Joy, Prayer, and Gratitude

Many times I wonder what God’s will is for my life. What college should I attend? What major should I take? What should I do with my summer? The questions go on and on, usually without any definite answers (at least not right when I want them) so that I end up living one month, week, day, or moment at a time, uncertain as to exactly what God wants of me.

But on the other hand, there are instances when God astounds me with the clarity in His Word. Lately, as I have been reading through the New Testament, I have been searching for what I call “Purpose Passages.” These are verses which tell me what I am meant for, how God wants me to use my life for Him. I have actually been surprised — and wholly excited — by the number of such passages that God has shown me. But perhaps the most shocking thus far is 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18, which reads:

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

What caught my attention was the last portion, which says, “this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Certainly I knew that rejoicing, praying, and thanking God were things we should do, but I never thought of them as God’s will for me. When God designed me, He intended that I should “[r]ejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks.” That sounds so…happy. And, honestly, truly wonderful! It is incredibly exciting that God wills this for every Christian! He wants us to have joy, to constantly talk with Him, to have sincere gratitude residing in our hearts. What could be better?

Yet, as I read those three seemingly simple commands, I realize that they are not nearly as easy to follow as  they would appear to be. They do not happen on a regular basis…and they should. They are the sort of commands which sound so fairy-tale perfect that it is hard to imagine them happening in modern-day reality. And yet, I know that they are a genuine possibility because,

“…with God nothing will be impossible.” Luke 1:37

So then, in application, what might 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18 look like in my life?

1. Rejoice always. God has given me incredible blessings to be joyful about! Baby goats, a horse to ride, a love for walking and running, good books to read, the ability to write, a fantastic family, twenty secluded acres in the Bull Mountains of Montana, a wiggly dog who wakes me up with kisses in the morning…. I could go on and on! There are a lot of rotten things that happen in life, but I need to look for the good things. The old adage “every cloud has a silver lining” is definitely true. Even in the most miserable, dreary, terrible day, I can find joy in God’s presence and in the hope of His return. Joy must be sought before it can be found. Satan would love to tear me down with frustration and hopelessness, but I must keep my eyes on the joy Christ offers. My mind and heart need to be open to the little things of life — the wildflower on the ground, the scent of hot cocoa, the way the sunlight glistens on my horse’s neck, my quiet moments with Mom in the morning before anyone else is awake. They are little things, but they can — and do — bring joy to my heart.

2. Pray without ceasing. If one of my best friends from Lewtana were with me all day, I would not stop talking with her, would I? Of course not! I would not necessarily be doing all the talking; I would be listening, too. And I can do the same with God. He is with me 24-7, so I can pray with Him all the time — talking and listening to Him. Who knows what He wants to teach me through such ordinary tasks as vacuuming, painting the garage, feeding baby goats, doing homework, etc. It seems as if I learn the most valuable lessons through simple things like these. I am confident that Christ has a great deal to teach me…if I will take the time to listen and discuss things with Him.

3. In everything give thanks. This command seems to go hand-in-hand with “Rejoice always.” If there is always something to be joyful about, then there is always something to be thankful for, right? Even in difficult, discouraging situations, I can always find some part of my life to be thankful about. In addition, I can be thankful for “bad” things because when trials and tribulations come my way, I know that they are intended for my spiritual growth and development. When times get tough, I need to be grateful that God will use it for good, that He can be glorified through the way I handle the situation, and that the challenge can help me to become more like Him. Now, I know being thankful is not always easy; my sinful human nature makes it more natural to complain and grumble when things go wrong. But what if I did look at even the difficult situations with “an attitude of gratitude?” Why, then the whole picture would change! I would see hope, encouragement. I would realize that no obstacle is insurmountable with Christ, and that each mountain I must climb will only serve to bring me nearer to Him.

Now, it is time for me to put this passage into practice. In summation, I need to 1) keep my eyes open for the joy around me; 2) talk to my Best Friend and listen to what He has to say; and 3) thank Him, thank Him, thank Him!

This is, after all, His will for my life.

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Completion of the Borders Project

So now I’m finally posting the final production of my art class “borders” project! Sorry it’s taken me so long to get around to this.

To start with, Dr. Salix gave me a previous student’s board to use for my project. I had to tear off the initial artwork, which consisted of drawing paper thickly glued onto the board. I didn’t take any pictures of this process, although I should have because it ended up taking way more time than I expected. And I learned two lessons: 1) Remove glued paper by scrubbing it with a rag and water and 2) remove the excess glue by scraping it off after it has dried. Of course, I learned this the hard way by trying to scrape the paper and wash off the glue…oops.

Once I had removed as much paper and glue as possible, I painted the entire board (which is over four feet tall and three feet wide) with white gesso. So this is what I had to start with when I came to class on Monday morning.

To begin with, I sketched a jumping horse (taken from a photograph) with graphite.

Next, I traced over the graphite with charcoal.

Then the painting began. Here’s the first wash of charcoal and gesso.

He’s coming to life! Next comes more shading and definition. I also deepened his barrel and drew in the fence rails for him to jump over. This was the end product of three hours of work on Monday.

On Tuesday morning, I decided that the rails were too dark, so I painted over them with gesso. I was going to completely white them out, but the first coat of paint didn’t completely cover them, and Dr. Salix and I agreed the faded look actually suited the picture. They gave the horse something to jump over, but their color didn’t detract from his. I also added in some background elements (the grain of the board and the remaining glue gave the sky a fantastic texture) and continued to finesse my horse

Then, more detail work. I added more highlights and shadows to the horse and the fence rails, added charcoal lines for tiny marks, and made the mane stand out more from the mountains.

Finally, after more shadowing, highlighting, and blending, the piece was complete.

So it was a far cry from my initial idea, but Dr. Salix was very pleased with it and I was excited with how well it turned out. As for the idea of a mysterious border theme…well, I guess it doesn’t have much of that. But, at the same time, if you think about it, there is some concept of a border. The horse is jumping over a fence, apparently out of a pasture, but what is he jumping into? And why is he jumping at all? Is he jumping away from something, or toward something?

Regardless of how you interpret the drawing, the horse is crossing some sort of boundary. Maybe, for me, this painting is almost a reflection of my past year in college. I stepped outside of several of the borders I was accustomed to — my home, a primarily Christian community, a room to myself, home school, a safe and secure environment without tons of sinful influences. It was a giant leap, and there were so many times when I wanted to run back to my “home pasture” and just stay there. Sometimes the “hurdles” I had to surmount seemed too great for little ol’ me, and only God’s grace helped me to clear them without knocking down too many poles.

At the same time, I know that there are more borders ahead of me which I must eventually pass over. New steps I must take, new obstacles to surmount. College, work, writing, relationships…only God knows where my future may lead. But He is offering those new opportunities to me, like a fresh, green expansive pasture, and I hope that I will leap toward them as eagerly as this horse appears to be leaping out of the old pasture and into the new one. The jumps themselves may be frightening, but I believe the landings themselves will be worth it.

What about you? What border and boundaries are you facing…or avoiding…in your life?

Drought

So…originally, this post was going to be about springtime. What with all the glorious weather we’ve been having (until today, that is, as it snows like crazy!) and with Easter just a few weeks off, it seemed to be the perfect idea for a blog. But as I searched Scripture this morning for some applicable verses, my focus turned to something else….

 Drought.

 Not exactly a “springy” thought, is it? But there’s a message here which I believe is worth sharing.

The passage that triggered this subject is Joel 2:21-23:

 Fear not, O land;

Be glad and rejoice,

For the Lord has done marvelous things!

Do not be afraid, you beasts of the field;

For the open pastures are springing up,

And the tree bears its fruit;

The fig tree and the vine yield their strength.

Be glad then, you children of Zion, 

And rejoice in the Lord your God;

For He has given you the former rain faithfully,

And He will cause the rain to come down for you — 

The former rain,

And the latter rain in the first month.

 Now, granted, this passage is referring to Israel and, I believe, a specific time period. But doesn’t the message still ring true for us? Doesn’t our Lord still do marvelous things in creation? Doesn’t He provide feed for the animals and rains for the crops? The last few weeks, He certainly has been! The sun shining and rain dripping…tendrils of grass poking their heads through the earth…gardens being planted…my sister’s flowers edging out of dormancy. It all radiates with His glorious providence.

 It’s curious how the prophet writes, “Do not be afraid” to the animals because, when you consider it, the animals aren’t the ones who worry. We are! When snow or rain is scarce, our rumors spread about a summer drought. We worry and fret about wildfires, hay prices, and poor crops. But what about the wild animals, like deer and elk, who depend on native forage for their sustenance? They don’t stress about a drought when it comes; instead, they take what is given to them and then, oftentimes, move on when they’ve exhausted their resources because they recognize that there must be new, fresh food somewhere else.

 Animals are pretty smart, and I believe we can learn a lesson from them about dealing with the “droughts” in our own lives.

 Sometimes life — or a certain portion of it — seems stale or flat. We’re stuck in a rut and can’t go anywhere. Maybe we can’t find work, or the job we have is far too constraining. Perhaps we’ve realized that the degree we’re pursuing in college isn’t an area in which we want to spend the rest of our lif. Or maybe we’re in a spiritual drought, where we feel distant from God, as if our faith is cold and ritualistic. When these droughts enter our lives, we behave like typical human beings, either ignoring what’s happening or fretting and agonizing over all the “what if’s” that could possibly happen.

 But in all our concern and anxiety, we miss the point.

 God allows droughts to occur in our lives to show us that He has something more for us…something we’re blindly missing. Accepting a different job. Switching majors. Moving to a new town or college. Identifying weak spots in our relationship with Him as well as ways to “draw near” to Him. Droughts aren’t just another burden of life to bear. They have a purpose.

 Two, in fact.

 The first is that droughts teach us to rely on and listen to God. When faced with a physical drought, the poor animals can’t do much to make it rain…nothing really. So they follow their instinct and and their noses to the nearest moisture and green grass. We can do the same. Instead of trusting our “instinct” and sense of smell, we can trust the urging of the Holy Spirit and also “sniff out” God’s will for our lives by reading the Bible and earnestly praying. The more we learn to rely on God for His guidance and provision, the better we will understand His will for our lives. As we endure droughts not on our own strength, but on His, our relationship with God will bloom and blossom like the well-nurtured, over-productive zucchini plants in my mom’s garden at home.

 The second purpose is that, through droughts, God will lead us to green pasture. After all, that’s where the deer travel. They don’t wander out into a desert or back to the field which they cleaned up the night before. They head somewhere where the grass is green and nutritious, scarce though it may be. And that’s exactly what God does for us. He has somewhere new He wants to lead us, or something new to teach us. God has a fabulous future in store for each of us and He refuses to let any of His children settle for second best.

And so, with a drought, God drives us out of Ordinary and into the Unknown.

He doesn’t promise to make it easy, simple, or a bed of roses once we get there; most of us have seen pictures of drought-driven animals, skinny and footsore. But God does promise that, in the long run, the journey will be worth all the weariness and bumps and bruises. Because, in the end, our destination is far better than where we have been, and it’s one step closer to where God wants us to be.

The Lord will guide you continually,

And satisfy your soul in drought,

And strengthen your bones; You shall be like a watered garden,

And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.

Isaiah 58: 11

Lessons from Barnabas, the “Son of Encouragement”

1. Give freely of my plenty (time, money, food, possessions, etc.) to those who need it (church, poor, sick, widows, and orphans). Acts 4:37

2. Give a new convert a chance to prove his faith, even if the history of his former life makes me doubtful. Defend him before other Christians until he gives us cause to not believe his faith is genuine. Acts 9:26-27

3. Rejoice in the Gospel, its spread across the world, and the conversion of new believers. Acts 11: 22-24

4. Encourage others to keep growing in their faith. Acts 11: 23

5. Be a “good” person – the righteous, pure, devoted, loving Christian who God wants me to be. Acts 11:24

6. Submit to the Holy Spirit’s guidance and direction for my life. Acts 11: 24

7. Be driven by the passionate flame of the Holy Spirit within me. Acts 11: 24

8. Rooted in a solid faith in Christ. Acts 11: 24

9. Maintain and grow a personal relationship with Christ. Acts 11:24

10. Dedicate myself to the specific work(s) which God has designated for me to accomplish. Acts 13: 2

11. Encourage others to fully rely on God. Acts 13: 43

12. Be emboldened by the power of the Holy Spirit. Acts 13: 46

13. Display authentic passion for Christ, the Gospel, and the truth. Acts 14: 14-15

14. Direct people’s attention to God, rather than to myself. Acts 14: 14-15

15. Forgive others and grant them a second chance. Acts 15: 36-40

16. Realize that I’m not perfect. Galatians 2: 11-13

17. Recognize hypocrisy in my life. Galatians 2: 11-13