I don’t know about you, but at the beginning of the year I take inventory of my life. Last year was good, but I had little focus and follow through. It seemed the success I had was haphazard, at best. Lucky me, I did fairly well in spite of myself, but there was something missing.
I’ve been thinking and praying a lot lately about having a theme word for 2016. I did this in 2014 and the word was DEEPER. That year, I went deeper in all areas of my life – my walk with the Lord became more resolute and He brought me to new places because of my commitment to going deeper.
Have you ever asked God for a word to set the tone for your year? It’s quite eye-opening. I chuckle at the fact that God has such different ideas about what needs to be accomplished than I do. I was inspired by Nikki’s choice of the word SIMPLICITY, because who DOESN’T need to pare down and remove all the distractions? Kristin’s choice of CONSISTENCY spoke volumes to me as well – I could use some consistency in my life.
I filled 3 pages with words I was hoping might inspire me to move beyond my sluggish vision for myself. They were all great words. Any one of them would have been appropriate. Perfect, even. Words like
MOMENTUM * FORWARD * EMPOWER * GROWTH * RESOLVE * ACTION * INTENTIONAL * CONSISTENT * SAVOR * IGNITE * COMMIT * FOCUS * DILIGENCE * SOAR * PERSISTENCE * YES * DISCIPLINE* BALANCE * BRAVE * RISK * PURPOSE
You get the idea.
But God doesn’t see what I see. So I asked Him to show me a word to adopt as my theme for 2016. On those 3 pages, I first highlighted all the words that jumped out at me, or “spoke” to me. Now I’m left with about 25 words. Funny thing, I had written the word Intentional about 4 times and highlighted it each time. But I still wasn’t convinced.
Now, instead of SEEING the word “intentional” periodically, I began HEARING it. I’m not kidding. It was everywhere. So much so that I chuckled at God’s sense of humor each time I heard the word. A couple weeks ago on a Saturday I attended a business training class where the speaker emphasized the need to be INTENTIONAL in our business. Emphasized is not even a strong enough word – she must have said it at least 20 times. The very next day, my pastor preached about beginning again in the new year. As he spoke about not settling for being comfortable, about how God has called us move out of our comfort so he can speak to us and through us. This requires being INTENTIONAL about how we use our time and resources. He added, “Don’t you dare set your agenda for the year. Give God the pen and let HIM write your plan.”
Okay, got it. My foray into being intentional needs to include hearing from God for each step.
In 2015 I neglected to choose a word and I was floundering. Busy without being productive. I felt a sense of disconnect between my calling and my reality. Nothing seemed to move forward. My year was okay, but certainly not great, and most certainly not fantastic. And not even close to being spectacular or even fabulous. I believe God has placed spectacular gifts inside of us, and it is up to us to use those gifts.
I want the best God has for me. So this year I know the word I need to focus on is INTENTIONAL. I know beyond a doubt that God has called me to great things, as I believe He has called each one of us. The key is, will we answer that call? Will we look toward intentional living so that we are effective for the gospel? Daily that word is before me, and daily I am taking steps to live a life of INTENTION.
I come from a family of ministers. My mom, my dad, a few aunts, uncles, cousins, my sister and my niece all professed to be “called” to the ministry at a young age. Even my daughter spent 2014 traveling to 11 countries in 11 months to minister to others on the world stage of missions.
Me? Nope. Not me. If there’s one thing I’ve always known about myself, it’s that I was NOT called to be a minister. Being called to the ministry was something that happened to other preacher’s kids at summer camp. Not me. Many of my friends and family in ministry know God put this call on their lives. I never felt that way. Never had that still, small voice telling me to leave my nets and follow Jesus into the unknown throes of ministry.
When I was a kid, being “called” to the ministry meant you HEARD the call, and ANSWERED that call by attending Bible college or seminary, getting ordained as a pastor and leading a group of adults or families or youth or a choir in the day to day living out of faith. It was messy and challenging and involved being able to speak wisdom in front of a group of people.
I have to admit to being both envious of those who heard the call and relieved that I wasn’t one of them. Being a PK (pastor’s kid), I’d heard my share of messy stories and really couldn’t fathom being the one who would help out someone in that kind of need.
I don’t think kids now have this dilemma. If they grow up in a church, they are sent on missions trips out of the country or even in their own towns. Feeding the hungry, clothing the homeless, bringing hope to the hopeless. They are the hands and feet of Jesus. They LOVE like Jesus did. They don’t wait for a calling. They DO stuff.
But me? I wasn’t called. So I lived my life. I raised my kids. I taught them to love Jesus. I prayed for family members and friends. Even counseled a friend or two in a tough spot. I gave a sandwich to a beggar on the street. Gave a blanket to a cold homeless woman on a rainy night. Wait. What? That sounds suspiciously like ministry.
And so, at the ripe old age of fifty-something, I’m finally realizing I am called. Called just like you are called. In the trenches of real life. It’s still messy and challenging, but doesn’t necessarily involve being able to speak in front of a group of people.
What it does involve is being available. Teachable. Willing to use your gifts to share the gospel.
Which brings us to today. LifeWordsToday, to be exact. A blog my sister and our daughters started writing almost two years ago, with a few things written by my mom tossed in. We’ve now posted 157 times. Our readership is still quite low…or is it? We know God allows just the right eyes to read our words at the time they are needed. And that is enough.
About a month before we ever began discussing the idea for this blog, I came upon a scripture – Psalm 49:3 “My mouth will speak words of wisdom; the utterance from my heart will give understanding.” I was compelled to write it on a card to keep in my Bible. Next to the verse I wrote, “3/12/13 = from God = (?about what?)”
A calling, perhaps?
What’s your calling?
So, we should be halfway done by now, but I’m a realist. With all the other things I’m trying to accomplish, there really is no way to post something every day unless I’ve pre-written everything and gotten it all lined up. I didn’t, so that’s that. But this topic of gratitude is still so important.
I’ve been writing this month about being grateful. And not just being grateful sometimes, but about how to cultivate a grateful heart in this whiny, self-absorbed world we live in.
It’s tough sometimes, isn’t it? We want what we want, when we want it & whine when we don’t get it. At times we think the world revolves around us, and we whine when it doesn’t. We gaze at the new (fill in the blank) the neighbor has, and think, I should have that, too…
No? Just me, then?
I am truly so grateful for my life. But when bad stuff happens, or things don’t work out as planned, or, or, or… sometimes a swell of mopey overcomes my normally good-natured, grateful self. And I cringe.
I cringe at the silliness of it all. I cringe at how childish I am. I cringe to think of others I see daily who have a reason to be moping about, but aren’t. I look around at how stinkin’ blessed I am, and I want to slap myself upside the head and say, “STOP IT!”
So I’m working on it.
Let’s work on it together. One little change daily will turn your heart around. Think of one thing. ONE THING you are thankful for today, and write it down. Do it again tomorrow, and the next day. And the next.
I’m not a journal-keeper. Believe me, I’ve tried. But this I can do – I keep a gratitude journal where I write at least once a week the things I’m thankful for. I leaf through the pages and look back on it often. This is one of the first concrete things we took a look at doing, and it has been so helpful to me so far.
And you know what? It always produces a smile. And a change of heart in that moment.
I could go on and on about how there are studies to back this up, but let me just leave you with these wise words:
- Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:1
- Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Philippians 4:6
- Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Psalm 106:1
- And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Colossians 3:15
What are you doing to cultivate a heart of gratitude?
If you were betting real money – I owe you. Life happened, and things were pushed aside. Like writing every day for the 31 days of October. But there is still so much to discuss about this gratitude thing. Really, I know you needed a break anyway. It may take two months to reach our 31 days, but let’s embrace the grace of not needing a tight schedule and keep going deeper:
We were following a list of seven things it’s been shown to help you have a grateful attitude, but really, there are so many more than that, so we will stray now and then and add a few other gratitude-inducing practices. Some obvious. Some not so obvious. But oh, so important.
Like learning to recognize God’s presence in everything. And by everything, I mean EVERY THING. The good, the bad and the ugly. No matter what, you have never walked alone.
Think back. Look for it. You’ll see.
A few years ago, my son was in the hospital for brain mapping for his seizures. I was there with him for a week, because they needed a family member familiar with his seizures to press a button every time one happened. Little or big. I loved getting to know my young adult son on this intimate level. We talked, we laughed. When he had visitors, I’d step away for a break. For the most part, we were captive room mates. It was a strangely enjoyable time.
We had spent family time with my older brother just a few days before entering the hospital, and he had promised to visit Chris that week. It was quite a drive, so nearly every day I would leave him a message describing the traffic, say I knew he had to get up so early for work, and he should wait until the weekend to come visit. All was well.
Except it wasn’t. When my brother didn’t show up to visit Chris by Friday evening, I called him several times. No answer. I called his neighbor, who said the car was in the driveway, but lights were out in the house. I called my nephew, a police officer, to ask what I should do. He immediately drove there, and looking through the window, could see my brother lying on his bed. He was gone.
I know what you’re thinking: WHAT could possibly be good about this situation? How can you be thankful for your brother being found dead?
Clearly, I’m not thankful for the death of my brother. What I am thankful for is the orchestration of all the surrounding events:
* God chose to call my brother Home in the gentlest of ways. He simply took a nap after work, and didn’t wake up. I’m grateful.
* I was helplessly locked in to a commitment of being in the hospital with my son. If I hadn’t been there, I would have driven out to my brother’s house and I would have found him dead in his bed. I’m grateful to be spared from that.
* My nephew is a police officer in the adjoining city and when he called the dispatcher, he knew her. He knew the protocol of what to do in this situation and said to me, “Tami, God arranged for this to happen when I could take care of it for you.” I’m grateful for him and his good heart.
* Officers arrived & they had a common ground with my nephew. When they looked through the house and found no evidence of foul play or suicide, they reported it as such and the mortuary was called to pick up my brother, and not the coroner. This never happens. I’m grateful.
There is more, but I think you get the picture. As I think back on that night, I see God’s handwriting all over the situation, and I am grateful.
Now I’m entering into a time of beautiful blessing. I see God’s hand in that, as well. And I am grateful.
So very grateful.
Look at your life. Think back. Take some time to see how God connected the dots in your helpless and even hopeless situations. Never once, did you ever walk alone.
I hope you’ll see.
There is so much to be grateful for.
How many times has a smile spread across your face over the smallest thing? I mean, the very smallest thing?
That’s a very good thing, and one of the ways to cultivate a heart of gratitude. Learning to recognize the value in the little things that come our way such as a simple complement, a smile from a stranger, getting flowers “just because” or help with a task will spur us on to being happy and grateful.
Have you noticed these little things come from others? We need one another in this journey of life. I believe we receive back what we contribute. Be stingy with complements, smiles and small kindnesses, and you will not receive much in that area. On the other hand, if you are the one to make a point of giving a complement, sharing a kind word, even giving those “just because” flowers, you will reap the benefits.
Whether giving or receiving, it’s the little things.
Let’s try something: today’s assignment is to find someone you can do a small kindness for, share a kind word with, complement, or even give flowers to. I guarantee it will bring a smile to your face. And when it comes back to you – that’s pure joy.
Yes, the little things = the makings of a grateful heart.
“Your needs will be met through your giving.”
I first heard that phrase spoken by Nancy Alcorn, the founder of Mercy Ministries. She was relaying her story – telling the details about how God pieced the puzzle together that would become such a powerful ministry to disenfranchised young women around the country. As a nonprofit organization, she had no reason to think they should give money to other ministries. Why would they? Mercy was surviving on donations and they were precious few.
“Your needs will be met through your giving.” The words were clear. And so she gave. And Mercy Ministries gave. Yes, the nonprofit taking donations to survive donated off the top to other ministries.
And God answered. Needs were met. Not small needs, either – the millions of dollars kind of needs. Four rescue homes built in the United States, with others around the world. Lives transformed.
That phrase has stayed with me – I must’ve written it in my notes three times that day.
“Your needs will be met through your giving.”
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” Malachi 3:10
There it is. Right there in the scriptures. I’ve heard it much of my life, but have I tested the Lord?
No. Have you?
I’m testing. I recently started a new business with great promise. My business model, first and foremost, is to give right off the top of my earnings. Before my investment is paid off, before I begin to turn a profit. Right from the very first paycheck, I will give. Every month I will choose a different ministry and I will tell my customers they had a hand in providing for that ministry. I have a feeling I will be amazed at what God will do through that simple act of giving. Once you have a heart that gives, you notice the joy creeping in, the song welling up, the prayers being answered.
Think of it – he says he will “pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.” (!!!)
How big is your life now? Think bigger. God wants to fill you up with blessing. Notice it doesn’t say “money,” although that could certainly happen. It says BLESSING. Blessing, blessing, blessing – and SO MUCH BLESSING there won’t be room to store it!
Something tells me if more of us really believed those words, we would be testing, too.
But we don’t even have to believe – he says to TEST HIM. When you test someone on their statement, you are asking them to prove themselves.
I double dog dare you.