Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again - rejoice! Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do. Remember, the Lord is coming soon.
Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me - everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.
This Lenten season, I have been leading a book study on Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts, and this scripture ties in perfectly with this book. I read it a few years ago and always recommend it to my friends.
When Pastor Emily suggests we need to do a book study of One Thousand Gifts, I think "Yes!" I don't think Emily asked me outright to lead the study, but God sure did. I was hesitant . . . "Do I have time to read and prepare while being momma to my two kids? Can I commit to a weekly meeting?" I didn't know exactly how it would work out, but I agreed in my heart to lead the study before meeting up with Emily at Starbucks to chat about the details. We decided to host a book study which I would lead once a week during Lent.
So, during the past few weeks, our book study group has been reading about Ann's journey to finding joy through thanking God for the gifts around her. We have shared our stories and struggles. We have prayed together. And, we have gained further insight into how we can, as Paul says, "thank Him for all he has done." (Philippians 4:6) Paul says we must thank God for ALL He has done - not for the things we want, not the things that make life good, but ALL things.
We have learned through the author's story that Paul is right on: "Keep putting into practice all you learned and received." (Philippians 4:9) We needed practice giving thanks for all things and "giving thanks in all circumstances." (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18) So, we started our own gratitude lists - things that we have noticed in our day-to-day moments and thanked God for. We learned that we need practice in being present and aware of the grace around us.
I have found that recording gifts brings a smile to my face. My moments can go from stressful to joyful in the simple act of thanking God. When I open myself up to God's gifts, whatever they may be, I also open myself up to joy. But, it isn't always easy. Because, opening myself up to grace means I take a risk that things might not turn out the way I planned. It's not easy because I want control. It's not easy because . . . what if I don't like the gifts (because I can't see the full picture and understand God's plan)?
But, my faith asks me to trust God. My faith asks me to surrender. My faith asks me to thank God for the endless gifts and graces He has given to me. I need to focus on these things: the "true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable." (Philippians 4:8) When my understanding fails, I can rely on the truth that God's plan is perfect and worthy of praise and thanksgiving!
I am so thankful that I pushed aside my questions and doubts and said "yes" to God's call to lead the book study this Lent. It has been a blessing to meet weekly with some wonderful women, and to set aside time in my week for learning more about God and my relationship with Him. It has helped me focus on Him and helped open my eyes to the many gifts around me that I so often overlook. And, it has brought more joy to my life.
What around you is "true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely and admirable?" What gifts can you thank God for today? Take time, each and every day, to give thanks to God!
Jeremiah 17:5-10, 14-17
Psalms 55 or 74