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Posts Tagged ‘Appreciation’

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“Haste makes waste,” Benjamin Franklin wisely observed. And most of us would agree. When we hurry, we spill things, drop things, forget things, trip over things.

But Ben’s proverb may be true in a way he never intended.

Haste makes waste of the beauty around us, the joy and goodness to be found in the present moment.

 If we’re not careful, we rush right by such priceless splendors as:

  • Tiny leaves courageously reaching for sun in spite of snow

 

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  • Evergreens encrusted with raindrop jewels

 

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  • The first butterfly of spring (‘Just spotted one like this yesterday!)

 

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  • An impromptu hug from family member or friend

 

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  • A wisp of a bug living between flower bud and leaf

 

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(See it?  On the left side of the bud!)

  • A child’s giddy grin, wreathed in chocolate

 

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But how do we become people who live aware—vigilantly watchful for beauty, goodness, and joy?

Ann Voskamp would say: begin a list of wonders. Many of you know she challenged herself to live aware and record One Thousand Gifts (the title of her book about the quest and its impact on her life). Somehow the act of collecting and writing helps us become more intentional.

Spring is the perfect time to practice living with joyful awareness.

Have you noticed the greening of the landscape, beginning at ground level with the grass, and working skyward through bush and shrub? The largest trees will be the last to unfurl their leaves in a grand display of emerald luxuriance.

 

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Perhaps even more glorious is the splendor of the magnolia, dogwood, and redbud in full bloom. Their individual beauty can only be surpassed when clustered together.

 

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And of course, the blooming of flowers, the songs of birds and the scampering of squirrels give us much to savor.

But beautiful or joyful as these may be, what’s the value of paying attention to such details?

Heightened awareness of all these gifts (and more) fosters gratitude.   And gratitude positively impacts the way we see the world and experience life.

Of course, appreciation in itself is rather meaningless. How silly to say “thank you” to the air. No, gratitude must be expressed to someone. And all we have, all we enjoy, is due to the loving kindness of a singular Someone—our benevolent Father.

When we express our thankfulness to him, we’re ushered into his presence.  Yes, right into the throne room of Almighty God.

Now you may have been wondering as you skimmed this post, When is she going to get to the part about “How to Be Rich—Today?” (That was the title, in case you missed it!)

Here’s what we can do:

Focus on what we already have, not on what we lack.

 

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“It is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.”

(Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

You see?  We’re already rich.

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Thank you, God, for countless, precious blessings every day—blessings that make me smile or gaze in awe at the wonders you’ve created. May your praise always be on my lips, as I seek to live aware of your bounty around me. And may my gratitude bring joy to your heart also.

 

(Art & Photo Credits:  www.amazon.com; http://www.tulipsinthewoods.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.scalar.usc.edu; http://www.hookedonthebook.com; Nancy Ruegg; ww.pixabay.com; http://www.freebigpictures.com; http://www.pinerest.com (2).

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Dove chocolates come wrapped in foil on which are printed positive and encouraging statements. Recently I found this one:

“The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.”

A positive attitude of praise and celebration, even for the little blessings, does contribute to a sense of well-being.  But there’s an important omission in this quote–the cause of all those blessings.  Perhaps the sentiment might be worded like this:

“The more you praise and celebrate God in your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.”

Now a pleasing sentiment has become solid truth, because with God in our lives, joy is our constant companion.

“You make me glad by your deeds, O Lord;

I sing for joy at the works of your hands.”

(Psalm 92:4)

 It requires such a small effort, really.

 Sometimes, all we need to do is focus on the pleasure of ordinary events:

  • Water vapor curling up from a cup of coffee
  • Sunbeams finally breaking through, after three days of unrelenting rain
  • The first butterfly of spring dancing among the daffodils

Sometimes all we need to do is change our perspective.  We can choose to:

  • Get depressed over the huge stack of dirty dishes in the kitchen, or reminisce (while we clean!) over the delightful meal just enjoyed with family and friends
  • Grumble that vacation is over, or celebrate that two weeks out-of-town makes even our scuffed-up, well-lived-in home look mighty inviting
  • Sigh with dissatisfaction that personal goals have not yet been reached, or take note of how far we’ve come

Sometimes all we need to do is make a celebration out of a small moment.

I had been shopping at the mall for several hours, scouring the sales racks to no avail. Suddenly I looked down at my purse on which I had draped my light jacket and sweater. The sweater was gone. It was one of my favorites.

So not only did I not purchase an addition for my wardrobe that afternoon, I had subtracted a piece of clothing I already owned.  That sweater had just been dry cleaned, too. “Insult to injury,” as they say.

Retracing my steps seemed pointless; I had been in so many stores.

Not long after realizing my sweater was gone, it was time to meet Steve for dinner at a restaurant attached to the mall.  We ordered our meals, and then I told him what happened.

“I’ll check the mall lost-and-found after we eat,” I said. “By then maybe someone will have found my sweater and turned it in.”

So that’s what we did.

No sweater.

Steve suggested we stop at the stores where I’d shopped, as we made our way back to the car.

At the very first store the eyes of the young sales girl lit up when I asked about a lost sweater. “What color was it?” she asked.

“Red,” I told her.

“We did find it! It’s right back here!” she enthusiastically replied, walking to the back of the store.

Sure enough, there it was. Someone had even put it on a hanger.

Well! I thanked her, and the manager behind the counter, not knowing which of them had found it and been so thoughtful.

One of them jokingly said something about doing good deeds for chocolate.

As it happened, just two doors down was the Godiva Chocolate Shop. Steve and I popped in, bought two little boxes, and went back to the clothing store.

When those two girls saw the Godiva bag they whooped in surprise and delight. Steve and I laughed, too.

“God blessed me through you by returning my sweater; we wanted to bless you,” I said.

“Oh! That remark about chocolate was just a joke!” the salesgirl cried. “But you have no idea how much I needed this. Today has been especially rough.” She started around the counter with her arms outstretched. “Come here! I need to give you a hug!”  Then she added, “Look!  I’m crying!”  I had tears in my eyes as well.

The level of endorphins was so high in that shop the lights shone brighter, the air smelled fresher, and the atmosphere crackled with joy.

And all because we took a small moment and magnified its significance, and we gave God the glory as we celebrated a God-orchestrated event.

Truly, “The more you praise and celebrate God in your life, the more there is in life to celebrate.”

And God celebrates, too.  After all, he loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7), right?  Surely that includes givers of chocolate and hugs.

(Photo credit:  www.inhabityourmoments.com.)

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What are you celebrating in life today?  Share your joy in the comments below!

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 (Photo from http://www.trulia.com.)

“There it is, Mom, “ Steve remarked, as he pointed to a little white house in the middle of a city block. “That’s where we lived when I was growing up.”

“Oh, yes,” she replied. But did Mom really remember?

We were on an excursion through Columbus, Ohio, taking Steve’s mother past the landmarks of her life. Alzheimer’s disease had already stolen away much of her vibrancy and warmth, and, of course, her memory.

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Steve drove by West High School and continued his commentary. “That’s where we all went to school, you, Dad, Karen, and me. You were the very first homecoming queen.  How about that?  No wonder Dad asked you out.”

She murmured assent to Steve’s comments, but added nothing of her own.

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We drove past the brick ranch they built out in the country in 1966. Horses used to reside beyond the back fence. Just a few houses had dotted the area back then. By this time, however, they had been swallowed up by dozens more. The saplings Mom and Dad had planted were now tall shade trees.  And the glorious flower beds and window boxes that Mom had tended were gone. She registered no recollection.

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But when we approached her childhood home, a white Dutch Colonial on a quiet street, all of a sudden she perked up.  Pointing to a second-story window, Mom stated firmly, “That was my room, right up there.”

In the midst of the fog that is Alzheimer’s, one memory–one glimmer of light–shone through that morning. Steve and I almost gasped at the wonder of the moment. Mom remembered!

And the rarity of her memories pointed to the preciousness of this ability. Memory is a gift to be treasured. The older I grow, the more I appreciate the miraculous power of the brain to store millions of memories—with astounding detail–and yet access a particular one in a mille-second.

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Not only do sights trigger memories, but also smells. Researchers say this sense is the most powerful memory-inducer. For me, the aroma of fresh-baked bread always takes me back to my grandmother’s kitchen.

Sounds trigger memories as well—particularly music. Tastes and textures work the same phenomenon.

But surely God had more purpose in mind for giving us memory than the pleasant pastime of reminiscing.

Indeed.

Memories foster gratitude, as we contemplate God’s goodness to us in the past:

  • His countless blessings (even when we haven’t been a blessing to him).
  • Those times he led us through the shadow of death, so that we might experience more completely the glory of his light.
  • Moments when we almost gave up hope, and God surprised us with his creative, abundant provision.
  • Leaving behind what we once were and celebrating what we have become, solely because of his Son, Jesus.

Memories foster faith, as we remember how God has met our needs in the past. See if each phrase from Psalm 103 doesn’t trigger a memory in your mind, and a song of praise in your heart:

“Oh, my soul, bless God,

Don’t forget a single blessing!

He forgives your sins—every one.

He heals your diseases—every one.

He redeems you from hell—saves your life!

He crowns you with love and mercy—a paradise crown.

He wraps you in goodness—beauty eternal…

…God makes everything come out right.

He puts victims back on their feet…

…God is sheer mercy and grace;

Not easily angered, he’s rich in love.

He doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve,

Nor pay us back in full for our wrongs.

(Psalm 103:2-10, The Message)

Memories inform the present and provide hope for the future. As we meditate on all those times God has wrapped us in his goodness (v. 5), we are strengthened for what we face today. As we consider the many times he made everything come out right (v. 6), we can trust he will continue to make our paths straight.

Of course, there are some memories we would like to erase—those that generate sadness, hurt, or regret. How do we deal with those? Here are a few suggestions I’ve collected over the years:

  1. We must resist self-pity—even in our thought life. Nowhere in scripture do we read that rehashing the negative is therapeutic. God’s way is to focus on the positive (Philippians 4:8).

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  1. We can follow Paul’s example. He forgot what was in his past and pressed on to what lay ahead (Philippians 3:13). Not that amnesia had set in. Paul simply did not allow past failures to cripple his relationship with God and his service for God. God had forgiven and forgotten; Paul did too. No doubt he applied Philippians 4:8, not only to self-pity, but also to guilt. 
  1. We can leave the past in God’s hands. Oswald Chambers said it so well:

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(“Leave the irreparable Past in His hands, and step out into the Irresistible Future with Him”

–My Utmost for His Highest, Dec. 31.)

 

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Father, I do thank you for the gift of memories—the ability to remember with joy and appreciation the people, places, and experiences of the past. I even thank you for the not-so-good memories, knowing that you use every difficult situation for the development of my maturity (James 1:2-3). And may I take advantage of the wisdom gained in the past to guide me in the present, and lead me into the Irresistible Future with you.

 

Art & Photo credits:  www.trulia.com; http://www.westhighalumni.com; Steve’s photo collection; http://www.allrecipes.com; http://www.god.com; http://www.pinterest.com.

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Steve came into the kitchen carrying a lovely rose, its dewy petals just beginning to open.  Delicate baby’s breath surrounded the bloom; emerald-green tissue and a red satin bow created a fitting frame.

He passed the rose to me with love in his eyes and a sweet smile on his face.

I took the rose and threw it on the floor.

What?! you say. How could you do such a thing?

The truth is, I didn’t. I made that up. Not the part about Steve bringing me roses. He has surprised me with flowers numerous times over the years. I made up the part about taking a rose from him and throwing it on the floor.

That would be terribly rude, wouldn’t it. But the scenario described above does provide an allegory for the way we sometimes accept verbal gifts–occasions when we’ve treated kind words as trash:

 

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“Who, me? Oh, no. Not really. So-and-So is much better at __________ than I am.”

“You liked what I said? You must not have been listening very carefully!”

“I can’t believe you actually liked it. I thought it was terrible.”

Compliments are like roses, offered in an effort to bring a smile, provide good cheer, express appreciation and encouragement. When we discount them, it’s as if we’re throwing these verbal gifts on the floor. The compliment-giver feels put down, awkward, and lacking in good taste.

You may be thinking: Wait a minute.  As Christians, aren’t we supposed to be humble? Accepting compliments seems so prideful.

Not if you view positive remarks as declarations of God’s glory, as it’s reflected through you. Not when you consider that denying sincere, truthful compliments detracts from God’s glory.

So how can Christians accept compliments with grace? Here are several possibilities:

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  1. Simply say “thank you” and give the glory–the credit–to God. He is the one who gave you the ability to accomplish the task for which you are being praised. Pass the compliment on to God.
  1. Consider the compliment as encouragement. God is at work in you and he’s using you to minister to others. Thank the person for their kind words, and praise God for the opportunity to be used for his purpose, in ways that bless others.
  1. God often uses his people as agents for his encouragement. It’s possible those kind words are coming straight from God’s heart to yours. Take joy in the blessing.
  1. A gracious “thank-you-so-much-for-your-kind-words” will prompt the compliment-giver to continue offering encouragement to others.   Wise King Solomon compared inspiring/supportive words to gold (Proverbs 25:11). That’s how valuable they are.

 

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  1. If others were involved in your achievement, be sure to give them credit. Sharing the glory will increase the pleasure of the compliment.
  1. Later, when the kind words come to mind again, whisper a prayer.  For example:

“Heavenly Father, thank you for blessing my effort and touching that woman’s heart. What an honor to be used by you to minister to her.”

Turn compliments into praise and they won’t turn into pride.

 

(Photo & art credits:  www.flickr.com; http://www.handmaidcraftday.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.wimempowerment.org.)

 

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(“You thrill me, Lord, with all you have done for me!  I sing for joy because of what you have done” — Psalm 92:4 NLT.)

God lavishes his gracious kindness upon us in countless ways, doesn’t he?

In appreciation for all he’s done, I have a suggestion. Let’s each write him a personal psalm for Valentine’s Day.  A love gift, on a love-focused holiday, for our loving God.  (You have more than a week to prepare your gift!)

Is that an overly sentimental idea?

Perhaps the timing is, but the matter of creating personal psalms has nothing to do with sentimental poetry.

I can hear some of you already. “Me—compose a psalm? I struggle to put a personal message on a birthday card!”

If that sounds like you, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you” (Joshua 1:9)!

God waits with eager anticipation for you to enjoy an intimate Father/child relationship with him (2 Corinthians 6:18).

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 And what parent is not overjoyed when a son or daughter shares his/her innermost thoughts and feelings?

Remember, a psalm is simply a heartfelt prayer or song.  Key word: heartfelt.  Our psalms do not have to rhyme. We don’t have to use fancy literary devices like metaphors, imagery, or parallelism unless we want to.

These psalms are for our Heavenly Father.  He takes great pleasure in the sincere, unpretentious efforts of his children, just as all parents do.  We can even ask for his help to string the words together that will express our hearts.

Sometimes the hardest part is getting started—that first thought. An easy solution is to use a biblical psalm as a model.

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To begin, you might choose a favorite verse. Read it slowly, several times. Rewrite it in your own words.  These questions might help to push your thinking further:

  • Is there a phrase or word that stands out?   Explain to God why it is important to you.
  • Do you feel a connection with this particular verse?  Add a personal experience when God’s activity in your life made this verse especially meaningful for you.

Following is one way to create a personal psalm, based on Psalm 3:3a: “You are a shield around me, O Lord.”

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1.  Choose a key word.  “Shield” is an obvious choice.

2.  Use the question-words who, what, where, when, why, and how to jump-start your thought processes.  Not all of them will spark an idea, but several will.  For example:  How is God a shield for me? What is he shielding me from? Why is it important for me to remember that he is my shield?

3.  Prayerfully and thoughtfully answer your questions. Meditate for a moment, then begin to write. One word can become the basis for the first sentence. A word or idea from that sentence can be expanded upon and become another sentence.

Before you know it, a psalm is born!

 

I praise you, oh God, for being like a shield

when disturbing thoughts are hurled my way.

You deflect those poisoned-arrows

with your shield of scriptural truth

and tender compassion.

Help me remember

you are all-powerful and all-wise.

There is no circumstance or emotional battle

that you cannot handle.

Your strong shield protects me

from the assault of Satan and his cohorts—

those negative, discouraging thoughts

that try to attack the peace and joy you’ve given me.

You are my almighty Warrior-God,

unsurpassed in power.

Satan cowers in your presence!

Help me avail myself of your protection

at every onslaught.

 

Once your psalm is complete, it’s time for presentation.  Read your psalm out loud to God. You will sense his presence as he comes to listen! How do I know?

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(“Come near to God and he will come near to you” — James 4:8.)

Keep your journal or notebook handy. Further thoughts may occur to you as you read, or afterward as you reflect. One more question to consider: In what ways has your relationship to God been impacted through this composing process?  You may wish to write about that, too.

I must confess, I’ve written a number of personal psalms. But recent reading on the subject has inspired me to pursue new avenues of this form of worship.

In future psalms I want to increase my reflection time, be more specific, add more detail, and actually read my psalms out loud.  I’m looking forward to expressing the depths of my heart more openly and discovering new depths of my Heavenly Father.

If you already write personal psalms, or should decide to write one, I’d love to hear about your experience!

 

(Art and photo credits:  www.pinterest.com; http://www.healthcentral.com; http://www.dwellingintheword.wordpress.com.)

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Ec3.11

“Everything is beautiful in its time,” Solomon wrote (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

That means today is beautiful—in spite of the long to-do-list, the stress, the mess, the frustrations, the disappointments, the uncertainty, the pain.

How can that be?

Because the negative aspects of our lives do not need to supersede the positive.

God’s glory—his splendor, his creative genius, his love—is being expressed all around us, every day, as…

…pinpoints of sunshine glimmer on a fresh dusting of snow.

…cups of hot tea warm the hands and spicy citrus flavors warm the spirit.

…the baby squeals with delight while chasing bubbles in the kitchen.

…the mail includes a handwritten note.

…a song on the radio speaks encouragement, perfectly suited to a current situation.

…the fire crackles merrily, enticing one to sit and rest in its glow.

The question is, am I aware of the God-infused beauty around me? Am I pausing from my work every now and then to look for it?

Sometimes my vision is clouded by the past. Guilt over poor choices and hurt over unfair treatment can interfere with the enjoyment of now. Even past blessings can be a distraction, if my attitude is, “Oh, if only I could go back to __________. Those were the best years of my life.”

Not that the past doesn’t serve us in the present. Experience is an important teacher. But when I keep looking back with longing, I miss the present.

On the other hand, a preoccupation with the future (the way I would like life to be next month or next year) can also interfere with my full participation in the present. Wishful thinking can easily slip into covetousness.

“Watch out!” Jesus said. “Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). Would I be stretching the truth of his statement to say: A beautiful life does not consist of the perfect spouse, perfect children, a perfect house, and a perfect job—even if such perfection existed.

A joy-filled life comes from embracing the gifts of each day. “We should make the most of what God gives, both the bounty and the capacity to enjoy it, accepting what’s given and delighting in the work. It’s God’s gift! God deals out joy in the present, the now (Ecclesiastes 5:19-20a, MSG).

I need to train myself to stay in the present, to enjoy the beautiful moments God is granting me now—to the fullest.

If the to-do list is long, I want to invite God to set the priorities and help me accomplish what is needful for that day. Those items that must be held over to another day may be postponed guilt free, because “there is a time for everything” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). A simpler, slower-paced life will certainly be a more beautiful life.

If uncertainty plagues my thoughts, I want to embrace the truth that God is in control, including the timing of events. He will keep me in perfect peace when I keep my mind steadfastly on him and trust in him (Isaiah 26:3). Trust is at the heart of a beautiful life.

If Plan A (that I was counting on) suddenly becomes Plan B (a debilitating disappointment), I want to accept and even appreciate the change of plan as an opportunity to grow. After all, Plan B did not catch God by surprise. There will be beauty in Plan B, too.

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Dear God, I thank you that you have made everything beautiful in its time. May I rest in the knowledge that this season of my life, with its particular challenges, was appointed by you. On this day may I:

  • embrace the blessings of NOW,
  • celebrate the completed tasks you gave me to do,
  • handle the challenges with grace and trust in you,
  • grow to be a little more like your beautiful Son, and
  • behold your beautiful glory, on display all around me.  

(Art credit:  www.biblia.com.)

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Abundance: a word that easily comes to mind as we contemplate Thanksgiving Day.

Many dining room tables will be filled to overflowing with delectable offerings this afternoon. Most Americans will consume a plentiful amount of turkey, salads, vegetables, and pies. Food in abundance has become synonymous with Thanksgiving.

Very soon Steve and I will head over to our son’s house to celebrate Thanksgiving with family–for the first time in about ten years.  We and our three children, their spouses, and children have lived states apart for that long, and we’ve had to wait until Christmas each year for get-togethers.  (Sadly, not all of us will be able to gather today, but most.)  In June, Steve and I moved close to our older son, Eric, and his family, not far from his younger brother, Jeremy.

Friends of Eric and Hilja will also be joining us this afternoon, making for a full, heart-warming day. Even more than the abundant feasting, I look forward to the abundant togetherness—the camaraderie, affection, story-telling, reminiscing, and humor.

But abundance also describes the plentiful amount of blessings bestowed by another family member, our Heavenly Father.

His abundance includes:

Grace.

“Those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ(Rom. 5:17, Ryrie).

We were ruined by sin. But out of his loving forgiveness and acceptance, God offers the gift of eternal life through his Son, Jesus.

Mercy.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who with his ample mercy has given us new birth into a life of hope, due to the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3, Berkely Version).

When God gives us what we do not deserve, that’s grace. When God does not give us what we do deserve, that’s mercy.   He is abundantly generous with both.

Peace and security.

 “I will heal my people and will let them enjoy abundant peace and security” (Jeremiah 33:6).

We can rest in calm assurance of God’s loving care and his provision of salvation.

Love and faithfulness.

“The Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness(Exodus 34:6).

God expresses his love in countless ways.  He is faithful, never forgetting a promise.  And he never fails to provide for our needs.

Goodness.

“They will celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness” (Psalm 145:7).

All of God’s glorious attributes are generously poured out upon us day by day.

Holy Spirit.

“He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously” (Titus 3:5-6).

Empowerment, renewal, guidance, and comfort are just a few of the benefits our precious Holy Spirit provides.

Life

“I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10, KJV).

 Not mere existence, but a rich, full, satisfying life, in relationship forever with The. King. Of. The. Universe.  Incredible.

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How is it possible, Lord, you would even want to open the storehouses of heaven to pour out this abundance upon us? How do we begin to thank you for such rich, abounding blessings? Words are pathetically inadequate.  All we can offer you is our lives—to live for the praise of your abundant glory. Help me to do so—today and always.

(Photo credit:  www.happyfathersday.com.)

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