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 “The apostle Paul”

The Epiphany of Joy, Chapter 14: Joy in Everyday Miracles (1 of 2)

I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my

     heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.

I will be glad and rejoice in you;

     I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High.

–Psalm 9:1-2 (NIV)

 

 

After finishing a six-hour-long editing session one afternoon, the writing urge pawed at me, turned circles at my feet, and whined.  “Okay, okay,” I sighed.  I scratched its ears and it cocked its head, looked at me, and wagged its tail tentatively.  It had been days since I’d written anything other than criticism of someone else’s writing; it was time to play catch with my muse.  But I had a problem: while I’d spent the past few days editing and catching up on housework, fear had slipped in and was now perched on my monitor overlooking my keyboard.  It sneered at me.

I’ve been at this writing game off and on for over thirty years, and I’m here to tell you that even after so many stories, articles, chapters, poems, and books, the fear of failure still dwells in the dark recesses of my brain.  Luckily, God’s Spirit is alive and well and living in my heart!  Over the past several years I’ve learned how to wield the power of Truth against it, but even though this fear is emaciated, weak, and a crust of its former self, it can still bite.   So that afternoon, as I cast off the editor’s hat and slipped on the writer’s beanie (you know, the one with the little propeller on top), I struggled with doubts, a writer’s worst enemy.

I knew what I wanted to write.  I even had an outline tucked away in my head, but as my fingers touched the keyboard in creative rather than editorial mode, a feeling of dread, heaviness, and foreboding swept over me.  The fear of failure remained perched over my keyboard, and its ugly sneer deepened into a snarl of impending triumph.  Saliva dripped onto my number pad.  But I took a deep breath and typed nonetheless.  What came out seemed forced, contrived, amateurish.

I knew I could do far better, but as I tried to gain creative momentum, fear settled back on its haunches, stuck a toothpick in its lips, and guffawed.  Yes, it guffawed!  But I kept pushing until . . . something shifted.  Words began to line up in an orderly fashion, giving shape and form and grace to the thoughts, stirring them to action.  Ideas gelled, paragraphs rose up, points declared themselves.  But the fear of failure remained firmly seated on top of my monitor.  Granted, the sneer had reversed into a frown on its misshapen face, but it hadn’t budged.  It leered, staring at my fingers and the words forming on the screen.

Then the most wonderful thing happened.  The piece I worked on was called “A Change in Perspective,” and the intention of the essay was to convey how changing the way we look at a situation can shift not only the outcome of the situation, but also the moment-by-moment experience of that situation.  We all have the ability to reframe our experiences, no matter what they are.  As such, life is a matter of perspective; we always have a choice about whether or not to believe the thoughts flying through our heads, and how we subsequently act on those thoughts.  “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ,” the Apostle Paul advised in 2 Corinthians 10:5 (NIV).

I had wanted to include in the essay the Scripture from Isaiah that says something like, “My thoughts are not your thoughts and my ways are not your ways,” but didn’t know the citation off the top of my head.  While writing the piece, I’d included Jesus’ teaching about prayer: “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10 NIV) and had to look up that reference as well.  I jumped onto the internet and brought up BibleGateway’s web page, and there, in the Verse of the Day box, was the following Scripture:

 

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,     neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth,     so are my ways higher than your ways     and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

–Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV)

 

I laughed.  And laughed.  And cried and laughed some more.  “Thank you, Daddy,” I sobbed.  “Thank You, thank You, thank You.”  I’d just received another kiss on the cheek from a God Who cares about me more than I’ll ever know, and Who loves to encourage His children with little, strategically-placed miracles just like that.  Defeated yet again, the fear of failure slid off my monitor and slinked away to its dark cave to lick its wounds, and for the rest of the day I happily played catch with my muse.  I finished the essay the next morning covered in joy, peace, and a sense of triumph.  I posted it on my blog page three days later.

Throughout the Bible, God makes it clear that as we press into Him, study His precepts, and obey His commands, He will increasingly open our eyes and our ears to the mysteries of the Kingdom.  On this earth, there’s more than meets the eye; God’s Kingdom is literally at hand.  In the Second Book of Kings, chapter 6, the king of Aram, enraged because the king of Israel always knew where he’d set up camp, determined to expose the mole within his ranks. “’Tell me! Which of us is on the side of the king of Israel?’” the king of Aram demanded of his officers.

“’None of us, my lord the king,’ said one of his officers, ‘but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom’” (2 Kings 6:11b-12 NIV).  The king of Aram set out to capture Elisha, and as the Arameans surrounded the city of Dothan, where the prophet resided, Elisha’s servant panicked:

 

“Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked.

“Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

–2 Kings 6:15b-17 (NIV)

 

Elisha asked God to open his servant’s spiritual eyes and give him a glimpse into the reality that surrounds us.  The Bible doesn’t explicitly indicate the servant’s reaction to what he saw, but I’m sure it was the same reaction we have when God kisses us on the cheek with one of His countless everyday miracles: joy, relief, encouragement, and confidence.  I bet that guy wore an ear-to-ear smile for days and weeks after his encounter with the heavenlies.  Maybe he wore it for the rest of his life!

 

(continued)

 

Copyright ©2014 by David C. Hughes

The Epiphany of Joy, Chapter 12: Joy in Giving (3 of 3)

In the book of Acts, Luke recorded that in the early church in Jerusalem, “all who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people” (Acts 2:44-45, 46b-47a NAB). The result? “And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (v 47).

In Philippians chapter 4, Paul praised the church in Philippi for materially supporting his needs despite their severe poverty and affliction. In fact, Paul told them they were the only church to do so. Consequently, Paul was more excited about the Philippians’ spiritual “profit that accrues to your account” (v 17) rather than the contribution itself; God looks more favorably at the attitude of the giver rather than at the gift itself.

In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul used the example of the Philippian church’s continued eager insistence on giving out of “their joy and their profound poverty” (v 2) to support the church in Jerusalem as a rally call to the church in Corinth to follow through on their own commitment. In 2 Corinthians 9:6-7, Paul wrote: “Consider this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each must do as already determined without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” I was fascinated to learn that the word “cheerful” in verse 7 is the Greek word “hilarŏs” which means “hilarious.” We should all put on our Groucho Marx glasses and strive to become hilarious givers!

So . . . are you a hilarious giver, giving not out of compulsion or fear but with sacrificial willingness and expectancy? Are you eager in your giving? Does giving put a smile on your face, or does the thought of tithing make your hands sweat? Are you following the example of the widow who dropped her last two coins into the temple offering box out of pure, unencumbered hope (Mark 12:41-44)? Or are you more like the Pharisee who fasted and tithed and exalted himself before men and God while praying in the temple (Luke 18:10-14)? As Jesus said, that kind of attitude produces its own reward.

Have you ever thought that when you give, God may repay you with gifts even more priceless than money? Like opportunities? Good health? A ten-year-old car that keeps running flawlessly? What about experiences, or revelations of heaven on earth? A good marriage? Godly children? Divine appointments? Or talents beyond the realm of human possibility? God does give good gifts, we just need to open our hearts and eyes to what He is already doing, what He is already giving to us, and be thankful. “. . . give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NIV).

“God is able to make every grace abundant for you,” Paul assured the church in Corinth, “so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8 NAB). We have the assurance that, as Paul himself experienced, “the one who supplies seed to the sower and bread for the food will supply and multiply your seed and increase the harvest of your righteousness” (2 Corinthians 9:10 NAB). In other words, don’t worry about what you give, because God will abundantly provide for your needs. After all, He is YHWH Yireh, the God Who provides; it’s all His anyway!

“For it is in giving that we receive,” says the Prayer of Saint Francis. Open your eyes and your heart and allow God to transform you into a truly joyful giver. Test Him in this, and see what He does!

 

Copyright ©2014 by David C. Hughes

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