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Pretend you’re a crew member on a cargo ship, and the captain has just announced rough seas ahead. That means just walking will be a challenge. Things on tabletops and floors will tumble and roll if not secured, and sleeping will require wedging yourself into position to keep from being tossed back and forth.

But the captain reminds you, there is good news. A full load of heavy freight in the hold will provide stability and safety against the waves. The rocking will be greatly curtailed.

All of us at some time or other face storms in life, and the same principle applies: certain kinds of cargo provide stability–not the lightweight freight of feel-good pep talks, relaxation techniques, or plain avoidance.

Cargo of substance is required, such as:

 

 

Joy

“The joy of the Lord is our strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).

Simply affirming all the ways God demonstrates his love to us will quickly fill a large compartment with delight.   Last week’s post, Be Glad, included many reasons to rejoice in God.

 

 

Quietness and Trust

“In quietness and trust is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15).

If you haven’t already done so, make space in the hold of your heart for frequent quiet times with God, perhaps by going to bed earlier and rising earlier.

Very soon time spent in his presence and in his Word will become one of your favorite times of day.   You’ll find it transformative also, creating strong bonds of trust with your Heavenly Father. Just ask anyone who has established the habit.

 

 

Promises

“He has given us great and precious promises” (2 Peter 1:4).

But they can offer no stability if we’ve not stored them in the hold our hearts.

“Grasp them by faith,” Charles Spurgeon wrote long ago.   “Plead them by prayer, expect them by hope, and receive them by gratitude.”

Not that a compartment full of promises will protect us from all harm. But our attitude toward the storms of life will be very different as fear is replaced by faith.

 

 

God’s Grace

“It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace” (Hebrews 13:9b).

And what is grace?  I like the old standby definition, an easy-to-remember acronym:  God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.

This compartment is worth checking often, to examine the wealth of substantial contents stored there.

Several years ago I surveyed scripture for that wealth and discovered forty-seven gifts tucked behind the door of grace.*

Thomas a Kempis was right:

 

 

So if you don’t feel quite strong enough to face the challenges of 2020, add more weight in the cargo hold of your heart:

  • More joy in who your God is and more delight in what he does
  • Frequent quiet times alone with God, for meditation on his Word, talking with him and listening to him
  • A collection of promises, especially those that apply to your situation
  • Attention to the many facets of God’s grace and how each one impacts your life

Of course, if these blessings could be placed in the cargo hold of a ship, a record would be kept of each compartment’s contents.

The same is true of the cargo holds of our hearts, though for different reason. We can enhance our joy, strengthen our faith, increase our wisdom, encourage our spirits, and augment our worship of God—all as we keep record in a journal or notebook.

 

 

“The deepest satisfaction of writing

is precisely that it opens up new spaces within us

of which we were not aware before we started to write.”

–Henri Nouwen

 

M-m-m. More space for more compartments to add more cargo.

 

What would you put into one of them?

 

*(You can compare your list of God’s graces to mine at Undeserved Goodness Part 1 and Part 2.)

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.flickr.com (2); http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.pexels.com.

 

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“Let all who take refuge in you be glad;

let them ever sing for joy.

Spread your protection over them,

that those who love your name

may rejoice in you.

Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous;

you surround them with your favor

as with a shield.”

–Psalm 5:11-12

 

Thank you, Father, for each line of encouragement here, presenting truth worthy of contemplation and celebration. To that end this is my prayer:

 

 

I praise you, O God, for being my unfailing refuge—my protector and sanctuary.

Year after year you have:

  • Supplied my needs, like the three teaching positions you provided–each one a miracle (1)
  • Brought me through difficult circumstances, including moves to new communities that initially I wanted no part of
  • Surprised my husband and me with delights we didn’t expect, such as a generous check enclosed with a note, suggesting we enjoy much-needed R & R at our favorite getaway

 

(Aviles Street, St. Augustine, FL)

 

I’m not just glad you’re my refuge, I’m elated! My heart sings in celebration of your perfections, sovereignty, and kindness. You provide unending delight!

You have been my protection, preserving my life:

  • In dangerous circumstances, including that narrow mountain road outside Quito, Ecuador
  • From near accidents, such as that red-light runner who could have sent me spinning into heavy traffic
  • Through natural disasters, like those hurricanes during our forty years in Florida

 

(Hurricane Charley damage, 2004)

 

You have been my protection emotionally, carrying me through:

  • The incomprehensible, like the senseless death of a young friend
  • Hurtful circumstances, when those we trusted proved unreliable
  • Disappointment, as certain hopes were not realized

I thank you, Father, for every time you’ve limited our ordeals so we could endure; and when necessary you’ve given us your strength to withstand every difficulty (2).

 

  

I praise you, O God, that the righteous are not those who always say and do the right thing. Such a standard would disqualify me. Rather, the righteous include those who trust in you and love your many names–Shepherd, Counselor, Helper, and more.

I praise you that your favor includes adoption into your family, freedom from the eternal consequences of our sin, and freedom from guilt—when we ask Jesus into our lives (3).

You graciously give us access to your presence. And when we come you are always ready to listen, uplift, and advise (4).

 

 

You’ve designed us for purpose, to give us glorious satisfaction in life, and day after day you lavish blessing (5), including:

  • The privilege to watch children grow—from first steps to first race, from mere sounds to sentences, from making scribbles to writing stories
  • The delight of old friends we know well and new friends we want to know well
  • Your creativity all around us, whether it’s azure skies or smoke-like clouds, sunbeam ribbons or raindrop jewels, verdant treetops or bare filigree branches

 

 

Your shield of favor also stands between each of us and the evil forces on every side. You are beneath us as a foundation, over us as a shelter, at our right hand as security, before us to lead the way, and within us to provide strength (6).

Keep me mindful of all these glorious truths, O God—truths that make me more than glad. And as this new year begins, may my days be laced with praise to you, my choices motivated by gratitude to you, and my faith be strong in you until that day you take me home.

 

 

 

Notes:

  1. Two of those miracles are detailed in other posts, After the Fact and The Greater Plan.
  2. 1 Corinthians 10:13; Isaiah 41:10
  3. Ephesians 1:3-7
  4. Ephesians 3:18; 1 Peter 3:12; 2 Corinthians 1:3; Psalm 145:14; James 1:5
  5. Ephesians 1:11-12, 2:10; John 1:16
  6. Isaiah 28:16; Psalm 91:1; Psalm 73:23; John 10:3b, 4b; 1 John 4:4

 

(Photo credits:  http://www.publicdomainpictures.net; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.publicdomainpictures.net; naplesnews.com; http://www.bible.com; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.commons.wikipedia.org.)

 

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What are the immense graces of this moment for you?  Please share an example in the Comment section below.  Let’s celebrate together the gifts of His love.

 And a joy-filled day of Thanks-giving to all!

 

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I know. It’s the week before Thanksgiving. If we start feasting on stuffing, mashed potatoes, and squash casserole now, we’ll gain five to ten pounds before the holiday even arrives.

It’s a different kind of feasting the post-title alludes to, the kind Reverend J. R. MacDuff recommended long ago.

And just for fun I’ll make a fill-in-the-blank from his statement, and you can guess the key phrase:

 

“Cultivate _______________.

It will be to thee a perpetual feast.”

—J.R. MacDuff

 

How would you complete the quote?

  1. an attentive outlook?
  2. a thankful spirit?
  3. a cheerful attitude?
  4. a faithful heart?

I’ll bet you guessed correctly, given the season.  MacDuff chose #2, a thankful spirit. But missing from his quote is an explanation of how gratitude could possibly offer the pleasure of a perpetual feast.

Perhaps he would suggest the following.

 

Gratitude fosters a positive perspective.

 

 

 

“Some people grumble that roses have thorns;

I am grateful that thorns have roses.”

—Jean Baptiste Alphonse Karr

 

In recent years scientific research has proven the benefits of optimistic thinking, including increased life span, less stress, better sleep, fewer colds, and better cardiovascular health. Gratitude to God surely augments the benefits.

 

“The optimist says, the cup is half full.

The pessimist says the cup is half empty.

The child of God says, my cup overflows.

–Anonymous

 

Gratitude develops a sense of awe.

 

 

“Gratitude bestows reverence,

allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies,

those transcendent moments of awe

that change forever how we

experience life and the world.”

—John Milton

 

Think of the delight young children express when they encounter a ladybug sauntering across a rock, a sliver of rainbow glimmering on the wall, or a leaf shower providing a game of catch.

As we follow their lead, we’ll discover our ordinary days are laced with many transcendent moments to be grateful for.   And our hearts will fill with reverent awe for the Creator of these and all good things.

 

Gratitude strengthens our faith.

 

 

“Count blessings and find out

how many of His bridges have held…

Gratitude lays out the planks of trust

from today into tomorrow.”

–Ann Voskamp, 1000 Gifts

 

Keep a written record of those planks. You’ll be amazed how quickly they accumulate.

 

Gratitude ushers in joy!

A nearby church posted the following wisdom on their marquee:

 

 

To that end, we can engage our senses with a thankful heart, finding joy in:

  • milkweed maidens poised for dancing
  • crackling leaves breeze-rustled into a huddle
  • a winged wedge of geese honking good-bye
  • flannel shirts and fleece vests—cozy as a hug
  • cinnamon apple tea:  autumn in a cup

 

 

Ordinary experiences can be turned into extraordinary blessings–by the power of gratitude.

 

Gratitude contributes to a heart of humility.

 

“Pride slays thanksgiving,

but a humble mind is the soil

out of which thanks naturally grow.

A proud man is seldom a grateful man,

for he never thinks he gets

as much as he deserves.”

–Henry Ward Beecher

 

The humble and grateful person realizes everything comes from God and nothing is deserved.

 

 

Gratitude cultivates a calm spirit.

 

“It’s impossible to give thanks

and simultaneously feel fear.”

–Ann Voskamp, 1000 Gifts

 

We can express gratitude for all God is—his sovereignty and strength, his wisdom and loving kindness, his grace and glory—thus acknowledging his ability to bring good out of every situation. It releases us from the grip of fear and allows us to rest—in him.

 

 

_________________________

 

There you have it—just a few results from a perpetual feast of gratitude:

 

  • A positive perspective
  • Awe-inspiring wonder
  • Strengthened faith
  • Continual joy
  • Quiet contentment
  • Holy peace

 

Let the gratitude-feast begin!

 

(Photo credits:  http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.maxpixel.net; http://www.pxhere.com; http://www.pixabay.com; http://www.torange.biz; http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.dailyverses.net, http://www.publicdomainpictures.net.)

 

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“Be careful what you think,

because your thoughts run your life.”

–Proverbs 4:23, NCV

 

“Your thoughts run your life.” That would explain why worrisome thoughts can turn into paralyzing fear, pessimism into debilitating discouragement, and sadness into utter hopelessness.

No one wants to dwell in such misery.

But if a person is facing difficult circumstances, and she allows her thoughts to run amok on auto-pilot, she’s likely to slide downward into hyper negativity.  Climbing out is difficult.

“Snap out of it!” someone will say. Not very helpful.

“Look for the silver lining,” advises another. Easier said than done when tragedy strikes–and lingers.

 

 

“Spend some time in reflection.” That’s what one web site recommends, offering sixteen questions for a person to consider. Most of us don’t have time for that much introspection–nor the inclination–when we’re hurting.

So, how can we climb out of a miserable pit of despair?

By replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts, especially scripture.

You see, our brains cannot focus on two things at once. Prove it to yourself by counting to twenty and reciting the ABCs at the same time. You’ll find you’re either counting or reciting, not both simultaneously.

We can apply the same strategy to negative thinking. At the first moment we realize our thoughts are headed in the wrong direction, we can confess it and ask God to help us renew our minds:

“Lord, I don’t want to think about this anymore; it’s accomplishing nothing. Help me to refocus on what is noble and right, pure and lovely (Philippians 4:8).”

 

                           

Then we start singing a favorite praise song, or quoting an uplifting scripture, or listing all the reasons we can trust God in this situation.

For a start, the bulleted quotes below highlight some common threads of negative thinking.  Following each is a positive scripture as rebuttal:

 

“There is no way this situation is going to work out.”

Oh? “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, italics added).

 

“I can’t stand another day of this.”

Oh, yes, I can stand. I can put on the full armor of God, so that in this day of trouble, I may be able to stand my ground” (Ephesians 6:13).  Restoration will come.

 

 

“I am never going to succeed.”

 Not true.  God says [he] will accomplish all [his] purposes (Isaiah 46:10b, italics added).  What greater success could there be than to accomplish the purpose of Almighty God?

 

“I have no idea how to proceed; maybe I should just quit. This is just too hard.”

I can pray as the author of Hebrews did: “May the God of peace…equip me with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in me what is pleasing to him” (Hebrews 13:20-21).

 

“Sometimes I can’t seem to do anything right. How can God use me?”

It is God who made me the way I am, with specific plans and purpose in mind:  to do good works according to the gifts and talents he’s given.

 

 

_________________________

 

If the bulleted comments in bold print are our focus, our lives will surely head in a downward direction toward discouragement and hopelessness.

If, on the other hand, we focus on the promises and positive affirmations of scripture, we head in an upward direction toward wholeness, productivity, and joy.

“He enables [us] to go on the heights” (Habakkuk 3:19)–above the doubts and uncertainties.

“Outlook determines outcome” (Warren Wiersbe, Be Mature, p. 22).

 

(https://quotefancy.com/quote/931807/Warren-W-Wiersbe-Outlook-determines-outcome)

 

*     *     *     *     *     *      *     *     *     *

 

What scripture promise or affirmation lifts you up when circumstances try to pull you down?  Add your favorites in the comments section below!

 

Photo credits:  http://www.flickr.com; http://www.needpix.com; http://www.heartlight.org; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.dailyverses.net; http://www.quotefancy.com.

 

(Revised and reblogged from April 16, 2015, “Focus Determines Direction.”)

 

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“I AM WHO I AM.”

That’s how God identified himself to Moses, as he spoke from the burning bush (Exodus 3:14).

On the face of it, God’s statement seems rather strange.

I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but doesn’t it sound like a line Lewis Carroll would write for the Mad Hatter, or Dr. Seuss for the cat in the hat?

Moses had asked a legitimate question in response to God’s directive to return to Egypt and tell Pharaoh to let the Israelite slaves leave the country (v. 11).  On what authority could he tell Pharaoh what to do?

But of course “I AM WHO I AM” was the perfect response. It’s a name that encompasses all the glorious complexities of almighty God.

And true to his word and character, the I AM of omnipotence and wisdom did take care of everything to release his people from Pharaoh’s grip and take them back to the land of their forefathers.

 

 

And since God never changes (Malachi 3:6), the same I AM is everything and anything we will ever need (Philippians 4:19), including the following.

Let’s shout these affirmations from our spirits:

 

The I AM of absolute power and sublime perfection

is our stability and security (1).

 

The I AM of self-existence and self-sufficiency

is our foundation and competence (2).

 

The I AM of supreme sovereignty and divine holiness

is our confidence and sanctification (3).

 

 

The I AM of firm constancy and unrivaled transcendency

is our inspiration and strength (4).

 

The I AM of complete wisdom and absolute knowledge

is our counselor and guide (5).

 

The I AM of abiding faithfulness and assured reliability

is our help and support (6).

 

 

The I AM of unfailing love and generous benevolence

is our encourager and comforter (7).

 

The I AM of enduring patience and exceeding kindness

is our peace and joy (8).

 

The I AM of deep understanding and gentle compassion

is our defender and reconciliation (9).

 

 

The I AM of bountiful mercy and lavish grace

is our Redeemer and Savior (10).

 

The I AM of righteous integrity and overflowing goodness

is our Shepherd and provider (11).

 

The I AM of splendorous glory and royal majesty

is our Father and Friend (12).

 

 

Listen to his affirming whisper:

“I AM in you, with you, and for you. 

When doubt or fear seep into your thoughts, remember who I AM and send those negative thoughts scurrying.  

Rest in who I AM; enjoy who I AM— the One who delights to bring all My attributes and blessings to bear upon your life.

Take joy also in the principle of reflection. The more time you spend in My presence, even as you’re involved in other tasks, the more you will reflect Me and My character to others. 

As you look to Me, you will be radiant.

And those around you will see who I AM.

 

 

(1 Corinthians 3:16; Psalm 23:4; Romans 8:31; Psalm 143:5;

Psalm 145; 2 Corinthians 3:18; Psalm 34:5; Matthew 5:16)

 

 

Notes:

  1. Matthew 19:26; Psalm 18:30; Psalm112:7; Proverbs 3:26
  1. Psalm 90:2; Acts 17:24-25 and Romans 11:36; Psalm 18:31; 2 Corinthians 3:4-5
  1. 1 Chronicles 29:9-11; Isaiah 6:3; Proverbs 3:26; 1 Corinthians 6:11
  1. James 1:17; Psalm 113:5-6; Isaiah 41:10; Psalm 46:1
  1. Romans 11:33; Job 37:15-16; Psalm 32:8; Isaiah 58:11
  1. Psalm 33:4; Psalm 121:3; Psalm 33:20; Psalm 18:35
  1. 1 John 4:8; Psalm 31:19; Isaiah 41:10; 2 Corinthians 1:3
  1. 1 Corinthians 13:4; 2 Thessalonians 3:16; Psalm 4:7
  1. Psalm 103:14, 8; Psalm 138:7; Colossians 1:20-22
  1. Exodus 34:6-7; Isaiah 44:22; Isaiah 45:21-22
  1. Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalm 25:8; Isaiah 40:11; Psalm 145:9
  1. Exodus 15:11; Psalm 93:1; 2 Corinthians 6:18; John 15:14

 

Photo credits:  http://www.maxpixel.net; http://www.canva.com (3); http://www.heartlight.org; http://www.needpix.com; http://www.flickr.com.

 

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Ask a church gathering, “What’s your favorite psalm?” and many folks will name #91 for its reminders of God’s goodness and power.

They’d be in good company. The great theologian, Charles Spurgeon wrote:

 

“In the whole collection there is not a more cheering psalm,

its tone is elevated and sustained throughout,

faith is at its best, and speaks nobly…

He who can live in its spirit will be fearless” (1).

 

That fearlessness would certainly be encouraged by the eight promises of verses 14-16:

 

 

Note that God promises:

Rescue, protection, and deliverance (vs. 14-15)—not from trouble, but through it. He does not promise a life of ease and bliss. However, “the only things faithful people can lose in suffering are things that are finally expendable” (2).

Answers to every prayer (v. 15)—answers that always reflect God’s perfect knowledge of all things, his wisdom and grace, even when the answer is wait, or even no.

His steadfast presence (v. 15)—“Few delights can equal the mere presence of one whom we trust utterly” (George MacDonald).

 

 

Salvation (v. 16)—“I have summoned you by name; you are mine,” God has said (Isaiah 43:1). We belong to him, purchased at an exorbitant price:  the precious blood of his own Son.

But upon first reading, one promise puzzled me, and another actually startled me.

First, the puzzle. In verse 16 God promises long life. And yet all of us have been devastated by lives cut short.  How are we supposed to interpret this promise?

With a long view into eternity.

Once we experience the glory of God and his heaven, we’ll no longer be concerned about the number of days any of us spent on earth. We’ll only delight in the fullness of God’s presence and all the eternal pleasures he’s prepared for us (Psalm 16:11).

 

 

And then there is the startling promise: that God will honor us (v. 15), as in confer special esteem, respect, and distinction with deferential regard (3).

But he’s the one who deserves honor. Our God is all-powerful, all-wise, all-knowing, omnipresent and eternal—to name a few of his attributes.  What could we possibly do to warrant his honor?

Not a thing. But scripture assures us: those who honor him he has chosen to honor in return (1 Samuel 2:30).

Imagine standing in the splendorous throne room of almighty God as he announces:

  • The removal of your filthy rages of sin, to be taken as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12)
  • The magnificent robes of His Son’s righteousness placed around your shoulders (Isaiah 61:10)
  • Your official standing as his child (Romans 8:15-17)

 

 

  • The privilege of companionship with him any time of day or night (Revelation 3:20)
  • Tasks to provide purpose and satisfaction in life (Ephesians 2:10)
  • Countless blessings to bestow joy and pleasure (Psalm 40:5)
  • Eternal life granted through his Son Jesus (1 John 5:11-12)

 

These honors and more are the extravagant expressions of God’s infinite love for you.

 

 https://www.azquotes.com/quote/1404884

 

An expanded excerpt from Ms. Smith increases the wonder:

 

Put together all the tenderest love you know,

The deepest you have ever felt,

And the strongest that has ever been poured out upon you,

And heap upon it all the love

Of all the loving human hearts in the world,

And then multiply it by infinity,

And you will begin, perhaps,

To have some faint glimpse of the love God has for you.”

–Hannah Whitall Smith

 

There are two caveats, however, presented in verse 14. These promises, including the conferral of God’s honor, are reserved for those who love him and acknowledge his name (affirm the reality of his attributes in their lives).

The psalmist is not talking about a warm, congenial feeling for God; he’s talking about a love put into action with trust and obedience.

 

 

As humans, our default mode is often self-reliance and independence. But what could be more sensible than to trust and obey One who is all-seeing and all-wise, who loves perfectly and honors lavishly?

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Oh, Father, how foolish I have been at times, willfully rebelling against your leadership.  May I choose daily the place of honor you’ve sacrificially prepared for me by loving you wholeheartedly, trusting you for guidance, provision, and protection, and following your wise ways.      

 

Notes:

  1. Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David
  2. Timothy Keller and Kathy Keller, The Songs of Jesus, Viking, 2015, p. 226 (emphasis added)
  3. Webster’s II New College Dictionary

 

Art & photo credits:  http://www.flickr.com; http://www.canva.com (4); http://www.azquotes.com; http://www.pixhere.

 

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