Whole Life Thankfulness – Thank You For My Life – Thankful Part 5

June 8, 2021

Levels of Thankfulness – Stages of Gratitude

One really important thing that’s happened as I’ve focused on Gratitude and Thankfulness is that I’ve begun recognizing levels or stages or qualities of Thankfulness in myself. It’s not necessarily a linear progression from one to the other. It can be parts of all or it can be one for one situation and another for another. And it can be most or all of these at the same time for me.

I’m talking about:
• Circumstantial Thankfulness – Thanks for the blessings!
• Comparative Thankfulness – Well, I guess it could be worse!
• Thankfulness In All Things – In Everything Give Thanks
• Whole Life Thankfulness – I’m Thankful for my life!

Whole Life Thankfulness – Thankful for my life

I’d love it if you’ll take three minutes and watch this video clip from the movie Joe Versus the Volcano.

When I first saw this movie years ago, as I watched this scene, God spoke something into my heart and started me on a quest (or something very like a quest) to live as much of my life as possible with a “Thank you for my life” attitude and outlook.

Oh God Whose Name I Do Not Know! Tom Hanks’ character Joe didn’t know the name of the God who had given him his life. I have the privilege of knowing the name of that God! He’s Father! He’s My Shepherd! And he’s the God who has given me nine years more of life on earth than my dad had. (And that’s just so far!)

If you read my recent series of posts “Not Disappointed”, you know that late in life, in my mid-sixties actually, I began to discover that my dad must have been way more important to me than I realized. My dad died in 1988 at age 69 and 166 days. I hadn’t seen him for a few years because Jean and I were missionaries serving overseas, and one of the things missionaries sacrifice is time with family. My dad and mom were able to visit us a couple of years after we moved to Jamaica. We were still living in the village in the mountains and my dad had a great time doing carpentry projects for the church and the children’s primary school. My dad was old school enough that he didn’t complain about having to do most everything with hand tools, because even if we’d had power tools, the electricity wasn’t consistent enough to count on. It was a great time!

Then he and my mom had gone back home to Oregon, and Jean and I and Melissa had moved to Kingston and started the Bible Training Center. Life was full and busy and it had been nearly two years since I’d seen my dad before he died. I was so thankful to be able to get a flight to Medford, Oregon, and thankful that they delayed the funeral a day so I’d be able to be there!

But twenty four years later, when I was approaching age 69 and 166 days, the age my dad lived to, I made an electronic calendar in Microsoft Outlook to count down to when I reached the age he reached. Somehow, it became really important to me to mark the age when I had lived as long as he lived. Kind of like the short-timer’s calendar we all kept in Vietnam to count down to the end of our tour of duty.

On the day I lived as long as my dad had lived, something happened in me. A good something. I decided, chose to believe, and made it a core principle of my life that every day from that point on was a gift from God. I know, they all are aren’t they? But this was a kind of defining moment for me. From that day forward, every day of my life is a grace-gift from God!

Not every day of my life since that day has been a pleasant day or enjoyable day. There have been lots of challenges, setbacks, pain, and heartache. Imagine that! And there have been joy-filled days, and restful days, and victories, and celebrations. You know, like normal life is.

And though I still get anxious about stuff and I feel envious or critical of people sometimes, that is not the core of my attitude toward my life. My life on its good days and its bad days is a gift from God. I’m thankful for my life!

In this series, we’ve considered Four Stages or Qualities of Thankfulness. (There may be five or six or however many you might discover on your life’s journey through sunny meadows and dark valleys.)

    • I don’t think these are a linear progression from one to the other. For me, it can be parts of all or it can be one for one situation and another for another.
    • I can find myself at any of these four stages in the same day.
    • I know that I want to arrive more frequently and stay longer at the “Thankful For My Life” stage of thankfulness!

Let’s determine to live our lives with an Attitude of Gratitude. I know it’s trite and it’s a cliché. But I also know that there is a way of living Thankful, living and thinking and acting out of a deep gratitude to God for the gift of life.

Don’t forget that Gratitude doesn’t come through having what you want, it comes through wanting what you have.

Be consciously and intentionally grateful for what you have, and don’t waste the moments of your life whining and complaining over what you don’t have! Express gratitude and thanksgiving continually!

I hope there has been an insight, or encouragement, or even a challenge for you as you’ve read this series of posts. Let’s explore the entire range of thankfulness and keep moving toward that place where we are more and more often, for longer and longer periods of time, simply Thankful for our Lives!

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

 

Thankfulness In All Things – In Everything Give Thanks – Thankfulness Part 4

Levels of Thankfulness – Stages of Gratitude

One really important thing as I’ve focused on Gratitude and Thankfulness is that I’ve begun recognizing levels or stages or qualities of Thankfulness in myself. It’s not necessarily a linear progression from one to the other. It can be parts of all or it can be one for one situation and another for another. And it can be most or all of these at the same time for me.

I’m talking about:
• Circumstantial Thankfulness – Thanks for the blessings!
• Comparative Thankfulness – Well, I guess it could be worse!
• Thankfulness In All Things – In Everything Give Thanks
• Whole Life Thankfulness – I’m Thankful for my life!

I’m learning that “Gratitude is an Attitude” (see what I did there?) of the heart, not merely a reaction to favorable circumstances.

No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NLT)

The transition from Gratitude as a momentary warm, fuzzy feeling prompted by circumstances, to Gratitude as an attitude of your heart, a settled response to God and his goodness, is a process. It’s a process that involves joy and pain, blessing and loss, and it’s worth its weight in gold!

I’m learning that you can be thankful IN everything, without being thankful FOR everything!

In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. (1 Thessalonians 5:18 KJV)

When I look back over the years the most thankful things I remember have not always been the easiest things! The greatest challenges have resulted in the greatest progress in my maturity, attitude, and character! The greatest challenges have resulted in the greatest Gratitude to God! I love it when things go smoothly, but when I face challenges and God comes through, sometimes the Gratitude is almost overwhelming!

Thankfulness – In Everything Give Thanks

In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. (1 Thessalonians 5:18 KJV)

It’s not “FOR” everything give thanks. It’s “IN” everything give thanks.

It’s not being false and hyper-spiritual and saying silly stuff. It’s looking for the good in the bad, the beautiful in the ugly. And then intentionally, and sometimes with great effort and determination, focusing on the good and the beautiful. And being thankful for the good in the midst of a situation that includes things that are not good.

In the midst of a situation that includes pain, loss, uncertainty, and confusion we can choose to focus on the good: The kind words of others, the kind and caring actions of others, things that we still have, things that offer a glimpse of hope. We can focus on good readings on the lab work, rather than on the fact we have the disease. We can focus on the energy we have rather than on the energy we’ve lost.

I remember a Holy Moment during our daughter Stephanie’s cancer battle in 2019-2020 when Jean, Stephanie’s mother, used scissors to cut off Stephanie’s remaining hair (which had begun coming out in clumps). Then Philip, Stephanie’s husband, shaved the remaining fuzzy hair from her head. And I stood by and watched love, courage, and faith working together in one of the holiest moments I’ve had the privilege of being part of!

There were many not so holy moments (at least they didn’t seem holy to me at the time) during Stephanie’s battle with the disease, but I’ve chosen to let that Moment stand out in my memory. And now, nearly a year on, the follow-up exams have been clear. I have to admit, it’s easier to give thanks now for the current good news, but let’s set our hearts on the kind of thankfulness that finds something beautiful and thankworthy in the “In Everything” seasons.

It’s not “FOR” everything give thanks. It’s “IN” everything give thanks.

I’m learning. I don’t have all this stuff worked out so that there’s never a moment of angst or fear or loss. I’m learning. And I’m well aware that I haven’t faced all my “In Everythings” yet. There may come an “In Everything” that’s way beyond my pay grade. But I’m learning. I’m getting ready for the “In Everythings” that are still ahead by practicing my “Giving Thanks” in the ones that come along.

Practical stuff:

There is an element of “Well, it could be worse!” and some “Glass half full or glass half empty” thinking in all of this. But one thing I’ve learned about Thankfulness is that it has to be expressed in some way. When we look for the thankful things amongst the “In Everythings” of life, when we search for them, identify them, then we can call them out by saying “Thank you” to God, to other people, to our own anxious souls, something powerful and transformational happens.

This comes more naturally to some of us than to others, but I recommend you make a conscious decision to “In Everything Give Thanks”. Then start to do it…
• Look for the thankful things.
• Identify them when you find them. Name them. Call them out.
• Express your Thankfulness. Say thanks. Thank God. Thank people.

Let your giving of thanks in your present situation prepare you for the giving of thanks “In Everything”. You and the people you love and influence will not regret it!

So far we’ve been thinking about:
• Circumstantial Thankfulness – Thanks for the blessings!
• Comparative Thankfulness – Well, I guess it could be worse!
• Thankfulness In All Things – In Everything Give Thanks!

It’s not as if any of these are the ultimate goal of Gratitude. They’re more like stages in a process. They’re more like places we visit and revisit on the journey of our life. And I’m still convinced that these are not something we move through in linear progression or that there are better and worse kinds of Gratitude. In my experience, I find myself moving through the spectrum of Thankfulness pretty frequently. But I do want to grow in Gratitude so I spend more and more time simply being Thankful for my Life!

Next week we’ll wrap up the Thankfulness series with Whole Life Thankfulness – Thank You For My Life! Don’t miss it!

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

 

Comparative Thankfulness – Well, I Guess It Could Be Worse! Thankfulness Part 3

When I started the Thankful Series two weeks ago, I wrote about our human need for someone to be thankful to! We all realize that there are times when things go well, when we’re blessed so much more than we deserve, that we simply need someone to thank. It’s a glad thing for people of faith, for believers, that we can be thankful to God!

As I’ve continued to focus on Gratitude and Thankfulness, I find stages or qualities of Thankfulness in myself. I’m talking about:
• Circumstantial Thankfulness – Thanks for the blessings!
• Comparative Thankfulness – Well, I guess it could be worse!
• Thankfulness In All Things – In Everything Give Thanks
• Whole Life Thankfulness – I’m Thankful for my life!

It’s not necessarily a linear progression from one kind of Thankfulness to the other. It can be parts of all of them, or it can be one kind for one situation and another kind for another. And it can be most or all of these at the same time for me.

In Fact, as I’ve been writing this post, I’ve been processing through so many different levels of Thankfulness!

Comparative Thankfulness – Well, I guess it could be worse!

You’re right! Comparative Thankfulness is when I see my blessings in comparison to the presently observable blessings that someone else is or isn’t experiencing. Comparative Thankfulness has its potential pitfalls, but let’s look at some ways in which it can help us more greatly appreciate what we have and also develop compassion for others who are less fortunate.

I remember a sort of proverb I heard several times back in a previous century. Do you remember this one? “I complained because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.” I know, right? Or the classic, “There but for the Grace of God go I!” Those sayings can be trite and shallow, but there is a truth there.

Each week when I go to the Infusion Room at St Charles Cancer Center, I’m reminded that compared to other people who are doing Chemo, I have it pretty easy. I haven’t even lost my hair. Actually I should say, “I haven’t lost what’s left of my hair after 78 years on the planet!”

When I go in for my treatment, I see all the people who are receiving regular Chemo sitting in the chairs with their books and tablets and wires and tubes. Then I go to the “Velcade” chairs in the back and the nurse comes to do all my vitals and the interview questions. Then I wait while they mix my infusion that will be injected by needle under my skin and be absorbed by my body over the next week while I take my other two Chemo meds in pill form each day.

And I do the Comparative Thankfulness mental dance. “Oh, I’m thankful that I don’t have to do that!” and on the other side of the equation, “Oh, but I’m going to be doing this for the rest of my life if it works, and something else if it doesn’t.” Because my cancer doesn’t get cured, it gets treated and managed. I do this comparison stuff a lot. Actually a bit more than I like to admit!

There are some possible good “side effects” to Comparative Thankfulness (we learn a lot about side effects in cancer treatment): It can help to develop awareness that we aren’t the only people dealing with hard stuff. And many of them don’t have the faith resources we have to deal with the hard stuff.

Comparative Thankfulness can help us develop compassion, understanding, and empathy. It can help us learn to cut people some slack when they don’t handle terrible things terribly well.

Comparative Thankfulness can help us realize that we actually have a lot to be thankful for. In our gratitude for our blessings, compassion grows and we begin to find ways to graciously share our blessings with others who have less, even if our own blessings don’t seem to be totally overflowing at the time. If it goes the good way – I develop empathy and want to help others.

But there is this one negative side effect of Comparative Thankfulness that might show up. Let’s hope not, but it might! It’s when we see others whose Comparative Blessing Level is way below ours and we think, “I wonder what they did wrong that things are that bad for them!” and the accompanying thought, “I must be a really good person to since that didn’t happen to me!” We can begin to feel prideful or superior to the other less-fortunate person.

It’s like when Jesus disciples encountered a blind man and the disciples asked Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents for him to suffer this blindness?”

1 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. 2 “Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” 3 “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins,” Jesus answered. “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him. (John 9:1-3 NLT)

During the years my family and I lived in Jamaica, two years in the rural market town of Linstead and five years in Kingston, the capital city, we lived without many of the comforts and conveniences we would have taken for granted if we’d been living a “normal life” back in the US. Sometimes we’d focus on the frustrations of sacrifice and inconvenience. But it only required going outside our gate onto the street to put things in perspective. The physical, practical needs of others were obvious and ever-present. Women came to our gate begging for food or for money to feed their children. Ragged children came to the car window at every downtown intersection. Beggars, often crippled or blind, sat by the door of the bank, the post office, and the supermarket.

We were always quickly reminded that if instead of comparing our minor sacrifices and inconveniences to the comfort and ease we’d be experiencing in the far-off mythical land of “back home in the USA”, we’d simply look around at the needs of others in the community around us, our gratitude attitude quickly changed! We were thankful for the blessings we had instead of focusing on the things we lacked. And we realized that even in our comparative lack (if we looked north), we had an abundance that we could share with those around us.

The needs around us were obvious and overwhelming. We soon learned, and were often reminded, that we couldn’t do it all, but we could do something.

So while comparing ourselves with others has a few pitfalls to watch out for, it can help us appreciate more the things we do have, develop empathy and compassion for others who are less fortunate, and realize that even our comparative lack can also be comparative abundance that we can graciously share.

So here’s my point with these thoughts on Comparative Thankfulness: It’s not the ultimate goal of Gratitude. And we’re going to look at two more kinds (Levels, Qualities) of Thankfulness in this series: Thankfulness in all things, and Thankfulness for my Life. And I’m still convinced that these are not something we move through in linear progression and that there are better and worse kinds of Gratitude. In my experience, I find myself moving through the spectrum of Thankfulness pretty frequently. But I do want to grow in Gratitude so I spend more and more time simply being Thankful for my Life! I’m really looking forward to sharing the next two blog posts with you. I think you’ll find some joy in “Thankfulness in all things” and “Whole life thankfulness.”

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

Thankful Part 2 – Circumstantial Thankfulness

Thanks for the Blessings

As I started the Thankful Series last week, I wrote about our human need for someone to be thankful to! Some people thank their lucky stars, some thank the Universe, some thank “the breaks”, but we all realize that there are times when things go well, when it all seems to break our way, when we’re blessed so much more than we deserve, that we simply need someone to thank. It’s a glad thing for people of faith, for believers, that we can be thankful to God!

I’ve begun recognizing as I’ve focused on Gratitude and Thankfulness that I find stages or qualities of Thankfulness in myself. I’m talking about:

    • Circumstantial Thankfulness – Thanks for the blessings!
    • Comparative Thankfulness – Well, I guess it could be worse!
    • Thankfulness In All Things – In Everything Give Thanks
    • Whole Life Thankfulness – I’m Thankful for my life!

I’m becoming convinced it’s not necessarily a linear progression from one kind of Thankfulness to the other. It can be parts of all of them, or it can be one kind for one situation and another kind for another. And it can be most or all of these at the same time for me.

In Fact, as I’ve been writing this post, I’ve been processing through so many different levels of Thankfulness!

Health Update:

1) Last Thursday I had my “one-month of treatment” cancer check-up. My oncologist told me that the numbers that should go down are beginning to go down and a couple of the numbers we want to go up are climbing. He said, “What we wanted to happen is happening. This helps us toward a good prognosis!”

2) Jean had a successful surgery to repair her broken leg/ankle on Monday, May 18. She’s recovering well at home with minimal pain so far. She has more mobility than any time in the two weeks since the break occurred. It’s looking good! Our daughter Melissa and her husband Colin have been looking after us. They’ve been coming over to help get Jean out of the house and into the car when we need to go for medical stuff. Our daughter Stephanie is with us this week to help out and give me a break. Son-in-law Philip set up our Alexa so Jean can reach me in any room in the house from her headquarters in the living room. Life is good!

So many of you have written, texted, phoned, and emailed words of hope and encouragement! Many have given financially to help with the unexpected expenses of my illness and Jean’s injury! A Meal Train team from our church has been providing evening meals most days. Please be patient with us if we’re slow to acknowledge and respond. Your responses have been overwhelming in a very good way! We love and appreciate you all very much!

This week’s blog post is going to focus on Circumstantial Thankfulness – “Thanks for the Blessings”. It’s a good starting place, because blessings are usually easy to identify and they’re really nice to receive! They make us glad. They make us blessed. They make  us, well, Thankful!

Here are some verses from Psalm 30, written by Shepherd/King David to praise and thank God for his blessings. Let’s see what David has to say….

1 I will exalt you, LORD, for you rescued me. You refused to let my enemies triumph over me. 2 O LORD my God, I cried to you for help, and you restored my health. 3 You brought me up from the grave, O LORD. You kept me from falling into the pit of death. 4 Sing to the LORD, all you godly ones! Praise his holy name. 5 For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime! Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning. (Psalm 30:1–5 NLT)

How’s it going, David? OK so far! I had some challenges, in fact some really scary stuff happened and I prayed and asked God for help and he fixed everything! Should be alright from here forward. Some bad guys (my enemies) were out to get me, but God could tell that I’m a good guy and they were bad to the bone, so he rescued me!

This is genuine thankfulness! David faced some big challenges and God helped him. Everything was going great! The one possible problem I see here is that when we stay too long in Circumstantial Thankfulness, we can begin to get the idea, and even project that idea to others, that we got the good stuff because we deserve the good stuff. It’s too easy to start thinking, “Look at me! No wonder I’m blessed! I am, in fact, the most blessable person I know!”

Our attitude can take on overtones of: “Be good like me and trouble, if it comes, won’t last long!  Here’s how you do this stuff.  Glad I figured this out.  Now we’ve got it pretty much under control!”

It’s really good to be thankful for God’s blessings! I remember a line from an old hymn we sang at church years ago: “Count your many blessings, Name them one by one, Count your many blessings, See what God has done!” Counting our blessings, being specific about the ways God has blessed us, and acknowledging that our lives are made rich by the goodness of God helps us in so many ways. It moves us from scarcity thinking to abundance thinking. It moves us from focus on what we don’t have to what do we have. It makes us thankful for blessing and it increases our faith for God’s provision. It leads from thankfulness for what God has done to praise for who God is to us. It’s good!

But the caution I see here is two-fold: If we are only thankful when the blessings overflow, 1) We can get stuck in Circumstantial Thankfulness where we are only thankful when everything is great, and 2) We can develop an Entitlement Attitude.

When we develop an Entitlement Attitude, we can start thinking: I’m one of the good guys! I’m obviously pleasing God. Look how he’s blessing me. If I just keep doing these things I’m doing, if I push all the right buttons and check all the right boxes, nothing bad can happen.  God is obligated to keep me from harm or loss. Entitlement is about what I feel I deserve. Gratitude is about God’s goodness, mercy, and grace!

Father, it’s about you and your unfailing love, not about me and my entitlement! I’m grateful for what your love and grace has provided, not what I thought you owed me! And I’ll praise you now simply because you’re good and you’re worthy!

In real life, we do get good stuff. We receive blessings. We’re thankful for those blessings. But in real life we also lose things, have unfulfilled expectations, and experience hurts and disappointments (remember the “Not Disappointed” series?). We experience difficulties in relationships, finances get tight, sickness comes calling.

Entitled people are neither truly happy nor fully content! Why? Because entitlement says, “I don’t deserve the bad things – I do deserve the good things – and if I don’t get what I do deserve or I get what I don’t deserve I’m unhappy!” Entitled people seem to forget that God gave us the message(s) of the Psalms partly to remind us that “God is Good, but Life is Hard, but God is Good!”

Friends, I’m not saying it’s easy, I’m just realizing I can’t live a healthy and vibrant life if I feel slighted or let down when I don’t get what I think I deserve…

And remember, I’m not ranking these kinds of Thankfulness in terms of better and worse! And I’m not treating them as a linear progression from Circumstantial to Whole Life Thankfulness. I believe they’re all legitimate ways to be Thankful and Gratitude-full.

    • Circumstantial Thankfulness – Thanks for the blessings!
    • Comparative Thankfulness – Well, I guess it could be worse!
    • Thankfulness In All Things – In Everything Give Thanks
    • Whole Life Thankfulness – I’m Thankful for my life!

The truth is:  God loves us not because we are good, but because God is good!

And here’s the corollary to that: God loves us just as we are, not just as we ought to be, because we’ll never be just as we ought to be!

In my next post we’ll look at Comparative Thankfulness. Like Circumstantial Thankfulness, it has some strong points and some weaker points, and we’ll explore that together. Stay tuned!

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

 

Thankful Part 1

Jim’s Health Update – May 11, 2021

Hi friends, We’ve got some news to share with you about my health. I was recently diagnosed with a cancer called Multiple Myeloma. MM is a cancer of the plasma cells in the bone marrow. We’ve chosen a targeted chemotherapy treatment. If I respond well to the treatment, remission is possible. This week I finish the first four-week treatment cycle. So far, side effects are minimal and manageable. I’m in good health otherwise, so that’s in our favor.

Jean and I are doing well. This caught us by surprise, but after a month and a half of blood tests, MRI scans, bone marrow biopsies, and treatment, we’ve accepted that we’re moving into a new season of life that simply isn’t going to be like it was before the diagnosis.

We would appreciate your prayers for healing and for wisdom and for God’s continued provision. Daily “GraceNotes Devotionals” will continue as will my Weekly blog post “Notes from My Journey”.

We’ll put a Health Updates tab on my blog site https://jimastephens.com.

Thanks for your love, prayers, and support. Love from Jim and Jean Stephens

Thankful – Part 1

We humans need someone to be thankful to! Some people thank their lucky stars, some thank the Universe, some thank “the breaks”, but we all realize that there are times when things go well, when it all seems to break our way, when we’re blessed so much more than we deserve, that we simply need someone to thank. I’ve heard that the saddest thing about being an atheist is that there’s no one to thank. It’s a glad thing for people of faith, for believers, that we can be thankful to God!

That coin has two sides, friends! There are also those times and seasons when things aren’t going our way and we are desperately looking for someone to blame! But that’s another story and we’ll deal with that later. For the next few blog posts, I’m going to address thankfulness and gratitude and it’s something we all need to think about.

As I’ve been thinking about Thankfulness and Gratitude (I think about those two things a lot!) there are a few things that have stood out to me very clearly and distinctly, and I’m going to focus the next few blog posts on what I’m learning (again, for the 1000th time) about the peace and power of learning to Simply Be Thankful.

Levels of Thankfulness – Stages of Gratitude

One really important thing as I’ve focused on Gratitude and Thankfulness is that I’ve begun recognizing levels or stages or qualities of Thankfulness in myself. It’s not necessarily a linear progression from one to the other. It can be parts of all or it can be one for one situation and another for another. And it can be most or all of these at the same time for me.

I’m talking about:

    • Circumstantial Thankfulness – Thanks for the blessings!
    • Comparative Thankfulness – Well, I guess it could be worse!
    • Thankfulness In All Things – In Everything Give Thanks
    • Whole Life Thankfulness – I’m Thankful for my life!

I’m learning that “Gratitude is an Attitude” (see what I did there?) of the heart, not a reaction to circumstances.

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NLT)

The transition from Gratitude as a momentary warm, fuzzy feeling prompted by circumstances, to Gratitude as an attitude of your heart, a settled response to God and his goodness, is a process. It’s a process that involves joy and pain, blessing and loss, and it’s worth its weight in gold!

I’m learning that you can be thankful IN everything, without being thankful FOR everything!

No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NLT)

In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. (1 Thessalonians 5:18 KJV)

I’m learning that Gratitude doesn’t come through having what you want, it comes through wanting what you have.

Be consciously and intentionally grateful for what you have and don’t waste the moments of your life whining and complaining over what you don’t have!! Express gratitude and thanksgiving continually!

When I look back over the years the most thankful things I remember have not always been the easiest things! The greatest challenges have resulted in the greatest progress in my maturity, attitude, and character! The greatest challenges have resulted in the greatest Gratitude to God! I love it when things go smoothly, but when I face challenges and God comes through, sometimes the Gratitude is almost overwhelming!

So, here’s my plan: For the next few (three or four?) posts I’m going to dig into some of these things I’ve been learning about Thankfulness and Gratitude. I hope you’ll stay with me as we explore Thankfulness and Gratitude and I’m very, very confident it won’t be a waste of your time or mine! (And I’m torn between using the word Thankfulness and using the word Gratitude.) I like both words a lot, so I think I’ll use them both in these posts!

It’s not happy people who are Grateful, it’s Grateful people who are happy!

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

 

 

 

Not Disappointed Part 4 – Not Disappointed in the Life God has Given Me

May 4, 2021

I’m not disappointed in the life my Good Father has given me, and my Good Father is not disappointed in me!

I’m going to briefly review the three previous posts on disappointment before wrapping this up. I’ve included links to each of the other three and if this series has been relevant to your location on your journey of faith, I encourage you to read through them again.

Part 1 Personal Identity Statement: I am God’s beloved child and God is not disappointed in me!

The story of how God gave me my Personal Identity Statement: “I am God’s beloved child and he is not disappointed in me!”

Part 2 Very Disappointed: We get disappointed in each other and even in ourselves sometimes.

Disappointment is based in expectations. If we get our expectations right, we can avoid a lot of disappointment. Also we need to clarify in our own minds whether we’re disappointed in the person or in a specific action or attitude. In many cases our disappointments in ourselves and others means we’ve been judging! Not recommended by Jesus.

We can learn too much from a life lesson or an experience. I had an experience when I was 17 in which I learned that my dad and my mom were very disappointed in me. I thought the lesson was that they were ALWAYS DISAPPOINTED in me and actually they were TEMOPORARILY DISAPPOINTED in my immature behavior.

Was my dad disappointed in me that night? Of course he was! Or maybe actually he was more frustrated by my behavior. I had, in a variety of ways, failed to fulfill his expectations of me, of my attitude, of my behavior. But my dad loved me and even though he said he was disappointed in me, it was actually my behavior that disappointed him. I don’t think he was wishing he could trade me in for a different son. At least I hope not!

That experience so impacted me that I apparently stuffed it away and didn’t remember it until God helped me know fifty years later that God is not disappointed in me.

Part 3 Not Disappointed: Why God is Not Disappointed in You! (LINK)

Is God disappointed in me? No!

Here’s a legitimate question: How can you say God is not disappointed in me? I’ve done a lot of things I’m disappointed in! I’ve failed to do a lot of things I should have done! Here’s how, friends! God knew exactly what to expect of us, in advance, even before we were born! So if God knows what to expect of us, and if disappointment is based in unfulfilled expectations, how could God be disappointed in you and me?

    • God’s expectations of you are that you will do exactly what he knows you will do, and he loves and accepts you anyhow! Remember disappointment is all about unfulfilled expectations. God has realistic expectations of you and me.
    • God knows where you will stumble, where you will fall, where you will disappoint yourself and others.
    • God sees you on the other side of your disappointment and God works with you from that perspective.

Don’t miss this, friends! If God is omniscient (meaning God knows everything, past, present, and future), then God won’t be disappointed when the thing he already knows is inevitable happens. God has a plan that sees us on the other side of the failure, repented, converted, and moving forward in his purpose for us.

Part 4 Not Disappointed in the Life God has Given me.

    • We get disappointed in others.
    • We get disappointed in ourselves.
    • We get disappointed in God.
    • We get disappointed in the Life God has given us.

Disappointment is sourced in unfulfilled expectations. In order to avoid disappointment, we must develop realistic expectations. Short form: Get the expectations right, eliminate the disappointment. This is simple, but it’s certainly not easy! I’m working on it…

Friends, I’m not pushing you to reach the same conclusions I have about disappointment. I’ve been working through my relationship with disappointment for most of my 78 years of life, at least for the part of those 78 years I knew what disappointment felt like. From the early part when I learned from my mom that in a world of lack, if you don’t get your hopes up, you won’t be disappointed. From the part where I learned that my behavior had made my parents “very disappointed” and I thought that they were disappointed in me rather than in my behavior. From the part where my brand of the Christian faith taught me that God was pretty much always disappointed in me because God is perfect and holy and God can’t look on “sin” and I was pretty sinful. Following that line of thinking, it seems as if God must have been really inconvenienced by the conflict between his love for me and the reality that much of the time he couldn’t really stand the sight of me. (I’m smiling here! I know better now!)

Then, in my 60’s, my journey of faith took me into regions I hadn’t traveled before, and I discovered that God was, first and foremost, my loving Father. God is my Good, Good Father. I realized that in our attempt to eliminate the mystery of faith and to encapsulate a limitless God in a completely knowable and understandable box for safekeeping, we’ve been missing a lot! At least I was missing a lot! I’m finding more and more of what I’ve been missing. And my new reality is that when I find something more, in order to embrace it fully, I often have to let go of something. You know what I mean?

What has God promised you? Find God’s Spirit-inspired, Spirit-quickened promises that are relevant to the place in your journey you find yourself and wrestle with the application of those promises to your life. This is what must form our expectations.

Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him. (Psalm 62:5 NLT)

My soul, wait thou only upon God; For my expectation is from him. (Psalm 62:5 KJV)

My identity (a gift from God, by the way) is “I’m God’s beloved child and he’s not disappointed in me!” I’m learning to live into that day by day. I rejoice in knowing that my identity is secure when I do well and when I don’t do well, when I succeed and when I fail. I see it more clearly, more often. I get there and connect with the reality that God is not disappointed in me more often these days and I stay there longer. Someday I’ll fully live in the light of the truth that “I’m God’s beloved child and he’s not disappointed in me!”

In the meantime, I journey through the valleys and along the ridges. Sometimes I rest in green pastures and sometimes I walk through the dark valley. But it’s still me, beloved of God, accepted and approved, doing the walking and the resting.

This “Not Disappointed” series of blog posts represents processes at work for more than half a century of my life and it’s still not finished! Enjoy the trip. Safe travels!

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

Not Disappointed – Part 3

In the previous two posts we went from Not Disappointed  to Very Disappointed. Now we’re back to “Not Disappointed and Why Not”. And this is how it stays! My Good Father is not disappointed in me, and I’m not disappointed in the life my Good Father has given me! In Not Disappointed Part 3 we’ll look at how God sees us and why God is not disappointed in us.

Expectations – Disappointment is directly tied to expectations.

    • Me: “I thought we were going to be able to do go to the beach this weekend but I have to work all weekend, and I’m so disappointed!”
    • Her: “I was depending on you to be available to look after the kids while I’m at the board meeting, but you didn’t show up! I’m so disappointed!”
    • All of us: “I’m so tired of the pandemic and lockdowns and restrictions, and it looked like we were about to be able to get back to normal! Now the cases are rising again and the restrictions are back in place! I’m so disappointed!”
    • God: “I gave you a bucket load of blessings, expecting that you would appreciate my generosity and adjust your behavior to reflect your gratitude, and now you go and break all the rules I set for you. I’m so disappointed in you!”

Disappointment is caused by unfulfilled expectations, by a failure to live up to or deliver on expectations. Does God know me? Does God know what to expect from me? If God already knows what I’m going to do, how can I disappoint God?

Look at this story of Jesus and Peter...

69 Meanwhile, Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant girl came over and said to him, “You were one of those with Jesus the Galilean.” 70 But Peter denied it in front of everyone. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. 71 Later, out by the gate, another servant girl noticed him and said to those standing around, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72 Again Peter denied it, this time with an oath. “I don’t even know the man,” he said. 73 A little later some of the other bystanders came over to Peter and said, “You must be one of them; we can tell by your Galilean accent.” 74 Peter swore, “A curse on me if I’m lying—I don’t know the man!” And immediately the rooster crowed. 75 Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.” And he went away, weeping bitterly. (Matthew 26:69-75 NLT)

Peter had brazenly insisted he would even die before denying Jesus! Jesus had predicted that before dawn the next morning, Peter would deny three times even knowing Jesus! Peter’s expectations of himself were based in ego, pride, and overconfidence. Jesus’ expectations were based in knowing Peter inside and out (and loving him unconditionally), and his foreknowledge of the things that were about to happen.

It looked to Peter like total irredeemable failure! Peter was crushed and broken and weeping bitterly in his soul-crushing disappointment in himself. It was over! He had failed! He had no further hope!

Here’s how it looked to Jesus:

31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. 32 But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers. (Luke 22:31-32 NLT)

Jesus was able to look ahead: Through desertion and betrayal, through torture and crucifixion, through death and the tomb, to resurrection and restoration on the other side. Jesus saw Peter restored and faithful, filled with the Spirit, preaching to thousands, healing the sick, strengthening the church, advancing God’s Kingdom!

But Peter had to live through it all in real time. Peter denied Jesus to a servant girl, then to another servant girl, then to a few bystanders. When Jesus’ words flashed through his mind, he was undone! Peter was broken! Peter the brave was a coward. Peter the bold was fearful. Peter the strong was weak as a kitten. And he was so disappointed in himself!

Peter was disappointed in himself, but Jesus was not disappointed in Peter! Friends, we must get this! To be disappointed would mean Jesus had an expectation different from what happened. Jesus knows you and me just as he knew Peter, friends! And he knows when we’ll disappoint ourselves. But Jesus sees us on the other side, restored, and he’s forgiven us already! In fact Jesus has big plans for us!

Jesus said to Peter, “When you are converted, strengthen your brothers.” And Peter did just that! He rose to the occasion, and along with James and John, assumed a key leadership role in the church that was birthed on Pentecost in the Upper Room. He preached boldly, he healed miraculously, he led effectively.

We get disappointed in ourselves and others, but God is not disappointed in us because God’s expectations of you and me are real and true.

Ten years ago I learned a lesson from that many-years-ago experience with my Dad when he said, “Your mother and I are very disappointed in you!” The lesson I learned was that my Mom and Dad were always very disappointed in me. The reality was in that moment they were disappointed in my behavior. And rightly so. But I learned the wrong lesson, and it in some ways affected me for the next 50 years!

Let’s be careful out there! Let’s be careful what we expect of ourselves, of others, of God, and of the life God has given us!

Prayer:

Father, Help us to grasp the truth that you’re not disappointed in us. Help us to grasp that you know everything about us, what we’ve done and what we’ll do, where we’ll fail and where we’ll fall, and that you see us on the other side of it all, restored and faithful. Grant us grace to receive your total forgiveness and full restoration. For Jesus’ sake!

Next week we’re going to dig into the “Not Disappointed” thing a little deeper. We’re going to look at four ways we get disappointed and some things we can do about each of them. Don’t miss “Not Disappointed Part 4” in next week’s blog.

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

Not Disappointed Part 2 – Very Disappointed

Hey Everybody, if you haven’t read last week’s blog post I’d like you to read it before you read this post. You can find it here . It’s a 6 minute read.

One Saturday night when I was about seventeen years old, I came home late after a night of partying. We lived four miles from town and I often had to hitch-hike home or if I was lucky one of my friends would drop me off at our driveway on the dirt road a quarter mile from the house.

I lived apart from my folks’ house in a little travel trailer under the locust trees across the yard from the house. I could usually come in without their knowledge, but for some reason this night my dad was watching and came out to talk to me.

I remember my dad sitting on a stack of lumber in the moonlight in the driveway area between the main house and my little trailer. I know it was moonlit, because I remember the dappled shadows of the locust leaves on the ground around us. He was sitting, kind of slump-shouldered and sad or angry looking. I was standing in front of him, kind of like the defendant standing before the judge.

My dad said, “Your mother and I are very disappointed in you!”

That’s it! That’s all! That’s what I remembered fifty years later!

That happened when I was about seventeen years old. I didn’t remember it until I was in my mid-sixties and was living my way through the process of learning that God was my loving father and he was not disappointed in me. When I learned my True Personal Identity (See last week’s post) it gradually opened up my mind and my memories to something that had happened fifty years earlier, something that had clearly impacted me deeply, but something I had never remembered until after I discovered that “I’m God’s beloved child, and he’s not disappointed in me!”

I don’t want to get bogged down in the idea of repressed (suppressed?) memories or try to be an armchair psychologist, but it’s interesting that I had lived my life most always feeling that God was disappointed in me, that no matter how hard I tried, the fact remained that I “should have done better”. Not always, but most always. I didn’t feel a sense of God’s disappointment always, but often. I didn’t think that God was always disappointed in me, but that he often was disappointed in me.

Suppressed memories? I don’t know. But I do know that when I had become secure enough in God’s love for me to know that he isn’t disappointed in me, that memory came to me so clearly that I can actually relive it in my mind! And that has been a healthy and healing thing for me.

Does that story, that incident that happened over sixty years ago, that I remembered only a little over ten years ago, mean my Dad didn’t love me? Absolutely not! It means that I had frustrated him (and my Mom) to the point that they didn’t know what to do with or about me! It means that my attitude and behavior, my selfish attitude and my “childish” behavior that flew in the face of everything my Dad and Mom stood for and hoped for in their son, had deeply disappointed them. I had not fulfilled their expectations and that was a disappointment to them.

My Dad actually misspoke. In his frustration with me he said “Your mother  and I are very disappointed in you!” What he meant was “Your mother and I are very disappointed in your rotten attitude and stinking behavior!” But I heard “disappointed in you” and somehow that stuck in my soul long after the frustration and emotion my Dad and Mom were experiencing faded away.

This really makes me think about the power and lasting impact of words spoken by one in authority or in any of a range of other significant relationships. Parents, bosses, partners, siblings, teachers, think deeply and seriously about the power of your words!

My parents were born in 1917 (my Mom) and 1919 (my Dad). They were raised in poor families and were in their teens when the Great Depression hit. Their lives were simple and hard. The way they grew up shaped them and shaped how they raised my brothers and me. We’d ask, “Dad, can we get a TV?”  Dad would say, “We’ll see.” (That meant no, it would cost too much)

We learned not to anticipate or look forward to things. We learned to lower our expectations. I remember my Mom saying, “Don’t get your hopes up then you won’t be disappointed!”

I know now that my parents lived with a lot of disappointment in their lifetime. For any number of reasons, things didn’t work out the way they had expected, the way they had hoped. They made a good life, but when I look back on what I know of their growing up, their youthful enthusiasm and zeal, then the hard knocks that came along through the years, it looks like as their expectations remained unfulfilled, their disappointment level rose.

I’m sorry that for a season, I contributed to raising their disappointment level. But that wasn’t a lasting thing. And even though we didn’t see each other much in the final years of their lives, because Jean and I lived outside the US for almost the last two decades of their lives, they were proud of the person I had become.

Did my Dad and I finish our relationship that way – me rebellious and him disappointed? Not at all. Our relationship matured through the years, mostly as I matured through the years. Thirty years after that night, when I was around five years older than my Dad was on that night, our relationship was a relationship of mutual love and respect. He was pleased (Not Disappointed) in me! I knew he loved and respected me and I loved and respected him.

There’s some really important lessons to be learned from the whole “disappointment” thing, you know? And one of the important lessons to be learned is not to learn too much from our lessons! Are you wondering what I mean by that? Mark Twain said, “A cat that sits on a hot stove lid will never sit on a hot stove lid again. But neither will it sit on a cold stove lid!”

Next week we’re going to dig into the “Not Disappointed” thing a little deeper. We’re going to look at the reason God is Not Disappointed in you and me. Don’t miss “Not Disappointed Part 3” in next week’s blog.

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

 

 

 

Not Disappointed Part 1

Not Disappointed Part 1

A few years ago I had the privilege of spending five days at a hotel near the airport on the outskirts of Atlanta with a group of pastors and leaders from around the US in an intensive training workshop called “ReFocusing.” A good friend who was part of the ReFocusing team invited me to attend a workshop they were hosting on their home turf. I was in a season of significant transition (seems like I’m always in a season of significant transition!) and it was so very timely for me to be in that intense environment! I spent most of those five days at a round table with four other leaders from very diverse backgrounds. Along with the other five tables of five ministers in the hotel meeting room, we represented a broad spectrum of the Christian church in America.

As is true with most well-presented seminars, there were lots of charts and slides for the screen and there were notebooks with “fill-in-the-blanks” spaces. We received many hours of solid teaching about very practical steps and actions we as leaders could take and also lead our churches in to “Re-Focus” our lives and ministries on the specific mission and calling God has for us. As I said, it was a very timely and appropriate week for me and an experience for which I’ll always be grateful.

I spent hours on those five days listening and learning, speaking and sharing with men and women in Christian leadership with whom I hadn’t thought I had much “common ground”. But as we talked and listened, as we learned more about each other and about our respective faith journeys, it was clear that we had the common ground of faith in Jesus Christ, of a sense of God’s specific calling to serve, and of commitment to God’s Kingdom work in our generation.

I came away from that experience more focused on my specific calling and purpose. But I was also more accepting and respectful of others whose background and doctrinal framework and ministry focus is a little or a lot different from mine. I came away determined to be more diligent at seeking common ground with those with whom I serve, and with those I want to help.

But there was much more to the week than lectures and slides and charts; more than talking and listening at the tables; there was even more than the very enjoyable lunches together at nearby restaurants.

On the next to last day of our workshop, the Refocusing team prepared us for and led us into an activity called “Developing Your Personal Identity Statement.” This was not about fine-tuning and focusing your ministry, not about learning how to do your ministry job better, not about filling in the gaps in your ministry training, but about becoming clear on your identity as a person. It was not about what you do, but solely about who you are.

After a morning of instruction and discussion, we were sent out of the room on our own for 90 minutes to connect with God and with our inner selves and write a simple statement of identity. And we were firmly instructed “Don’t come back without your Personal Identity Statement!” So the pressure was on!

I should make it clear that attending this workshop this was a God-provided gift that impacted a significant season of change and a larger process that was going on in me. Much had changed in my life in the previous few months. A ministry season and task that I loved very much and felt I was actually good at had come to an end. I was in my mid-60’s and I was thinking about the first half and second half of my life. I was thinking about what I want to be when I grow up.

A good friend back home in Bend had recently introduced me to the teaching and writing of Fr. Brennan Manning. I’d read his well-known book “Ragamuffin Gospel”, and soon (this is a story in itself) found myself devouring his latest book, Abba’s Child. This was a pivotal season in my life and the writings of Brennan Manning on relationship with God as Father and the teaching of Fr. Richard Rohr on transitioning between the First and Second Half of Life had become something of a pathway through the wilderness for me.

It was a beautiful Atlanta Autumn day and I decided to do my personal identity discovery walking around the perimeter of the hotel complex. The hotel was in a wooded area and apart from the roar of planes taking off and landing at ATL, it was almost like one of my daily walks in the woods here in Central Oregon. By the way, I think better, more clearly, and more creatively, and I generally pray better when I’m walking outdoors. Especially if there’s no one around to think I’m an old crazy guy talking to myself!

The pressure was on! By the time the hour and a half was finished, I had to have a Personal Identity Statement! I had to develop the statement, write it down, and be prepared to reveal my God-given unique and personal identity to that group of men and women I’d been talking with and listening to for the past five days. I needed to know who I am!

My process was pretty much my usual approach to listening for God’s message to me: I reviewed what had been happening in the seminar, what I was processing in terms of things that were happening in my life, things I was hopeful or anxious about. As usual, I tried to frame my thoughts and concerns into questions to ask God, then when I’d expressed myself as clearly as I could, I walked and waited and listened. All this in the context of knowing that I had to have a Personal Identity Statement and be able to share it with my table and the clock was ticking.

Somewhere in that process, the inaudible but unmistakable Voice whispered these words: “I’m God’s beloved child and he is not disappointed in me.” Such a sense of joy and acceptance flooded over me! At some point in the days yet ahead of me I realized that those words were the essence of what I had been reading and hearing and trying to grasp for several months, that God is not only my Dear Lord, God is my Loving Father! And that God’s love for me is not based in my performance, in fulfilling his expectations of me, but it is entirely based in his Fatherhood, in his unconditional acceptance of me for who I am!

Friends, it’s been more than ten years since that afternoon when my identity became “God’s beloved child in whom he is not disappointed”! Over the years, I realize that truth more often, I get to that point more quickly, and I am gradually able to hold on to the reality of that identity for longer at a time. I’ve still got a long way to go to live the fullness of that God-given identity. But I’ve got the rest of my life to get there!

My identity, my truest identity, is found solely in a relationship with the God who created me, loved me, gave himself for my redemption, and wants nothing more for me than that I live in the light of his love and let his love flow through me to others.

Whether you’re at the stage of your journey I’m at now or the stage I was at that Autumn day in Atlanta, or even if you’re at a different place in your journey altogether, here are some things I want for you:

  • I want you to be on a journey of faith. I want you to be learning and growing and changing and dissatisfied with “settling.”
  • I want you to have a Personal Identity Statement of some sort that is not about what you do or have done or hope to do, but about who you are in relationship to a loving Father God.
  • I want you to never fear the truth. I want you to ask questions, have deep conversations with God and others, use your imagination, listen for the whispers of “The Voice.”

And I want you to read this blog post thoughtfully and then I want you not to miss my post next week “Not Disappointed Part 2”. I couldn’t put all I want to say in this post, so please don’t miss the rest of it!

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.

 

 

Fall River – A Walk In The Woods

When Jean and I moved from London to Central Oregon in October of 1999, we lived for twenty months in a small cabin in the woods south of Bend on the Fall River. It’s in a fairly remote area of forest west of La Pine State Park, mostly lodge pole and jack pine with some majestic old growth Ponderosas standing above the other trees. That little cabin is about thirty-two miles and one universe away from where we live now in Bend!

It had been over a year since we had been down there and because this April Friday was one of the warmest days so far this season, Jean and Buddy and I drove down there to look around and walk in the woods. We thought most of the snow would be gone and we might be able to get in without much trouble. It’s a little over two miles of pretty bad forest road after turning off the paved highway. We only saw one other vehicle in the few hours and several miles we drove and walked back there in the woods.

We parked the Explorer in a clearing beside the dirt road. There were no tire tracks but ours since the winter snows had melted. Our footprints in the dirt were the only human prints, the only ones besides deer, coyote, and bobcat. Buddy eagerly sniffed the air for deer scent and the ground for chipmunks and squirrels. There were still a few patches of snow on the shaded north side of trees and rocks. I’d forgotten how alive the forest sounds and feels with the wind blowing through the tops of the Ponderosa pines. I kept wanting to look up and over my shoulder to see who was just behind us. The sense of “The Presence” is so strong in the woods!

As we walked and talked Jean began to remind us of how God had provided in such surprising and appropriate ways when we moved from inner-city London to this remote place in the Central Oregon woods. He provided a place to live, a vehicle to drive, and an increase in financial support that was exactly enough to meet our needs.

God had given us a season of solitude there in the woods to restore our weary souls and enough ministry opportunities and interaction with people that we didn’t lose complete contact with the real world.

The cabin in the woods had been available to us for as long as we needed it. The owner of the house provided a man with a snow plow to keep the more than two miles of forest road open through the winter so we could get in and out. When the road got so bad for a month that our four-wheel-drive Ford Explorer couldn’t negotiate it, God provided the loan of a larger, taller truck that handled the mud and snow without any problem.

As we walked along the forest paths that April day, we thanked God for his provision during that wonderful season of solitude. We spoke blessing on the friends God used to provide for us during the time we lived on the Fall River. We talked about other seasons and experiences of God’s faithfulness to us. Our faith grew stronger. My eyes grew brighter. As we walked and talked, and the wind soughed  in the pine trees along the old logging road, the sense of “Presence” remained strong.

Throughout that season of change and transition, our faith was stretching and strengthening, even if it didn’t feel like it at the time. God was working deeply (and a little painfully!) in us to clear away accumulated layers of grime and rust from our souls. That day walking in the woods beside the Fall River, we began looking forward with fresh eyes and hopeful hearts to the surprising and appropriate ways God would direct us into a new season and provide once again in surprising and appropriate ways! It’s who God is. It’s what God does!

Looking back to that moment from the vantage point of years and experiences and miles and ministry, I can still remember that strong sense of “The Presence” I felt that day as the wind blew through the tops of the pines. I kept wanting to look up or look behind me to see who’s there!

That spot on that old logging road beside the Fall River is more difficult to reach now. Elimination of roads by the Forest Service, selective logging, and gates across the remaining road mean it takes more effort to go there. But we still drive out there and park in the woods and walk out to the spot. It was a sacred moment of sensing God’s faithful presence and the spot seems sacred as well.

Sometimes I hesitate to tell about my experiences of “The Presence.” I hesitate because those times are very personal. I hesitate because of the temptation to try and replicate spiritual experiences through copying others’ practices. I hesitate because sometimes people can feel “left out” if they don’t have the same experiences. But I’m going to tell you a couple of things that just may be helpful, and if they aren’t, please feel free to disregard them.

I still have places I go and practices I do to connect with God’s felt presence. It’s not a mechanism or a ritual, but it’s a choice to go to the place and a choice to quiet myself and open the eyes and ears of my soul in case God wants to drop by and say “I love you”!

I’m convinced that study and knowledge and doctrinal interpretation are helpful and necessary to provide a framework to hang our beliefs on, a foundation to build our faith on, and a structure to contain our experiences. But those structural things can become dead and dry and empty if we don’t have experiences of the things we believe, if we don’t have the experience of the “Presence”.

For me, there are two significant components of preparing myself and my heart for God encounters. First is creating a place, a space, in my mind, my schedule, my practices. This is the inner landscape of my life. Second is finding places and practices to make myself available to whatever God does or does not want to do. This is the outer landscape.

First, the inner landscape. I make time in my day. For many years that involved rising very early. Now, with a more flexible schedule, it means setting a time and making the effort to be available. It means shutting out other stuff. I know that listening to music can sooth your soul, and listening to podcasts can help you learn new things. That has its place. But it’s most often noisier than God’s quiet whisper and gentle nudge. (1 Kings 19:7-18)  I find it helpful to carry on a conversation with God much of my day. Either in my thoughts if others are around or aloud if it’s just me and Jake the Dog in the desert. Lots of stream of consciousness words and thoughts to God. Lots of questions to God about all sorts of things (Don’t forget to stop talking and listen when you’re asking questions). Listen for God to answer in what you see, in conversations with others, in words from songs, in scriptures, and even in dialog from movies!

Second, the outer landscape. Jean and I are so fortunate to live where we live in Central Oregon! Forested mountains to the west and spacious juniper and sagebrush desert to the east. Winter limits our access to the mountains west, but the desert east is accessible pretty much year round. If you don’t live in Central Oregon, it doesn’t mean you’re out of luck! We’ve always been able to find somewhere! Neighborhood walks, parks, trails, backyards. In London there were churches we could go into and sit in silence, bathed in the glow of light through the stained glass windows. Make the effort, be creative, find a place.

Friends, I’m not talking about “on demand” encounters with God. I’m talking about putting yourself in a frame of mind and a place of access. God is a communicating God and God wants to communicate with his beloved children! That’s you and me!

You and I make ourselves available, with a hungry heart and an open mind and God will show up in his time and his manner. Keep your eyes open. Keep your ears open. Be hungry and thirsty for “The Presence”!

As always, I’d love to hear from you and I welcome your comments and questions. If you’re reading on the blog, leave a comment below. If you’re reading from the email, click “Reply” and tell me what you’re thinking.