Tag Archives: grace

Review: One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp

One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully, Right Where You Are, by Ann Voskamp (Zondervan, 2011)

One Thousand Gifts is a rare book: at once a very personal story of one woman’s journey, and yet it’s everywoman and everyman’s story. It’s a journey we can all join.

Which of us hasn’t struggled with ingratitude? It is, after all, Satan’s oldest lie. It can root so deeply that we don’t even see it anymore.

Listen to how Ann Voskamp describes it, describes the too-familiar wretched state and the haunting questions that lured her out of it:

“If I’m ruthlessly honest, I may have said yes to God, yes to Christianity, but really, I have lived the no. I have. Infected by the Eden mouthful, the retina of my soul develops macular holes of blackness…. One life-loss can infect the whole of a life…. Now everywhere we look, we only see all that isn’t: holes, lack, deficiency.” (p. 16)

“How do we choose to allow the holes to become seeing-through-to-God places? To more-God places?

“How do I give up resentment for gratitude, gnawing anger for spilling joy? Self-focus for God-communion.” (p. 22)

For Ann, the answer started with a Greek word, eucharisteo [yoo-khar-is-teh’-o], which means ‘thanksgiving’ and which contains the root words of ‘grace’ and ‘joy’. From reading her Bible, she discovered “Eucharisteo—thanksgiving—always precedes the miracle” (p. 35). And that’s what God proved in Ann’s own life as she kept her friend’s challenge to list 1,000 blessings—gifts—from God.

She came to this point in her life with more pain than some of us have: the most significant cluster in the form of losing her younger sister as a child. But whether you’ve lost more or less, whether it’s been taken from you or you’ve given it away, you can find healing in these pages.

Read the book slowly, let it encourage your spirit by its message and by the poetry that is Ann Voskamp’s prose. Walk with her as she learns to thank God for the sweet blessings—graces—in her day. Keep walking as she learns to see His grace in the painful moments, to practice what she calls the “hard eucharisteo” by giving thanks even when what He gives doesn’t look like grace to our eyes.

If you like simple, plain language and straightforward sentences, this may not be the book for you. I’ve included some excerpts to give a feel for the flowing language. And be aware that poetic language often uses imagery for a soul’s intimacy with God that strictly-literal thinkers may find difficult.

But if you’re one of the many who choose to read this book, you will be challenged and changed by the example of an ordinary Canadian woman who dares to have a heart like King David’s and to offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving to God in the good and in the bad—not denying the pain, but trusting the Master Designer not to waste it.

This is how Ann describes what she discovered in her list of now well over 1,000 gifts:

“In eucharisteo, I count, count, count, keeping the beat of His song, the love song He can’t stop singing, this long song of longing. That He sings love over me?

“What else can all these gifts mean?” (p. 204)

One Thousand Gifts is a book to read contemplatively, and to keep near to read again. My friends are buying extra copies for their friends rather than lending a copy they might not get back. I can see why. Click here to read an excerpt from One Thousand Gifts. And here’s a link to the book trailer, which is a gift in itself.

Canadian author Ann Voskamp writes a daily encouragement blog at A Holy Experience. She’s also a regular contributor at the DaySpring blog, (in)courage.

Oh… my list? I’m at #33 today. And loving it.

[Review copy source: my personal library]

Of Tea and Spiritual Maturity

You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
2 Timothy 2:1, NIV*

I often read pages of Scripture before something nudges my spirit. Other times the same verse catches me for days.

This is one of those times. Today I’m looking at the “be strong in” segment of this verse.

Hot tea steeps in 3-7 minutes. Sun-brewed tea takes 2 – 5 hours. Refrigerator tea steeps 6 hours or overnight. One starts with boiling water, the others with cold.

If we’re the water, the steeping time depends on our temperature—how much heat we’ve been exposed to before we come to Jesus.

As water that hasn’t been heated enough to boil, I’m drawn to the sun tea image. Not that I can go sit in the sun and relax, but as I go through the day, can I keep that spirit-focus to be held in His Light?

Tea has an optimum strength, depending on the variety and on the taster’s preference. Leave the bags in too long and it’ll get bitter. Not so with us.

Steeping in the Lord’s grace takes a lifetime.

Father, help me rest in You—steep in Your Spirit and Your grace. Let it change and flavour me as I learn to abide in You. Quiet me, remind me, draw me ever nearer to Yourself. Cradle and sustain me until You brew me into that which You’ve designed me to be.

This week’s song is “If I Could Just Sit With You Awhile,” written by Dennis Jernigan. I’m glad I found the version sung by Todd Agnew on one of his early indie CDs. Please ignore the typing issues in the video. I work with what’s available on YouTube.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Grace for Today

You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
2 Timothy 2:1, NIV*

No, I didn’t leave last week’s verse here by mistake. Same text, different focal point: grace.

Often when we speak of God’s grace it’s in terms of forgiveness, salvation, eternity with Him after we die. And it is.

But it’s also strength for today and for all of the tomorrows until we reach the end. It’s God—His presence with us.

I’ve been thinking about grace and what it means. It’s something given by a person who “has” to a person who “has not” with no strings attached.

There’s no obligation to give, just a valid need that will otherwise go unmet. The giver acts out of goodness, compassion or a similar motivation. The recipient can’t earn it but desperately needs it.

The recipient has no claim on the giver. The recipient is unworthy, but with the gift comes worth. I am worthy because God conferred worthiness on me along with the gift of His grace.

I am not entitled. But I’m valued—validated—by God.

Father, on our own we’re nothing, and what little we have, we’ve damaged. But You love us. And You choose to rescue and mend us, and to dwell in us. Amazing grace indeed!

Listen to this beautiful song from the band Fee: “Grace Will Be My Song“.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Approaching God

In him [Christ Jesus our Lord] and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.
Ephesians 3:12, NIV*

I can’t wrap my mind around how God can dwell in each of His followers, while sustaining the universe, while seated on the Throne in heaven. It’s all part of His infinitude, and I suppose if we could reduce Him to what we could fully describe and figure out, He wouldn’t be much of a God. He’d be on our level.

Somehow, He’s one God but three Persons, and He’s everywhere. And I worship Him because of who He is and how He loves us.

God on His Throne is a frequent image in the Bible, and that’s what I think of in this passage from Ephesians. It reminds me of the story of Esther and King Xerxes, where to approach the king in his throne room was to risk death – if your uninvited presence didn’t please him, if he didn’t hold out his sceptre in welcome, that was your fate by law. (Esther 4:11)

I picture myself – any of us – without Jesus, standing in the doorway to the Father’s throne room: filthy and matted with sin and failure, broken and bruised by self and by others… not an attractive sight for a God who is perfectly holy and is offended by the mess that clings to me. Would He hold out a welcoming sceptre? Because of His holy and just nature, He couldn’t.

But I come to Him in faith, because Jesus made a way. Jesus washed and healed me, and put clean clothes on me. When I stand in the throne room doorway, God the Father sees me in His Son, and He welcomes me with delight.

Holy, majestic and righteous God, there aren’t words to thank You for Your grace and mercy given through Your Son Jesus Christ. Please fill our spirits with awe and wonder, and help us to love and worship You. Help us to radiate the joy of Your presence.

Let the words of “God With Us” from MercyMe be our prayer:

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.


Good Works

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Ephesians 2:8-10, NIV*

Good works aren’t the cause of salvation, they’re the effect of it. Christians know that, although sometimes we catch ourselves trying to “earn” our way.

What strikes me about this passage today is the notion that God has prepared the good works for us. They’ll flow out of our obedience to Him; we don’t have to go hunting them. After all, if we initiated our own good works, that might be grounds for boasting.

The good works, like everything else, are not about us. They’re about God, “to show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:7b, NIV)

They’re not all big things, or dramatic. Remember what Jesus said about giving a cup of cold water in His name. A lot of them will be opportunities in our daily routines.

For me, those good works include preparing nutritious meals for my family and keeping the laundry up to date. They include my daily interactions with those around me. As I learn to ask God, “What did you give me to give today?” I’ll fit better into His plans.

For my friends who were on a short-term mission trip to Haiti when the earthquake struck, the good works weren’t what they expected when they signed up! But God has used them in many ways to provide support and comfort and to show His love.

Precious Father, it amazes me that You would love us like this—and save us when we were helpless and very unlovely. Thank You it’s all a gift from You, and not something we have to earn. Thank You for giving us a part to play in Your work, and Father today please help each of us to recognize what You’ve given us to give—and to whom. Help us serve in Your strength, because it’s about You. In Jesus’ name, amen.

I think an appropriate song this week is “Oh, Master, Let Me Walk with Thee.” If you have time (it’s over 8 minutes long), there’s a beautiful, orchestral version here. Otherwise, here’s the 2-minute version nicely rendered by a choir:

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Administering God’s Grace

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4:10, NIV*

The specific examples Peter uses in this chapter are hospitality, words and service. We’re given gifts for the good of others, not to keep to ourselves.

You and I may or may not know what our spiritual gifts are, but I think this verse applies to more than those. The Message renders this verse “Be generous with the different things God gave you, passing them around so all get in on it.

We’ve received so much of God’s grace… let’s think about how we can administer, or share, it:

  • when we smile at the checkout clerk
  • when we make our kids’ lunches
  • when we’re patient with the customer service rep after waiting on hold “forever”
  • when we stop to listen to an elderly person’s question
  • when we hold the door for a shopper with parcels

We’ve received His love, forgiveness, acceptance… His joy and Himself. Let’s share it by the way we treat others.

Father, thank You for the privilege of administering some of Your grace. Help me remember to see my service in this special way and to serve willingly, in love and gratitude and in Your strength, for Your glory.

What more fitting song than the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace”?

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Time for a Cleanup

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence  or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Psalm 51:1-2, 10-12 NIV*

King David wrote this psalm after sleeping with another man’s wife and then trying to cover things up by having the man killed: pretty drastic misbehaviour, and not surprisingly it inhibited his relationship with God. [I’m posting this on Remembrance Day, and it’s worth noting that the man who died, Uriah, was an exemplary soldier serving on the front lines.]

Sometimes Christians fall like David did. It shouldn’t happen, but it does. And I’m so glad our God is gracious to restore us rather than throwing us out. The Bible promises that if we sincerely confess our sins, He will forgive them. (1 John 1:9) And He’ll help us face the fallout of our actions.

Other times Christians avoid the “big” temptations but get numbed or dulled by the distractions of every day. Pressures, annoyances, bills, telemarketers, H1N1… you name it, there are enough things to take our minds off God if we’re not diligent to keep Him in first place.

Today seems to be a day for reflection. Have I let my focus drift from the God who loves me? Is He first in my heart, or has that place been taken over by my own feelings and opinions?

Father, please create in me a clean heart, washed from unwillingness, resentment  and hostility. Renew a right, righteous, healthy and steadfast spirit within me. Draw me closer into Your presence, take down any walls I’ve built, forgive any ways I’ve quenched Your Spirit, and be pleased to dwell in me. Restore the joy of my salvation that I didn’t see was missing. I need joy. And grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Because of Jesus, in whom I put my trust.

This song by Echoing Angels, “You Alone,” speaks to me of the intimacy we need with our wonderful God.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Better than Offerings

The religion scholar said, “A wonderful answer, Teacher! So lucid and accurate—that God is one and there is no other. And loving him with all passion and intelligence and energy, and loving others as well as you love yourself. Why, that’s better than all offerings and sacrifices put together!”
Mark 12:32-33, The Message*

Before I opened the Bible today, I was thanking God for His love. It’s so wonderful that He loves each of us—loves us—and that it’s unconditional. Nothing I can do will make Him love me any more or any less.

But in response to that love, I want to please Him. To bless Him, maybe. That’s where what I do makes a difference.

Sometimes I think once people get over the obstacle of thinking we have to earn God’s love by our performance, there’s a danger in thinking good works don’t matter. We’re saved by grace, not works.

What we do—on the outside and in our hearts—does matter. Loving God, loving others, shows that our relationships with God matter. It lets us grow in our faith.

And it pleases the Father more than offerings or sacrifices. For me, that’s reason enough.

Father, there are no words to thank You for loving me. Please help my heart to truly grasp that Your love is deep, unchanging and unearned. Help me love You, and help me love those around me. Give me a desire to please You—not because it could make You love me more, but to bless Your heart.

Let’s take Paul Baloche’s song, “Offering,” as our prayer today.

*The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson.

In the Shelter of the Most High

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.
Psalm 91:1-2, NIV*

I confess I don’t understand how to interpret parts of this psalm, when it seems to talk about walking in total protection and yet Christians suffer and die like everyone else. But these first two verses have been my prayer for a week and I’m seeing something new here.

When I’m alone with the Lord, it’s usually easy to rest in His shelter. Then I say “Amen,” close my Bible and get on with the day’s responsibilities.

In the house, I still sense a bit of His shadow, unless things get really hairy. Put me into a store or other community venue with lots of people and distractions, and I feel like I’m on my own. Like I’m outside the compound, and shelter is on the other side of the wall. Maybe it’s an introvert thing, I don’t know.

The Lord has been enlarging my image of His shelter. Why should it just be the corner of the couch where I curl up with my Bible and blanket? Couldn’t it include my whole house? Why not the entire community, country, world? Wouldn’t His shelter fill the boundaries of His Kingdom?

Since I can’t get away from God (see Psalm 139), I can’t get out of His shelter, away from His shadow. That must mean I’m still dwelling in His shelter even if I’m in unfamiliar territory. My refuge and fortress, my God, isn’t in a location I have to run back to. He’s in all and over all.

Father, thank you for Your grace that lets me dwell in the shelter of the Most High, and that lets the Spirit of the Most High dwell in me. Help me abide in confidence in You, wherever you lead me each day.

Our song today is “Your Love, O Lord,” by Third Day. It’s based on a different psalm, but still gives the image of resting in the shelter of God.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8, NIV*

I was reminded recently that we come to God, not to get hold of Him but so He may get hold of us, speak to us, lead and direct us, and do His work in and through us.

At first this seems like two sides of the same coin: we reach out to Him, He reaches out to us. Both are needed.

But who reached first? Who initiated the relationship? Scripture says it was God.

If I’m focused on what I see, what I choose to do “for Him,” that seems to place me higher. If the focus is on Him, asking what does He see, what does He want to do through me, then He’s revealed in the position of power and authority.

It’s not about me doing things for God, it’s about Him: what does He want to do through me? Through you?

Father, I praise You for Your grace that makes us worthy to stand in Your presence, and for Your love which seeks us, finds us and changes us. Help us to seek first Your kingdom and righteousness, and to love You above all.

This is the Chara Christian Dance Company 2007-2008 interpreting Todd Agnew‘s song, “Reached Down“.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.