Everyday Thanks

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In 2014, my life was changed and enriched by the magic of habitual thanksgiving.

That’s when I read Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts, as well as her One Thousand Gifts Devotional. In these books, Voskamp introduces a practice that revolutionized how she looked at life. Basically, she started counting…counting ways that God had been gracious to her, counting things she was thankful for, including everything from broad generalities to minute, personal details. Her goal was 1000 things, but the results were much more overwhelming. She kept on until she’d numbered thousands of gifts and she insists her perspective was changed into one of habitual joy, seeing God in everyday moments and gifts—even things she hadn’t seen the beauty in before.

I’m sure many of us have heard of or participated in different variations of this. When I was a child, my mom had something on the counter she called the Blessing Jar. Throughout the year, we would write down things we were thankful for, or answers to prayer, and put the pieces of paper in the jar. At Thanksgiving, we would paste some of them on the paper feathers of Tom the Thankful Turkey, a kid-sized cutout bird taped up on the wall of the kitchen. This was a great reminder for me as a child to cultivate thanksgiving throughout the whole year, not just on the day designated for giving thanks.

Of course, holidays shouldn’t be the only times we give thanks…any more than Sunday should be the only day we worship and fellowship with God. I’ve heard Sunday described as the “anniversary celebration” of the Relationship that exists all week. Thanksgiving is like that. It’s a holiday marked by giving thanks and noting our blessings, but cultivating a lifestyle of thanksgiving makes the celebration come alive all throughout the year.

Making note of things I was thankful for blended writing with a spiritual discipline and I loved the beautiful list that unfolded. Here is a snippet of the first 1000-gifts list that I recorded back in 2014:

–The smell of warm, wet wax from a desk candle

–The tiara of first snow in my hair

–Faces…the light of God’s creativity in eyes and smiles

–Mountain color palettes

–The first patter of rain

–Full family dinners

–The pleasure of finding just the right book

–Sprinklers catching sun midair

–How God’s Word stands for me

–Bird chorus in storms

 

As you can see, Voskamp encourages you to be specific and personal, and I relished the opportunity to turn every day into a treasure hunt–a search for blessings, great and small, hidden and obvious. My final journal entry at the end of the year went like this:

My name, Jubilee, means Trumpet Sounding, but so often I disconnect from it, hesitating, waiting for God to somehow prove Himself again. But I’ve been wrong to do that. He is Goodness itself! And in dark or light, joy or pain, He deserves praise. He doesn’t take. He gives. He gives Himself, the best gift ever. And His Life consumes, empowers, enlivens, invigorates, redeems. What more could I ask for? This journey of deliberate thanks has brought me into the land of blessing that I desired.

So on the eve of another Thanksgiving, be encouraged! Take a moment and really think about the little things. What is it about God that just blesses your socks off? What details of life do you really appreciate? If your life is feeling flat and stale right now, this is just the remedy, I promise! Ask God for open eyes and you’ll be amazed at everything that was there, all around you. All the Grace and Beauty and Mercy. There is so much real power waiting for us when we declare God’s Blessings and “forget not all His Benefits” (Psalm 103). Andrew Murray said: “Let us thank God heartily as often as we pray that we have His Spirit in us to teach us to pray. Thanksgiving will draw our hearts out to God and keep us engaged with Him; it will take our attention from ourselves and give the Spirit room in our hearts.”

 

Cultivating a lifestyle of thanks by making note of things we’re thankful for is truly a step heavenward. As the writer Joni Eareckson Tada puts it: “With each [gift or blessing] we experience on the earth, God leans over and whispers, ‘Just wait…one day you’ll bask in glory like this, and it will last forever’” (Tada, The God I Love, 283)!

If you’re interested in learning more about One Thousand Gifts, visit Ann Voskamp’s personal page.

http://www.aholyexperience.com/ann-voskamp/

 

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High Priest of Hope

“We see Him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone.” -Hebrews 2: 9

On Good Friday, (and all year round hopefully), this is the truth that we celebrate and marvel at…that Jesus, the Son of God “partook of [our] flesh and blood,” and sacrificed Himself on the Cross, “that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver all those who…were subject to lifelong slavery.” –Hebrews 2: 14-15.

What we don’t often consider, I think, is the reality that Jesus’ whole life was a sacrifice. The incarnation itself, God becoming man and dwelling among us, was the first offering, and was followed by a life wholly laid down, completely submitted to God the Father. Many times, Jesus Himself said that He only did what He saw His Father doing, but lately, as I am rereading the Gospels, I am amazed over and over again at just how surrendered Jesus was.

When He was baptized by John in the Jordan and began His earthly ministry, He was 30 years old! Which means that twenty-nine years of living as a poor carpenter in a back-alley town and submitting to earthly parents and restraining His Power had come first.

After He was baptized, He was led immediately by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. Not exactly a rewarding or fulfilling time for the beginning of a ministry. I know there’s a part of us all in Western Christianity (because I’ve seen it in my own life) that tends to despise wilderness seasons or seasons of trial and testing. At the very least, we view these times negatively and look forward to when they’re over. It’s hard to view them as necessary or something God would lead us into…but the Bible says that was Jesus’ first destination: the desert of temptation.

All throughout the Gospels, the pattern continues, with clarity and precision. When the Bible says Jesus “got into a boat,” or “crossed over to the other side,” or took His disciples to a specific town, these are not meaningless fillers. Jesus spent as much time as He could in prayer and His actions were directly influenced by the Father. So much so that He was willing to go to the Cross, even though He asked if there could be another way. The Father and His Will was constantly on Jesus’ lips and in His heart. When He raised Lazarus from the dead, He thanked the Father for the opportunity to show the world the oneness they shared and the Power He had been given. In John 12-17, Jesus pours out His heart to His disciples over the Passover meal, explaining how the Father loves Him and therefore loves all who follow Him, desiring to be one with them as well. Jesus even hesitated to reveal His status as the Messiah until the proper time, when He could explain to the disciples what the Messiah was “sent” to do. “No one takes my life,” He declared, “but I lay it down of my own accord.” Even when He was betrayed and arrested, Jesus spoke of the Scriptures being fulfilled and submitted to His Divinely-planned Destiny.

So…how is this to be inspiring to us? Laying aside any plans or agenda of your own to submit to God at every juncture, even to death. Does this sound robotic?

Well, it’s not. And here’s why.

“For it was fitting that He [the Father], for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to Glory, should make the Founder of their salvation [Jesus] perfect through suffering.” –Hebrews 2:10

This is how we know that God doesn’t expect a mindless robotic devotion, or even a fatalistic resignation to His will. The Son of God became a man, subjecting Himself to all the trappings of human flesh and blood, earthly time and space, and the particular frustrations and injustices people deal with, individually and corporately.  He submitted, not only to the Cross (His ultimate Destiny), but to a life of continued trust in the Father in the midst of all the temptations and trials that are typical for the human race. Why?

Hebrews 2 goes on to explain one of the reasons why He became a Man, rather than saving us from a distance.

“For surely it is not the angels He helps, but the offspring of Abraham. Therefore, He had to be made like His brothers in every respect, so that He might become a merciful and faithful High Priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because He Himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.” –Hebrews 2:16-18

Earlier in this chapter, the writer of Hebrews says that Jesus is NOT ASHAMED to call us brothers! He submitted to the Father in the midst of the same rigors that we face and He stands ready and willing to help us do the same. He asks all because He gave all. When He says, “You are my friends if you do what I command,” He is not merely giving a command. He is also our motivation and our forerunner! He has been where He is asking us to go. He paved the way for us, down a road we never could have traveled alone…the road to God! He is not just waiting at the end for us, cheering us on, but through the Holy Spirit, He is also in the trenches with us, enabling us to live surrendered lives and walk in the path of full joy that comes from oneness with His Father and our Father.

When Jesus commented that it was difficult for a man distracted by riches to enter the Kingdom of God, the disciples wondered aloud how anyone could be saved. Everyone has distractions and temptations in their lives. Every one of us is surrounded by things that compete for our hearts and attentions. But Jesus’ answer reveals once again that He is the Answer!

“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible!” –Mark 10:27

Jesus, our Great High Priest, is the One who makes it possible for us to die to ourselves and live to God. He is the One who fills us with His Spirit, and clothes us with His Likeness, so that we can live victoriously, even in the midst of daily stress and strain. We who have a “heavenly calling” are told to “consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, who was faithful to Him who appointed Him…faithful over God’s House as a Son. And we are His House if indeed we hold fast our confidence firm to the end and boast in our Hope.”–Hebrews 3:1-6

This Good Friday, let’s hear every command from the mouth of God as an encouragement from the One who was humble enough to be “made perfect through suffering.”

Let us hear the Love of the One who has been where we are–the Father who sent His Son to bridge the gap, and the Son who prepared the way and sent His Spirit so we could abide in Him always.

“The Glory that You have given Me, I have given to them, that they may be one, even as You and I are One.” –Jesus, in John 17:22