Magnificat

Visitation

As I continue to intentionally set my heart to thank God for all He is and all He gives, I am taking time to consider how thankfulness is expressed in the Bible. One of the most famous songs of thanksgiving is Mary’s Song when she greeted Elizabeth, the Magnificat:

And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

(Luke 1:46-55 ESV)

Mary praises God for His works towards her, an insignificant, humble person who has been mightily blessed through His merciful grace.

Not only has Mary been blessed, but all of Israel and all of the world. God is working His justice: defending the weak, humble and hungry by opposing the proud, powerful and rich. Mary exalts in seeing God’s hand at work in social, religious, economic and political spheres – He is intimately concerned about each individual person and also the social and cultural realms in which we live.

Mary knows her place in history, from now on all generations will call her blessed, yet speaks of all God’s works as if they had already happened. But she is only 3 months pregnant – the baby who will become the man who will become our savior has not even been born yet, in an era when many women and babies perished during birth!

She is keeping her eyes fixed on God, whose works she praises. He is so sure to make it happen that she speaks of all His works as having already happened.

Faith.

Trust.

There has already been brokenness and heartache, sickness, death, wars and famines. And there will be more. Yet God has exalted those of humble estate; He has filled the hungry with good things. For some of us the brokenness, sickness and hunger is current reality. So too is salvation from these.

[This] is our same world, already perfected in Christ, but not yet in us. It is our same world, redeemed and restored, in which Christ “fills all things with Himself.” And since God has created the world as food for us and has given us food as means of communion with Him, of life in Him, the new food of the new life which we receive from God in His Kingdom is Christ Himself.

(Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World)


Gifts I have noticed recently:

  • A new puppy {1024}
  • Pen on paper {1026}
  • Night-time vista of harbour lights on my way to work {1030}
  • Making some progress building the back fence {1033}
  • Seeing my brother before he goes on ice for a year {1035}
  • Enjoying my children {1038}
  • Missing Rata {1039}
  • Spring! {1040}

Image: iStock

Loving God

loving-god

Over the last few months I have been slowly re-reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. This week I read the final chapter and seemed to finally grasp what she is getting at. It now makes sense why Ann included a chapter about her trip to Paris and her response to a Rembrandt painting.

I could bless very God.
Not take anything. Not ask anything, demand anything, petition anything. I could simply give something to God. A gift to Him! (One Thousand Gifts, p216)

When we love someone it is a delight to give to them. I can bless my wife by giving her some thing she would like, or by doing work for her which relieves a burden from her, or by praising her – letting her know how I delight in her. This is powerful, to be given the gift of being deeply valued for who you are. When genuine and truly given with no motive other than love, such a gift goes deep into the soul of the recipient – an act of love.

This seems to be what Ann means when she writes:

God, He has blessed – caressed.
I could bless God – caress with thanks.

It’s our making love.

(One Thousand Gifts, p216)

A brief passage which has upset some folks. Yet deep spiritual interaction with God is what most of us are desperate for, even in our crazed pursuit of everything other than God. To find the core of what it means to truly live is a source of constant unrest, unease and anxiety because we know it is essential to find it.

I know this is what drives me – beyond all else I must know God. So when someone describes knowing Him in the closest way possible, I pay attention. Even if a word used forces me to reach for the OED to confirm the meaning as being: “communion between human beings and God.”

… this is intercourse disrobed of its connotations, pure and unadulterated: a passing between. A connection, a communicating, an exchange, between tender Bridegroom and His bride. (One Thousand Gifts, p218)

If God is saying, “enjoy Me”, I am a fool to not do so. Purposely being mindful of thanking and praising God for all He gives is a precious interaction with Him, the form in which we each do so is not overly important. I continue to write out my thanks to God, but am no longer numbering or keeping count as this can be a distraction for me personally.


Image: WikiMedia Commons

Thank offering

As I notice and count the gifts and joys God gives, my eyes are opened to how often giving thanks is mentioned in the Bible.

The ‘highest’ form of thanksgiving in the Old Testament is the peace offering, part of the Levitical sacrificial system. A peace offering was the only voluntary sacrifice that could be brought before God. It was also the only sacrifice in which the people were able to eat of the sacrifice. As such it was the most popular offering and is a precursor of our Christian communion meal.

No other Levitical offering permitted the inclusion of yeast as a component of the sacrifice. Yeast represents sin and contamination, so God’s inclusion of leavened bread in the thank offering shows that in giving thanks to God we are accepted even as sinful beings if we come in repentance.

In Christ we also offer our thanks on top of a prior offering for sin (see Leviticus 3:5). The price has already been paid for us, but this does not mean it cost nothing.

“And this is the law of the sacrifice of peace offerings that one may offer to the LORD. If he offers it for a thanksgiving, then he shall offer with the thanksgiving sacrifice unleavened loaves mixed with oil, unleavened wafers smeared with oil, and loaves of fine flour well mixed with oil. With the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving he shall bring his offering with loaves of leavened bread. And from it he shall offer one loaf from each offering, as a gift to the LORD. It shall belong to the priest who throws the blood of the peace offerings. And the flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving shall be eaten on the day of his offering. He shall not leave any of it until the morning. (Leviticus 7:11–15 ESV)


A Related Link:

Gifts I have noticed recently:

  • Caring and competent school teachers {1005}
  • My son’s giggles when tickled {1007}
  • Reading a good book in front of the fire on a wet drizzly day {1008}
  • The jumpy wee dog we brought on the spur of the moment 8 years ago {1013}
  • A daughter’s concern for her upset sibling {1014}
  • A 3-year-old’s legs running flat out down the Ross Creek track {1019}
  • Family trip to the library on a dismal wet day {1023}

Image: iStock

The first thousand thanks

a crust of communion bread and wine goblet on a wooden table

During this past week I noted my thousandth prayer of gratitude to Jesus for all He gives me. What I’ve learned in the 22 months since I first began recording gifts goes way beyond any pop psychology feel good factor. In fact, for much of this time I’ve not felt good at all and counting blessings hasn’t changed that at an emotional level.

The primary lesson has been a realization of how vast the eucharist is. As Ann points out, the Greek word for giving thanks is eucharisteo, and our sacrament of holy communion derives it’s traditional name from the same word:

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
(Luke 22:19 ESV)

Jesus has given Himself that we may have life. The sacrament of communion was instituted to cause us to remember this in thanksgiving and praise. I am learning how vast God’s giving is, and how unending and appropriate is my continual thanksgiving and praise in response. Counting gifts is a useful reminder to look for God’s provision in all of life.

In walking with Christ, straining to see properly, a common theme is my need for constant reinforcement of what He has already taught me. If I could only live what He has already taught me I would be unrecognisably stronger in faith. It is comforting to know others also experience this:

The one who lives his life in circles, discovering, entering into, forgetting and losing, finding his way round again, living his life in layers – deeper, round, further in.
(Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts, p105 Slightly modified)

The one thousandth gift:

  • New flower buds on the kowhai tree {1,000}

Looking over my list, there are some common themes in what I have counted:

  • My wife
  • My children (and their antics)
  • Increasing knowledge of God
  • Creature comforts
  • Financial stuff
  • Quietness, peace
  • The natural world God has made
  • The creativeness of people
  • Enjoying the company of family and friends
  • Benefits of being born in this place and this time

It could be argued that there is a lot of selfishness in what I am thankful for, this is true but these are the sort of things I noticed as gifts from God. Perhaps as I grow and mature the themes may change, wait until I reach 2,000!

Related to this topic:

My cheerful winter friends

Close-up of iris flower

As a lily among brambles,so is my love among the young women.
(Song of Solomon 2:2 ESV)

Near the entrance to the building in which I work is a patch of irises. I particularly like these irises because they flower during the winter, adding a splash of cheerfulness on gloomy days as I head to work.

I’m no gardening expert, but to the best of my knowledge these plants would normally flower in spring or summer, but for at least 12 years that I know of this clump of greenery has flowered right in the coldest part of winter. I feel like they have been my little cheerful friends for many years now, even when I have worked in other parts of campus these flowers boldly send a message of beauty and hope during the dreariest part of each year.

Somehow these small, fragile living things displaying their beauty does more to lift my heart than all my own efforts to do so. As I near the one thousand mark on my eucharisteo list I notice that many times I have given thanks for the fresh air, sunlight, plants, birds, insects, hills, and water that is given by God to all of us to partake of.

These flowers remind me of God’s extravagant love. His love in placing reminders of Him and His creative power in my path. His extravagance in that even though flowers wither within days and may not be seen by many, it is God’s pleasure to make them. Within the thorny brambles of life in a sin-wrecked world God creates stunning beauty for everyone if they will look for it.

Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!
(Luke 12:27–28 ESV)

Gifts I have noticed recently:

  • Frost crystals on a sunlit rock {973}
  • Irises blazing midwinter colour {976}
  • Dozing in the sunshine {978}
  • Being less then 1 metre from an adult fur seal {980}
  • Enormous ice creams {983}
  • Very silly, giggly girls at bedtime {990}
  • Three-year-old son ‘reading’ the dictionary {995}
  • A quiet cup of tea with my wife after she finished work {997}

A thousand thousand reasons to live

Purakanui

Last Monday afternoon our little family made the most of all having the day off together on a glorious sunny day and went for a picnic. We have all been hanging out for such times together, this is our favourite way to unwind and relax as a family. The kids loved it, the dogs loved it, and the parents loved it. My heart rejoiced, God is good to me.

Behold, I and the children whom the LORD has given me … (Isaiah 8:18 ESV)

All week I have mulled over what to write with our picnic in mind. Nothing has quite ‘clicked’ so this post has sat simmering in the recesses of my mind. So I’m simply going to leave you with a quote from a novel I read recently:

There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.
(Marilynne Robinson, Gilead p227)

Gifts I have noticed recently:

943) My wife turning our partly renovated cottage into a cosy home.
944) Putting a ‘Thomas’ puzzle back together for a wee boy who is sad at brokenness.
945) Our Queen remaining honourable for 60 years.
946) Family picnic on a glorious sunny winter afternoon.
947) A handful of wild flowers from mum.
948) Wild passionfruit.
949) Squeaky swings.
950) My new reading glasses.
951) John Kirwin being knighted.
952) A frown from my wife reminding me I am being lazy.
953) Warming frozen fingers by the fire.

Improving your eyesight

I am eagerly awaiting some new glasses to help me read easier. The bill for them will not be so welcome, but it has stimulated my thinking about eyesight and how precious it is.

Without vision I could not navigate through my days, I’d be reduced to fumbling around home until I could get someone to guide me where I wanted to go. Even then I’d be more of a liability than an asset at work, unable to view the computer screen, restricted to verbal communication tools and oblivious to most of what is happening. My primary means of taking in information would be taken from me – reading. Without being able to read I feel as though I would shrivel up!

Protecting our eyes

We all have reflexes which help to protect our eyes: blinking, tears, turning the face away, not looking directly at the sun. Then we take this a step further in some situations to wear protective safety glasses at work and sunglasses in bright sunlight. If our eyesight is impaired we go to an optometrist to get corrective lenses. Most of us value vision very highly, we like to be able to see clearly. Blind people know that there is a dimension of life which they are not able to experience due to being unable to see.

Eyes of the heart

According to the Bible there is a realm of existence which we are unable to detect with our physical sense. The spiritual world is invisible to us, no matter how good your natural vision is. Without God’s work in us we are blind to God’s grace, sometimes having a hint of it’s existence but remaining unable to experience it.

having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
(Ephesians 1:18 ESV)

Even once we are renewed by God we need some work on the eyes of our heart so that we can see better. (I almost wrote ‘properly’ but I doubt we ever actually see properly in this life). We are all sinners and so must rely upon the corrective lenses of Scripture to fix our myopia. We also need help from others who know the path and can help us know where the pitfalls and stumbling blocks are which cannot be seen in our blind spots.

And don’t forget that there is one who throws sand in our faces to blind us to the gospel:

In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
(2 Corinthians 4:4 ESV)

So keep returning to the Bible, to wise counsellors, and to God in prayer that He will open the eyes of your heart. Also remember that much wise counsel and eye-opening assistance comes from the words written by other reliable Christians:

 I will keep coming back to anyone who helps me see and be astonished at what is in front of my face — anyone who can help heal me from the disease of “seeing they do not see.” (John Piper, Why Chesterton’s Anti-Calvinism Doesn’t Put Me Off)


Gifts I have noticed recently:

934) New coffee mug with a message I needed on it.
935) Some quiet time to ponder and read the Bible.
936) A potential new opportunity.
937) Renewed hope.
938) Disappointment leading to re-evaluation.
939) Morning bustle of the people I love most around me.
940) Slowing my mind and doing one thing at a time.
941) Watching home movies from 5 years ago.
942) The marvel of an e-reader, an entire library in my pocket!

Image: iStock

A cure is not what I need

They say time is money, but that’s not true. Time is life.God gives us time. And who has time for God
(Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts p64) 

My soul is like teflon to this message. I strive and scheme, filling my heart and mind with plans and ponderings about how to make things better. Yet the better I seek may in fact be the present I already have in Christ.

As I seek ways to be happier, more content, less at the mercy of serotonin and synapses, I have filled my ‘to-do’ list with ever more stuff that only has potential to be helpful. In pursuing my list of possible cures I’ve forsaken some of what has proven to be essential in the past. I try to go faster, to make more happen, only to crash and burn. Weakness forces me to stop, to simply be for a while.

God did not call me to cure my life but to live it. To live it in Him, giving thanks for grace.

Gifts I have noticed recently:

910) The quiet joy of writing with pen on paper.
911) Church bells ringing.
912) A good, long night’s sleep.
913) It was an old pair of jeans I ripped when I slipped over and hurt my knee.
914) Permanent reminder to seek joy by thanking God.
915) Tradesmen to fix the hash I made of our bathroom.
916) New bath installed, finally!
917) Honest discussions about the darkness that haunts me.
918) An understanding boss.
919) Slowing down to think thankfully.
920) Tiredness beckoning me to sleep.
921) The doctor was right and my cynicism was wrong.
922) Chatting to Mum and Dad on the phone.
923) My brother getting the job he wanted.
924) The end of my work week.
925) A friend being told, “it isn’t cancer”
926) Children all tucked warm in their beds on a cold stormy night.
927) Warm water on my skin on a cold morning.
928) A new TV.
929) A rabbit hopping along George street!!
930) City lights sparkling like the frost on the footpath.
931) Pink sunrise reflected in frozen puddles.
932) Only slipping once on the ice.
933) Hockey stick, violin and a shoebox house careless on a bedroom floor – instruments of an active child’s living.

I prayed a prayer God has already answered

Hand of Christ reaching down from heaven to grab the hand of man
This morning I prayed a prayer that God has already answered. This sounds a bit daft so let me explain, here is the prayer:

Produce in me self-despair that will
make Jesus precious to me,
delightful in all his offices,
pleasurable in all his ways,
and may I love his commands
as well as his promises
(The Valley of Vision, p333)

This is part of a longer prayer which I was reading when the words “produce in me self-despair” arrested me – I know self-despair well, why would anyone ask God for it?

The rest of the line explains: to make Jesus precious to me.

I have been praying the same in reverse – I have self-despair, please give me hope in Christ.

Reading what some Puritan wrote hundreds of years ago opened my eyes to meaning within my depression. I have given up hope in myself, in the most desperate times all that remains is a plea to God. Jesus says, ask and I will give you eternal life (see John 4:10 & 14).

While I hate depression and do what I can to avoid the despair, this prayer gives me a glimpse of what may be God’s perspective on it. Despairing of hope from within, I seek Christ to be all for me.


Gifts I have noticed recently:

903) The love of my children.
904) Fear and uncertainty holding me back from stupid choices.
905) My family who loves and needs me as I am.
906) The desire to write, even if I don’t know what.
907) Happy memories to cling to.
908) Encouragement from friends.
909) A few days off.

Image: iStock

Twitter praying

Today Ann wrote about wounds, scars, pain and the beauty of Christ redeeming our lives. Whoever and wherever you are, life will knock you around and wound you in many ways.

This week the scab on one of my own scars was ripped open again. Then someone told me of their own massive wounding, facing eternity and a crisis of faith. Another story came to my ears of deep anguish of soul and uncertainty of how to face the world again.

My own little scab shrunk back into it’s context. I still hurts, it will take time to heal over again – especially if I keep knocking the top off it like this.

For myself I (weakly) called out to God in my hurt, then asked a friend on the other side of the world for prayer via Twitter. When daylight came I rallied prayer from home also. God heard, and helped. I have likewise prayed for these people I know who are struggling through very dark places and others are praying for them too.

Some time after reading Ann’s post today, I read another discussing The Rise of Confessional Media and inappropriate sharing of personal stories through social media. This caused me to pause and consider whether it is wise for me to discuss the struggles of living the Christian life online? Why add to the noise? This had long been a worry of mine and probably should be – there is already a lot of rubbish out there, who wants more?!

But when it is 3am and asking for prayer takes less than 140 characters to type into Twitter, social media becomes God’s hand reaching across the oceans. The people at either end of the keyboards are just as real as my wife praying with me at home. If we remember this we can speak the truth in love and grow together in Christ (Ephesians 4:15).

Sharing our pains and struggles needn’t be voyeuristic or narcissistic. We must take care, some stuff is not for the world to read, but the real stories of hurting and healing, wounds and worship – these are our testimony to the work of Christ in us. This is something to share in humility.


Gifts I have noticed recently:

894) Wonderful, glorious daylight.
895) Technology, even with it’s pitfalls.
896) Not knowing how little time I have left.
897) Patting my smelly old dog.
898) Waking up during the day when I should be asleep – at least I get to see some daylight.
899) Time to think.
900) Finding a refill for my favourite pen.
901) Eleven years of marriage and still deeply in love
902) Craig, the only other man I know of who counts blessings like this.

Image: iStock