I have this big plan. I’ll get up an hour earlier to pray. Maybe even whip up a dozen muffins with those over ripe bananas on the counter. And if I am going to make the most of it I will have my list ready. My urgent list of things to talk at God about. Holy laments that border on selfish complaining. The people and things I will ask Him for, including myself.
“I am tired, LORD, please help me get through this day.”
“I am stressed, God, help me deal with this situation.”
“You know this friend, LORD, may they know Your presence today.”
“You know my grief God, please help me to heal.”
Okay, wait a minute – something doesn’t feel right. There’s nothing wrong with the petitions. But perhaps there is merit to their being prefaced by a deeper awareness of the One I lift my prayers to. They don’t quite sound like the spiritual act of worship talked about in Romans chapter one. So often I just start talking, dive right in, forgetting Who’s gates I’m entering. There is an absence of reverence and recognition, of thanksgiving, and joy in my plan because it’s focused on me first, and my desires, and not on the Lord of heaven and earth who says to His children, “I AM Who I AM … This is my eternal name, my name to remember for all generations.”
Was it King Solomon who warned us not to rush into God’s presence with words? Something foolish we often want to do? What if I first, and again, drop my agenda and intentionally leave me and all my concerns behind for a minute or two? What if I first leave all of my brokenness at the foot of His cross? The anxiety, hurt, fear, and stress. Leave it all there, again, and just come, empty to be filled. If I simply observe His world around me, hear His Word, echo the Psalmist perhaps, and thank Him, allowing Him to envelope my soul?
I re-enter His gates with thanksgiving and enter His courts with praise. And before I say anything else, I give thanks to Him and praise His name … For the Lord Most High is awesome. He is the great King of all the earth. (Psalm 47:2, Psalm 100:4 N.L.T.)
I will name His gifts first, and thank Him. Naming His gifts in my life and thanking Him first, causes me to forget about me, and allows His joy to filter through the worry-cracks in my day. It takes some intentional effort – but it makes sense to try it again.
In acknowledging the gifts I am thanking the Giver, no matter what is going on in my life. No matter what good or ugly I find myself in the midst of. Didn’t Paul encourage the Christ-followers to “devote themselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.” And wasn’t he “in chains” when he said that?
I find my ‘gratitude journal’ under a heap of books and pencil them in … Robin’s song. Smell of fresh coffee. Chipmunk coming to garden door for peanut. Phrase that jumped off page of book in bathroom. Mist on the lawn. Time spent with friend last evening … Somehow I know that these are all gifts and in the naming of the gifts, I acknowledge the Giver.
Seemingly ordinary and everyday, yet they are all God’s grace in my life and moments to treasure. Moments to thank Him for. Seeds of gratitude I plant, which always spring forth in supernatural joy.
Too often I prevent the miracle. I am ungrateful, self centred, and slow to listen. Quick to speak – my mind off and rushing. Most often I do not slow, or notice, or see. What if I ‘gave myself as a living and holy sacrifice – the kind God finds acceptable’ by waking up and paying attention, acknowledging the Giver in each moment first, without saying a word, and simply standing in awe of Him?
What if I could I go through every day doing, while at the same time recognizing Him - the great I AM – seeing His gifts, and grace, and the ways – oh the countless myriad of ways He loves. This is truly the way to worship Him, writes Paul. (Romans 12:1)
What does a wise woman do? I read Proverbs 31 about the woman of noble character. She brings, and finds, and gets up early, and plans. She inspects, and earns, and works hard. She helps, and creates, and laughs. She watches, and notices and stands in awe of the Lord. And at the end of all this, when she speaks, her words are wise and she gives instructions with kindness.
I read Matthew’s gospel, chapter fifteen. Jesus affirms Isaiah’s prophecy. “These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain…” Jesus took time to be sure his disciples understood that the words we speak come from our heart. What is in our heart and mind, is what will come out of our mouth.
A.W. Tozer writes, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us … Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts about God … and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time might say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like.” [A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of The Holy, Harper-SanFrancisco, 1992.]
Deep in my heart what do I conceive God to be like? This, says Jesus, is what will come out of my mouth. All of my life worships something – My daily living shows what I value most – the Creator or created things. My worship is ‘pure’ or base’ depending on what I think about God, and this is what comes out when I communicate to those in whose circle of influence He has placed me. What I communicate will be pure and God-focused, or it will be base and self-serving.
Yesterday we walked in the woods. A group of twenty women, all chatty and enjoying one another’s company.
Then we stopped, here and there, to look, to listen, and to breathe. A spring blossom. Flocks of Finches atop the Beach forest making music in canary song. Something unidentifiably fragrant wafting through the air.
For a moment we were still and quiet and soaked in God’s art. The handiwork which speaks of Himself reflecting who He is and what He’s like.
The forest floor and trees above are waking up to springtime and we are awake and aware of the One who keeps them there. We worship the One who sees the tiny fern pushing its way up through the moss, unfurling its fronds to defy gravity by drawing water upward into stem and vein. His plants and trees and birds and sky all echo the truth that He is glorious.
Laughter and games in the park and lunch together. Time set aside – valued and treasured, and captured by camera lens. Singing and prayers of praise. Petitions and heart cries for protection and provision for one another. The joy of community in Christ.
We stop talking again. We sit, and listen, and soak in more holy moments. United in the desire to know what it is to live fully right where we are. To know what it is to be fully awake and aware of God’s presence. We watch New York Times best-selling-author Anne Voskamp’s video clip, ‘Figuring It Out’ and He speaks through her to the depths of our hearts;
“Time’s blurring by and everyone’s slipping past. How do we wake to the moments? How do we stop living like life is an emergency (something to be sped wildly through)?
Life isn’t an emergency. How do we start believing that life can be carried only in the hands of the unhurried? A bubble held in awe. How do we stop wolfing life down? Because life is our only desert – too brief – too sweet – too delectable to hurry. To live like a boy I once knew, who paused between bites to wiggle a loose tooth and whisper, ‘I love you mom.’
All this … all these moments … are for you….
Isn’t that the voice we have to learn to hear? The voice that is telling the whole world, that the earth under you, and the rain over you, and all the stars spinning all around you – THIS is for you – for you – for YOU…
…Your true love’s smile, and a nap, and a patch of light, and the whir of bike spokes, and a wild rose on a windowsill, and that one great puff over flickering candles.
What if we really figured it out? That gratitude for the seemingly insignificant – this is the seed that plants the giant miracle in the midst of it all.
So count the ways He loves us. A thousand more. Never stop. So that when you wake in the morning you can’t help but unfold your hands to the heavens [where once you clenched them tight, unreceptive to God’s grace].
And though you grieve and though you wonder – though the world is ugly it is beautiful, and though the planet spins – a blur – you can slow and you can wake and you can trust – and you can pay attention to the moments with this offering of thanks.
Because this is how you spend your one life well. Receiving each moment for what it really is – holy – ordinary – amazing Grace …
… a gift.”
We take a deep breath and hear what God is speaking into our hearts and Isaiah’s cry becomes our own. “Woe to us … a people of unclean lips.” In awe, and silenced, before the mighty Maker of all that we see and all that we do not see. Touched and impressed with the conviction of our insignificance, contrasted with the majesty of God and His unfathomable, unstoppable, crazy, furious love for each one of us.
This is the God who exists outside of time, yet entered time for redemptions plan, and still seeks to know all the little details about me. He didn’t have to save me from sinking down in my sinfulness, and He doesn’t have to love me eternally and know me so well but He chooses to. God chooses to love me unconditionally and to pursue my heart and my sincere worship and devotion.
I am rescued and loved and desired by all glorious God! I must continue to preach this gospel to myself first if I am to honour that love with my lips and a heart after His own heart. With what I say and with a heart that constantly seeks to know Him more.
To really know His word, His gospel, His cross, His love, His people. His heart.
When I do speak of Him, do I believe what I say? Do I accept the amazing grace, accept this moment as it is, thanking Him for it and how He’s working all things together for my good through it? “If I believe”, writes Anne Voskamp, “then I must let go and trust.”
Why do I continue to carry so much stress? In my mind I know He wants what is best for me but has that truth taken hold in my heart today? How do I let go, and let God? I am His child, forgiven and loved, I know that. So must I still go through this letting go process each new day? I know I must in order to live fully right where I am!
Anne Voskamp continues, “Belief in God has to be more than mental ascent, more than a cliched exercise in cognition. Even the demons believe (James 2:19)…
… Belief is a verb, something that you do…
… The very real, everyday action of trusting … What is saving belief if it isn’t the radical dare to wholly trust? …
… Jesus replied, ‘This is the work that God asks of you; that you believe in the One Whom He has sent [that you cleave to, trust, rely on, and have faith in His Messenger]” (John 6:29 AMP) …
… That’s my daily work, the work God asks of me? To trust. The work I shirk. To trust in the Son, to trust in the wisdom of this moment, to trust in now. And trust is that: work. The work of trusting love. Intentional and focused. Sometimes, too often, I don’t want to muster the energy. Stress and anxiety seem easier …
Are stress and worry evidences of a soul too lazy, too undisciplined, to keep gaze fixed on God? To stay in love? …
… I don’t like to ask these questions, sweep out these corners where eyes glare from shadows. But this I must ask and do … isn’t joy worth the effort of trust? …
.. Stress brings no joy … I’ve just begun to feel around the outside edges of it … Just begun to realize it, and it catches in the throat: If authentic, saving belief is the act of trusting, then to choose stress is an act of disbelief … Anything less than gratitude and trust is practical atheism.” [Anne Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts, p.47. 2010. Zondervan]
Do I trust God enough to lay my fears and burdens down at the foot of His cross, and simply come and be enveloped with Him? To enter His gates with thanksgiving, in anticipation that He will fill me with Himself – His Sprit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, understanding … Leaving myself and my list behind, and be in awe of Him?
When I do get up early and pray, and make that batch of muffins, in that hour I will first enter His courts with praise knowing that my supreme need is deep joy in God and I can’t experience that until I trust deeply in Who He Is.
I remember Who He Is and I trust Him enough to lay today’s anxiety and self-condemnation at His feet. To thank Him first for His love, and mercy, and grace, and then allow him carry my stress, my tiredness, and the concern for my friend. Then I know, because I know Him first, that He alone can heal the hurts, and restore me and fill up the holes in my soul with His glory so there is only room for joy.
God makes all things new including this day. It will be worth the effort to stop talking at God and to praise Him first and listen to Him – to ‘leave my baggage behind’ – to let go of my agenda – to take the lens off of me and my and I and focus on Him and His glory revealed.
This is His plan – much better than the one I started out with. That I come before Him with trust and thanksgiving, emptied of self, and simply worship Him for who He is and what He has done. A sacrifice holy and acceptable to Him – to trust and to thank Him – the Giver of all gifts – and to elevate the ‘I AM’ above all else.
“This is what the LORD says—
your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb:
I AM the LORD,
the Maker of all things,
who stretches out the heavens,
who spreads out the earth by myself.” Isaiah 44:24
“And He also said, ‘It is finished. I AM the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life.” Revelation 21:6
photo credit: J.H.