with us and that “God + Me = A Majority.”

Click on the link below to be inspired by Christy Nockels’ song “Life Light Up.”

If you missed my talk at Focused Living, you can access it through my Facebook page:  Marybeth Mc Cullum – Author (due to privacy settings I am unable to post it here)

(The title “God + Me = A Majority” was borrowed from an episode of Focus on the Family’s Adventures in Odyssey).

 

 

 


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When Praying Expectantly Wears Thin

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Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.  –Proverbs 13:12

California is having its driest winter in the state’s 164-year history.  While I know this is bad news for our water supply, I must admit I’m enjoying the dry days, warm weather and clear blue skies.   I can’t make it rain, so I might as well enjoy the sunshine.  Who could blame me?

Recently our family took advantage of a warm and sunny Saturday to go mountain biking together.  My younger son had been asking to ride on a specific trail that he spied a while back, so we thought it was the perfect day to try it.  He knew that getting to the fun downhill part would require quite a bit of hill climbing first.  I was pretty impressed he wanted to do such a challenging ride.  At first the promise of that grand finale on the second half buoyed his spirits as we started our ascent.  Pretty soon, however, he started falling behind the rest of us. The excitement for the descent evaporated as his muscles burned and his lungs gasped for air.  When he finally reached the top, he’d lost all desire to finish the ride and wanted to turn around and go back the way we came.

I cheered for him as he walked his bike up to where we were waiting and reminded him of his goal.  “You can’t stop now, buddy!  The trail you’ve been waiting for is coming soon.  Just two more small hills and we’ll be on the fun part.  You can do it!”  I was trying hard to sound positive and encouraging, but he wasn’t buying it.

“This ride is stupid and I don’t want to do it anymore,” he grumbled as he dropped his bike to the ground and sat hunched at a picnic table nearby.

He’d been waiting expectantly for what he thought would be a fun ride, but the journey there was harder than he anticipated.  Maybe you can relate.  We all have those times when our enthusiasm begins to wear thin the longer our expectations go unmet.  I couldn’t help thinking about this as I did the lesson for Week 4, Day 4 of Faithful, Abundant, True:  Three Lives Going Deeper Still.  I love that Priscilla Shirer is encouraging believers to pray big prayers.  She says  “Knowing God and the resources He’s made available to you … changes not only how you pray but what you feel free to ask God for.  You will begin to realize that you don’t have to pray small or with reservation.  You can ask the Lord for exactly what you desire no matter how outlandish or impossible it may appear to be”  (p.92).

I wholeheartedly believe Priscilla’s words to be true.  God can do anything we ask.  However, I also know firsthand that “whether God moves is a question of His sovereignty, not His ability.  What He does is His business.  Believing that He can is our business”  (p.94).  Sometimes praying expectantly gets tiring, maybe even a little discouraging.  Waiting with no clear sense of when a prayer might be answered is hard work when we try to do it on our own strength.  Over the years of waiting for different prayers to be answered, I’ve learned some things that have helped me not to lose hope.  Below are a few thoughts and verses on how to keep your focus wear it needs to be as you pray expectantly and wait for God to reveal His plans to you.

-Keep Your Eyes On God Instead of on the Answer You Seek

It can be easy to fixate on the answer we’re looking for instead of on God.  Praising God for who He is and reminding yourself of all Jesus did for you can bring you a peace that is not dependent upon your circumstances or a particular answer you’re seeking.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  –Hebrews 12:1-3

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Trust in the Lord forever,
for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.  –Isaiah 26:3-4

-Maintain An Eternal Perspective

Sometimes we get so consumed with the thing we’re praying for that we forget this world is not our permanent home.  It’s helpful to take a step back sometimes and see your situation from a different perspective.  We are just passing through this world on our way to our home in heaven.  A good question we can ask ourselves to keep in check is: “In the light of eternity, how much does this really matter?”

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.   -2 Corinthians 4:16-18

-Remember that God Does Things His Way, Not Yours

It’s easy to focus so much on the outcome we’re expecting that we miss the ways God is already at work in our lives (or even in a particular situation we’re praying for).  When we pray expectantly, it’s helpful to take God’s sovereignty into consideration.  We need to give Him room to move and work in the way He sees best instead of expecting Him to do things according to the expectations we have.

 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.  –Isaiah 55:8-9

-Focus on Gratitude

When we are praying expectantly about a specific situation, it might be easy to forget all the things God has done or is doing in our lives.  It builds our faith and our trust in God when we take time to list the specific things we can already be thankful for in our lives.  We can even thank God for how He is working behind the scenes while we wait.  In all circumstances, there is something for which we can thank God.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  -1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

-Pray for Strength and Confidence in God as You Wait Expectantly

It is okay to admit to God that we are growing weary or that our confidence in Him is waning.  We can ask Him to restore our strength, confidence and hope as we wait.  We can ask Him to show us what we can be learning as we trust Him for the answers to our prayers.  It helps to be honest and admit when we’re struggling and need help adjusting our attitudes.

I remain confident of this:  I will see the goodness of the Lord 
in the land of the living.  Wait for the Lord;
 be strong and take heart
 and wait for the Lord.  –Psalm 27:13-14

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.  –Psalm 139:23-4

-Let Others Encourage You

It’s always easier to wait for something when we have company.  Enlisting a trusted friend to pray with us and to encourage us as we wait for God helps us to stay hopeful.  It also keeps us from getting bitter or disillusioned if the answer is taking longer than we think it should.

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. –Hebrews 10:23-25

See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. –Hebrews 3:12-14

You may be wondering how things turned out for my son on our bike ride.   After he regained his strength and listened to our encouraging words, he was willing to get on his bike and continue.  At first, he was sullen as he trudged up the next hill pushing his bike, but he was definitely trying harder.  Not surprisingly, all of his grumpiness disappeared when we finally reached the trail that wound back down the mountain.  When we stopped to enjoy the sweeping views part way down, he was back to his old enthusiastic self and couldn’t wait to keep riding.  He led the way down the hill and was thrilled with what he’d accomplished at the end.
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I pray that you’ll find hope and courage as you pray expectantly.  There can even be joy in the waiting if you’re open to seeing it.  God has great things in store, there is no doubt about that.

Click on the song “While I’m Waiting” by John Waller for some further encouragement as you wait.


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Practicing Gratitude

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Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.

Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.

Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.  –Psalm 100

 Each time I walk into the grocery store lately stacks of canned pumpkin, boxes of stuffing mix and displays of cranberry sauce tell me that Thanksgiving is upon us.  There is no doubt; it’s the season for eating.  Although many people see the focal point of this holiday as a large meal, I love it because it is centered on the attitude of our hearts. The idea of gathering with those we love to pause and be thankful to God for all the He has done is something worth celebrating.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been looking at what the Bible has to say about giving thanks.  Some have convicted me, some have inspired me, and all of them have given me ideas about how to practice the art of thankfulness more consistently in my life.  Maybe you’ll be challenged to try one for yourself to make this year’s Thanksgiving even more meaningful.

God’s Faithfulness Through All Generations

Psalm 100 (written above) reminds us we have many things to thank God for:

1.  He made us.  2.  We are His.  3.  He is good.  4.  His love endures forever.  5.  His faithfulness continues through all generations.

Those are some pretty big concepts that I often take for granted.  The one that strikes me most right now is the last one:  His faithfulness continues through all generations.  I am thankful that I was blessed with parents who taught me to love God and to value His word.  My husband and I are striving to do the same for our kids.  I am thankful that no matter what the future holds, my children can rest assured knowing that God’s faithfulness to them will continue.  In this world of uncertainty where the future doesn’t always look bright, this is something to be thankful for, indeed.

People Who Have Impacted My Life

Recently I was leafing through my Bible looking through all of the letters Paul wrote in the New Testament.  I was struck by how often he opens with giving thanks to God for the people to whom he was writing and with whom he shared a common bond of faith.  They were people he spent time with, prayed with, taught and ministered to in a variety of ways.  A quick count revealed nine books in the New Testament where Paul gives thanks for people.   In case you’re wondering, here are the references:  Romans 1:8, 1 Corinthians 1:4, Ephesians 1:16, Philippians 1:3-6, Colossians 1:3, 1 Thessalonians 1:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:3, 2 Timothy 1:3, Philemon 4.

My favorite is probably Philippians 1:3-6:  “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Like Paul, there are many people in my life with whom I’ve been blessed to share a “partnership in the gospel.”  There are friends who have enriched my life as they’ve walked with me work through hard situations; friends who have helped me to discover and use my spiritual gifts; friends who have pushed me to step outside of my comfort zone; friends who have helped me to see myself as God sees me… for them I give God thanks.   I might even take it one step further and write a few cards this week to let them know how God has blessed me through them.

Miracles, Both Large and Small

In her book One Thousand Gifts, author Ann VosKamp points out that Jesus often gave thanks to God before performing miracles.   One great example of this is in John 6:11 when Jesus is preparing to feed a crowd of 5000.  He takes the meager offering of five small barley loaves and two fish given to Him by a little boy.  Here is what happens next:  “Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted.  He did the same with the fish.”

So often when I’ve read this in the past, I’ve skipped right past the crucial phrase “gave thanks” and have instead focused on the amazing miracle Jesus performed.  How frequently have I done the same to God in my life?  I wonder when I’ve prayed for a miracle but skipped over the part about thanking God first–or recognizing the ways He’s already working in a situation.

I have a friend whose husband was out of work a few years ago.  In our weekly prayer requests at Bible study, she would often write “I’m thankful for the awesome job that God is preparing for my husband right now.”  Wow, that was humbling for me to read.  She was thanking God for a need He hadn’t met yet and trusting Him for a miracle.   Her example was an encouraging reminder when my own husband was in the midst of a job challenge earlier this year.  I was able to pray with true excitement and thankfulness for how God would work out a seemingly impossible situation (If you haven’t already, you can read more about this story in my blog post entitled:  God Margin:  When God’s 300 is Greater Than the Enemy’s 135,000).

Replacing Angst with Thanks

I like to think of myself as a “recovering worrier.”  I have a tiny problem with feeling anxious about things on a fairly regular basis (that might be an understatement).    It’s probably the reason Philippians 4:6-7 is one of my favorite verses:  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” 

This passage challenges me to take my worries and turn them into prayers.  We can thank God for hearing our prayers and already having the answer figured out– even when we don’t know what it is.   The verse doesn’t say God will answer our prayers right away and do exactly what we want.  However, it does say that when we lay our anxious thoughts before Him, a peace that defies understanding will rest upon us.  It doesn’t guarantee that whatever is making us anxious will be resolved, but it does say thanking God gives us a peace that guards our hearts.   The act of thanking God changes our perspectives and eliminates the need for worry.

Being Thankful in All Circumstances

A few years ago my small group did a verse exchange for Christmas.  People wrote a favorite verse on a card and then we drew them out of a basket.

The verse I drew was 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.  Since that time, the verse has been a favorite in my life and one I’ve given to others often.  It is simple in theory, but challenging to put into practice daily: Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Sometimes I can thank God for good situations and even hard situations, but I forget to thank Him for some of the more mundane things in my life that are easy to take for granted.  Sometimes the stuff of motherhood seems like a chore.  Laundry seems to reproduce at lightning speed.  Dishes always seem IMG_6265to be in the sink.  My kids regularly need help with school assignments or rides to sports practices and other activities.  Errands always need to be run.  Each of these seemingly mundane tasks can suck the life out of me if I have the wrong perspective.  However, when I take time to be thankful, something changes in me.  Those mountains of laundry mean that I have the blessing of a family.  They show that we have an abundance of clothing to wear and the luxury of a washer and drier to do the worst parts of the job.  Those dishes in the sink remind me to be thankful that we eat three meals a day and can have food whenever our stomachs grumble even slightly.  Helping my kids with schoolwork means they are being educated and will have an abundance of opportunities available to them as a result.  The fact that I can help them shows that I’ve been blessed with a sound mind and a good education as well.  With a thankful heart the mundane things that I “have to do” become the blessings that I “get to do.”  A simple shift in perspective is all it takes.

Practicing Thankfulness

No doubt, you’ll spend some time this week shopping at a variety of stores and preparing special food to celebrate Thanksgiving.  This year, try working in some time to practice thankfulness by looking at a few of the topics I’ve touched on above and taking time to name the things for which you’re thankful.  It will bless you with a more meaningful celebration. It will also leave you filled up in a way that feels considerably better than the usual post-Thanksgiving meal belly bloat.  Spread the gratitude by sharing some of your thoughts with others around the table or leave a comment below.

For more inspiration on being thankful, click on the link below to hear the song  “All I Can Do (Thank You)” by the band MIKESCHAIR.