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Posts Tagged ‘Contentment’

 

 

“I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of,” said the wealthy, well-known actor.

Of course, I thought. He’s loving the high life—for now—and maybe feels guilty that 97% of humanity will never live the dream he’s privileged to enjoy.

But what he said next shocked me.

They should do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that’s not the answer.”

Who made that startling statement? A man just about everybody in America recognizes on sight: Jim Carrey.

I wonder if Jim knew how close he came to echoing the words of King Solomon?

 

 

(“When I surveyed all that my hands had done

and what I had toiled to achieve,

everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;

nothing was gained under the sun”–Ecclesiastes 2:11 NIV.)

 

From ancient times to today, man has strived to find happiness by obtaining the next desired possession, experiencing the next enticing adventure, or pursuing the next enthralling relationship—even though any success is short-lived.

When will we learn?

Contentment results when we:

Want what we have.

 

(“The things you take for granted someone else is praying for.”

— Anonymous)

 

When our children were eight, eleven, and thirteen, my pastor-husband was appointed to a church in an area of South Florida known for its golf courses, beaches, and wealth.

That last characteristic was most challenging for our children. Many of their classmates arrived at school in expensive cars. They wore clothing with exclusive labels, owned all the latest gadgets, and traveled to exotic locations.

Though Eric, Heather, and Jeremy could see that consumerism did not guarantee happiness, they still struggled with the inequity.

The younger two, Jeremy and Heather, were thirteen and sixteen when they joined a crew of teens and sponsors for a one-week trip to the Dominican Republic.  Their responsibilities included painting at an orphanage and interacting with the children.

The next summer they repeated the trip. And as a result of witnessing true poverty, their outlook on life was dramatically transformed.

 

(Heather is the blonde on the left, in case you weren’t sure!)

 

Months later, Heather and I were riding together in our van and stopped at a red light. We weren’t even talking about those weeks spent at the orphanage. But a decked out sports car pulled up next to us and after a pause, Heather wistfully said, “The cost of that car would feed so many people in the Dominican.”

Such a dramatic shift of perspective had occurred in her heart.  Jeremy’s too.

However, over time contentment easily fades. We must:

Find the positives of each day.

I’ve started a new section in my quiet time notebook:  “A Celebration of Small Things.”  Maybe you’d like to join me?  Each evening I’m recording at least one thing that gives me a sense of contentment. The first entry on Monday was daffodils.

 

 

You see, last week a bitter cold snap here in Ohio ruined much of the early spring flora. Even the hardy daffodils lay bowed over to the ground.

However, they were not defeated! When the temperature rose above freezing again, most of their floral stems stood tall once more. Fluted cups remained open and delicately ruffled; petals fanned outward with only a slight curl at the tips.

I’m so very grateful a soupçon of spring has survived.

 

(“Sweet are the thoughts that savor of content.

The quiet mind is richer than a crown.”

– Robert Greene, English author, 1558-1592)

 

I’m discovering Robert Greene was right. Sweet thoughts do produce the treasure of a quiet mind.

 

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What a delight, Father, to give you thanks and praise for your abundant gifts—the beautiful, the pleasant, the heart-warming, the humorous. Every day is filled with blessing because of your love, compassion, and faithfulness.  My heart overflows with gratitude as I contemplate your goodness!

 

(Psalm 9:1-2, 103:8; Colossians 2:6-7)

 

 

What small thing causes your heart to overflow with thankfulness?  Share your choice in the comment section below!

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.flickr.com; http://www.slideshare.net; http://www.truevined.com; Nancy Ruegg (2); http://www.oldquotes.com; Myra Johnson at http://www.picturemythoughts.com.)

 

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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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According to research, guess what percentage of our happiness is based on circumstances.

A. 10%?

B. 25%?

C. 50%?

D. 80%?

 The answer? Just 10%.

Now why would that be? My guess is, our perspective matters more than our circumstances.

 

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 (“Contentment is not the fulfillment of what you want,

but the realization of how much you already have.”)

 

Ah, yes. Gratitude. Definitely an important attitude, contributing to the sweet, even-keel life of contentment. But it doesn’t come naturally to most of us.

Our thoughts, if left untended, can easily fall into a dark hole of:

  • Self-centeredness. “Yeah, the budget’s tight, but I really need a new car. It’s downright embarrassing to drive around in our old clunker.”
  • Self-pity. “It’s not fair that I’m not paid what I’m worth. I work so hard.
  • Self-justification.  “I deserve that new car.”

Note the focus on self. And half the time (or more) we don’t even realize how much of our thought life spins around in that dark hole.

How can we possibly climb out?   Time and attention are required to develop a mind that frequently contemplates thanks-giving and praise instead of complaint-making and dissatisfaction.

Even the apostle Paul said he had to learn how to be content whatever the circumstances (Philippians 4:12).  And like any new skill, developing contentment requires a bit of knowledge and a lot of practice.

 

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The best place for knowledge on such a topic is scripture. Several passages can inform our understanding of contentment.

  1. King Solomon said, “The fear of the Lord leads to life; then one rests content, untouched by trouble” (Proverbs 19:23).

Not that reverencing God protects us from trouble and every day is glorious. Bad things still happen to good people. But those who reverence God and worship him see life from a different perspective. They can be content even when catastrophe strikes, knowing that God will see them through.

 Think about Daniel in the lions’ den, or Peter and Paul in prison.

  1. Paul said he didn’t really care if he was living in plenty or in want (Philippians 4:12).  How is that possible? He answers in the next verse, and it’s a familiar one: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

Living in plenty–with God–taught Paul how to keep his priorities straight.   Living in want–with God–taught Paul to detach himself from “things.”

  1. Paul told Timothy, “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6).

 When we think of a man with “great gain,” we imagine a person with a large, beautifully decorated home, designer suits, two or three cars (for his own use—family members have their own cars), and the capability to go on expensive vacations.

But what about the young Christian father who thanks God every day for his loving wife and two precious kids? Who enjoys a circle of fun, supportive friends at church that also help him keep his priorities straight? This guy lives in a two-bedroom ranch, drives a ten-year old car, and spends vacations taking day trips from home.

Yet he’s rich, too–maybe even more so. It’s just that his riches fall into a different category. He’s rich in relationships, especially with God. “True godliness with contentment is itself great wealth” (I Timothy 6:6, NLT).

 

contentment

 

Now that we’ve absorbed a bit of scriptural understanding, it’s time to practice what we’ve learned. How can we foster contentment in our spirits?

  1. Cultivate a positive, faith-filled perspective by turning “I wish” statements into “I praise” statements.

Paul was under house arrest in Rome when he wrote to the Christians at Philippi. His days as an adventuring missionary were most likely over; the future looked bleak. Once his trial took place before Nero, Paul knew he could be facing execution.

He might well have said, “I wish I could be back on the road again preaching the gospel. It makes no sense why God has let this happen. I wish he’d get me out of here!“

But Paul’s response was far removed from wishful thinking. He actually praised God that his circumstances were advancing the gospel (Philippians 1:12-18).

  1. Feed our confidence in God, not our comparisons to others. Contentment wells up in our spirits when our thoughts are grounded in scripture, praise, worship, and gratitude.
  1. Focus on the present—look for the blessings of right now. “We will become content as we enjoy each day for what it is rather than moan about what we imagine it could have been” – Bruce Goettsche.

 

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An airline pilot was flying over a lake when he turned to his copilot and remarked, “See that little lake? I used to fish there a lot when I was a kid. Every time a plane would fly overhead I’d think, “Boy, I sure wish I was flying that plane. It must be so wonderful to soar through the sky and see for miles and miles. Now do you know what I’m thinking? How I wish I was down on that lake fishing!”

I don’t want to be like that pilot. I want to be like Paul.

 

 

(Art credits:  www.covgrace.org; www,janellenichol.com; http://www.quoteimage.com; http://www.ponderingtheheartofjesus.com;  www.i.mobypicture.com.)

 

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Nearly every morning I make myself exercise. I hate it.  All that huffing and puffing, and muscles crying out, “Stop! You’re hurting me!” Add to that the boredom factor.

What I do like are the results. My body feels strong. I can still hop up the stairs, lift our toddler granddaughter with relative ease, and get up from a squat without leverage.

I like the increased energy, and the elevated metabolism, too.

But one benefit I never considered until recently: improved balance.

When our muscles are strong, our bodies have an easier time maintaining balance. That means we can reduce the possibility of sprains, injured joints and back, or broken bones.

Three factors contribute to good balance: Stability, strength, and flexibility.

However, it’s not just our bodies that require those three factors. Our spirits need those same characteristics:

  • Stability to handle disappointment and frustration,
  • Strength to endure loss and pain,
  • Flexibility to manage unpleasant surprises.

But how do we create balance in the abstract world of our spirits?

Just as there are many exercises to improve physical balance, there are numerous strategies that contribute to spiritual balance. For example:

  1. Stability can be enhanced by spending time with stable people. Get in the middle of a Christian support group, and allow them to hold you up with their prayer, concern, encouragement, and counsel. Look for members who demonstrate spiritual maturity and follow their example. 

Stability also grows as we spend time in God’s Word. Just as daily physical exercise is important to the body, so is daily reading and contemplation of the Bible. God’s truths and promises, His encouragement and direction, all contribute to our steadfastness of faith.

  1. Strength can be developed through praise and gratitude. Look for the positive things in your life, and you’ll find yourself experiencing joy.  Joy fosters strength (Nehemiah 8:10).

Another strategy for building spiritual strength is to affirm God’s character.   He is sovereign, all-knowing, and all-powerful. Our Heavenly Father is trustworthy, good and loving. We can stand firm with such a God at our side and in the strength of his mighty power (Ephesians 6:10).

  1. Flexibility is needed when circumstances don’t meet our expectations. We have a choice when life takes a sudden turn down an unexpected pathway: 1) Fuss, fume, and balk or 2) Go with the flow and see where the pathway leads.

Kaye Arthur suggests: “Change the D of Disappointment to an H, and you have His Appointment.”* Such an attitude can relax the tension in our spirits, and prepare us to be flexible, to embrace the unknown.

Several years ago, I heard about an elderly resident of a senior citizen facility.  She was being transferred from the assisted-living apartments to the full-care center.

As the nurse wheeled her through the corridors, the senior saint said, “I just know I’m going to love it.”

The nurse exclaimed, “But Mrs. __________, how do you know? You’ve never seen the full-care section.”

The woman’s profound answer: “I’ve already decided I’m going to love it.”

Such an example of:

Stability—maintaining her emotional equilibrium in spite of circumstances.

Strength—determining ahead of time to look for the positive.

Flexibility—going with the flow to see where the pathway might lead.

Surely, such an attitude reflects trust in a gracious and powerful God, knowledge and application of God’s Word, and a positive attitude of contentment (Philippians 4:11).

If the spiritual stability, strength, and flexibility demonstrated by that elderly woman were transferred into physical traits, she’d be able to balance on one toe.  With her eyes closed.

I want to be like that woman in my spirit.

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What strategies help you maintain spiritual balance?  Please add your experience and insight to the conversation below!

 

*His Imprint, My Expression, by Kay Arthur, p. 96.

Photo credit:  www.sparkpeople.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.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

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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While skimming through my grandmother’s Bible, I came across a notation she made next to Jeremiah 31:33.

First, the verse:

 “I will put my law in their minds

And write it on their hearts.

I will be their God,

And they will be my people.”

 

Perhaps a bit of context would be helpful.

Jeremiah was a prophet of Judah for over forty years. He was instructed by God to speak strong judgment against the people because of their sin. They were following worthless idols and had become worthless themselves (2:5). God promised disaster from the north, even terrible destruction (4:6).

Babylon, the empire from the north, did attack in 586 B.C. and Jerusalem was destroyed.

But Jeremiah offered great hope, recorded in chapters thirty and thirty-one. The verse in bold print above makes clear two glorious assurances.

Assurance #1

“It is God’s work.” (That’s what my grandmother wrote in the margin of her Bible next to Jeremiah 31:33.)

See the phrase “I will” used twice in the verse?  It is our Heavenly Father who initiates the work of transformation in our minds and hearts. We couldn’t make ourselves godly no matter how hard we tried. It is his Spirit who enlivens the instruction of God’s Word to our hearts.

A friend of mine accepted Jesus into her life as an adult. M. once told me that before becoming a Christian, she had tried to read the Bible, but it didn’t hold her attention and didn’t make much sense. But after coming to Jesus? Oh, my! What a difference! Suddenly M. became a ravenous reader of God’s Word. Every word spoke wisdom and encouragement to her heart.

You see, what God provided for my friend (and for all of us who seek him) is a miraculous, spiritual heart transplant.

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you,” God says.  “I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

God is not saying he will force us into surgery.   We can accept or reject his offer of a new heart and spirit.

When you receive an appealing offer, how do you decide whether to accept or not? Do you consider the reliability of the person or company making the offer? Probably so.

And when you are given advice to follow, do you consider the source? No doubt.

So let’s consider the One making the offer of a new heart and a new spirit–God Almighty himself.   His love for us is limitless.  He is the all-knowing, all-wise God of the universe. We can trust that his instructions are for our good, that following them will bring peace, contentment, joy, and more.

(Tell me again why we rebel?!)

Assurance #2

He will be our God.

 “When this is fulfilled, you are the possessor of all things,” Spurgeon said.

Think of it: innumerable blessings are ours, beginning with a precious, personal relationship with the King of the universe.

His comforting presence, 24/7.

His guidance and provision for every day of our earthly lives.

And the glory of heaven assured.

 

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We praise you, holy God, the One who has informed us through your Word, who transforms us by your Spirit, and conforms us, day by day, to be like Jesus. Praise you for the privilege to be yours, guided and cared for by an all-wise, all-powerful God!

(Photo credit:  www.wallpaper4god.com.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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“The land is lit with autumn blaze.”

–Helen Hunt Jackson (1830-1885)

I’ve been anticipating these few weeks of October ever since we moved back to the Midwest in June—the gilding on tree-covered hillsides, the crimson coats on sumac trees, and, of course, the swaths of gold and vermilion among the maples.

The trees appear dressed for a grand party!

Indeed, autumn was the season I missed most during our forty years in Florida.

So Friday afternoon I sat on our second-story deck, to observe more closely the magnificent display in our back yard. You see, a shallow woods stands sentry between the houses on our street and the houses behind us. Among the tree-fellows, chestnut, elm, oak, and others stretch their colorful arms heavenward.

But already the trees are beginning to lose their leaves.

Elm leaves somersault while they plummet, flashing sparks of sunlight from their luminous topsides.

Oak leaves drift downward, gracefully zigzagging side to side.

But whether they tumble or drift, the leaves of all deciduous trees will eventually fall, having fulfilled their purpose: photosynthesizing light, absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen.

As human beings, we, too, have purpose to our existence: to live for the praise of God’s glory (Ephesians 1:11).  What an honor is ours, to inspire others to give praise to the King of the universe.

And how might we do that?

  1. Reflect God’s character, like the elm leaves flashing in the sunlight. Wherever we are, whatever we’re doing, we can shine as lights (Matthew 5:14)–offering assistance or a listening ear, being a positive voice and example, exercising self-control and patience.
  1. Give praise to God at every opportunity. As tree leaves fall, the lacey branches are exposed, all reaching upward toward the sunlight. Our hearts should be raised toward the Light of Life, the Son of God.

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(“My lips will glorify you.  I will praise you as long as I live,  and in your name I will lift up my hands” — Psalm 63:3-4)

We can:

  • Praise him in the morning for the opportunities of the day ahead.
  • Praise him in the afternoon for the blessings and accomplishments already enjoyed.
  • Praise him in the evening for his guidance and care throughout the day, his strength for the challenges, and the blessing of rest yet to come.
  1. Be content (Philippians 4:11).  God has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3).  Begin to name those blessings and note how your heart begins to swell with elation–blessings like:
  • relief of forgiveness
  • liberation from guilt
  • assurance of hope
  • confidence of access to his presence
  • certainty of eternal life.

(How long might the list grow if we continued?)

Just as autumn blazes around us, may our hearts blaze to live for the praise of God’s glory!

(Photo credits:  www.galleryhip.com; http://www.media-cache-akO.pinimg.com.)

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