David C. Hughes, Writer

“For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your JOY will be complete." –Deuteronomy 16:15

Archive for the tag “Devotional”

The Epiphany of Joy, Chapter 8: Joy in Gratitude [1 of 2]

In celebration of Thanksgiving, I took the liberty of jumping ahead to Chapter 8 of The Epiphany of Joy: “Joy in Gratitude.”  I want to thank each and every one of you for faithfully following my blog and for keeping this project in your thoughts and prayers.  Without you, this blog and all it represents would be meaningless.  May God bless you and your families this Thanksgiving and every moment of your lives.  I appreciate you!

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The Epiphany of Joy, Chapter 8: Joy in Gratitude, Part 1 of 2

 

Joy is the fruit of appreciation.

–Matthew Kelly, A Call to Joy, page 124

 

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

–Colossians 3:17 (NIV)

 

One Saturday afternoon Mary kicked Hannah and me out of the house so she could host a baby shower for a neighbor.  Because we hadn’t visited Grandma and Grandpa in a while, I decided to head up to New Fairview, Texas, to help Mary’s Dad work on his 1926 Ford Model T coupe.  The trip takes about an hour, but can sometimes seem like five, depending on Hannah’s level of engagement and the mood I’m in; some days a road trip can be fun, other days I’d rather pawn her off to the Leapster GS, or play the “Quiet Game” for the whole hour.

The instant Hannah hears the seatbelt click into place, one of two phrases invariably rolls out of her mouth: “Dad, can I have a piece of gum?” or “Dad, let’s play the ________ game,” filling in the blank with a selection from the made-up-game library in our heads.  At that time, we had quite an extensive repertoire: “Tell Me a Story, Dad,” “Sing Me a Silly Song, Dad,” “The Rhyming Game,” “What Machine Makes this Sound,” “What Animal Makes this Sound,” “What Shape is It,” and “The Color Game” were some of her favorites.  But the one game she loved the best was the “Let’s Make Up a New Game Game.”

So on that cool March afternoon, as we drove up the farm road toward the interstate, I managed to get about three miles after the seatbelt clicked before Hannah asked the all-too-familiar question: “Dad, can we make up a new game?”

“Yes,” I replied. “How about the ‘Thank You God Game’?” I hoped that by immediately taking control of the situation I wouldn’t be sucked into one of her imaginary games fraught with a myriad of rules requiring the Rosetta Stone and an Enigma cipher machine to decode. That, and I’m a control freak.

“How do you play that, Dad?” she asked in her sweet little voice.

“Well,” I answered, “you think of something you’re thankful for and thank God for it.”

“Okay,” she said.

“I’ll go first,” I called.  “Let’s see . . . Thank You, God, for my job,” I said.

Hannah caught on instantly: “Thank You, God, for trees, because we can sit in the shade.”

I continued: “Thank You, God, for our cars.”

“Thank You, God, for heaven.”

“Thank You, God, for my family,” I said.

“I’m thankful for dirt, so we can dig in it and play in it,” Hannah said. “And I’m thankful for all the different colors, I’m happy for our whole entire planet, and I’m happy for our whole entire house, and for our whole entire neighborhood.”  She was even thankful for the floor in our house and our church family!

And as we continued to play I realized something: my thank you’s focused mainly on possessions, while her thank you’s encompassed not only material objects, like our house and our dog, but more subjective and sublime things such as her experiences, her spirit, her Creator and His Creations.  I choked up when she said “I’m thankful for my heart,” and I sat in awe as I realized my four-year-old daughter understood gratitude, thankfulness, and appreciation better than I did.  In those few minutes of imagination, her expression of pure gratitude revealed the difference between the junk-filled head of an adult and the spirit-filled heart of a child–while I focused my thankfulness on “stuff,” she focused her thankfulness on God and His gifts.  Whew!  Talk about a life lesson in the form of a 25 pound preschool kid! This experience helped to remind me, again, of the joy and freedom of just being thankful.

One of the most influential books I’ve experienced is Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking.  To say this book has reset my perspective more than once is an understatement. I’ve read The Power of Positive Thinking more times than any other book I own, including, I confess, the Bible.  If I was ever stranded on an island and had to choose only two books to wash ashore with, I’d clutch the Bible in my right hand, and The Power of Positive Thinking in my left.  This book helped form my perspective on the power of gratitude, the authority of God’s Word, and the power of attitude and prayer to align heavenly will with earthly reality.

In one particularly memorable anecdote from the book, a 52-year-old man consulted Dr. Peale because he believed “everything he had built up over his lifetime had been swept away.” The man had let the “dark shadows of hopelessness” distort his thinking. Dr. Peale challenged the man’s wretched, self-defeating beliefs by taking out a piece of paper and writing down the values the man had left.  With Dr. Peale’s prompting, the man ended up listing seven good assets he still possessed.  When Peale shoved the list across the table, the man grinned and said “I guess I didn’t think of those things.” (Norman Vincent Peale, The Power of Positive Thinking, Chapter 1: “Believe in Yourself”).

The negative influence of what we’ve forgotten, or what we’re taking for granted, can kick the piers out from under the foundation of what we remember, experience, and actually possess. Whenever I’m facing a challenging day, or when my mind wanders down the path of self-pity or negativism, or when I’m walking the dogs around the neighborhood at 5:30 AM immersed in my thoughts and the Holy Spirit’s loving whispers, I often just start thanking God for anything and everything which pops into my mind, challenging myself to play the “Thank You God Game” for 45 minutes straight. Believe me, it can quickly put things into perspective.  You’d be amazed at the smallest details your imagination can conjure to be thankful for! And you’d be amazed at how such a simple prayer of gratitude can quickly turn your mourning (or morning) into joy!

(continued)

Copyright ©2013 by David C. Hughes

Worship on a Morning Walk (2013-08-19 Daily)

WORSHIP ON A MORNING WALK

Being raised in a small-town Catholic church, I never knew worship, or at least I didn’t recognize it.  I learned the traditional prayers, the ups and downs of the Mass, and the discipline of being an altar boy.  I faithfully went with my family on Sunday morning, a compulsion which followed through my college years and into adulthood.  It wasn’t until I met my wife and we started dating that I had to embrace a new way of looking at and experiencing church.  You see, she was raised sort-of Baptist, and after we got engaged I asked her if she would be willing to convert to Catholicism.  She agreed to start the process, but when it came time to start filling out the paperwork to get an annulment from her first marriage, she slammed on the brakes.  “God and I talked about my divorce and He still loves me,” she emphatically told me.  “I’m not taking this to a panel of people I don’t know to judge that reconciliation.  What business is it of theirs?  This is between God and me.”  From that moment I had to give up my regimented thinking about what church was and open my eyes to a different way of experiencing God.  As a result, we started going to a non-denominational Christian church.  What an eye-opener!  I quickly discovered that, for me, this is what church was meant to be: fresh, unbridled, Jesus-centered, Bible-based, accepting, built on relationships with God and other believers serving each other and the community at large.  I fit right in!  I was home!  But worship is one aspect about this new way of doing church I still struggle to get my arms wrapped around.

One Sunday evening last spring, my wife, Mary, and I attended New River Fellowship’s “First Sunday,” a monthly night of worship and digging deeper into the Word.  An integral part of service which Spirit-filled churches like New River Fellowship in Hudson Oaks, Texas, have in common is a half hour or so of praise involving talented singers and musicians to set the atmosphere prior to the message.  Typically I listen to the music, sing the words . . . and let my mind wander all over the place.  Even after eight years of attending non-denoms, I have to admit I still don’t fully get it.  But that night something shifted.  It’s happened before, to a degree, but that night I lifted my hands above my head and closed my eyes during one song—and started crying.  I was overwhelmed by the Spirit as He poured into me, embraced me, loved me.  I stood there, hands held high, and received.  Soon after, the Spirit told me to pray for the guy sitting in the chair in front of me.  So, in unquestioned obedience, I knelt down and prayed for him.

The next morning I got up before sunrise, as is my habit, to take the dogs for a walk.  The pre-dawn morning embraced me in stillness and mid-spring warmth as I led the dogs out the front door and onto the sidewalk.  Something—movement, a flash of light, a disturbance—caught my attention and I turned toward the western sky just in time to catch the green-white streak of a meteor sacrificing itself in the atmosphere for God’s glory, a good morning kiss from Daddy.  Then I really noticed the sky: cloudless, black, painted with countless stars and the streak of the Milky Way running southwest to northeast.  The sliver of a waning crescent moon hung in the eastern sky.  The Milky Way glowed softly against the inky backdrop, more pronounced than I’d seen in recent memory, reminding me of those photos you see from the Hubble telescope of nebulae and galaxies.

I walked with my face pointed toward the sky and my head stuck in the clouds, barely glancing at the road, hardly checking on the dogs.  I Surrender All played over and over in my mind.  The flashlight was useless that morning, as I walked by faith rather than by sight. The immensity of God’s creation increased the awesomeness of my reality a bit, expanding my view of the infinite vastness of the universe by the arm of an immense galaxy.  I could feel God’s presence, palpable, real, alive.  I walked in peace, I walked fully loved, I walked aware of His Spirit.  “How could a God that created all of this take the time for me?” I wondered.  “But He does.  He does!”  A great horned owl called out a lonely hoot, hope cast into the darkness, waiting for a reply.  A bullfrog harrumphed its own hope across the pond still wrapped in quiet darkness.  I looked up into that depthless spiral of a billion stars and asked “God, teach me how to worship You.”  “This is how,” He seemed to reply.  “This is how.”

I may not “get” worship fully yet.  I may stand unmoving except for the pumping of my right leg to the beat of the music on Sunday morning.  I may look around in wonder at the folks who jump and wave their arms and shout at the ceiling, eyes closed, tears streaming down their cheeks.  But, as Mark Driscoll, Pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, says: “worship is not merely an aspect of our being, but the essence of our being as God’s image-bearers.” (theresurgence.com, Worship and Idolatry series)  We worship because we’re made in God’s image, we pour out because God pours out.  Our life is one of continuous worship, whether of God or of something else.  It’s what we do, it’s who we are.  King David described in Psalm 22:3 that God is holy, “Enthroned in the praises of Israel.”  God dwells in the praises of His people!  God’s presence is real in the hearts of those who exalt Him.  I may not get worship fully yet, but as I continue to walk in His presence, even on a dark road with the Milky Way flowing over me, as I reach up to Him, hands open to receive, He opens my heart a little more with each encounter.  Who knows, someday you may see me turning cartwheels in the aisles at church too.

8/19/2013

Copyright (c) David C. Hughes

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