Do these pants make me look fat?

I broke up with three pairs of perfectly good jeans recently, pants whose only offense was that they’d somehow gotten too small.

“It’s not you,” I sighed, gazing wistfully toward the giveaway pile (and wishing I could just blame the dryer). “It’s me.”

I don’t know when, exactly, everything in my closet started to shrink; maybe the heat from all the candles on my last birthday cake sparked some sort of climate change in our house? I do know, however, that I have never been so grateful for online tools like Biblehub.com, where you can look up Bible verses different translations.

Verses like Isaiah 61:3.

That’s the one where God promises to give us beauty for ashes, joy instead of mourning, and something called a “garment of praise” instead of despair. It’s an awesome verse in the NIV, but it gets even better in the good old King James. That’s where God says the garment of praise is for the “spirit of heaviness.”

Waaaait a minute. There’s a spirit of heaviness? Now you tell me…

garment of praise

 

Okay, okay. You know I’m kidding.

You have to admit, though. Isaiah 61:3 is a pretty great verse. Because whatever we’re carrying–be it a spiritual or a physical weight–God says he can lift it.

Redeem it.

Swap it out.

God promises to take the ashes of our dreams, the brokenness of our hearts, the shame of our past…and completely remake us. The last part of verse 3 says that we’ll be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory.

(Great oaks??? My mother once told me that I should be glad I had legs built like tree trunks, since it meant that I’d be able to stand for long periods of time. Maybe I should start claiming Isaiah 61:3 as my “life verse” and just own it?)

Anyhow.

While I was in the dressing room last week, trying to find a new pair of jeans (which is actually Part 2 of this post, and one I’ll hope you’ll read next week if you’ve ever questioned–or been frustrated by–the way that God wired your kids), I began to think about how life might be different if I woke up every day and, instead of thinking about actual clothing, I put on a garment of praise. What would happen if I took time to consciously consider God’s goodness, his power, and his love?

For starters, praise would take my focus off of the to-do lists of the day and make me aware of God’s presence (which is, as Psalm 16:11 reminds us, the Very Place where we find “fullness of joy”).

And then, as I meditated on God’s attributes–he’s our Provider, Protector, Redeemer, Counselor, Deliverer, Comforter, Friend–the problems and needs that clamored for space in my heart would start shrinking in size. It would work like what my friend Jennifer Kennedy Dean called “spiritual chemotherapy,” taking things like worry and fear–as well as those pesky, self-absorbed thoughts (“Do these pants make me look fat?”)–and targeting them for destruction.

That sounded like a win.

There was only one hitch.

What if I didn’t feel like adoring God, or thanking him, when I woke up? What if my first thought came with a sharp pain (or a dull ache) of remembrance, like in the weeks and months of waking up after God chose not to heal my father’s brain cancer? What if I questioned God’s goodness, or his wisdom, sometimes?

What then?

The answer, I think, it that it’s okay. God can handle our doubts and our questions. And if you take another look at Isaiah 61 (which is where the prophet tells us what the Messiah will do), the thing that stands out is that it’s not up to us. Jesus is the one who brings the comfort, the beauty, the joy. He’s the one who gives us the garment of praise. All we have to do is receive it!

I love how Isaiah wraps up the transformation, just a few verses later:

I delight greatly in the Lord;
    my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
    and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness…

“I delight greatly in the Lord.”

Maybe just read that one out loud. It’s such a beautiful phrase…one we could look forward to wearing.

And on those days when our first thought is not one of delight–when our souls don’t readily rejoice in the Lord–let’s not beat ourselves up. Instead, let’s ask God for help. Let’s ask him to do the thing he does best:  Get us dressed in garments that look and feel really good.

Heavenly Father,

Clothe me with beauty for ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61:3)

Amen

❤️

P.S. I can’t leave this post without pointing you toward two of my favorite “praise” resources.

The first is on Instagram. Type #adorationexplained into the search bar. You’ll meet Sara Hagerty (@sarahagertywrites), who tackles some of the thorniest questions we have when it comes to thanksgiving and praise, questions about the real struggles we face. “Adoration,” she says, “isn’t that we set aside our real interior life. It’s that we bring that to God. We bring our real honesty to God and we say, ‘Show up.'”

And the second help is this little devotional book by Jennifer Kennedy Dean, which is where I found that line about spiritual chemotherapy.

It’s called SEEK: 28 Days to Extraordinary Prayer. Jennifer went home to heaven about six weeks ago, and I’ve spent much of this summer moving between grief and gratitude as I re-read her incredible work. I know heaven is rejoicing, but golly. Jennifer:  We’re gonna miss you down here. ❤️

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Who is Your Father?

 

The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.

At least that’s what the Bible says. But…how often, or how much, do we truly believe that?

A couple of weeks ago, I shared a post about how we can’t let anyone label us with the wrong name, because God calls us “Beloved.” And this week, as we look ahead to Father’s Day, I am thinking the same thing holds true for God. No matter what our concept of “father” might be, we can’t saddle our Heavenly Father with any names that don’t fit.

God labels himself. And thankfully (incredibly, actually), he tells us exactly who he is, so we can know him. And so we don’t get it wrong.

He is faithful (even when we aren’t). He is patient (even when we are super slow). He is loving (even when we are the worst kind of un-lovable).

And the list goes on.

If you really want to dig into who God is (and what that means for our lives), grab a copy of Ruth Myer’s book, Thirty-One Days of Praise (which you can find featured on my bookshelf right now). It’s a resource I turn to, again and again.

Why? Because it is just so darn easy to get things mixed up! Instead of taking God at his word–believing he is who he SAYS that he is–we sometimes put him in a box. We negate his nature. We put limits on his love.

We might not say it out loud, but deep inside we might wonder…

How could he love me, after all that I’ve done?

How could he possibly care about my little problems, when there is so much that is wrong with the world?

How could he ever forgive me for ______ ? (Fill in the blank with whatever it is that you think separates you, or disqualifies you, from God’s love.)

All of which is a bunch of…  I was going to say a word I don’t let my kids say, but I’ll just go with “baloney.” And not only is it baloney, but it is also (buckle up, cuz this part is not pretty) jaw-droppingly arrogant. I mean, who are WE to say what God can or can’t do? He says he loves us. He says he’ll provide. He says he’s got everything under control.

We don’t have to understand all this stuff for it to be true.

(We really don’t.)

So this Father’s Day, as we think about the One who named himself Father, let’s not get things mixed up. Let’s take our cue from the One he named Son, and talk to God the way Jesus did, when he invited us to call him “our” Father. Old-fashioned gal that I am, I kind of love the “hallowed be thy name” lingo that King James trotted out, but I have to say that I’m also pretty pumped about the last few lines of the Lord’s Prayer in the Message. Let’s pray it together:

Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s best—
    as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You’re in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty!
    Yes. Yes. Yes.

(Matthew 6:9-13, MSG)

P.S. If the idea of a Father who does “what’s best” and who is “ablaze in beauty” feels foreign to you–either because you don’t really know God that way, or maybe because your earthly dad colored your world with a not-great perspective–you’re not alone. For years, I’ve loved getting weekly encouragement via email from Sylvia Gunther, and this week she shared her own painful journey being physically and emotionally abandoned by her father. To read her story–and discover who you really are, as God’s child–click here.

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Friday Prayer to Enter His Gates

psalm-100-4Yesterday, I wrote about the power of praise in our lives. We shouldn’t be surprised to see how things change for the better when we praise the Lord; after all, the Bible says that God inhabits, or is enthroned on, the praises of his people (Psalm 22:3). It also says that praise and thanksgiving are the ways that we enter into his presence.

Let’s draw near to God today as we make Psalm 100 our Friday Prayer. You can pray these verses for yourself, or for someone you love:

Heavenly Father,

May _____ enter your gates with thanksgiving and your courts with praise. Let _____ know that you are good, that your love endures forever, and that you are faithful through all generations. (Psalm 100:4-5)

Amen.

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Do You Know What Time It Is?

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Back in the 1970s, when I was a middle-schooler, my family spent two weeks every summer at Christian camp that catered to families and singles of all ages, races, and socio-economic backgrounds. The camp met at a mansion in the Hamptons, but if the place had a celebrity status back then (or if, say, Martha Stewart was whipping up a raspberry trifle on the other side of the boxwood hedge), I never knew it. All I knew was that, every year, I couldn’t wait for summer to roll around so that we could all pile into Mom’s bright red station wagon (they got it used, from the fire station) and go to Camp Farthest Out.

(Which was the name of the camp. It was the ’70s, and I guess maybe “Camp Far Out” just didn’t seem far enough.)

I remember one little old lady who came every year, from someplace in New Jersey. If you asked her what time it was, she never looked at her watch. Instead, her face would light up and she would say, “It’s time to praise the Lord!”

At the time, I thought she was a little bit crazy. I mean, I usually did want to know what time it was, so that I wouldn’t be late for lunch, or Arts and Crafts, or for programs like Devotion in Motion, which was a worship-service-turned-exercise-class held on the mansion’s vast green lawn. Sometimes, though, I didn’t really care what time it was. Sometimes I just wanted to hear her say it:

It’s time to praise the Lord!

The phrase seemed funny then, coming at random intervals and when there didn’t seem to be any reason for praise. As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve begun to realize that that old gal was onto something. It’s always a good time to praise God, and when you do, you reap all sorts of benefits.

For starters, praise opens the door to hope. When we stop and think about who God is (wise, powerful, loving, etc.) instead of what our circumstances are, problems that once loomed impossibly large begin to shrink in size. When we look at our lives through the lens of God’s love, everything shifts.

Fern Nichols, founder of the Moms in Prayer organization and author of a book called Every Child Needs a Praying Momputs it this way:  Praise, she says, “changes our attitude; brings an awareness of God’s presence; defeats Satan; releases God’s power; brings victorious perspective; provides peace; wards off the spirits of self-pity, depression, and discouragement; and produces strength in an anxious heart.”

I get that. I get it right now, in fact. Because right now I am anxious about a silly little thing that might or might not happen – I won’t even tell you what it is, it’s that little – and the ONLY thing that is helping is praise. When I focus on the “what if,” my knees get a bit wobbly. But when I focus on, say, God’s sovereignty (the fact that he is in control and that no purpose of his can be thwarted), I can stand up straight. Sure, I may still shake a little, but it’s not something that’s gonna knock me down, not when I am looking at a Sovereign God who loves me, and who has promised to work in all things for my good.

If the idea of praising God seems a little too out there (or even a little too “far out” there), all I can say is, “I get that, too.” I may have grown up doing devotional gymnastics in somebody’s front yard in the Hamptons, but now I am an Episcopalian, and if you were to ask one of us what time it was, odds are we’d say something like, “Four-fifteen.”

But here’s the thing. Praise doesn’t have to be loud, or showy. And you certainly don’t need to do it in your yard. All you have to do is tell God how great he is. And consider matching your need to his character, like I’m doing right now in the face of my worry: I am telling God how much I love the fact that he’s got everything under control. If you need guidance, focus on how wise God is. If you’re sick, praise him for being the God who heals. If you’re sad or discouraged, look to him as the giver of comfort and strength. And if you know you’ve blown it, remember his grace and compassion.

If you need a cheat sheet, or if you just want some verses to read to bolster your confidence about who God is and what he can do, click here to get a free printable that lists some of God’s attributes and where you can find them described in the Bible. That way, the next time you feel lonely or abandoned you can just say, “Hey God, I praise you because you are faithful, and I really need somebody I can depend on right now.”

It’s that easy. And that little old lady was right:  It’s always time to praise the Lord.

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