Don’t let yourself forget what God has done

I don’t celebrate often. And when I do, it doesn’t look like a normal celebration. It’s not a party. Maybe it’s an extra episode of a television show. Maybe it’s reading an extra chapter in my book. Because, hey, parties take time. Celebrating anything takes time, and I don’t usually feel like I have time to spend on it. It’s better if I just move on to the next project.

But that’s not how God operates. God celebrates. And if celebration is important enough for God to do it, we should pay attention.

Celebration is more than just a party, though. It’s more than giving yourself a little extra time to goof off and rest. Sure, I think that’s part of it, but the bigger part of celebrating is remembering. It’s taking purposeful time to sit down and remind yourself what God has done for you.

05CPBGA6X7Today’s verses are Psalm 66:5-7, 16-20.

Come and see what our God has done,
what awesome miracles he performs for people!
He made a dry path through the Red Sea,
and his people went across on foot.
There we rejoiced in him.
For by his great power he rules forever.
He watches every movement of the nations;
let no rebel rise in defiance.

Come and listen, all you who fear God,
and I will tell you what he did for me.
For I cried out to him for help,
praising him as I spoke.
If I had not confessed the sin in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened.
But God did listen!
He paid attention to my prayer.
Praise God, who did not ignore my prayer
or withdraw his unfailing love from me.

It’s important to remember what God has done, otherwise you’ll forget. Maybe that sounds obvious, but I don’t think it is. If it were obvious, it wouldn’t happen all the time. I get caught up in what’s going on right now, and I forget what God did for me yesterday. And a lot of that is because I don’t take time to celebrate. I don’t take moments to share God’s awesome blessings with the people around me–not like I should.

Remind yourself what God did for you yesterday. Where were you? What were you doing? What happened?

A few days ago, I released my third novel in less than two years. That’s crazy huge! A few years ago I would have never thought I could do anything like that, but here we are. And it’s all because God made it possible. He has provided the people to help do the editing and the polishing. He has provided the people who are interested in buying it (Thank you to all of you who have purchased copies! I can’t ever explain the encouragement and the blessing your support means to me.). Every prayer I’ve had, He’s answered. Yeah, He answered in His time, but it turns out His timing really is perfect.

I don’t want to forget this. I don’t want to forget what God has done for me today. Because next week, when things get tough again and my outlook starts to get dark, I’ll need to remember how God came through for me. And if He came through for me yesterday, He’ll come through for me today. Because that’s who He is.

Don’t let yourself forget what God has done for you. Write it down. Tell the stories. Share it with everyone you know.

Then, when the dark days come, you’ll remember just who God is. That’s peace money can’t buy.

The choice you need to make this Thanksgiving

Every family has traditions. Even if you aren’t a traditional family or even if you don’t have a lot of traditions, you still have things you do as a family that nobody else does. It’s part of your family culture. And one of the biggest family days in the year happens tomorrow.

Today is the day before Thanksgiving. Maybe that day doesn’t mean a lot to some, but if you come from an old-fashioned type family where you serve a great big meal (traditional or not) on Thanksgiving day, the Wednesday before is more than just a day. It’s the day you spend in the kitchen.

Some families do their cooking/baking on Thursday mornings, but in our family we usually eat pretty early on Thanksgiving day. So most of the prep work has to be done the day before. Even when we’re not serving a traditional meal, we still have quite a bit of preparation to do ahead of time.

But what happens when the prep work and the planning gets to be more important than the purpose for the day itself?

2EW0RA30JPToday’s verses are Luke 10:38-42.

As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.

This is one of those Bible stories you hear a lot, but it’s one I need to pay more attention to. I have a tendency to be like Martha, especially during the holidays. I get busy. I rush around, crazy and wild, trying to get as much done as I possibly can, and I do it because I want things to be perfect for guests and other family members. I love having people in my house. I love preparing meals for other people, whether it’s in my house or at their house, or just working together with someone to serve someone else. I love it. But it takes a lot of work and a lot of planning, and if nobody does it, it won’t get done.

So my busy little spirit can understand Martha’s irritation with her sister. And it’s not that Martha was wrong exactly. She just got her focus off of what really mattered. The meal wasn’t important in the grand scheme of things. She had Jesus in her living room. And, yes, she wanted to serve Him. Yes, she wanted to use her gifts to bless Him. And that’s exactly what she should have done, but she let the stress of that amazing opportunity turn her into someone she wasn’t. She let the pressure to perform make her say things she didn’t mean.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but has anyone else ever been there during the holidays? You know it’s not about the food or the presents or the decorations, but you let the pressure of the holiday season wear on you until you get grumpy because things aren’t working out the way you want.

News flash. Things rarely ever work out the way you want. So you’ve got a choice to make.

Thanksgiving, and other holidays, are an important time to be together. Maybe you’re with family. Maybe you’re with friends. Regardless, it’s specific time set aside for a specific purpose–to be thankful, to recognize that there are things in life more important than work or money or possessions. More important than whether you have turkey or ham or if you get a slice of pumpkin pie or if have to sit at the kid’s table or not.

When you start feeling stressed out or irritated (and you probably will), ask yourself what’s really important. Don’t get so caught up in putting on a good show or providing a good meal that you forget why you’re doing it in the first place.

Praise God in the dark because He sees the light

When was the last time you told God how awesome He is? I mean, it’s easy to talk about how awesome God is when you’re around other people who think He’s awesome too. But there’s a big difference between joining into common conversation and initiating conversation with God.

Sure, we don’t have trouble asking Him for stuff when we need it. We can go before Him and fire request after request at Him, and He wants us to do that. But we need to remember who we’re talking to. We shouldn’t forget who God is.

sunset-summer-golden-hour-paul-filitchkinToday’s verse is Psalm 7:17.

I will thank the Lord because he is just;
    I will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High.

Praise and worship can easily attract a lot of attention. It’s one of the parts of following Jesus that can get flashy and showy pretty quickly. Hand raising and shouting and praying out loud–if you’ve got a performance-based mentality, it can get out of hand fast. And pretty soon it’s about you instead of about God, so you’ve always got to guard your heart.

But when it comes to worship, I think Christ-followers are too guarded. We get more excited about sports events than we do about what God is doing, and that’s just as bad as trying to garner attention for ourselves.

Regardless, something none of us do enough is telling God that He’s great. Maybe I’m generalizing. So maybe I should just say that I don’t do it often enough. When I pray, most of the time I launch into the requests, but that’s not where I need to start. I need to start by telling God that He’s amazing. I need to tell Him how incredible His creation is, how abundant His blessings are, and how grateful I am that He gave me this life.

But maybe you’re not in that position right now. Maybe you aren’t loving life very much. Maybe you’re in a tight spot, and you just don’t see how you could possible praise God in your current circumstances.

Well, that’s what I love about this particular verse. It doesn’t say that we should thank God because of all the great things He’s done for us. It doesn’t say that we should thank God for being powerful or all-knowing or wise. Sure, He’s all those things, and, yes, He’s done great things for us (whether we realize it or not). But this verse says we should praise God because He’s just.

Even if you’re in a place in your life right now where you feel like nothing is going right, that’s one truth you can hold onto. God is just. God is good. The Bible says it over and over again, and even if you can’t be thankful for your life right now, you can still be thankful that God is just, fair, and right. Because that means if you keep doing what He says is right and keep trusting Him, eventually your circumstances will work out all right too. And that’s worthy of praise.

We don’t praise God enough. We’re too stuck in our own heads. We’re trapped in our own little worlds, unable to see past the darkness to the light on the other side. But God can see. So instead of wasting time complaining about your situation, take some purposeful time to praise God. Turn on some music. Take a walk outside. Look for miracles. I promise, they’re everywhere.

Be intentional in looking for reasons to praise God, and I promise you’ll find them. Praise God in the darkness because you know He sees the light, even if you can’t.

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

How to restart in ten minutes or less

What does it take to restart your perspective on life? I think that’s a great question. So many people are facing discouraging circumstances and frustrating situations. I’m one of them, and I would love a simple answer for how to stay positive in difficult times.

Honestly, I’d love to avoid difficult times. I’d love to find a way to skirt around them and not have to go through them at all. But in this broken world, difficulty is normal. And the simple truth is that your circumstances don’t matter but how you look at them does. How you see your circumstances determines whether you just get through them or appreciate them.

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunrise at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Hebrews 12:28.

Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe.

I posted yesterday about finding a way to restart, looking for the answer to changing my perspective about life, the universe and everything (42, for you geeks out there). Too often I find myself operating with limitations in my life, mainly because I’m just tired and worn out all the time. But I got to thinking yesterday morning about something I haven’t done in a very long time that might be part of the problem.

I spent my morning being grateful. And not the 30-days-of-thankfulness-on-Facebook brand of grateful. I woke up yesterday morning and got in my car and as I was driving my 45 minutes to work, I thanked God. I thanked God for the beautiful sun that was rising just over the edge of K-96. I thanked God for the frost on the fields that meant maybe my allergies will get better. I thanked God that I had a job, and not just a job but a job with a great company, and not just a job with a great company but a job doing what I love for a great company. Not many people get to say that. I thanked God that my family owns our house and our land. I thanked God that I own my car and that I have enough money in the bank to pay for gasoline and groceries and the occasional 700-page fantasy novel.

Before I was even ten minutes down the road, I was in such a great mood I couldn’t believe I’d been so surly yesterday.

How is it possible that taking ten minutes to be grateful can make such a difference? Can we really just list off the things we’re thankful for and seriously, honestly, openly thank God for those things and immediately be in a better mood?

I’m not promising anything, but it seems to work for me. It helps me stop and slow down and think about all the awesome things I have that I don’t deserve, that I didn’t do anything to obtain, and that God has provided for me because He keeps His promises. It makes me stop thinking about the things that are going wrong or that I don’t want to deal with or the conflicts I’m dreading, and it makes me think about the things I have. And if God can provide me with all of that, He can absolutely help me through the day.

There isn’t enough gratitude in our world. Very few people really express gratitude as often as they should. I know I don’t, and it’s a shame because it makes so much difference, not only to the people around you but also to you.

How does gratitude help you? Well, I think it helps you remember that someone did something for you that they didn’t have to do. Someone else took time out of their day or focus away from their own issues to help you in some way, and they didn’t have to do it. They gave you something. Even if it was just opening the door for you or holding the elevator open for you or letting you walk through the doorway first, that’s kindness demonstrating they are paying attention and wanted to do something nice for someone else.

Don’t let those small acts of kindness slip by without notice. Don’t just assume that people are going to do nice things for you. Pay attention, and you might realize that people show you more kindness than you originally thought.

We all have more than we think we do, and taking the time to thank God for everything in our lives forces us to acknowledge it. So take a moment and say thank you. But if you don’t mean it, if you aren’t really thankful, don’t even open your mouth. This is a heart thing, and if you’re just paying God lip service, it won’t help you at all and it won’t impress Him.

Thank Him for the small things. Thank Him for the big things. Thank Him for the good things, and, yes, thank Him for the bad things. Because if you can seriously, honestly thank God for the bad stuff in your life, that bad stuff won’t seem so difficult to get through. It won’t seem so daunting or frightening or intimidating.

If you want to restart and refresh your perspective, begin with gratitude. It may seem like a small thing, but it changes everything.

Cement frog spitting water at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

God does great things for grateful people

How often do we ask God for thing? If you’re like me, it’s all the time. I usually try to keep an open line of communication with Him all day long, kind of like He’s a friend walking right beside me who I can tell anything. And while I know what the format for prayer is, sometimes I just like to talk to Him.

But what I can’t seem to get used to is how to react when He answers my prayers. Have you ever been there? You ask God for something, and He responds almost immediately? It’s at those times that I really don’t know what to do or how to respond.

Cement frog spitting water at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Cement frog spitting water at the Dallas Arboretum, Dallas, TX

Today’s verses are Luke 17:11-19.

As Jesus continued on toward Jerusalem, he reached the border between Galilee and Samaria. As he entered a village there, ten lepers stood at a distance, crying out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

He looked at them and said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.”And as they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy.

One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!” He fell to the ground at Jesus’ feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan.

Jesus asked, “Didn’t I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And Jesus said to the man, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.”

I try not to get my hopes up when I ask God for big things. I believe that He will answer and give me what I’m asking for in His time and in His way, but I usually expect that time to be later and that way to look completely different than what I expect. But every now and then He gives me exactly what I ask for exactly when I ask for it.

It’s then that I need to remember to thank Him. That’s the response I need to have. And I just want to take a moment to do that this morning.

I’ve been praying that the workshop I was attending would be successful and it was, on many many levels. Those of you who know me very well know I struggle with self-confidence, especially when it comes to my writing. But God went out of his way at this workshop to show me over and over and over again that I’m exactly where He wants me and that the things I’ve written are truly things that can be used for Him. I talked to people I didn’t know. I put myself out there for everyone to see, and I wasn’t afraid. And I learned a lot and gained more confidence than I expected. That’s exactly what I was praying for, and that’s exactly what I got.

And I want to thank God for answering that prayer. He didn’t have to, but I’m so glad He did.

What prayer has God answered in your life recently? I’m sure He’s answered something, whether you realize it or not. Don’t be like the nine healed men who went away healed and forgot to acknowledge Who had healed them. Be like the one who came back. Thank God for what He’s done.

God likes to do great things for grateful people.

Wheat ready for harvest at sunset - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Thanksgiving

Today is Thanksgiving 2012, and we all have a lot to be thankful for. I was thinking about trying to make a list, but I have too much to write down. When I sit down to think about it, I’m overwhelmed with all the amazing things God has done for me and for my family and for the people I love.

This post isn’t long today, mainly because I’ve got to get downstairs and start cooking. But I needed to focus first thing this morning, and nothing helps me get my perspective right better than a statement from David. Not a Psalm, but close enough to it.

Think on this for a little while before you eat, and I guarantee that it’ll give you a different perspective on your turkey and dressing.

Wheat ready for harvest at sunset - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Wheat ready for harvest at sunset – Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s passage is 1 Chronicles 29:10-18.

 Then David praised the Lord in the presence of the whole assembly:

“O Lord, the God of our ancestor Israel, may you be praised forever and ever! Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty. Everything in the heavens and on earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as the one who is over all things. Wealth and honor come from you alone, for you rule over everything. Power and might are in your hand, and at your discretion people are made great and given strength.

“O our God, we thank you and praise your glorious name! But who am I, and who are my people, that we could give anything to you? Everything we have has come from you, and we give you only what you first gave us! We are here for only a moment, visitors and strangers in the land as our ancestors were before us. Our days on earth are like a passing shadow, gone so soon without a trace.

“O Lord our God, even this material we have gathered to build a Temple to honor your holy name comes from you! It all belongs to you! I know, my God, that you examine our hearts and rejoice when you find integrity there. You know I have done all this with good motives, and I have watched your people offer their gifts willingly and joyously.

“O Lord, the God of our ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, make your people always want to obey you. See to it that their love for you never changes.

Little yellow bug on a big yellow sunflower at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

No wonder my heart is glad

We have a lot to be thankful for. We have so many good things. Even on our worst day, even when we are experiencing stress, even when we are overwhelmed with all the tasks we have to accomplish or our responsibilities, we still have more than enough good in our lives that we should be thankful.

So why are we grumpy? Why are we focused on the negative? Well, it’s human nature. But if you follow Christ, you aren’t subject to your human nature. You have two natures now, and you also have a choice which one to listen to.

I love the Psalms of David because so many times they speak to me in a way regular Scripture doesn’t. Whether it’s because they are mainly about praise or maybe because David was a fellow artist, I don’t know. But the Psalms incorporate statements that rock my world.

Little yellow bug on a big yellow sunflower at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Little yellow bug on a big yellow sunflower at Safe Haven Farm – Haven, KS

Today’s passage is Psalm 16.

Keep me safe, O God,
for I have come to you for refuge.

I said to the Lord, “You are my Master!
Every good thing I have comes from you.”
The godly people in the land
are my true heroes!
I take pleasure in them!
Troubles multiply for those who chase after other gods.
I will not take part in their sacrifices of blood
or even speak the names of their gods.

Lord, you alone are my inheritance, my cup of blessing.
You guard all that is mine.
The land you have given me is a pleasant land.
What a wonderful inheritance!

I will bless the Lord who guides me;
even at night my heart instructs me.
I know the Lord is always with me.
I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me.

No wonder my heart is glad, and I rejoice.
My body rests in safety.
For you will not leave my soul among the dead
or allow your holy one to rot in the grave.
You will show me the way of life,
granting me the joy of your presence
and the pleasures of living with you forever.

So much of our attitude comes from our perspective. If you focus on the negative in every situation, you’re going to have a negative attitude. Granted, if you only focus on the positive, you’re going to annoy the crap out of anyone you talk to and you won’t be realistic or relevant to anyone. Why? Because we don’t live in a positive world. And being falsely happy and cheerful all the time isn’t helpful or encouraging. We can’t ignore the negative elements in our world, but we don’t have to focus on them.

David had issues. He had troubles in his life. Where do we even start with the troubles in David’s life? Even this Psalm starts out with him asking God for protection, asking God to be his refuge. But then it quickly moves into praise. David talks about his relationship with God, who God is to Him, what God has done for him.

And that’s what we need to do too.

Recognize that God is our refuge. He is. He’s our shield and the One who protects us, and as the days grow darker that protection will be very much needed.

But He’s more than just our refuge. God is our joy. Every good thing we have comes from Him. He is our future and our heritage all at the same time. And the good things He has given us now pale in comparison to what’s coming. And as we wait for that day, He won’t leave us. Ever.

No wonder David’s heart was glad. And our hearts should feel the same way. If they don’t, stop focusing on what you don’t have or what you don’t like or what has made you unhappy and focus on the God who is both your protection and your light. Think about what He’s done, think about what He’s doing (because He’s never still), and even if the day is dark and your life is full of struggle, you’ll be okay because as long as we can see Him, we can remember what we’re living for.