One Thousand Gifts Devotional
Reflections on Finding Everyday Graces
By Ann Morton Voskamp
Copyright © 2012 Ann Morton Voskamp
All right reserved.
Chapter One surprising grace
this is what the Lord says: "In the time of my favor I will answer you, and in the day of salvation I will help you; I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people, to restore the land and to reassign its desolate inheritances." Isaiah 49:8
That field of beans west of the barn, it looked gaunt come October, bean pods all hanging like bony ribs.
Whenever the wind sighed, the whole field just rattled skinny.
That's how my dad always spoke of a railish man, that you could count his ribs. Nothing in me wanted to count those beans, know the yield, from that spare field.
When my husband, the Farmer, rolled the combine in and lowered the combined head to bring those beans in, I sat beside him, raised my voice to ask it above the combine's working engine: "Is it possible that something that doesn't look like anything—can still amount to something?"
The field, it was hard to even look at it. I've known a face in a mirror much like that.
"Well—it isn't much to look at, is it?" The Farmer looks up from the combine's steering wheel, looks across the field to the north. "Weedy. And thin."
The white of the sow thistle seeds mingles with the dust. This field had no rain in July, and a man can't make a sky give. He can just make the knees bend and the hands raise. The harvest looked like a failure. I've known this, been this, am this.
The first time thanksgiving is ever mentioned in Scripture, this is what we read:
And this is the law of the sacrifice of peace offerings that one may offer to the Lord. If he offers it for a thanksgiving, then he shall offer with the thanksgiving sacrifice unleavened loaves mixed with oil, unleavened wafers smeared with oil, and loaves of fine f lour well mixed with oil. With the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving he shall bring his offering with loaves of leavened bread. Leviticus 7:11 – 13 ESV
The first time thanksgiving is mentioned in Scripture, the thanksgiving offering was part of the peace offering. Could that be the thing?
Could it be—no one receives the peace of God without giving thanks to God? Is thankfulness really but the deep, contented breath of peacefulness? Is this why God asks us to give thanks even when things look a failure? When there doesn't seem much to give thanks for?
The beans rattle through the combine, the auger filling the bin with golden beans like bread rising slow.
There were to be ten offerings of bread in every thank offering of the Israelites.
The first were like crackers. The second like wafers. These were known for their thinness. This was the order of thanks.
The thanks began for the thin things, the wafer things that almost weren't, and the way the people of God give thanks is first to give thanks for even the meager and unlikely.
Then it came, thanks for the leavened bread. Why would leaven, yeast—that which is seen in Scripture as impure, unwanted—why would leaven be included as part of the thanks offering?
Authentic thanks is always for all things, because our God is a God kneading all things into a bread that sustains. Paul gave "glory in tribulations" (Romans 5:3 KJV) and took "pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake" (2 Corinthians 12:10 KJV), and he knew that which didn't look like anything good might yield good, all in the hand of a good God.
To bring the sacrifice of thanksgiving means to sacrifice our understanding of what is beneficial and thank God for everything because He is benevolent. A sacrifice of thanks lays down our perspective and raises hands in praise anyways—always. A sacrifice is, by definition, not an easy thing—but it is a sacred thing.
There is this: We give thanks to God not because of how we feel but because of who He is.
"See it on the monitor?" The Farmer points to the screen to the right of the combine's steering wheel. "See the numbers, how many bushels an acre? If you didn't see the numbers, you'd never guess it, would you? It's yielding higher than it looks." He's shaking his head in happy wonder.
"Really? How can that be?" The numbers on the screen defy the seemingly sparse and stunted crop, and I'm laughing incredulous.
"I know! I know ..." The Farmer smiles, glances down at the beans feeding into the combine head, one eye still watching number of bushels on the screen.
He who is grateful for little is given much laughter ... and it's counting the ways He loves, this is what multiplies joy.
The life that counts blessings discovers its yielding more than it seems.
Why don't I keep more of an eye on the number of His graces? Why don't I want to know that even though it doesn't seem like there's been enough rain, He reigns and He is enough and the bounty is greater than it appears?
The thin places might be the places closest to God and the skinny places might be fuller than they seem, and who isn't full when they have Christ?
"Look how many seeds were really hiding in this pod!"
Little Shalom, she calls to me walking back across the field. "Count them, Mama."
"Yes," I say. "Yes, let's count."
And there's this counting the ribs of the field, graces filling unexpectedly, thanksgiving always this walking toward peace, and I see it.
See it—how the Farmer waves to me from the harvest seat, his hand turned willingly up to the sky.
* * *
God, cause me to know it afresh today: the life that counts blessings discovers its yielding much more than it seems. And my life yields most when I yield most to You.
Chapter Two choosing grace
His secret purpose framed from the very beginning [is] to bring us to our full glory. 1 Corinthians 2:7 NEB
They lay her gravestone flat into the earth, a black granite slab engraved with no dates, only the five letters of her name. Aimee. It means "loved one." How she was. We had loved her. And with the laying of my sister's gravestone, the closing up of her deathbed, so closed our lives.
Closed to any notion of grace.
Really, when you bury a child—or when you just simply get up every day and live life raw—you murmur the question soundlessly. No one hears. Can there be a good God? How can He be good when babies die, and marriages implode, and dreams blow away, dust in the wind? Where is grace bestowed when cancer gnaws and loneliness aches and nameless places in us soundlessly die, break off without reason, erode away? Where hides this joy of the Lord, this God who fills the earth with good things, and how do I fully live when life is full of hurt? How do I wake up to joy and grace and beauty and all that is the fullest life when I must stay numb to losses and crushed dreams and all that empties me out?
Is this the toxic air of the world, this atmosphere we inhale, burning into our lungs, this No, God? No, God, we won't take what You give. No, God, Your plans are a gutted, bleeding mess, and I didn't sign up for this and You really thought I'd go for this? No, God, this is ugly and this is a mess and can't You get anything right and just haul all this pain out of here and I'll take it from here, thanks. And God? Thanks for nothing. Isn't this the human inheritance, the legacy of the Garden?
Everywhere, a world pocked with scarcity.
I hunger for filling in a world that is starved.
But from that Garden beginning, God has had a different purpose for us. His intent, since He bent low and breathed His life into the dust of our lungs, since He kissed us into being, has never been to slyly orchestrate our ruin. And yet, I have found it: He does have surprising, secret purposes.
I open a Bible, and His plans, startling, lie there barefaced. It's hard to believe it, when I read it, and I have to come back to it many times, feel long across those words, make sure they are real. His love letter forever silences any doubts. He means to rename us—to return us to our true names, our truest selves.
He means to heal our soul holes.
From the very beginning, that Eden beginning, that has always been and always is, to this day, His secret purpose—our return to our full glory. Appalling—that He would! Us, unworthy. And yet since we took a bite out of the fruit and tore into our own souls, that drain hole where joy seeps away, God's had this wild secretive plan. He means to fill us with glory again. With glory and grace.
Grace, it means "favor," from the Latin gratia. It connotes a free readiness. A free and ready favor. That's grace. It is one thing to choose to take the grace offered at the cross. But to choose to live as one filling with His grace? Choosing to fill with all that He freely gives and fully live—with glory and grace and God?
I know it but I don't want to: it is a choice.
Living with losses, I may choose to still say yes. Choose to say yes to what He freely gives.
* * *
God of all gifts, thank You. Thank You! For the grace to choose to see. I choose to say yes today to all You give. Do the work in me—I want to more fully live. ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
Chapter Three first grace
But the basic reality of God is plain enough. open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can't see: ... the mystery of his divine being. Romans 1:19 – 20 MSG
It's after I cut the squash right open.
The two halves split and quartered there on the cutting board.
After the paintbrushes are washed out, after the pawns of the chess game are all returned to their squares, after the potatoes are baked and served, the dinner plates are pushed back empty. The Farmer splits the Word right open then and that's when I'm cut to the quick.
"First, I thank my God ..." That's what it reads, right there in Romans 1. The Farmer reads it slow—what should always come first in everything. And Paul writes more, peels back the hot holiness of God. I hold it there in my hands. The holy words that hollow me out.
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him ... as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. Romans 1:18 – 21, 28
The light fills the drinking cups still on the table. I can feel its warmth on the nape of my neck. Spring coming. The heat of it melting everything cold.
One of the best writers I've read and a kind friend, pastor, and fellow Canadian, Mark Buchanan, asked the most critical questions of them all: "What initially sparks God's anger? What is the root sin, the molten core of wickedness and godlessness—that convinces God to turn us over?"
Isn't that what we have to figure out? It's right there in Romans 1. It's not the sinfulness you'd think it'd be: It's the thanklessness—that we do. It's our thanklessness that first stirs the full wrath of God.
The beginnings of Genesis and Romans 1 pivot on the same point: Eve's thanklessness for all God does give and her resentfulness of the one fruit He doesn't give, this is the catalyst of the fall. Which Romans 1 confirms: "For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile, and their foolish hearts were darkened."
Our fall is always first a failure to give thanks.
The pride of thanklessness always comes before the fall. God makes Himself plain and there's no excuse—but they did not give Him thanks.
I have done this and just this morning, there spooning potatoes. The house upended with ridiculously messy and wondrous living. Paint smeared on a shirt, across a table. The chess loser in loud tears. The stringy innards of squash all over the counter. Instead of falling on my knees in thanks, I fall into sin and anger.
When I refuse to give God thanks? God lets our very lives become refuse.
I'd do well to stitch it into the fabric of me: A lack of doxology leads to depravity.
That is what Buchanan discovers in Scripture, right there in Romans: "The heart of wickedness and godlessness is that: a refusal to glorify God. It's the refusal to thank Him."
Wickedness isn't rooted primarily in some ghetto, on some shady backstreet. No, as Buchanan states, "All the wickedness in the world begins with an act of forgetting."
I nod slow.
In a thousand infinite ways God turns His glory around for us to see, but we can shrug; we can turn a blind eye. And so He lets it come, what we want—and everything, us, it all goes black.
There is light at the table, these open pages filling with it.
Isn't that what Paul is saying? When, in light of everything, we don't turn to God in thanks, God gives in to what we want—and turns us over to the dark ...
Turn in thanks and everything turns—and God doesn't turn away.
And there is this: If all the dismembering wickedness in the world begins with an act of forgetting—then the act of literally counting blessings literally re-members us to God. This is the making whole.
After lunch, I clean off the counter, gather up the halved squash and their inners, and afterward turn to the journal and jot down another note of thanks, for the time and the light to see by.
For all these halves, they are finding their wholes.
* * *
Father God, You are the Begetter of grace. Forgive me for being a forgetter of thanks. This is no trivial thing. It leads to wicked things. Hear the cry of my heart: Forgive me for not giving You thanks. If thanks is the highest form of thought—make it my first thought. Turn me toward thanks first — so my life doesn't turn into the last thing I'd hoped for. Turn me toward You first—first things first means to give You thanks first. ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
Chapter Four thinking grace
through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. Hebrews 13:15
When the rope pulls tight, Levi holds on—and it looks like happy wonder might right split him.
The kid, he's all snow-caked—all celebration.
He's making me grin. Life could be like that—giving way to the celebration of fully living.
He's making me the child—the laughter falling like snow and his cheeks all red, winter and wonder right in him, and his father winks at me and I lay on the snow and this moment right here, it warms right through.
Who can't laugh with him, this sledding straight to the sheer edge?
He does go down more than once or twice.
I wait for tears.
And I'm the fool not knowing what it's all about. It's there in his eyes: the thrill is in the trying what doesn't seem possible.
Isn't that always the place where fear meets faith and the face of God?
The snow's bluing in twilight. The dog's panting happy. The boy's all full of life, wonder-filled.
The sun is doing its own sliding down. I try to memorize all this wonderful—the faith and the falls and the fully living.
Robert Frost is right: "An hour of winter day might seem too short." And there are Eden days—days you want the boy to stay freckled and laughing loud and the light to linger longer and the dog to keep running you young.
It's not trite, this waking to wonder, giving thanks for all this.
Thanks isn't shallow Pollyanna-ism. Didn't Chesterton suggest that?
"I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder."
And I wonder if this is why thanks is the highest form of thought —because this is always the right order of things: Us laid low. Before God on High.
Isn't this what's partly awry in the world? The world needs fewer complaints and more thanks—those engaged in the highest thoughts.
The world needs more men and women living thanks, thinking loftiest.
Why would we ever tire of bending low in thanking—thanking—this highest form of thinking?
This is what all the great artists and thinkers do—they stay awake to the wonder of God's world. Great thinkers are the grateful thankers —the real greats live gratefully.
And is this the art of life—to keep awake to the wonders in His Word and this world?
Isn't it wonder that sparks love?
Levi swings round on his sled, chasing joy, that thing that swings open everything.
He yells at me as he f lies by. "Isn't this great?"
And I smile thanks for the wonder of here. Thanks, that thing that makes you the child full of wonder, the great thinker, the kingdom of heaven belonging to those who are like the children.
And the trees at sunset, they're lit af lame right down there in the woods.
* * *
Father God, make me never tire of the highest form of thinking — thanking. Make today great—by causing me to think gratefully. Engage me in the highest thoughts—gratefully laid low before You. ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________ ________________________________________________________________
Excerpted from One Thousand Gifts Devotional by Ann Morton Voskamp Copyright © 2012 by Ann Morton Voskamp. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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