Ultimate Joy

Archive for January 2012

“What are you doing?” the Holy Spirit shouted in my ear. His abrupt leading shocked me and, for the moment, made me stop praying.  It wasn’t a godly request, anyway. It was crammed with haughtiness, hence His warning.

Setting the breakfast table with our “good” dishes and glasses, my prayer was that our South African guests would appreciate my efforts. My fine china wasn’t used very often. Mostly, it spent its time under the vaulted protection of our hutch. That’s why the Holy Spirit caught hold of me and asked, “Don’t you have it a little backwards?” The point wasn’t enjoying my “good” dishes in the dining room just because the “right” guests were staying with us. The point was celebrating our Lord united by our new friendships bound by the shared love of Christ.

It struck me if my “good” dishes were the focus of breakfast, my priorities were skewed. Is celebrating God at the table something only to be experienced when everything is perfect? Do we have to create a special atmosphere for it? I didn’t want my hospitality or gratitude reserved just for perfect conditions.

We had three lovely South African blessings under our roof. They had crossed continents to stay in our home in suburban Chicago – coming to learn to maximize the transformative power of their local church. It didn’t matter if everything in the house wasn’t perfect. What mattered was our welcoming spirit, our authentic warmth and our desire to enrich and enlarge this opportunity. That’s what they would remember about this trip; not the dishes they ate on.

Blessings are meant to be noticed, shared, appreciated and celebrated. Always.  And that’s what I intended to do with these eager travelers. Appreciate the effort they took to learn more about Christ, loving them as fellow believers who share the Good News of Christ. We invite visitors to our home because it reminds us of God’s hospitality and His open arms.  That’s why the Holy Spirit halted my prayers…so my heart will always beat faster for people.

It may sound silly, but my desire is creating a home filled with a compassionate hospitality that in some miniscule way reflects heaven – a welcoming place of celebration. Nurturing guests fills me with overwhelming gratefulness for God’s love. Putting an extra measure of care and beauty into the moments we share with our visitors is one way my husband, Richard, and I are reminded how God showers us with His care every day in immeasurable ways.

Celebrating our guests with the “good” dishes is a visual symbol to me, a way to cement an attitude of hospitality, gratitude and thanksgiving more deeply in my heart.  Thankfully, the Holy Spirit refocused my attention away from dishes to people. Whether my guests are served on fine china or everyday dishes doesn’t matter…what matters is how effectively the love of God is demonstrated.  I will never again be able to set the table with best tableware without being reminded of how much we all matter to God.

It might be risky to set the table with the “good” dishes when travelers arrive, but I’m willing to take that risk. Sharing hospitality helps us, as a couple, remember how truly blessed we are.

We belong to a wonderful network of people called Joy Along The Journey.  The organization provides opportunities to host pastors and church leaders for short periods of time.  If you’d like more information, please visit their website at: http://www.joyalongthejourney.com/

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When was the last time you wrote a real letter?  Not one of typed words, but one scratched out by hand with ink? Every time I spy a handwritten envelope in my mailbox, I can’t wait to open it.

I write cards to bless my friends.  Hebrews 10:24 says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Aren’t we living this out when we sit down, gather our thoughts and write a greeting to someone we care about?

With Facebook, Twitter and email being so popular, I mourn the lost art of letter writing. A handwritten note affects the recipient because of the writer’s time and effort. Receiving a tangible reminder someone cares deeply for you is profoundly exhilarating.

When I was little, my mom instilled in me and my siblings the importance of sending a personal greeting. Writing thank you cards took on an even greater significance to her. A gift touched your heart and a card relayed your gratitude for the kindness. If my mother had her way, we’d have written our thank you’s before we got to play with any new toys…maybe even before we unwrapped them! But she gave us some latitude as long as the thank you note was promptly in the mail.

ImageThis habit was an excellent way to teach me the importance of saying thank you. As an adult, my favorites are “thank you for being you” cards.  They are unexpected gifts to recipients and a blessing to write.

I believe card writing changes lives.

Oh, you’ll probably chide me for being overly dramatic, but ponder this for a moment.

When you write a card, you quiet yourself for a few minutes and think about the recipient.  This helps grow the affection and love you have for them.  I always ask God to give me just the right words. I pray for the person I am writing to – what is going on in their life? How can this card encourage them? That intentionality is life changing.

Life change also occurs for the addressee.  A card transports love.  It can lift spirits, brighten a gloomy day and bring joy. If you don’t believe me, write a note by hand to someone.  I guarantee you’ll receive squeals of delight.

Who can you send a “thank you for being you” card to?  To whom can you say “you matter?” Someone in your life needs to know they make a difference and you are thankful for them.

It might be a friend who lives nearby or across an ocean.

It might be a family member.

It might be your wife or husband.

Will you pray for that person and send them a card today?  Then share in the comments how this impacted you or the card’s recipient.

Happy words!  Joyful words!  Exuberant Words!   That’s what I long to fill the empty pages of my Christmas gift journal with this year.  Normally it chronicles my fears, longings and urgent prayer requests.

I want to do things differently this year!  Maybe you long for a new dynamic, also.

For 2012, I feel as if God is turning everything topsy turvy, which is one thing I love about Him. Although He never changes, the way He chooses to grow us moves to different rhythms during different seasons of our lives. I love that He is entirely creative, and that He invites me into that wild creativity.

2011 was the year I transitioned from weeping to rejoicing. From looking back too much to joyfully anticipating the future. From stagnating to genuine growth. From winter to spring.

My entire countenance changed.  And while I still carry reminders of the past, they now look beautiful instead of anguished. A remembrance of winter, but more like a fading memory.

Isaiah wrote, “Do not call to mind the former things or ponder things of the past. Behold I will do something new. Will you not be aware of it? I will even make rivers in the desert, roadways in the wilderness.” (43:18-19). 2012 is a year for new. For flourishing. For abundance. Despite outward circumstances which inevitably fluctuate, abundance will thrive deep inside me.

That’s because 2011 taught me a very poignant lesson. When we live constantly in reaction to the past, we sabotage our future. Letting Jesus in heals us from the inside out, allows us to live in His strength when we are weak. The Christian life is not about us being strong and trying hard to overcome; it’s about entrusting ourselves to our strong God.

This year, I want to feast on His grace, relish His forgiveness and inspire people by the way I live my life.  I want to pray joyful prayers, but also to use that time to unleash my concerns and intercede for hurting friends.  I want to clear my mind of the cobwebs of the past and walk solidly with the God of the irresistible future.

Most importantly, though, as I put my hand into God’s and walk with Him, I want to deepen my friendships.  There is tremendous joy when we invest in people.  I yearn to hold the hands of some of the bravest people – those who transform the world by doing life changing, kingdom changing things. I’m ready to listen, to cry with you, to laugh alongside you in life’s choicest moments and to rejoice in answered prayers.

In 2012, I know the Lord has plans for us.

They might be (well, probably are) different from our own plans. But like you, I aspire to be open to what God has for me. I pray the voice of the Holy Spirit will be a loud megaphone directing my steps. I want the desires of my heart to reflect His desires.

Let’s walk boldly into this New Year by holding loosely to the things of this world and tightly to everlasting things.