Hannah Whitall Smith: Revolutionary Habit

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Hannah Whitall Smith: Revolutionary Habit

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

“One day, when it seemed especially heavy, she noticed lying on the table near her a little tract called “Hannah’s Faith.” Attracted by the title, she picked it up and began to read it, little knowing, however, that it was to create a revolution in her whole experience. The story was of a poor woman who had been carried triumphantly through a life of unusual sorrow. She was giving the history of her life to a kind visitor on one occasion, and at the close the visitor said, feelingly, “O Hannah, I do not see how you could bear so much sorrow!” “I did not bear it,” was the quick reply; “the Lord bore it for me.”

“Yes,” said the visitor “that is the right way. You must take your troubles to the Lord.” “Yes,” replied Hannah, “but we must do more than that; we must leave them there. Most people,” she continued, “take their burdens to Him, but they bring them away with them again, and are just as worried and unhappy as ever. But I take mine, and I leave them with Him, and come away and forget them. And if the worry comes back, I take it to Him again; I do this over and over, until at last I just forget that I have any worries, and am at perfect rest.”

My friend was very much struck with this plan and resolved to try it. The circumstances of her life she could not alter, but she took them to the Lord, and handed them over into His management; and then she believed that He took it, and she left all the responsibility and the worry and anxiety with Him. As often as the anxieties returned she took them back; and the result was that, although the circumstances remained unchanged, her soul was kept in perfect peace in the midst of them. She felt that she had found out a blessed secret, and from that time she tried never again to carry her own burdens, nor to manage anything for herself…

You have trusted Him in a few things, and He has not failed you. Trust Him now for everything, and see if He does not do for you exceeding abundantly above all that you could ever have asked or thought; not according to your power or capacity, but according to His own mighty power, that will work in you all the good pleasure of His most blessed will.

You find no difficulty in trusting the Lord with the management of the universe and all the outward creation, and can your case be any more complex or difficult than these, that you need to be anxious or troubled about His management of it. Away with such unworthy doubtings! Take your stand on the power and trustworthiness of your God, and see how quickly all difficulties will vanish before a steadfast determination to believe. Trust in the dark, trust in the light, trust at night, and trust in the morning, and you will find that the faith, which may begin by a mighty effort, will end sooner or later by becoming the easy and natural habit of the soul.”

Hannah Whitall Smith in The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life (Christian Witness Company) 15, 32.

Fears abound and markets tumble with the discovery of yet another COVID variant. Unrest dominates social conversations. No vaccination or booster shot can guarantee people what they are looking for: perfect peace and happiness.

So, today I invite you to download a classic, The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life. It’s free. Read it this Advent. It’s only 131 pages in PDF form. Sharing the link with others might be the most generous thing you can do during crazy times.

In this book, Smith suggests a simple yet revolutionary habit. It’s a not a new idea but urges the application of an old idea found in today’s Scripture. We must learn to pray and leave our cares with God to find peace and happiness.

It’s the perfect balm for the challenging times in the larger society and the stretching moments that ministry workers face. May the Spirit of God help each of us model this revolutionary habit so as to spread peace and happiness generously.

Today, my twofold prayer is for God to keep a door for ministry open and to supply the resources to add new staff. Following Smith’s counsel, I am praying and casting my cares on Christ. But, let me explain the situation.

For months, GTP has planned travel to Africa to serve God’s workers from Botswana, Burundi, Eswantini, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. The same areas affected by the recent COVID variant outbreak!

Where it gets challenging is that I and two other members of the GTP staff are supposed to fly out in a week. Will we be able to travel there to serve? Today we are meeting, meditating on Acts 27:27-29, and assessing the situation.

What will we do? We will pray and give any worries to God. What do we not do? We won’t fear or treat people from these regions like lepers. This may be our greatest ministry moment to serve like Jesus and move toward those in need.

The other thing on my mind is Giving Tuesday. Will you join GTP in the work of strengthening God’s workers and building sustainable ministries worldwide? Click here to learn how God has supplied and to help meet the goal to add staff.

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Jim Branch: Clenched Fists or Open Hands

If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be. Deuteronomy 15:7-8

“There are only two ways to live. We can live with either clenched fists or with open hands. You can’t have them both. Clenched fists are a refusal: a refusal to let go, a refusal to trust, a refusal to give up control. And unfortunately, in the spiritual life, clenched fists also keep you from being able to receive anything from God. Only empty hands can receive. Therefore, we must let go of whatever our hands are full of before we can ever expect to receive any of the fullness, or the life, that God wants to give us.”

Jim Branch in Reflection on “Letting Go” in The Blue Book: A Devotional Guide for Every Season of Your Life (Scotts Valley: CreateSpace, 2016) 185.

How are your hands?

Branch rightly notes that there are two ways to live but only one grasps life in all its fullness. See how this paradox unfolds: those who try to keep wealth in their hands only end up poor. Those who hold on to their plans for their lives never discover take hold of life as God desires for them.

How are your hands?

God cannot fill us to overflowing so that we can be generous if we have clenched fists. And we can’t grasp life that way either. So, look at your hands today. Take five minutes and do this. Consider the implications for your living, giving, serving, and loving.

How are your hands?

If you have grace and mercy, share it. If you have wealth, give it. If you have giftedness, use it. If you have love, lavish it. Only as we receive with open hands can we give. There is much fear in the world. It only lead us to clench our fists and miss out on what God has for us. Don’t let it happen to you.

Open your hands.

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Henri Nouwen: Voluntary Poverty

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9

“There are many programs to prepare people for service in its different forms. But seldom do we look at these programs as a training toward a voluntary poverty. Instead we want to become better equipped and more skillful. We want to acquire the “tools of the trade.”

But real training for service asks for a hard and often painful process of self-emptying. The main problem of service is to be a way without being “in the way.” And, if there are any tools, techniques, and skills to be learned they are primarily to plow the field, to cut the weeds, and clip the branches, that is, to take away the obstacles for real growth and development.

Training for service is not a training to become rich but to become voluntarily poor; not to fulfill ourselves but to empty ourselves; not to conquer God but to surrender to His saving power. All this is very hard to accept in our contemporary world, which tells us about the importance of power and influence.

But it is important that in this world there remain a few voices crying out that if there is anything to boast of, we should boast of our weakness. Our fulfillment is in offering emptiness, our usefulness in becoming useless, our power in becoming powerless.”

Henri Nouwen in Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life (New York: Image, 1986) 108.

This post really touched me as I prepare to teach and train Christian workers in Harare, Zimbabwe. I got word that the room capacity is filling up. People are eager for the “tools of the trade” and at GTP we plan to offer them “real training” as Nouwen put it.

But God only knows if the trip to Southern Africa will happen due to the recent COVID scare.

Regardless, I like to tell people that preparation for service is spiritual and strategic. Nouwen describes the spiritual side rightly in pointing people toward voluntary poverty. And don’t be intimidated by this expression. It refers to getting out of the way so God can work.

Only then can the strategic coaching equip God’s workers for good works.

This relates to generosity because if we want our service to be useful and powerful, we must aim at uselessness and powerlessness. Want practical coaching to aim at this? At GTP we say to practice the disciplines of fasting, confession, and prayer, whilst everyone around you focuses on pursuing their desires.

Voluntary poverty is the way of Jesus for being filled to enrich others.

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Macrina Wiederkehr: Ask a hard question

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. John 12:24

“I gaze lovingly at my dinner plate filled with gifts from the earth. I am touched, overwhelmed at the truth that everything I eat has in some way had to die so I could live. It is the way of the earth, and I do not completely understand it. Ponder over the truth for a while. It may bring tears to your eyes. And if it does, I encourage you to welcome them. They could be healing. I gaze more lovingly still. Gratitude overflows! I ask my heart a hard question: What is it in me that must die before I can truly give life to others?”

Macrina Wiederkehr in Seasons of Your Heart: Prayers and Reflections, Revised and Expanded (New York: HarperCollins, 1991) 129.

We ate a full plate of food yesterday for Thanksgiving. Perhaps you did too? So this is a perfect thought to ponder. Everything on that plate had to die so that you and I might eat it and have life.

May this thought fill you with gratitude and propel you to generosity. I pray it also inspires you to soak in this question: “What is it in me that must die before I can truly give life to others?”

Today is Black Friday in USA. It’s the day marketers offer us deals to get us to spend as much money as possible. Buy what you need, for sure, as you may get necessities at great prices.

In dying to consumerism and instead choosing generosity we set an example for others which just might help them grasp the life that is truly life, which is what they are looking for while shopping anyway.

If you are looking for a place to give to spread this kind of thinking worldwide, support the “give a gift that grows” effort. Click here to learn more.

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Jim Branch: You give them something to eat

He replied, “You give them something to eat.” They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.” Luke 9:13

You give them something to eat. It seems that a significant amount of doing ministry involves figuring out what you’ve got and then figuring out how to give it and who to give it to. You see, God gave you something wonderfully unique and specific, somthing that only you can give. It may feel like only five loaves and two fish among so many, but in His hands it is more than enough to satify a multitude and still have some left over.

“You give them something to eat,” Jesus is saying. “Because I gave you something that only you can give. First give it to me, and then I will give it back to you in abundance. Only then will you be able to give it to them, whoever your ‘them’ may be. And in the giving of ‘it’ to ‘them’ you will find that there is enough to feed you as well.” Incredible.

There is one other small thing to notice in the text however, and it is really not small at all. Once we are willing enough and courageous enough to give Jesus our little loaves and fish, he does something really amazing with it. He takes it, then He blesses it, then He breaks it, and then He gives it. Now all of that sounds pretty great except the breaking part.

Because, it seems, in Jesus’ economy we can’t be multiplied enough to be given, we can only be broken enough to be given. It is in the breaking that the abundance comes. It is in the breaking that the multiplying occurs, just as it will be for each of us. If we really want to have something of depth and substance to give to those around us, it will usually involve some sort of breaking.”

Jim Branch in Reflection on “Give Your Life Away” in The Blue Book: A Devotional Guide for Every Season of Your Life (Scotts Valley: CreateSpace, 2016) 348-349.

Happy Thanksgiving.

I hope today’s reading encourages you to do more than break bread and share a meal with thankfulness in your heart to God. I pray it inspires you to give God whatever you have so it can be broken and distributed widely in abundance.

How will you respond?

If you have giftedness, I pray you put it to work by giving yourself to God in service. If you have financial resources, I pray you put them in play so that God can multiply them to care for many. But don’t forget the lesson from Branch in so doing.

Hold this close to your heart.

You will be blessed in putting your giftedness to work. You will be refilled in abundance for putting the money that you steward in play. You will be renewed and refreshed. But it only happens after you act and allow God to break it.

May your day be blessed as you return thanks by giving!

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Dallas Willard: Low-keyed and unassuming

So that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matthew 6:4

“When we remember that we are, overall, as needy as those we serve and that to receive is not as blessed to give, our deeds of giving will naturally be low-keyed and unassuming. Perhaps we will find ways in which we can meet needs without anyone knowing the source, as Matthew 6:4 says “so that our giving may be in secret.” One way to gain such understanding is to experience the life of the poor in some further measure—though we must never give in to the tempation to act as if we are poor when we are not. No adequate elaboration of practical strategies can be undertaken here. But, depending upon our family and other circumstances, we might, as earlier suggested, do some of our ordinary business in the poorer districts of our community. It may even be as simple as getting out of our cars and onto public transportation. One of the great social and economic divisions in many parts of the world is between those who must ride in public transportation and those who can transport themselves.”

Dallas Willard in The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives (New York: HarperCollins, 1988) 213.

Got to go to the Van Gogh experience yesterday! Vincent was a low-key and unassuming guy, and some might say he was eccentric. Furthermore, his contributions to the art world, such as Almond Blossoms (pictured above), did not become widely known in his lifetime, only later.

What if our generosity was low-keyed and unassuming and largely unknown by others? What if we did whatever work God gifted us to do in a prolific way, never seeking recognition? What if we did business in poorer districts? All this runs counter to what the world tells us to do.

The world says to run with the wealthy, to avoid public transport, to drive the newest and nicest car. Hear me. We need to be gracious with each other. At coffee with my friend, Rich Haynie, yesterday, I was reminded that we must not condemn each other but keep watch over ourselves. We will all answer to God for our stewardship.

So what’s the lesson for us? Let’s live, give, serve, and love generously in low-keyed and unassuming ways. Let’s run with the ordinary and even among the poor, like Jesus did, remembering that to receive is not as blessed to give. And, let us give generously in secret.

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John R. Frank: Changing the World

But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you —see that you also excel in this grace of giving. 2 Corinthians 8:7

“Stewardship is bigger than just our individual organizations. Yes, that is our first priority as a professional. After that I believe God is using each one of us to champion the “cause” of teaching stewardship and development to the church and the world.

Our cause is about changing the world. As each person becomes a giver, more generous, and a steward, the world changes. As each person learns that to God it is more blessed to give than to receive, the world changes. As each steward grows in the grace of giving, the world changes.

May you be encouraged today that you do more than raise money, you embody the role of stewardship in the world and today YOU changed the world through your ministry of stewardship and development.”

John R. Frank in “Where is Stewardship in our World?” in 60 Great Stewardship & Development Ideas (PDF) 42-43.

I was reading a PDF written by my friend, John R. Frank, and needed this shot in the arm today.

Why should every pastor, ministry administrator, CEO, or staff member encourage faithful and generous stewardship of God’s resources, especially in a season where most people are thinking about spending?

It changes the world. It does. Our living, giving, serving, and loving impact our context and those around us.

So, from what you have, give generously in this season of Thanksgiving and on Giving Tuesday. I pray you include GTP on your list. John did. Thanks mate, for the gift and for this PDF with 60 great ideas.

Email me if you want to read the PDF. I’ll connect you with the author. And, please, go change the world everyone by encouraging generous stewardship.

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Catherine of Siena: Disposition, Gifts, Dispose, and Grace

For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. John 1:16

“Do you, therefore, and My other servants, carry yourselves with true patience, with grief for your sins, and with love of virtue for the glory and praise of My Name. If you act thus, I will satisfy for your sins, and for those of My other servants, inasmuch as the pains which you will endure will be sufficient, through the virtue of love, for satisfaction and reward, both in you and in others. In yourself you will receive the fruit of life, when the stains of your ignorance are effaced, and I shall not remember that you ever offended Me.

In others I will satisfy through the love and affection which you have to Me, and I will give to them according to the disposition with which they will receive My gifts. In particular, to those who dispose themselves, humbly and with reverence, to receive the doctrine of My servants, will I remit both guilt and penalty, since they will thus come to true knowledge and contrition for their sins. So that, by means of prayer, and their desire of serving Me, they receive the fruit of grace.”

Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) in The Dialogue of Catherine of Siena, trans. by Algar Thorold (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd., 1907) and ed. by Harry Plantinga (1994) 17.

Meet Grace St. Catherine. Collected her from the breeder in Montrose, Colorado, just yesterday. Just before picking her up, I read this section from St. Catherine’s classic work. Let me highlight four words from it.

Firstly, consider the ‘disposition’ with which you receive gifts from God. Do you consider blessings earned? Or do you with knowledge of your sins, humble yourself and give thanks for His mercy an anything He supplies?

Secondly, ponder His ‘gifts’ to you. One of those is doctrine. It’s a big word for right thinking in Jesus. Once you were lost; now you are found. God’s love was free to you and for everyone to be enjoyed and shared generously with others.

Thirdly, we get to ‘dispose’ ourselves with reverence. In plain terms, we receive gifts from God and we remit all we are and all we have in response to magnify Him on the earth. We become generous.

Fourthly, we receive ‘grace’ to serve by prayer. This fruit from God empowers us to do whatever task He sets before us with confidence and strength. He satisfies our every need and fills our every longing.

And today, we celebrate receiving “grace upon grace” from God. Grace from Him carries me through daily life. And this puppy, Grace St. Catherine, will aid us on our journey of living, giving, serving, and loving generously.

Grace will require us to walk a lot (which gives us exercise and space to pray). She will provide companionship. She will help provide food to eat (looking forward to hunting pheasant together) and so much more.

Father in heaven, we set our disposition to receive your gifts and dispose ourselves by your Spirit to remit them richly to others, ever mindful of your grace to us sinners. Hear our prayer in the name of Jesus. Amen.

And thanks for Grace St. Catherine. Teach us through her like you did with Joy St. Clare.

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Oswald Chambers: Stayed on God or Starved?

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! Isaiah 26:3

“Is your mind stayed on God or is it starved? Starvation of the mind, caused by neglect, is one of the chief sources of exhaustion and weakness in a servant’s life. If you have never used your mind to place yourself before God, begin to do it now. There is no reason to wait for God to come to you. You must turn your thoughts and your eyes away from the face of idols and look to Him and be saved (see Isaiah 45:22).

Your mind is the greatest gift God has given you and it ought to be devoted entirely to Him. You should seek to be “bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ…” (2 Corinthians 10:5). This will be one of the greatest assets of your faith when a time of trial comes, because then your faith and the Spirit of God will work together.

When you have thoughts and ideas that are worthy of credit to God, learn to compare and associate them with all that happens in nature— the rising and the setting of the sun, the shining of the moon and the stars, and the changing of the seasons. You will begin to see that your thoughts are from God as well, and your mind will no longer be at the mercy of your impulsive thinking, but will always be used in service to God.

“We have sinned with our fathers…[and]…did not remember…” (Psalm 106:6-7). Then prod your memory and wake up immediately. Don’t say to yourself, “But God is not talking to me right now.” He ought to be. Remember whose you are and whom you serve. Encourage yourself to remember, and your affection for God will increase tenfold. Your mind will no longer be starved, but will be quick and enthusiastic, and your hope will be inexpressibly bright.”

Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest reading entitled “Is Your Mind Stayed on God?” for 11 February.

For the next week or two, I have decided to revisit my word for the year: remember. I feel this is fitting for a season of thanksgiving, especially when I am praying for God’s provision for GTP to add staff.

Let me elaborate on what I think pastors and ministry workers around the world need to remember to be stayed and not starved. God is our faithful Provider. We find peace in that reality. And if we don’t we grow weary. It happens to me.

In real-time, two major groups have offered to fund half of the cost of two new GTP program staff. What a gift from God! And while we have a Giving Tuesday effort to get the remaining funds, I am reminding myself to trust God to supply.

Perhaps you can relate? You have so much work to do, and you have real needs, by you can lose the battle in your mind. So what should you do? Wake up and remember whose you are and whom you serve.

When you do this, Chambers adds, that you will be “quick and enthusiastic, and your hope will be inexpressibly bright.” So, to bring hope to others in this season of Thanksgiving, minister humbly and keep your mind stayed on God.

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Teresa of Ávila: Guard

Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us. 2 Timothy 1:14

“If the soul receives favours and caresses from our Lord, let it examine carefully whether it rates itself more highly in consequence; unless self-abasement increases with God’s expressions of love, they do not come from the Holy Spirit. Inevitably, when they are divine, the greater the favours, the less the soul esteems itself and the more keenly it remembers its sins. It becomes more oblivious of self-interest: the will and memory grow more fervent in seeking solely God’s honour with no thought of self. It also becomes unceasingly careful not to deviate deliberately from the will of God and feels a keener conviction that instead of meriting such favours, it deserves hell. When these results follow, no graces or gifts received during prayer need alarm the soul which should rather trust in the mercy of God, Who is faithful and will not allow the devil to deceive it; but it is always well to be on one’s guard.”

Teresa of Ávila (1515-1582) in Interior Castle 3.11 (Grand Rapids: CCEL) 109-110.

As I moved to 2 Timothy today, this Scripture stood out as important. Most people guard financial deposits and we need to guard the spiritual deposit entrusted to us with the help of the Holy Spirit. Few people write about this.

Seriously, I scanned at least a dozen classic works and few said anything. Then I read this excerpt from Teresa. It was eye-opening. We need to always balance two things. The good deposit alongside our badness.

Think about it. When our sinfulness and self-interest take over, we will not only deviate from God’s will, we will advance our own. So, we must be on guard. This relates to generosity in two ways.

On the positive side, when we do the will of God with the resources we have, we will appear as gracious, generous, humble conduits of unfathomable blessing. That’s God’s design and desire.

On the negative side, when we rate ourselves more highly than we ought, such as by taking credit for our giving, we emerge instead as prideful and pathetic. To avoid this, we must guard the good deposit entrusted to us by grace.

Speaking of Grace…heading to Grand Junction, Colorado today to pick up Grace St. Catherine tomorrow. Can’t wait to bring this German Shorthair Pointer home to start puppy training.

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