Post-It Notes of Remembrance

IMG_3956My mind today is on my friend Cathy, who was one of the bravest and most stubbornly faith-filled women I’ve ever known.  Cathy may have left here sooner than those of us who loved her would’ve allowed…but her short life was not shadowed over with a spirit of grumbling and complaining.  She had a thing about Post-it notes, and she didn’t care one bit to litter her beautiful home with them.  Scriptures, prayer requests, blessings to give thanks for, Cathy would have notes on mirrors, door frames, refrigerator, walls…wherever they’d stick.  They were her deliberate effort to maintain a grateful heart, right thoughts in her memory and on her lips.  It worked.  I watched a woman fighting for her life who made room for jubilant thanksgiving and praise of her God, and it humbled me.  It made my petty groanings seem a lot less significant when she’d say of her own major obstacles, “Hardly nothing.”  I’m trying to get a little less stingy with my Post-it notes; and because her friendship is one of those blessings I’m honored to remember, she is getting her own note on my wall.  Today’s devotional doesn’t start out on a sad note at all…I’m just integrating a bit of very important nostalgia to support the idea of remembering one’s blessings.

The reason why God established the feast days for the children of Israel is to help them remember.  You might ask, “How could anyone forget miracles like watching the parting of the Red Sea…or the deliverance from the bondage of Egypt…or the passing by of the angel of death?” Don’t be too quick to judge!  If you do not consciously make room in your life for thanksgiving, celebration, and remembrance, you too will forget your miracles when faced with another mountain. Why, we do it all the time…but for the grace of God and the Holy Spirit jogging our memory, we’d become plumb full of ingratitude, forgetfulness, complaining, wishing for what we don’t already have, bitterly living in the past, coveting other people’s blessings.

You are looking at a bill in this morning’s mail that you have no earthly idea how you’ll pay…but shift your focus back to the last time God sent provision right when you needed it. The medical report the doctor’s office just gave you is not at all what you were wanting to hear…but don’t be overwhelmed by today’s trouble when there’s a memory of a previous healing begging to be unlocked.   It’s practically screaming through the soundproof glass, “Wait!  Wait, you forgot all about ME!  Let me out of here and let’s talk!”  Shut off the distresses of the moment, right now. If but only in your mind, place them in a tucker tote and put them in a corner out of your way. You can still deal with them, but for the moment, set them aside. It sounds elementary I know, but please don’t be insulted by the simplicity of what I’m going to suggest next–I’m not downplaying your serious needs. Get a piece of paper and begin to list some things from the past which God did for you “in the nick of time.” Add to that list the blessings you already have. You might have to press through pain to get there, but list what’s good. If your left leg’s hurting, praise Him that your right leg isn’t.

There’s an old hymn that says “I can take you to the time, I can take you to the place, where the Lord saved me, by His wonderful grace.” A major weapon of spiritual warfare is that determination to remember the victories. Maybe you don’t remember the exact date or place when something happened…write it down anyway. It will be the testimony that begins with, “There was that time when______.” It will be no less powerful! God’s not like an angry spouse who’s upset that you forgot the anniversary…His reasoning for you setting that time to remember is more for YOUR benefit than His. Anyway, make that list. If you know specific days on the calendar, find some way to commemorate them. Jot them in the margins of your Bible, or Post-it notes on the cork board, whatever. We mark everything else on our calendar from mortgage due dates to doctor appointments…make some room for good things! Whenever May 22 rolls around again and you’ve got even a small story of thankfulness that coincides with that date, make an all-out celebration of it. Today, you might say to others, marks 17 years since the doctor gave me six months to live! Next Thursday marks 2 years when God saved us from losing our business. Or, I’ll always rejoice in April because that’s when I got a letter of acceptance to a university that by all human reasoning, I shouldn’t have been able to attend. Or, it was on a New Year’s Eve 30 years ago when such-and-such relative tried to take his own life, but God spared him. I can’t tell your stories because I don’t know them all, but if you’ll sweep today’s troubling circumstances to the side for just a bit, you have some incredible victories you NEED to relive. You need the strength from those memories to inspire you to forge ahead in today’s trials.

Yes, you need to make a big deal of these things. Who cares if someone else doesn’t want to have a party with you? You have a party with God! Recently, Dana and I started a journal of blessings. Oh, we might not post to it every day, but we’ve gotten into the practice of talking about blessings at night before we go to sleep, and he has me jot them down. Sometimes I go back through and read a few entries. It might be a major healing, or it might be thanks that God helped me to change a faucet under our sink without it leaking. On either end of the wow spectrum, these blessings are worth remembering and giving thanks for all over again!

What has He done for YOU–past or present–that’s worth a celebration? It’s time to put on the garment of praise and ditch that spirit of heaviness!  Grab the calendar, grab the pad of sticky notes, and encourage yourself in the Lord.  He’s worthy of praise, and His loving kindness is so worth the remembrance.

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies; Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” –Psalm 103:2-5

Thankfulness–Breaker of Hope Deferred

Proverbs 13:12 Bread.jpgtells us that postponed hope sickens the heart. How many people are suffering in their health–or even already gone to the grave–because of a state of hopelessness?

I want each of you to ponder this and begin to confess, “I choose to be happy NOW. Not later, when the right job, the right mate, the weight loss, the respect and the education and the money come. My contingency for happiness isn’t bound up in a lottery ticket mentality, where happiness might get to happen later IF per next-to-nothing chance, I get everything I hope for.”

One of Satan’s cruelest schemes is that of deferred hope, because it’s always in the future with no acquisition date stamped on it. In that setting, only fantasy occupies the mind–for anyone else’s life MUST be more interesting than one’s own, right?

Don’t let the evil one convince you that the ideal life is the one you aren’t in! He will keep you running from one relationship to another, one high to another, one futile pursuit and then another and another. You’ll live inside a fictitious story where you spend all your days, as Ecclesiastes says, chasing “vanities.” Even when you ARE running over with favor and blessing, you won’t see it because you’ll be still focused on what you don’t have yet. Without meaning to be–and without seeing it–you’ll become miserably self-centered, trapped inside the devil’s funhouse where every reflection of your life is distorted and perverted. Not good enough.

How on earth does one stop deferring hope? It is, after all, a choice! You break the cycle first by taking on the spirit of thanksgiving. As hypocritical as that might sound, you call the devil’s bluff even before you SEE your own life as a great place to be. You zero in on even the trivial, tiny things if necessary; and praise God for those instead of lamenting things which aren’t so wonderful at present. Believe me when I tell you, God knows your heart! He isn’t going to be insulted when you do this. He knows the difference between sarcasm and a true attempt to return to a spirit of thanksgiving. If your foot is hurting, thank Him that your ear isn’t.

Jesus lived in a human body too. It would’ve been much easier to live out His days as a normal, nondescript fellow with the biblical equivalent of the American Dream. The wife, kids, the dog, the picket fence. He also knew that the key to not becoming disillusioned with the burdens He bore was to remain in the place of thanksgiving. His prayers began with, “Father, I thank You that_____.”

From what many historians believe, Mary probably long outlived Joseph. As the oldest, the responsibility to support her and to raise younger siblings would have fallen to Jesus. He could’ve wrestled with “hope deferred” as He labored away, day in and day out, to put food on the table instead of being out there fulfilling His destiny. The human side of Him may have wondered, “Am I ever going to get beyond just helping my folks and on to REAL ministry?” But you know, the side of Him which connected to His Father knew that what He was doing in those preparatory days WAS real ministry! He learned compassion and selflessness while helping wipe noses and pack water. Time He spent poring over the law and the prophets, in prayer and meditation, and in the place of solitude, and in the place of serving His family well, were all investments for what would become a 3 1/2 year blitz of ministry that culminated in Him saying, “It is finished!” at the cross–not, “This is unfair, my life has been disappointing, it is UNFINISHED. I want to reinvent myself and be like the characters on my favorite TV show!”

There have been many times when, going through hard seasons, I dreamed of hopping on a plane with a new name and identity, and just starting all over again. There’ve been times when I felt like the biggest waste of potential EVER. I’ve known for some time now that when I catch myself drifting away to that place, my thankfulness is leaking out. I immediately try to switch gears and reassess. Have I listened to the world telling me all I’m not, or am I instead peering at my reflection in the Word to see me conforming to the image of Jesus?

When we say that our current state is not our IDEA of where we want to be, then we are in the place of hope deferred…and yes, it’s just an idea. Shake yourself with this hard but vital truth!  If you get every part of your “idea” of what it takes to make you happy, you still won’t be happy unless you are already choosing to have a heart of gratitude in any state.   Our mission statement may be more than “half a bubble off plumb” when placed against our actual MISSION. It’s time to take our minds off the “if only I were richer, thinner, younger, older, more educated, beautiful/handsome, then my life would be better” merry-go-round, and make today about what we actually have in our hands. Do as Jesus did concerning feeding the multitude. Ask, “what do I have in my hands?” and then hold it up, give thanks for it, bless it, and put it to use. You’re no more cheated for that allotment of resources you have than Jesus was, when He held up and gave thanks for five dinner rolls and a couple of sardines, right in front of the astonished people He was about to bless with the feast of a lifetime!

Remember–remain thankful even when it feels silly to be thankful for your little bit. It doesn’t matter what YOU have, it’s what HE has…but He will require you to present to Him what you have first. Trade your hope deferred for faith infused! He will bless you more for thankfully using what you have–your ordinary, ho-hum life in your average or below-average body, less-than-perfect teeth, short resume’, incomplete education, not-so-dream job, biological click-ticking self–than if you were to get to swap lives with any other person on earth. Bless and utilize what you have; because in so doing, you short-circuit the endless-loop of the accuser who says you have too little to ever be effective (or happy)! Stop comparing yourself to that other person who already has what you wish you did–you may think you really want IT, but mostly what you’re wanting is to shut off feeling as if you’re a disappointment. Stop it. That other person isn’t having things as perfect as you think…especially if he or she is still motivated by that same need for approval that you’re wrestling.

God will take your offering of what you have, pour the oil of anointing on it, set it ablaze with favor you couldn’t have possibly worked diligently enough to earn, and leave you speechless at what He has done with your tiny part! So, does a spirit of thankfulness REALLY do all that? Is it really the breaker of hope deferred? Yes! On the day you grasp this–take your eyes off yourself and place them upon God–you will poise yourself for the miraculous! Refocus every single day if you have to, because this is one of the most powerful tools of spiritual warfare you will ever pull out of your bag. Get this right and watch your life begin to change in a major way…and those things you don’t see changing will start mattering to you a whole lot less in light of what IS.