Trust-Gifts for God

I prayed really hard recently for God’s help with something extremely important to me. I didn’t just want God to do something—I desperately needed Him to come through. What I asked God for wasn’t selfish. In fact, it wasn’t even for me—it was for someone else. What I prayed for was according to Jesus’ nature, so I felt confident asking for it in His name. It was the sort of thing God does—it fell under the category of “His will” so I even used a Scripture promise as a basis for my prayer. I prayed with faith and hope—more than I usually have—and I fully expected to give God glory for His wonderful answer to prayer. From a theology-of-prayer standpoint, I had covered all the bases.

Besides all that, in my personal prayer journey this past year or so, God has been encouraging to ask more and bigger. To really trust Him for the “exceeding abundantly beyond you ask or imagine” kinds of things. He’s gently chided me for praying coping and surviving prayers (“Help me just get through this, God”), urging me, instead, to pray flourishing and thriving prayers (“You have won the victory, God!”)

So I was honestly surprised when God didn’t show up in this current situation in the ways I thought He would. While the situation could have gone worse, from my perspective it certainly could have gone better. What I most wanted—needed—was for the ones involved in this situation to have a palpable sense of God’s presence and comfort. That didn’t happen. And I was disappointed—and hurt. I still trusted God.  I still believed in His love and goodness. But I hurt.

Honestly, it was hard for me to find words to tell God how I felt. But I knew I had to. I’d put myself out there, taken what felt like a significant faith risk, and I felt as if God had let me down. I needed to talk to Him about it, or there would be distance between us.

I don’t remember my words to Him, exactly—I think I said something along the lines of what I just explained to you. But His response I remember distinctly: “When I meet you the way you ask Me to, you are blessed. You receive My grace-gifts, and you feel blessed. But when I don’t meet you the way you hoped yet you continue to trust Me anyhow—then you bless Me. You give Me your trust-gift, and I feel blessed.”

I’d never thought of it that way. When I continue to trust God in the midst of disappointment, when I keep the conversation with Him going, even when He doesn’t answer the way I expect He will, He is pleased. He counts that as faith, and He is blessed.

Knowing God sees things this way encourages me. Obviously, I still hope He will answer my prayers! But when things turn out differently than I’d prayed they would, it helps me to know that I can give God the gift of my trust—and He will be blessed.

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Soul Food

I don’t know if I could name 1,000 things to be thankful for, like author Ann Voscamp did, but I do have a lot of things, big and small, to thank God for this year. A new job doing meaningful work. Deep friendship. Two adorable and adoring cats. Warm fall days. A visit from my son. God’s care and protection when my tire went flat (three weeks ago) and my muffler fell off (last week). The new-to-me car He provided after these incidents took place. The friends who helped me shop for that car. The favorite earring I’d lost months ago—and then found under the car seat 20 minutes before the tow truck came to take my clunker to the auction yesterday. How many blessings is that? Ten? I could go on a lot longer.

But yesterday morning, when I was meditating in Ephesians 1 (as I’ve been doing for nearly two weeks now) God led me to start noticing a different kind of blessing—spiritual blessings. Soul food. Notice the powerful verbs in verses 3-8:

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son.  He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.

God chose me! I was on His wish-list since before time began. He waited millennia for me!

He decided—He was intentional, it was no accident or obligation—to adopt me into His own family. I’m no accident or surprise—He hand-picked me to be His daughter!

This is what He wanted to do! He wanted to choose me, adopt me, bring me into His family!

It gave Him great pleasure! God doesn’t just put up with me. He doesn’t just love me because He’s God and that’s what God does—It gives Him pleasure. Joy. Makes Him smile.

He’s poured out grace on me. Not just drip-drops, but soaking-wet grace.

He purchased my freedom. I’m valuable enough to pay for—with His Son’s blood. I’m worth the trouble, worth the pain, worth the cost. He wants me and loves me that much!

He showered His kindness on me—along with all wisdom and understanding! Cloudbursts of kindness, waves of wisdom, downpours of understanding.

He blessed me and united me with Christ. Joined with His dear Son! I’m one with Him. Inseparable, nothing and no one can snatch me from Him. I belong to Him, He belongs to me.

How is it that such a familiar passage—one I’d read scores of times, studied, and even memorized—could be so fresh and alive? I guess that’s another spiritual blessing—the mysterious, powerful, tender companionship of the Holy Spirit.  

Tomorrow I’ll be eating turkey and pie, like most Americans. I expect I will push away from the table feeling very satisfied. And, as I continue to count my spiritual blessings, I am quite sure that my soul will also be satisfied. As the psalmist said, “My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods” (63:5).

 

Pray It Forward

Do you ever feel guilty for feeling blessed when others around you don’t seem to be experiencing blessing?

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, good for you! You may not want to read any further. But if you, like me, sometimes experience something akin to spiritual survivor’s guilt, this post may help.

Thanksgiving is a week away. So, a spiritual discipline I’m trying to be intentional about this month is gratitude. I don’t want to take God’s blessings for granted. He gives good gifts—He deserves to be thanked. Besides, telling God “Thank You” deepens my joy, strengthens my faith, and connects me to His heart.

A distressing thing happens sometimes, though. When, for instance, I thank God for sparing my son from the hurricane two weeks ago, I feel bad about all the other people who suffered great hardship and loss. I wonder, “Why me? Why did God favor my family while others went through a nightmare?” But if I linger on those questions very long, my joy seeps away, and instead of feeling thankful, I just feel guilty.

God spoke to me about this troubling phenomenon today. He offered a simple suggestion: What if each time you thank Me for something, you also offer a prayer for someone who needs that same blessing? I bless you to make you a blessing, you know.

When He said that, Scriptures rushed to mind. I’ve freely received, He calls me to freely give (Matthew 10:8). He’s been generous with me, so I can be generous with others, which results in “thanksgiving to God” (2 Corinthians 9:11). He’s comforted me in my troubles so I can pass along the same comfort He has given me (2 Corinthians 1:4).

I’d never thought of those verses in terms of prayer, but they fit. To be prayed for is a gift. When we pray for others, we invite God’s love and power into their circumstances. What better gift is there than that? So, when He blesses me, I can pay it forward by praying blessing on others.

I’ve only been experimenting with this for a few hours, but I’m excited. Here’s how it has gone so far: I received an upbeat email from my son. God is really blessing him. So I thanked Him for that blessing, then prayed for parents I know who long to see Him bless their sons and daughters. I thanked God for meaningful, enjoyable work, and then prayed for people I know who are currently unemployed. I thanked God for a good meal I sat down to this evening, then asked Him to provide for my Compassion child in Kenya. You get the idea.

What do you think? There’s one more week before Thanksgiving. Want to join me in offering intentional thanks to God for the blessings He’s given you, and then take it one step further by praying it forward? If you do, I’d love to hear how it goes.

 

Giving Thanks for Hard Things

Thanksgiving is around the corner and some of my Facebook friends have started their annual countdowns. Starting November 1, for every day leading up to Thanksgiving, they state something for which they are grateful. Reading their encouraging posts stirs my own heart to gratitude to God.

For my own part, I can’t seem to stop telling God “thank You” for protecting my son through Hurricane Sandy last week and for bringing him home to Colorado—miraculously, it seemed—to celebrate his birthday, as planned months ago. (Last week’s post, “Selfish Prayers?” gives the background to that story, in case you missed it.) Saying “thank You” to Him for answering those prayers comes naturally and joyfully. And I can imagine Him smiling when He sees how happy I am because of what He did for me.

Saying “thank you” deepens our relationships with others—both with people and with God. When we express gratitude to friends and family for the kind and generous things they do and give, we deepen our relationships with them. It’s no different with God—hearing our thanks makes His heart glad.

But here’s the zinger—God wants us to give thanks “in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, emphasis added). Anyone can be grateful for sweetness and light—but who thinks to say thanks for the ugly, uncomfortable, difficult, or painful things He allows to come our way?

In her New York Times bestseller, One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voscamp talks about awakening to “the strange truth that all new life comes out of the dark places.”  She suggests that “the hard discipline [is] to lean into the ugly and whisper thanks to transform it into beauty . . . to give thanks for all things at all times because He is all good.”

I’ve tried saying “thank You” for hard stuff when my heart wasn’t in it. That doesn’t work for me. It feels mechanical and disingenuous. And I’m just not one to boot-lick or apple-polish. If I’m going to say “thank You,” then I need to mean it from my heart—I can’t do it just because I’m supposed to or because I want to act spiritual or curry favor.

I’m learning that thanking God for the hard things is a consummate act of love and trust. To be able to sincerely thank Him for dreams dashed, relationships broken, and hopes deferred is to believe—really, really believethat He works all things together for my good. It means believing in my heart of hearts that He is completely good, kind, and loving. That He never makes mistakes and never acts unjustly. That He lives in me and is wiser and more powerful than the one who lives in the world. That He guards me as the apple of His eye and loves me more than the sparrows He so carefully keeps track of.

I’m not there yet. But as I look back over the hard things He has allowed into my life, I find more and more that I can say “thank You” in hindsight, at least. He has brought much good to me through those difficult experiences. So now, as I think about various disappointments, concerns, frustrations, and fears—the unwelcome intrusions into my life—I am more willing to believe that maybe, just maybe, God will transform them into grace gifts, too. So, Abba, please give me a thankful and trusting heart to believe that You truly are good—all the time—and that these situations I never would have chosen and never would have thought to call “good” are in fact things You are using to transform me and cause me to grow deeper in love with You.