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Eliminating Intolerances

In 2012 I came to understand the difference between allergies and intolerances this way: Severe allergies can threaten your life. People who are allergic to things like peanuts or bee stings have to be prepared to take immediate action in case they come into contact with these. Intolerances, on the other hand, aren’t life threatening, but they will make you uncomfortable, steal your energy, slow . . . you . . . down. In 2006, I learned I was lactose intolerant. In 2012, I became soy intolerant as well. I can let a little bit of each slip into my diet from time to time, but too much messes with my digestive system, joints, sinuses, and energy levels, so I try to be as vigilant as I can about eating right.

Now there’s something new going on inside of me. Doctors haven’t figured it out: a new intolerance, a virus, a disease? It’s a mystery. But I’m becoming even more vigilant about what I eat, eliminating anything suspicious in hopes that I’ll start feeling healthy again. If you happen to think of me, please pray. I really want to feel strong and healthy again.

As I’ve done my part to solve this mystery, I’ve recognized a spiritual parallel. Any sin we allow in our lives is like an allergen. It won’t just slow us down; it will halt our spiritual growth altogether and keep us from enjoying an ever-deepening relationship with Christ. As David prayed, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” -Psalm 66:18. Sin is a deadly toxin that stands between a person and God. It is something we must eliminate. We do this by confessing it to Christ (admitting that we’ve done wrong), receiving His forgiveness by grace through faith, and by turning away from it—turning to Christ instead.

As we grow in our relationship with Jesus, though, His Spirit will begin to reveal other activities, habits, thought-processes that need to go. These wouldn’t necessarily be characterized as sin, but our growing spiritual life won’t thrive, we won’t be able to reach our potential, until they go. Susanna Wesley did go so far as to classify these as sin when she said, “Whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, takes off your relish for spiritual things, whatever increases the authority of the body over the mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may seem in itself.” Her relationship with God was so precious to her that anything that kept her from drawing closer to Him was an abomination. The more any of us comes to know and love God, the more we’ll also aspire to this.

This is how I’m currently treating most anything that threatens my health—even that mouth-watering slice of double chocolate fudge cake that is okay for everyone else in the room to eat. As much as I want it, I reject it because I value my health more. And my relationship with Jesus is more important than my health.

But, like Susanna Wesley, I’m not going to go so far as to start listing what’s okay, what’s not, and how much of something can or should be “tolerated.” That’s taking a legalistic view of the Christian life. The many and ever-growing number of denominations in our nation prove that it’s practically impossible to agree on such a list anyway. Instead, each person has to do what David did—and do it with a sincere heart—one that wants an ever-deepening relationship with Christ. Each of us has to ask God’s Spirit to reveal anything that weakens our reason, impairs the tenderness of our consciences, obscures our sense of God, takes off our relish for spiritual things, or increases the authority of the body over the mind. And, just as I’ve had to eliminate different foods from my diet every few years for the sake of my physical strength, God may ask us to rethink different activities, habits, and thought-processes over time as we grow closer to Him. He leads us to grow up in Christ gradually, knowing that to demand perfection at the moment of salvation could overwhelm and discourage us, could cause us to give up.

We turn away from sin in order to enter a relationship with Christ, then we allow His Spirit to help us remove anything in our lives that impairs our spiritual development and health. As our sincerity and desire for God grows, so will our determination to remove anything that weakens us. Another prayer of David reveals He had this heart for God: “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” -Psalm 139:23-24. I want to develop such a heart for God as well.

Lord, just as I want to eliminate any food or product that is stealing my strength and health, I need Your help and guidance to eliminate any activity, habit, or thought-process that a thriving spiritual life can’t tolerate. I want to draw closer and closer to You! You gave me life; You are my life. I surrender to Your scrutiny, testing, and knowledge. Lead me in Your way. Amen.

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How Not to Harden into Salt

“But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” -Genesis 19:36

I tend to feel a lot of sympathy for Lot’s wife. Having moved many times, I can relate to the longing to look back. Even when I’m ready to move, to experience a grand adventure in a shiny new place, once there, I miss friends and familiarity. But Lot’s wife was forced to move quickly with no time even to pack. God’s command to not look back would have been a challenging one to keep. Only complete trust in His goodness even in harsh circumstances could have enabled Lot’s wife to follow through.

Thankfully, God hasn’t commanded all of us to never look back. We can cherish the memories of past seasons of life. Maintain some traditions. Keep in touch with friends. We only run into trouble when looking back tempts us to go back or keeps us from moving forward. Life is a journey toward eternity. If we stop or try to go back, we’re not letting Jesus lead us onward through the next phase of our trip.

Childhood. Youth. Early days of marriage. Parenting preschoolers, elementary schoolers, teenagers. Launching children. Enjoying the empty nest.

I really liked my empty nest.

But God is filling it back up!

There are days now when I face down stubborn or wipe yogurt spills up off the couch and pause to look back . . . with longing . . . at the quiet, ordered life I was able to enjoy for a few years.

There is no going back, though, without turning into salt. And deep inside I know, the time for quiet, ordered came too soon to last for the rest of my life. I don’t know how long I’ll get to live on this earth, but forty or fifty years of quiet and ordered just might have driven me insane. I’m thankful God called our family into this new thing. I’ve lost all control, but I’m eager to see where God is taking us all.

Back to thoughts of turning to salt. When water dries up, it leaves a mineral residue. The Bible refers to Jesus as the Living Water. It also says that Jesus will never leave us or forsake us, but could it be that when we stop following, the Living Water flowing through us evaporates as Jesus tries to lead us on? He calls us forward, but we stand still, looking back determined, baking in the harsh sun. Eventually we stiffen up, harden . . . until nothing is left but a residue of salt.

When hardships and challenges come, we must look beyond them to Jesus before us and follow Him on through. We’re on a journey to Heaven where the best is yet to come. Looking back may give the illusion of comfort, but our hearts, our lives, will harden with that choice. Best to stay close to Jesus, practicing trust in His goodness, come what may. He is the One enabling us to follow Him all the way.

Jesus, please keep us moving forward, following You through each new phase of life. When we reach our destination and see Your name glorified above all, we will be so thankful we did not choose to turn back.

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Prowling Devil, Crouching Sin

abel“If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” -Genesis 4:7

The Bible doesn’t tell us, specifically, why God looked with favor on Abel’s offering but not on Cain’s. It only hints that perhaps Cain gave less than his best, a token offering of obligation, in place of a gift of worship from a fully grateful heart. In contrast, Abel brought fat portions from the firstborn of his flock, showing thanksgiving for all he’d received and trust that God would continue to give more.

Cain became angry, though he probably knew what he’d done. But God responded with kindness and grace, gently letting Cain know that he could have favor, too. He only had to choose to do right. Instead, Cain followed the path he’d set out on when he chose to give God less than his best. He received God’s response to his gift with an angry heart. Then he made his situation worse, murdering his brother in a field. (See Genesis 4:8.)

When we do what is right, following God obediently with love and gratitude, He blesses us with everything we need to live out His plan for our lives. We enjoy His Presence, the knowledge that our lives honor Him, and His Spirit within. This Spirit gives us guidance and strength as we continue to walk with God.

If we choose not to do right, though, making selfish choices and holding back from God what is His, sin crouches at our door. We give the devil an opportunity to tempt us even further from God. Peter warns us just as God warned Cain:

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” -1 Peter 5:8

It works like this:

If we think of life as a journey toward greater knowledge of and a closer relationship with God, every right choice is a step toward that end. Our obedient choices draw us closer to God Who makes us more like Christ, developing strong character and a healthy heart. Every wrong choice, though, is a step away from this that gives the devil an opportunity to lead us further away. Too many steps away, steps we might not even realize we’re taking, can leave us wandering like Cain, a lion’s meal in the making.

This is why we must live alert and keep a sober (as in contemplative or restrained) mind. As we make daily decisions, we must ask what draws us closer to God, what makes us more like Him, what honors His name, what helps His Kingdom grow?

Though Abel’s life was cut short, he earned a place in Hebrews’ Faith Hall of Fame:

“By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.” -Hebrews 11:4

He didn’t set out to do anything special, he simply lived to honor God and offered his best to Him. We can choose to live this way, too.

Father, help us to remember that our choices matter. Open our eyes to clearly see which decisions honor You, draw us closer to You. We choose to live by faith, with gratitude. You are our God, and we love You. Amen.

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Finding Purpose in Place

Place and Time“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” -Genesis 2:13

Just like He did for Adam, God has intentionally placed each of His children—that is, each and every person He created—where they are, not only in location but also in time. And just like He did for Adam, God created each of us with purpose. He gives us meaningful work—a reason to live. He didn’t just create us to exist until our time to die.

But sometimes we struggle to understand what our purpose is. Genesis 2:13 gives us a hint. According to this verse, God put Adam in a specific place to do a specific thing. According to Acts 17:26, God placed each of us in a specific place. That place is where our search for purpose must begin.

In other words, the key to discovering God’s intention for our lives may be as simple as asking,

  • “Where has God put me?”
  • “What or whom has He given me the responsibility to tend, to take care of?”
  • “How can my life help something or someone around me to produce something good?”

The Hebrew word shamar, interpreted in Genesis 2:13 as take care of, literally means to guard and preserve. What has God given you to guard and preserve or to improve or to bring out its best? When we can answer that question here, where God has put us, we’ll begin to enjoy purpose-filled, productive lives that will continue to flourish anywhere He leads.

Father, as we stop and take in our surroundings today, help us to see what we can do. You put us here with purpose. Show us what we can do. And then help us to do it for You! In Jesus, we pray. Amen.

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A Prayer about God’s Way

Romans 5-8

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” -Romans 5:6-8

Lord, how did you do this? I really need to know. While we were still sinners, while we were at our very worst, knowing all that we had done, were doing, would do, and still have yet to do, You chose to give Your life for us—to give us hope, to make it possible for us to live as children in Your Kingdom now and to enjoy eternity with You forever.

What an amazing and absolutely undeserved gift! I thank You, Lord. Forever, I thank You.

But how did You do this? We hurt You, Lord! We still hurt You today. Even those of us who love You and live for You and serve You sometimes fail. And so many aren’t even trying, won’t hear Your voice, have no interest in Your will or believe that You are there.

When people hurt me, Lord, I build walls. My natural inclination is to protect myself from anyone who causes my heart pain.

But this is not Your way. And I know Your way is better. So teach me, Lord. I’m listening. Please help me understand.

Your Word says that You know how we are formed. You remember that we are dust. (See Psalm 103:14). Is this the key, Lord? You know that we are human, prone to act according to our own interests instead of in obedience to You. You know that our understanding is limited, our instincts hard to recognize and overcome. We are children still learning so much; there is so much to learn.

Is knowing this what gives You such fathomless compassion, grace, patience . . .

Hope?

Do You view us with hope, Lord? Not hope that we might be okay, like children hope they might get something for Christmas, but with that certain-knowledge-of-a-future-in-Heaven-with-You type of hope that You give to us once we chose to become Yours? No matter how we’re behaving now, You know how we’re going to turn out. Is that a kind of hope? Is hope something You can do?

Hebrews 12:2 says, “For the joy set before [Jesus], he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus endured great suffering and humiliation because of the joy that He knew would follow someday. That sounds like looking forward with certain hope to me.

Whether the terminology is right or not, it’s not something I can enjoy or apply to my relationships with difficult people. I don’t know how they will turn out. You haven’t chosen to reveal that to me. (I can see how that may be a good thing.)

But I do know that we are all formed in Your image and that we are all works in progress in Your hands—still dust. And because I know we are all in Your hands . . . and You love us . . . and You are faithful, able, and good, I can trust You, follow You, obey. I can choose to do right even when other people don’t. How else will they ever see You through me?

You loved the world so much You gave Your one and only Son that whoever believes in Jesus shall not perish but have eternal life. (See John 3:16.) I live not to protect myself from harm but to trust You with my life no matter what so that “whoever”—no matter how sinful, hurtful, or hateful—may come to believe in Jesus and enjoy eternal life with You some day.

I do want all people to come to know You, Lord. Yet sometimes I struggle over being the one You call to love them in Your name—especially if they happen to be hurting me through the process. Please continue to help me with this. In doing whatever You lead me to do, I’m learning to trust You with me.

Lord, thank You for loving so much—for sending Jesus to make our salvation possible, to teach us how to live. Help us to follow His example, loving others for Your sake. We love You, Lord. Our lives are Yours. Always. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Progressing through Hurt with Hope

Progressing

“Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression.” -Deuteronomy 26:7

I like Deuteronomy 26. It shows a common progression through life – something we all experience, yet all in different ways. It also reveals the hope that comes from trusting God through it all.

As we travel through life, we all experience times of “misery, toil and oppression.” The Israelites had been slaves in Egypt. Most of us experience different kinds of troubles, trials, and pain. If we’re wise, though, we cry out to God through these times, knowing He will hear our voices and deliver us at just the right time. He did this for the Israelites – then He did it for them again and again. He has done it for His people throughout history. He has also rescued you and me from one thing or another all through our lives. Ultimately, He’ll come a final time to take us home to heaven where all suffering will go away for good. This recurrence of pain on earth will end.

Back to life’s progression. 1) We experience some kind of suffering. 2) We cry out to God. 3) He rescues us – in His time . . . at just the right time. 4) “Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household” -Deuteronomy 26:11. We praise Him. We thank Him. We celebrate His victory on our behalf.

But that’s not all.

Verses 12 through 15 talk about living faithfully for God after He rescues us. We follow our celebration of God’s goodness and our freedom with obedience and by reaching out to others who need rescue as well. Moses told the Israelites to care for the Levites, the foreigners, the fatherless, and widows. We can ask God to show us who to strengthen, encourage, and comfort in His name.

And then, (yes, there’s another then) when we least expect it while we’re still living on this earth, we’ll probably get to go through the whole process again because, as painful as it is, each time we go through it, cooperating with God’s Spirit, crying out to God, He’ll draw us closer to Him. He’ll make us more like His Son. He’ll use our experience to build new skills that we can use to minister to others more effectively. He’ll reveal His glory in and through us . . . again.

You’re probably wishing I’d have left at least the first part of that last paragraph out. Me, too. But as I struggle through a season of crying out, I’m trusting that all I’ve written there is true. Our God is in control. He sees. He hears. He uses all for good.

“You have declared this day that the Lord is your God and that you will walk in obedience to him, that you will keep his decrees, commands and laws—that you will listen to him. And the Lord has declared this day that you are his people, his treasured possession as he promised, and that you are to keep all his commands. He has declared that he will set you in praise, fame and honor high above all the nations he has made and that you will be a people holy to the Lord your God, as he promised.” -Deuteronomy 26:17-19

We have declared that we will follow Jesus no matter what. God has declared that we are His treasure and He will keep His promises to us. This is what really matters whether we’re crying out, rejoicing, or serving others in His name.

I thank You, Lord, for Your continued interest in me. I know You will use every painful experience for good. In You all is redeemed. Please work in and through me as You want to for the glory of Your name. In Jesus, I pray. Amen.

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Book Review: “The Inheritance”

The InheritanceIt’s been too long since I’ve found the time to read a Michael Phillips book. He remains one of my favorite authors, and his newest book, The Inheritance, reminded me why. This author is a master at creating memorable settings, and his characters within them are deep. Phillips takes us right inside their heads as he draws us into each carefully crafted scene. He reveals needed information at just the right time. The story moves slowly, but precisely, to reveal essential Truth.

The Inheritance is set mostly on Whales Reef, one of Scotland’s Shetland Islands. When clan patriarch Macgregor Tulloch dies unexpectedly and without a will, the entire community is thrown into uncertainty. To make things worse, an obnoxious oil tycoon attempts to manipulate the situation in his favor, hoping to purchase the island, remove its inhabitants, and exploit its resources for himself. Only events set in motion more than sixty years before have the unexpected potential to save the islanders’ way of life and to restore what matters most.

As I reached the end of this book, it seemed to me that the whole thing was actually a prelude to the real story to be continued in the next book of this Secrets of the Shetlands series. I’m looking forward to reading it, hopefully soon! I recommend this book to fans of George MacDonald, Scottish historical fiction, and Christian fiction with a powerful take-away message for life. I thank Bethany House Publishers for sending a complimentary copy in exchange for this honest review.

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The Real Value of Bible List Verses

Fruit of the Spirit

“Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.”John 6:24

I used to be a big fan of list verses. That’s my name for the Bible verses that contain lists of character traits we all want more of in our lives. For example, Galatians 5:22-23 lists the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 lists ways to identify love: it’s patient, it’s kind, it does not boast, it is not proud, it does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs, it does not rejoice in evil, it rejoices in the truth, it always protects, always hopes, always trusts, always perseveres, and it never fails. Colossians 3:12 tells us what virtues to clothe ourselves in: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. In fact, verses 1-17 of that chapter are one big good stuff/bad stuff list.

All of these verses are helpful, and I am still a big fan. But over the years, there’s been a shift in my understanding of them. Now I love them for completely different reasons than I used to.

You see, I used to see them as to-do lists. I wanted to accomplish the getting of these traits into my life. My motivation was right: I wanted, and still want, to live a life that glorifies God. I thought developing these things in my life was what God wanted me to do.

The truth is, though, that I am not able to develop these things in my life. I need God to develop them in me. This is what He wants to do. God Is love, therefore His active Presence in my life produces everything on the Corinthians list. The Galatians list is called The Fruit of the Spirit for a reason; those virtues flow from Him. And even the virtues from the Colossians list come from setting our hearts on what’s above: Christ, now seated at the right hand of God. (See Colossians 3:1-4.)

The list verses have great value but not as to-do lists, things for us to generate in our lives in order to glorify God. In fact, in John 5:41, Jesus said, “I do not accept glory from human beings.” His glory comes from His work in our lives not from anything we try to do ourselves.

But when we look to Him, remain in His Presence, keep our lives rooted in His Spirit, we allow Him to work through us, producing all good things. The value of the lists comes from the way they help us recognize God’s Presence and work in our lives—or the lack of such.

The Real Value

In John 6:24, the crowds realized that Jesus wasn’t with them. They wanted what only He could offer, so they went in search of Him. We can do the same thing. When we realize that our lives aren’t as loving as they should be, that the Spirit isn’t producing fruit in us, that our spiritual clothing is becoming tattered, that’s our cue to drop everything we’re doing and seek Jesus with all our hearts. The Christian life is all about learning to be where Jesus is all of the time, so that He can continue to work in and through us for His glory and our good and the good of everyone around us. The lists, lists of things God produces, help us identify problems, so that we can know when we need to draw closer to our God.

When the crowds found Jesus, He gave them the only to-do list we need:

“Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’

“Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’” -John 6:28-29

We stick close. We believe. He makes us into people who bring Him glory.

Father, thank You for inspiring Paul and others to give us lists that help us see how closely we’re living to You. When we recognize actions and attitudes that don’t come from You, from Your Spirit, from above, help us to act on that cue to talk to You, to read Your Word, to enjoy worship and fellowship with Your people who are doing the same. More of You in our lives, Lord. That is all we need. Amen.


Do you want to learn more about drawing closer to God through prayer throughout each day? Read Parachute Prayer: The Practice of Praying Continually. Click here to learn more.

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Life Preserving God’s Way

Luke 17-33

“Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it.” -Luke 17:33

In how many ways do we try to preserve our lives?

  • Scrapbooks
  • Journals
  • Mementos
  • Strict Routines
  • Safe Choices (no risks)
  • Shrines to the Past
  • Refusals to Let Go or to Try Something New
  • On-line Friendships (the comforting illusion of never saying good-bye)

I think I must confess I tend to be a life preserver. A memory keeper. A chronicler. I love taking pictures and journaling memories. I love keeping in touch with friends far away, hearing what’s new in their lives. I’m also a big fan of predictable routines.

Is that always bad? I don’t think so. Some things are worth preserving in some form when we can. In several places in the Bible, God told His people to practice rituals or build monuments that would help them remember. He knew and still knows that memories of what He has done for His people build trust and identity. They also give God’s people the opportunity to pass the story on to the next generation so they can enjoy knowing and trusting God, too. There is a time and a purpose to save: when it reminds us of what God has done, when it reminds us of who we are, when it reminds us from where we came, when it helps us to love or to teach. Without memories, there is no identity, no attachment, no meaning.

Just before Christmas last year, I found some old e-mails I’d printed out and kept many years ago. My grandmother had told me to write down cute things the boys did and said while they were little because otherwise I’d forget. Instead I kept copies of the daily e-mail messages I was sending to my mom. (This was before Facebook, text messaging, digital photography, or camera phones; e-mail was the new, great thing, and I was so thankful for it.) I was writing the messages because we were separated by a full continent, and I wanted my parents to know their grandkids. I kept copies as a simple way of following Grandma’s advice, but I never reread them until the end of last year.

And then I laughed myself silly, wondering as I did how I survived raising kids. Mothers of littles, you are heroes! As I consider each of my grown sons, I can testify, just in case you’re tempted to doubt, it’s worth every melted M & M staining the carpet, near death of a small rodent rescued just in time from testing a homemade parachute, and Brer Rabbit superglue incident broadcast by speaker phone to a room full of strangers.

If you don’t believe I mean this, let me remind you that my husband and I are preparing to adopt a sibling group and go through it all over again (hopefully minus the stains, rodents, and superglue—I’m trusting our new additions will come up with something surprising and new just as each of our boys did in turn). Raising kids, helping them reach their potential, watching them grow and mature—always worthwhile, no matter what. I’d be willing to raise mine again, but they’re doing just fine where they are . . . and so, as God is leading, my husband and I will raise some more. (I thank you for your prayers.)

Life Preserving Gods Way

I think that’s the key here. Preserving what was and what is as it is takes energy. Jesus wants us to use that energy to follow Him instead. He doesn’t want us to preserve what we’re going to lose anyway. He wants us to live! Just as I’ve raised my kids and they are living their own lives, I must continue to live mine. Do I enjoy the occasional visit with stories and pictures and memories? Yes. But my home is not a shrine to what was. It is a place where people live, now, doing whatever their hands find to do in Jesus’ name. We need to view our churches and work within our communities in the same way.

We can’t go back into the past. We can’t take the past into the future. We have to let go. And when we do, we get to enjoy all the new adventures Jesus is leading us into—ultimately, in Heaven with Him.

In any moment, all we try to preserve may be gone forever. If that is all we have, then we’ll be left with nothing when that moment comes. But moments devoted to Jesus are preserved—by Him—for all eternity. We can trust Him to save what matters as we live every moment for Him.

Jesus, thank You for this warning. Help us to live for You now, faithfully following wherever you lead. We’re entrusting our past, present, and future to You. You are absolutely worthy. Amen.

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Thanking God for What He Gives Us to Give

Thankful Giving

“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, ‘Take and eat; this is my body.’”Matthew 26:26

A new thought occurred to me when I read this passage yesterday morning. As many times as I’ve read the story of the Last Supper and heard it read during communion celebrations at church, I’m surprised—and thrilled—to have a new concept to consider. For me, it has come at just the right time. (Our God tends to work that way.) My husband and I are fairly new empty-nesters, entering what some generational researchers are starting to call our second adulthood. It’s a tempting time, a time when people are tempted to say, “We’re done! Let’s go play for the rest of our lives.” But we’ve still got a lot of life left in us—at least we still feel like we do—most days. We’re asking God how He wants us to spend this next phase of our life and thanking Him for every opportunity to serve.

This is how Jesus taught His followers to live. His actions at the Last Supper are the prime example for all of us.

Matthew 26:26 tells us that Jesus took the bread and gave thanks. I’ve always pictured this as Him saying grace before the meal, thanking God for the food as many of us do. But what I noticed yesterday was that, in this instance, Jesus didn’t give thanks for what He was about to receive, like we do at meals. He wasn’t simply and routinely thanking God for food that He was getting ready to ingest. Look more closely here. He gave thanks for what was already His, for what He was able and preparing to give—His life for us. Jesus gave thanks—then He gave.

Jesus gave thanks for the bread that represented His body which He gave away. He gave thanks not for what He had to keep for Himself but for what God had given Him to give away— to save everyone else.

It occurs to me that if we want to be more like Jesus, we have to realize that life isn’t about collecting and keeping and giving thanks for what we claim as ours. It’s about thanking God for the resources He provides that enable us to participate in His plan to provide for others wherever we see a need: our money, our time, our strength, our ideas, anything we think we possess. We trust God to care for us; we use His gifts to care for others in His name. And we celebrate the blessing of being able to do so. We give God our thanks.

First Peter 4:10 says it this way: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”

What gifts has God given you that you can thank Him for and give away in Jesus’ name? Ask Him for what purpose He has graciously placed various resources in your care. Ask Him to help you use them to meet needs, and thank Him for every opportunity you seize.

Father, thank You for all of the resources You’ve entrusted to our care. Show us how to share them for the benefit of others, for the health of Your Kingdom now. In Jesus, we pray. Amen.