Gloria in Excelsis Deo

I have been struggling the past few weeks with the idea of praise. Like most folks, I like being praised for something I’ve done. In itself, that is not a bad thing. What becomes a problem is when I accept such praise and leave it at that. The fact is, as a Christian, my purpose is to focus and magnify the Light of Christ. I am not the Light. Whatever ability I have to create or shine comes as God creates in me or shines through me.

Does this mean, every time someone notes a good job I’ve done, I need to say it wasn’t me, but God working through me? Well, no, I don’t think so. I think the need is more simply my own humility of heart to recognize any power, any creativity, any capacity to accomplish anything is a gift from God.

Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above; it comes down from the Father of lights, the Creator and Sustainer of the heavens, in whom there is no variation, no rising or setting or shadow cast by His turning, for He is perfect and never changes. (James 1:17, AMP)

When I was a kid, I watched a movie about a few university students working to build an extremely powerful laser. Before a crucial project test, a rival student smears grease over one of the lenses. When the laser is fired through the dirty lens, rather than focusing the light on the target, the smudge interferes and distorts the beam.

That same sort of interference and distortion occurs in my life when I start to think I deserve the adulation of others for whatever I may have accomplished. Instead of shining the Light of God into the world, I’m trying to hot-wire my own little headlamp. No one can clearly see God through me when I am smeared with arrogance. Not only do I miss an opportunity to give glory to God myself, but to anyone who may be looking, I offer an inaccurate image of Him.

Father of Light,

What a risk You take every day to show Your Light through us. What an honor to be invited into Your Brilliance. Thank You for blessing us so much that I can actually make the mistake of thinking I’ve done something to deserve it. Help me to recognize Your fingerprints on every good thing I do. Cleanse my heart that I may see clearly and allow others to see You clearly in me. Let all that I am and everything I do bring You glory.

Long-term Care

When I was younger, long about high school, I would read or hear the story of the Exodus and all the signs and wonders of the plagues (Exodus 7:1-12:30) and crossing the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21-31), followed so quickly by the golden calf incident (Exodus 32:1-6). And I’d be dumbfounded, “How can these same people who saw such miracles ever have wanted to abandon God for this ridiculous idol?”

More recently, I’ve been reading the promises and curses for the people of Israel 40 years later as they are about to enter the promised land (Deuteronomy 28), and I’m getting that same feeling of dismay. God is very clear in promising the good that will come if the Israelites follow Him and the evil that will come if they don’t. Still, having read the rest of the story, I know they choose don’t.

Of course now, 20-some years after high school, I can see a little deeper into the story. God has worked in some amazing and unexpected ways in my life and the lives of those I love. Yet, when I face difficult and uncertain circumstances, it is disheartening how easily I fall into the deception that God must not really want to bless me and perhaps I’d be better off striking out on my own.

Today I’m giving you a choice. You can have life and success. Or you can have death and harm. I’m commanding you today to love the Lord your God. I’m commanding you to live exactly as He wants you to live. You must obey His commands, rules and laws. Then you will live. There will be many of you. The Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to take as your own. (Deuteronomy 30:15-16, NIrV)

Disbelief is exactly what it comes down to, isn’t it? God states His desire very clearly throughout the Bible: He wants to be with us. He wants to love us and to bless us. The issue is my choosing to believe that His blessings are only those things wrapped up in pretty paper and topped with a shiny bow. Or only when He gives me what I want. Or only when He keeps me from being hurt.

Yet, that’s not the way blessings are described in the Bible. James put it this way, “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12, NIV). Or how about Jesus’s own words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit …. Blessed are those who mourn …. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst …. Blessed are those who are persecuted …. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me” (Matthew 5:1-12, NIV). The apostle Paul reminds the Corinthians to take heart, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17, NIV). It’s good to bear in mind those troubles Paul said were achieving glory included shipwrecks, imprisonments, brutal beatings, sleeplessness, hunger, and death threats from Jews and Gentiles alike. Those don’t sound much like what I’d want to follow with a hashtag reading soblessed.

God blesses us for our eternal good. He gives us what will be of the most benefit over the long term, even though it may be hard or painful now. In the same way I require my kids to learn math facts or clean up their rooms, even though they struggle and say they’re bored and tell me I’m mean, because I know such knowledge and practice will serve them well later in life, God chooses to be momentarily “mean” to us and require more from us than we feel is strictly necessary to make our lives better in ways we can’t yet fully understand. And on some long days, that is hard to believe.

Lord,

You promise the best to us. You promise more than we could ever ask or even imagine (Ephesians 3:20). But You also require that we trust in Your goodness and love for us. That is hard sometimes, God! When life looks bleak and nothing seems to be going the way I want it to and I’m tired of the lessons You keep leading me through again and again and again, I just want to throw my hands in the air and admit defeat. And perhaps I should. Maybe if I gave up my own determined misunderstanding of Your ways and Your truth, I would find it easier to recognize the eternal glory for which You are preparing me.

Thank You that, in the meanwhile, in the muddle, You never give up on me. You are good. Your love endures forever. Your faithfulness lasts throughout the generations (Psalm 100:5). Amen.

Eagerly, More or Less

It’s easy for me to get wrapped up in all the things I think are going wrong in my life. We recently moved, so we have had to tie up all sorts of loose ends at our old home and set things up in our new home. We have (mostly DH has, bless him) had to make multiple phone calls, e-mails, and a couple of personal visits to get new appliances, transfer utilities, and generally keep things running more-or-less smoothly as we left one address and arrived at another.

But, some things weren’t so smooth. They never are. One thing or another almost always causes a snag in the fabric. I’m a picker by nature. To my detriment, most of the time, I pick at those snags until they develop into full-fledged runs or even tears. Then I’m left with a hole that needs mending on top of everything else.

I was dealing with one of those snags today. At our old address, our mobile phone and internet service were bundled together on one bill. Somehow, in the move, even though we are still using the exact same services, the two became unbundled, and we were left with an unexpected $97 bill due today. Now, did I focus on the positive?

Of course not. I was not pleased that I discovered this issue today, rather than tomorrow or next week when we’d have a late fee due as well. I wasn’t thanking God for providing the money in our checking account this week to cover an extra $97 expenditure without being overdrawn. No, instead I was fussing and fuming about how somebody else screwed up and now we have to clean up the mess. My mind, most assuredly, was on earthly things.

Many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Phil. 3:18b-20, NIV)

God,

How can I be eagerly awaiting You, when all the annoying things going on around me seem to claim so much of my attention? And yet, if You’ll permit me a Martha moment, how will everything get done if I’m focusing on You and ignoring all the dinner preparations? Or maybe, it’s not so much about the doing or not doing … maybe it’s more the attitude I have.

Rather than seeing all of the annoyances, I should be looking for ways to praise You in each and every circumstance in my life. Thank You for bringing this phone issue to my attention today, while we have money in the account, before the bill was past due. In the midst of all this confusion, we have maintained service without interruption. Thank You for that provision. Thank You even that we live in a time and place we can connect to our loved ones by phone and internet. There are many people in the world who never have (had) that luxury.

Help me to keep in perspective the little annoyances of my life. Let me see how much greater You are than any of them, and that I have the amazing freedom to worship You, so matter what else I need to accomplish in my day to keep things running more-or-less smoothly.

Confidence in Me?

Fifteen hours from now, I have a job interview scheduled. This is not my dream job, but one that could help us make ends meet over the next several months. I hate interviewing. Maybe if I keep singing and swing a suitcase by my side, it will be easier. Then again, Maria already had the job working for a Captain with seven children (What’s so fearsome about that?).

There is a scene from the beginning of the movie Joe Versus the Volcano where the boss, played by Dan Hedaya, is talking on the phone to a colleague about a potential new hire. He keeps repeating the sentence, “I know he can get the job, but can he do the job?” I feel like I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum: I know I can do the job, but can I get it?

God,

I hate job searching. I hate feeling like I have to sell myself and talk myself up and be confident and charismatic and brag about my accomplishments.

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (I Peter 4:10-11, NIV)

God, I don’t know what it means to praise You in the context of this interview. I am struggling to see how looking for a part-time job to supplement the family income is going to bring glory to You. Help me see how You strengthen me to serve through a job I’d rather not have to get. Let me speak the words that You’d have me say. May I show Your grace to everyone I come into contact with today. Thank You that, no matter where I go or what I do, You are there with me. And, no matter how confident or incompetent I feel during the interview, may You be glorified.