Thursday, May 31, 2012

Backwards Economy

Right now I'm reading in Proverbs, and I'm reading it in the Message paraphrase.  This morning this verse struck me.

Proverbs 11:24 - The world of the generous gets larger and larger; the world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller.

It struck me in a few different ways.  It would be easy to think that this verse is describing some sort of mystic backwards financial strategy - the more money I give away, the more money I will get.  That somehow God will bless me more financially for giving to others.  To be honest, that's the first thing that came to mind for me.

But I don't think that is what this verse is saying.  I don't even know if this verse is about money primarily.  We can be generous with money, but also with our time, our love, our talents, our possessions, our homes.  

And the world getting larger and larger for the generous?  I think this is about people, not financial return.   As Shane Claiborne would say, this is about a new economy where money loses its power, where the more you give to others, the larger your community becomes and the more we take care of one another.  

The world of the stingy gets smaller and smaller because those who hold onto their money, time and love with clenched fists are only trying to take care of themselves.  They are hoarders of their wealth, cautious with their hearts and because of that their world is confined to the places and people they feel they can control.

The world of the generous gets larger and larger because they are consistently touching more and more peoples lives.  Giving of our money, time, or love doesn't necessarily mean we will get those things back in exact or larger portions, but I think it does mean that God will use our expanding family and community to take care of us when a need arises.  With a perspective of abundance and reliance on God, we love one another, care for one another's needs and burdens, and continue to embrace those who God brings our way.  

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Perspective: Gratitude

One week ago along with my youth group, I was at All Ontario Youth Convention and had the opportunity to  hear Shane Claiborne speak.  One week later, I'm still digesting some of the things I heard that pricked my heart.  One of the questions that I've been faced with this past week is - what does it mean to live a life of gratitude?

Here are some of my own thoughts from this past week that normally would appear normal, but are really born out of an ungrateful heart...

  • Pregnancy is getting really uncomfortable - swollen feet and hands, hurts to walk, hurts to sleep
  • That angry customer I just talked to was a major pain in the neck
  • I'm bored
  • I wish I had enough money to buy...
  • Waking up in the middle of the night is getting very frustrating 
  • The rooms in my house are too small, I wish we had more space
  • It's hot outside
  • and on and on and on....
This past week when thoughts like this have come to mind, some of them have actually caught my attention and made me stop and think.  I need to foster a heart of gratitude instead of self-focused entitlement.  When I think of Jesus, of His love and grace, of the ways God has blessed me, and when I broaden my view to think of others, what they are facing and going through, there is no reason to live ungrateful.

  • I have a beautiful baby growing inside of me when others have not been able to conceive or carry a baby to term
  • I have access to incredible health care that will allow this baby to come into the world healthy and strong, and that will take care of me
  • I have been blessed with a great job that I enjoy, great staff to work with, and a steady income
  • If someone is angry on the phone, I do not know their life situation and what they are going through.  And I have the Spirit with me, to walk with me if I feel hurt by anothers words
  • God provides 
  • I have a house, I have a bed, these are incredible gifts that millions of people go without
  • I live in a wonderful country with changing seasons that all have their own beauty.
  • No matter what I struggle with, God does not treat me as I deserve, but as a Father with his daughter, He treats me with love, grace and forgiveness.  And He walks with me as I try to become more like Him.
I want to live in gratitude each day for who God is and what He has done in my life.  The thing is, it does not stop at merely feeling grateful.  From hearing Shane speak, a life of gratitude goes much further.  It may start with expressing thanks to God, using words, prayers and musical worship to try and express that gratitude.  This is very appropriate and a great response to God for all He has done for us.  But it does not stop there.  

A life of gratitude looks around and says "this is too good to keep to myself" (Shane).  It gives birth to amazing generosity, reckless sharing, and an opening of ones hands and heart.  A life of gratitude looks at the blessings God has given to me - Love, Grace, financial security, food, possessions, knowledge, talents, etc. and says - "I want to let God bless others through me."  Whatever we have in our hands that God has given to us, we can choose to hold onto tightly, or we can use to love and bless others.  A life of gratitude loves and blesses others - and spreads the love and grace of Jesus all over.

This is something I'm still trying to figure out.  And I know God will walk with me through this.  I think it starts with a perspective change, like I was encountering this past week - recognizing my closed hand attitudes of ungratefulness, and choose to instead look with a heart of gratitude at each moment, each joy and struggle I face.  

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Not Far Off

How do we deal with those moments where suddenly (or not so suddenly) God feels far away?  

Last night as I fell asleep my prayer to God was simply saying "I feel like you're far away," and not knowing what else I should say or do to "fix" that.  After a somewhat restless sleep, when I woke up my mind was immediately filled with thoughts of God's love for me.  And I marvelled and thanked Him that His love is so much greater than our love.  He does not move away from us, but when we turn away from Him, and then turn back, He is right there.

I had a similar moment a few months ago.  I was struggling with prayer (still am...).  And at a youth retreat weekend called Shape, we were given time to just sit and be alone with God, to listen for His voice.  So I was talking to Him about how I was struggling with prayer, and I felt the Spirit say "I am not far off.  When you pray, I am right there listening."  

Often since then when I'm not sure what to pray, or when I'm feeling like I did last night, that somehow I have gotten distracted and moved away from God, I feel the prompting of His Spirit say "Remember, I am not far off..."  

I think often when we get to the point where we can feel a distance between us and God, it comes after a longer time of ignoring what is taking us away from Him.  The reason could be sin, fear, or simply busyness and distraction.  I have experienced each of these.  Often I am simply choosing to fill my mind and time with silly things and not putting God first in my life.  Other times, like right now, I have something I am worried about, and rather than surrendering it to Him, I let this distance grow.  

But when I feel God say "I am not far off," I am reminded that the road back to closeness with God is not long and arduous.  There may be things I have to deal with, but getting back to God is as simple as turning around and recognizing that He is right there waiting.  He is not far off.  When I recognize how I have stepped away and when I let Him turn me around, His love is right there to surround me once again.