Don’t Stop Looking

Blessings are hard to find sometimes. If you assume they are few and far between, you will not see them even when they are right under your feet.

We just got back from a camping vacation. I chose to bring as a beach-read Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat, a great true story of the rowing crew who won the 1936 gold medal in the Berlin Olympics. In it, there is the story of how Joe Rantz, one of the rowers, used to find and present four-leaf clovers to his fiancée. She was amazed at how he could just squat down, and, after searching for a while, always find one. His reply struck me. “The only time you don’t find a four-leaf clover,” he liked to say, “is when you stop looking for one.” 

Really? I was skeptical. I don’t believe in luck or magic, but finding four-leaf clovers has been a challenge to me since I was a kid. Kind of like winning at Solitaire. Even so, I can count the number I have found on one hand. So, I decided to put his assertion to the test. There happened to be quite a few clovers right around our camper (which I had already searched in passing).  

I squatted down and started really looking, passing my hands through them. And there, almost immediately, I found one! A four-leaf clover – I couldn’t believe it! I ran to show my husband who was shutting down the camper to leave. But then I thought, maybe that was just a coincidence. I squatted down again, and there was another one! “The only time you don’t find a four-leaf clover is when you stop looking for one.” 

You know, finding four-leaf clovers is a lot like looking for blessings. My life has been hard lately. It has been easy to overlook the many blessings around me. Maybe God is saying to me, don’t stop looking until you find one. Maybe your life has been stinky, hard, and seemingly hopeless. Or maybe, it has just been filled with same-old, hum-drum, three-leaf-clover days. The blessings are hard to find sometimes. But I realized something: if you assume they are few and far between, you will not see them even when they are right under your feet. But if you assume they are there – expect them – and don’t stop looking until you find one, you will begin to see them all around. 

Before we left the campground I walked down to the stinky, gross, but unavoidable outhouse one more time. On the way, I heard a toddler singing at the top of his lungs. I couldn’t understand a word he was singing, but the joy translated perfectly and made me smile. 

Another four-leaf clover. 

My Song

Jesus is the song, the song that God has been singing since the beginning of creation, the song that God gave to the world.

The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. Exodus 15:2 (ESV) 

This is part of what is known as “The Song of Moses and Miriam.” The Israelites sang it after they had been rescued from the pursuing Egyptians who wanted to re-enslave them. They sang it to celebrate their deliverance after they had walked through the sea on dry sand, but the waters had closed over their enemies. And, I just realized that this song is repeated three times in the Bible. It is recorded here in Exodus, in Isaiah 12:2 and in Psalm 118:14. Wonderfully, it appears in both Isaiah and Psalms in chapters prophesying the Messiah.  

But what captured my attention here is the phrase “my song.” That God is my strength and salvation I understand. But how is He my song? Charles Spurgeon explained it this way: 

… “The Lord is my song” that is to say, the Lord is the giver of our songs; he breathes the music into the hearts of his people; he is the creator of their joy. The Lord is also the subject of their songs: they sing of him and of all that he does on their behalf. The Lord is, moreover, the object of their song: they sing unto the Lord. Their praise is meant for him alone. They do not make melody for human ears, but unto the Lord. “The Lord is my song.” Then I ought always to sing; and if I sing my loudest, I can never reach the height of this great argument, nor come to the end of it. This song never changes. If I live by faith my song is always the same, for “the Lord is my song.” Our song unto God is God himself. He alone can express our intensest joy. O God, thou art my exceeding joy. Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, thou art my hymn of everlasting delight.” from Jubilate, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, October 25, 1885 

Jesus is the song, the song that God has been singing since the beginning of creation, the song that God gave to the world, the song He commanded us to sing. Not the song of the world that we had been singing. This is the new song about a new hope, a new covenant, the new wine poured into new wine skins. Jesus is our Song. He is the song we sing in the desert place, pursued by our enemies, backed up against devouring impossibilities. 

The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation. 

The heart that has been changed by the gospel sings the praise of the Savior. For only in Jesus, we have been redeemed. We have been saved from our sins that have separated us from our God. We have been raised from our spiritual death to walk in the newness of eternal life. We have received and have been sealed by the Holy Spirit, the guarantee of future and final redemption. We have been called out of darkness and into his marvelous light to proclaim his praises. He is our new song.” — K. Jason French1 

But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress. Psalm 59:16 (ESV) 

By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. Psalm 42:8 (ESV) 

Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. I cling to you; your right hand upholds me. Psalm 63:6-8 

Let the trees of the forest sing, let them sing for joy before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth. 1 Chronicles 16:33 

Let the trees sing. Let us all sing, for He is our song. And, the Song has arrived. 

This is my story; 

This is my song. 

From the heights of heaven’s glory 

To the depths of earth’s despair, 

Came a love song in the darkness, 

Came a song beyond compare. 

And from the humble stable 

God sang His lullaby, 

A song of peace, as song of joy, 

The music of the sky. 

This shall be my alleluia; 

This shall be my highest praise. 

Let my every word and deed proclaim it; 

Let me sing it all my days. 

This shall be my benediction; 

This shall be my dying phrase. 

This shall be my alleluia; 

Jesus is my song of grace! 

From the golden streets of heaven, 

To the shores of Galilee, 

Came a love song for all people, 

The music of eternity. 

And from a wooden cross, 

God sang His song of grace, 

And filled the world with the sound of hope 

And everlasting praise. 

This shall be my alleluia; 

This shall be my highest praise. 

Let my every word and deed proclaim it; 

Let me sing it all my days. 

This shall be my benediction; 

This shall be my dying phrase. 

This shall be my alleluia; 

Jesus is my song of grace! 

— “Jesus Is My Song of Grace,” by Joseph Martin2 

1 God Put a Song in Your Heart  https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/god-put-a-song-in-your-heart  

2 Listen to this wonderful song here Jesus Is My Song of Grace 

Photo of trees by Jessica Dillon

Only Humans

“All of nature continually praises God. Only humans require reminders to do so.”

Sitting at my desk early this morning with the window open, I heard the sandhill cranes raucously lift up their croaking praise with a glorious sunrise. And then I read this quote and smiled: 

“All of nature continually praises God. Only humans require reminders to do so.”i 

Yes, only humans require reminders. And there are many, many reminders. 

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. Colossians 2:6-7 

Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Hebrews 13:15 (ESV) 

Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:19-20 

 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Philippians 4:4 

OK, all us humans, here is our reminder for today. Let’s lift up our heads and hearts out of the dark pits of bitterness, doubt, depression and despair. He has come! He is here with us. He will never leave or abandon us. He has a plan and a Way through and forward.

Let us lift up our croaking praise with the cranes and rejoice. I will say it again: Rejoice! 

All the earth bows down to you; they sing praise to you, they sing the praises of your name. Psalm 66:4 

From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the LORD is to be praised. Psalm 113:3 

Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD! Psalm 150:6 

iWilliam J. Petersen and Randy Petersen, One Year Book of Hymns 

Photo: Blast Off at Dawn by Mimi https://flic.kr/p/2n6Cfmz  

Gratitude and Jumping Off the Cliff 

So, I keep getting this message about giving thanks no matter what. (Thank you to all my fellow bloggers and online devotionals!) I admit I am having a hard time getting there. Life is hard! Does gritting your teeth and saying it just in obedience count?? Maybe it does take flinging myself off the precipice. 
 

When the storms come, and our trees of delight are bare and leafless, when He strips us of the comforts to which His love has accustomed us — or more painful still, — when He leaves us alone in the world, to mourn the absence of the chief desire of our heart; — to sing to Him then, to bless and praise and laud His dear name then, this is the work of His free grace only. — Susanah Spurgeon, The Sword and the Trowel, December 1903, 606. From online devotional by Ray Rhodes, The Other Spurgeon https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-other-spurgeon  
 
 

I have realised that irrespective of our circumstances, there is nothing as meaningful as showing gratitude irrespective of our current circumstances. For the apostle Paul states in the book of Philippians that. “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or want.”  

This morning I would like to admonish you, irrespective of your current situation; there is nothing more potent than our great God. If he came through for people in times past, remember, He is still the same. He is unchanged. He expects you to leave the past behind and show gratitude for what He has done for you.  

Being alive is a miracle you should be grateful for. That incurable medical report? That declining academic report? The financial crisis? My friend, just leave it into His hands. He will come through for you.  Blogged by Eliezer https://eliezerontim.wordpress.com/2021/10/15/gratitude/   

The Psalmist wrote, “Our fathers trusted in you; they trusted, and you delivered them. They cried to you, and were delivered; they trusted in you, and were not ashamed” (Psalm 22:4-5, NKJV). The Hebrew root word for ‘trust’ suggests “to fling oneself off a precipice.” That means being like a child who has climbed up into the rafters and cannot get down. He hears his father say, “Jump!” and he obeys, throwing himself into his father’s arms … The trusting heart always says, “All my steps are ordered by the Lord. He is my loving Father, and he permits my sufferings, temptations and trials but never more than I can bear. He always makes a way of escape. He has an eternal plan and purpose for me. He has numbered every hair on my head, and he formed all my parts when I was in my mother’s womb. He knows when I sit, stand or lie down because I am the apple of his eye. He is Lord not just over me but over every event and situation that touches me.” — David Wilkerson, A Perfect Heart is Trusting https://worldchallenge.org/devotion/perfect-heart-trusting?ref=devos  
 

 
How can we live a truly grateful life? When we look back at all that has happened to us, we easily divide our lives into good things to be grateful for and bad things to forget. But with a past thus divided, we cannot move freely into the future. With many things to forget we can only limp toward the future.  

True spiritual gratitude embraces all of our past, the good as well as the bad events, the joyful as well as the sorrowful moments. From the place where we stand, everything that took place brought us to this place, and we want to remember all of it as part of God’s guidance. That does not mean that all that happened in the past was good, but it does mean that even the bad didn’t happen outside the loving presence of God  . . . Once all of our past is remembered in gratitude, we are free to be sent into the world to proclaim good news to others. — Henri Nouwen, The Grateful Life  
 

The adult who has lived life and attained hindsight now fights with the  
ever present child who was born of rejection.  

Logic wrestles with raw emotion.  

Yet what we know, is that in the end, love does indeed win.  

Because we know that anyone who calls  
themself a Christian, is adopted by Grace.  

I am a child of Grace and I am a person who is so ever grateful  
to that of the unconditional…  

Blogged by Julie, https://cookiecrumbstoliveby.wordpress.com/2021/10/15/an-adopted-path-to-grace/   

Yes! I don’t have to grit my teeth to be grateful for his unconditional love. Thank you so much my ever-present, loving God! 

Image in the Public Domain

A Mass of Reasons

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good (good, rich, valuable, excellent, right, beautiful, best, bountiful, fine, gracious, joyful, kind, loving, merry, precious, sweet).
Psalm 100:4-5  

For the Lord is good. This sums up his character and contains a mass of reasons for praise.”—Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David

“A mass of reasons” – I love that. Yes, there is always a reason to thank and praise. Though there are always reasons to complain and even despair, let me turn my eyes to my loving Father, to my beautiful, gracious, kind, precious Lord. He is the one I can always run to – when I have a “skinned knee” of the soul, when I am afraid of the thunder of what is going on in this world – he is always there with open arms.

Give thanks to him and praise his name!

 

I would like to thank Ruth at the Plantedbylivingwater blog for her 365 Days of Thanks challenge. Thank you for the daily prod and reminder!

 

Middle of the Story

Ann Voskamp wrote, “Faith thanks God in the middle of the story.”[i] The middle of the story is the hard place, where behind me, and at my feet, is the stumbled-over rubble of past mistakes, rebellions, regrets. And before, is the obscured darkness of unknown hazards and hopes. Faith thanks God amid the wreckage. Faith asks me every day to turn from fear and trust the One who has promised. How do I do that? Hebrews 11:1 (NKJV) says:

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

The amazing Greek word translated “substance” is hupostasis.  It partly means “steadfastness of mind, firmness, courage, resolution, confidence, firm trust, assurance,” and it is mostly translated that way as “confidence.” It literally means “a setting under”[ii] as in setting under a support, a substructure, a foundation, that which is firm. Faith is the setting under me of the foundation that makes or causes me to stand and be confident. Jesus is that foundation[iii] under me. He is the Rock on which I stand.

Thinking of it this way helps me, because it makes me realize that faith is not so much something that I “have,” something I am required to manufacture or come up with. But faith is something I do. I simply step onto the Rock. I place my faith and hope, not in my ability to produce faith, not in something that may or may not happen, but in Jesus – his faithfulness, his truth, his Word, his love and care.

But, the hidden treasure in this word is another facet of meaning. Hupostasis also means “actual existence, substance, real being, essence.” It is used in this sense in Hebrews 1:3.

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being (hupostasis) sustaining (bearing up, upholding, keeping from falling) all things by his powerful word.

Faith is the essence of hope as Christ is the essence of God – His exact representation. When I step onto the Rock, I am sustained, upheld, kept from falling by the very essence of God, which is love. God is love; his real being is love. I will thank God here in the middle of my story, confidently standing on Jesus, the Rock of my salvation, supported and sustained by his Love that was proven at the cross.

My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ the solid rock I stand,
all other ground is sinking sand;
all other ground is sinking sand.

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 1 John 4:16 (NIV)

He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. Psalm 40:2 (NIV)

There is so much in Hebrews 11:1! I will look at the second half of the verse next time. Read more about faith in the blog Faith, Part Two

[i] Ann Voskamp, The Broken Way

[ii] All translations from NetBible.org and Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible

[iii] 1 Corinthians 3:11 

 

Sticky-notes

It’s as if God is placing sticky-notes in our lives as daily reminders of His presence and provision. They’re everywhere. —  C.J. Mahaney

They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” Matthew 20:33

 

Build an Altar

Build altars in the places where I remind you who I am

Build altars in the places where I remind you who I am, and I will come and bless you there. Exodus 20:24b (NLT)

In all your ways acknowledge (know, perceive, recognize, admit, acknowledge, confess) Him, And He will make your paths straight (make right, make smooth, make straight, lead, direct, lead you straight along). Proverbs 3:6 (NASB)

Have you ever been going along when God reminded you who he is? Healer, Provider, Comforter, Redeemer, Savior! Have you ever stopped in that place and known, recognized, perceived that God was there, working, answering a prayer, comforting you in your waiting?

In that place stop and build an altar. In that place acknowledge and confess Him. In that place offer up your sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. And He will bless you there. He will lead you straight along.

The Highway to Your City

“And how blessed all those in whom you live, whose lives become roads you travel.” Psalm 84:5

A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.” (Isaiah 40:3 NIV[i])

A voice of one calling in the desert, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.” (Luke 3:4)

I have read these verses many times, but for some reason I didn’t realize that in Isaiah this verse says: A voice of one calling, “IN THE DESERT prepare the way for the Lord.” However, in Luke it says: A voice of one calling IN THE DESERT, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”

Both speak life to us, don’t they? John the Baptist was a voice calling in the desert to prepare the way for the coming Messiah, but also, it is in the desert or wilderness places of our lives where the “way” is prepared. The Israelites were tested there:

“Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands” (Deut. 8:2)

Even Jesus, The Way, was tested in the desert.

“At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert, and he was in the desert for forty days, being tempted by Satan” (Mark 1:12)

For us, the desert is also the place where we learn to lean on the Beloved:

“Who is this coming up from the desert leaning on her lover?” (Song of Songs 8:5)

But note, in Isaiah 40:3 there are two things happening: a way is being prepared or cleared, but also a highway is being built. The word “way” is the Hebrew word derek (דְּרָכַ֫יִם) which means a way, road, or path that is trodden – a journey, manner, habit, or course of life. It’s like a deer-path in the woods that is made because they get in the habit of walking that way. The “way” is prepared or cleared away like a path through the underbrush of our lives. And how is the way prepared?

“He who sacrifices thank-offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.” (Psalm 50:23)

Thanking God is hard in the desert places, when everything looks so hopeless and we want to despair! But that is where the way is prepared for salvation. That is where we chop through the thorny vines and bitter roots of grumbling, fear, unforgiveness, faithlessness, and hopelessness that trip us up, and offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving. It is a sacrifice. It involves a death of self.

As we learn to praise Him no matter what – to make thanksgiving a habit, a way of life – those places of hopelessness and despair are changed into places of blessing.

“Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you. Selah. Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage (or, in whose hearts are the highways – NASB). As they pass through the Valley of Baca (weeping, affliction), they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools” (Psalm 84:4-6)

Or as The Message says “And how blessed all those in whom you live, whose lives become roads you travel.” The word translated “pilgrimage, “roads,” or “highway” here and in Isaiah 40:3 is the Hebrew word m@cillah (מְסִלָּה), which means highway, raised way, public road. It’s a public road; it’s not just for us, but for others as well. Our lives can become a place of blessing, a highway where God shows up.

Thank you Lord that there is a highway that runs through my heart, and that you travel on it with me, no matter what. I will prepare the way for you and your salvation. I will offer up thank offerings in the desert place. I will set my heart on pilgrimage and build up your highway. Teach me how to lean on you as we walk, that this place of weeping and affliction can become a place of Salvation and Life.

“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:19)

“The highway to Your city runs through my heart” – Ted Sandquist

[i] All Bible verses from the New International Version unless noted

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