Alive and Well Blog

Playing with fire (Exodus 3:2)

by Jessie Handy for Jessie's Reflections on Scripture

image from alchetron.com

The angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up (Exodus 3:2).

…for our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29, quoting Deuteronomy 4:24).

The bush burned but it was not consumed. This is the first of many encounters that the Israelites (and especially Moses) will have with the fiery presence of Yahweh (e.g., Exodus 24:17; Judges 6:21; Psalm 18:8; Isaiah 30:27-30). And yet Yahweh, who is later described as “a consuming fire,” first reveals his fire in a way that does not consume what it burns.

Instead of writing in paragraphs, I’m going to bullet my thoughts in the form of free-association brainstorming. Though they may not seem related, each bullet moves the train of thought toward a meaningful conclusion:

 

  • God’s presence could completely destroy the bush, but instead he lets it live. As the fire burns, its branches do not blacken or disintegrate to ash. It holds its shape and its leaves remain green. (Of course Moses turned aside at this amazing spectacle!)

 

  • 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 says we will be tested by fire on the day of the Lord. We can be saved through the flames even if all the works of our lives are burned up. Yet we will be rewarded for whatever we have built that survives the flames. The consuming fire is an image of testing and distinguishes what is eternally valuable from what is passing away.

 

  • The same principle from Corinthians – that eternally valuable things, like righteousness, will not be consumed by the fire of God – shows up in Isaiah:
    The sinners in Zion are terrified;
        trembling grips the godless:
    “Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire?
        Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning?”
       Those who walk righteously
        and speak what is right… (Isaiah 33:14-15)

 

  • The bush in Exodus retains its life in the presence of a powerful destructive force. Does this sound like the tree of life, or perhaps the one who died on a tree to give life to all? Could it be that Jesus passed through the fire of God’s holy presence and/or the flames of hell (or are those the same thing?) on our behalf and lived because he was righteous?

 

  • A God who could consume us but doesn’t do so is tender towards our weakness. He holds back his own power at times in order to interact with us in our sinful and weakened state (once we are perfected in heaven, we will be able to stand in the fire because we will be fully righteous). If he did not hold back his power, we wouldn’t survive his presence.

 

  • Holding back our own power in order to interact with others is a skill that shows up commonly in play. When I was a child playing basketball with my father, he held back his own strength and skill in order to make a more evenly matched game. This is what allowed the game to remain playful and fun for me, and therefore also for him. He was more concerned with the relationship cultivated by our synchronized play than he was concerned about winning. His playing down to my level of skill also showed he was more interested in building joy together than in either of us playing perfectly.

 

  • Over time, my father played at a higher level of skill to match my growth in skill and athleticism. In the same way, the impact of God’s fiery presence depends on God’s purposes. He can be gentle as we see in this passage from Exodus, or he can put us through a painful purification process like we see in Isaiah 33 and 1 Corinthians 3, burning away everything that is not holy.

 

  • In revealing himself as a fire that does not consume before revealing his glory in its consuming form on Mt. Sinai (Ex 24:17), God is demonstrating his desire for relationship over power, for joyful interaction over perfection. He is willing to meet us where we are in an astonishing way.

 

  • Jesus walked this path before us, going through the painful fire of death, having the sin he carried on our behalf burned away. The life in him was not consumed even by the full intensity of God’s consuming fire. He lived, and he offers us this same life. He offers it in gentleness toward our weakness, but as we grow he will give us greater challenges. His fiery presence is first and foremost about joyful loving relationship, but he will move us toward purification with the purpose of filling us with his indestructible life. Then we will be able withstand not only the gentle fire that does not consume but also the consuming fire of God’s passionate, powerful, and righteous presence.

 

Jessie+

 

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Can you help me understand the differences between Immanuel Prayer as taught by Dr. Wilder, Dr. Lehman, Alive and Well, and Pastor Patti Velotta?

by Jessie Handy for Immanuel FAQ, Immanuel Prayer

Dr. Lehman teaching on capacity at one of Pastor Patti’s trainings. (Notice the shirt: “Immanuel is not a tool.”)

Q: Can you help me understand the differences between Immanuel Prayer as taught by Dr. Wilder, Dr. Lehman, Alive and Well, and Pastor Patti Velotta?

A: Great question! First of all, we’re all on the same team. I’m pretty sure I speak for all of us Immanuel trainers when I say that our desire is to help the greatest number of people possible to experience safe, loving, interactive relationship with Jesus, and to help them grow in wholeness and joy through that relationship. That’s what Dr. Lehman’s shirt points to – Immanuel is a PERSON, and we want to help people encounter HIM. In order to do that, we needs lots of people out there training others. And we need a variety of trainers who can reach people in a variety of contexts and cultures. So we need each other!

To answer your question more specifically, I see the main difference between Drs. Wilder and Lehman this way: Wilder almost exclusively leads Immanuel experiences in large groups because of the type of ministry he does – traveling and working with whole communities that have been traumatized by things like civil war, natural disasters, persecution, and refugeeism. So Wilder keeps a very basic framework that’s as simple as possible for new people to understand, and which translates easily into other languages and cultures.

Lehman, on the other hand, primarily trains professional therapists in the U.S. – though he has started to do the occasional training for lay people going to do mission work. So he does a lot more detailed training that addresses things like dissociation and parts, and he uses some more technical terms like “pernicious blockage” – which basically means the catch-22 of needing God to bring healing (e.g., for fear) but being afraid of God at the same time so you find it extremely difficult to go to him to get healing for your fear.

Pastor Patti Velotta has taken Karl Lehman’s material and adapted it for church trainings, simplifying the process and language. We’ve done the same thing. In June 2016 I wrote a post for this same blog about how our training compares to Pastor Patti’s. I think both trainings are helpful, and they complement each other well, each with our own strengths/style. Many people like to get trained in both styles, as it expands their repertoire of tools and understanding. 

Across all of these training models (plus other models like Dave Bamford’s in Canada and Darrell Brazell’s in Kansas City), I would say there are two main elements that all styles of Immanuel Prayer have in common:

1. The basic starting and ending place – and ideally present throughout the session – is an experiential sense of connection and interaction with God (or appreciation). Starting with connection and maintaining it throughout the session does three things. First, it builds capacity for people to deal with the pain that comes up in healing work. Second, it creates an easy way for us to get the Lord’s guidance throughout the whole process. As we go, we keep turning to Jesus for each thing that comes up in the session. And third, focusing on connection helps us develop healthy attachment/bonding, not just correct false beliefs. Who we love changes our actions more than what we believe, so while we want to have Jesus correct our beliefs, we also want to build a deep, healthy, loving, joyful emotional bonds with him. Our bodies and emotions can override our beliefs even when our beliefs are rooted in truth. But our bodies and emotions are far less likely to override our attachments, so the connection/bonding platform fosters more permanent change than the truth/beliefs platform does all by itself.

2. The focus is for the person receiving ministry to experience God for themselves not just through the visions or words of someone else. This can help avoid the wrong kind of dependence on someone else’s ability to encounter God, helping people grow in their own walk with God rather than always looking to the supposedly “more spiritual” person to hear God for them.

I hope that helps!

Jessie+

 

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“Hope for wholeness” – Jim

by Jessie Handy for Immanuel Stories

Jim shares his Immanuel Story powerfully in the video at the bottom of our home page (alivewell.org) and in a 2014 blog post. Now, three years later, he adds an update of how that Immanuel session, and other involvement with Immanuel-related classes before and after that session, have impacted his life and marriage.

My counselor recommended Immanuel Prayer to me because of the abuse and trauma I experienced as a child. As I prepared to receive my first Immanuel Prayer ministry session, I was so full of fear and shame messages (lies I believed about myself) that I brought a friend with me for security. During the prayer session, the Lord very gently showed me that deep down, I had been believing lies – that I was broken beyond repair, that I was unwanted and unworthy of love – more than the truth. The truth is that I am His, that He loves and delights in me. I had been living out of fear. Fear of being found out, fear of rejection. The facilitator had me hold both the lies and the truth in my open hands, and he invited the Lord to speak to me. The scales began to shift until the truth became more real than the lies. My heart flooded with joy and my eyes with tears. I was connecting with how He felt about me – not just knowing it in my head, but really experiencing it!

I received several more prayer ministry sessions, including the one with the amazing experience of Jesus baptizing me that I shared on video in 2014. (And I stopped needing to bring my friend with me.) My wife, Ann, and I also attended the Restarting class. We felt like we couldn’t get enough of “the Immanuel stuff,” so next we signed up for Forming and for Alive and Well’s Immanuel Lifestyle class at the same time!

But life was still a very bumpy ride. I was triggered often, including in my marriage. In looking back, I think the greatest effect the Immanuel process has had on our marriage is in growing our capacity for joy as we interact with the Lord as He truly is. Along with that greater joy capacity has come a greater capacity for dealing with conflict and doing hard things. Ann and I realized very early on, while reading Living From the Heart Jesus Gave You that we didn’t have love bonds. Rather, we were bonded by fear. We understood we needed to strengthen our love bonds with Jesus first, and grow our capacity for joy, and then we could work on replacing our fear bonds with love bonds.

Around that time we actually tried doing some of the bonding exercises that are in Chris and Jen Coursey’s book 30 Days of Joy: For Busy Married Couples. Some of these exercises are also taught at Thrive training. But we couldn’t do it. Our fear bonds were too strong then, and it just didn’t feel safe, so that book went back on the shelf. When we finally went to Thrive last summer (2016), a lot had changed. We were ready to go deeper. We had a willingness to be vulnerable and go to new levels of intimacy. We were discovering the freedom to live out of our true hearts. We were discovering new things about each other. I saw a playfulness in my wife I hadn’t really seen before. They had us do an exercise where we prayed for each other, and it really touched us. The whole week was very meaningful, as if God was giving us a glimpse of how life could be. We understand we aren’t there yet, that there are more hills to climb and more traumas to be healed. But it gave us so much hope! Hope for continued healing, for wholeness, and for freedom to act like ourselves and live out of the hearts that Jesus gave us!

Besides being active grandparents who build joy with their kids and grandkids, Jim and Ann are now both trained Immanuel Prayer Ministers serving the Chicago area community. They also co-lead Immanuel Lifestyle classes at their church.

 

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Dying WITH Jesus

by Jessie Handy for Jessie's Reflections on Scripture

Sungshim and John Loppnow

 

My last post, He was heard,  was an invitation to die – that is, to face into things that are actually life-giving but feel like they will kill us.

I don’t want to leave the message there, though. There’s a second and very important part of this process of dying in order to discover life: we don’t have do it alone. In fact, we can’t do it alone.

Last week I attended an Immanuel Journaling workshop led by John and Sungshim Loppnow (pictured above), co-authors of the Joyful Journey, the book on Immanuel Journaling. They made a very important point. Immanuel Prayer, they reminded us, is not about doing things FOR GOD but about doing everything WITH GOD. That is especially true when we are learning to face the things that feel like they will kill us. We need help!

The help Jesus gives is not help from afar, directions shouted down from the clouds in the general direction of earth. It is help given from right here besides us, right here inside us. It is help from someone who knows every detail of our history, our fears, our dreams, and our struggles. It is help from someone who has himself suffered and died. He sees us, he hears us, he understands how painful and scary this is for us, he is glad to be with us right in the middle of our dying – and right in the middle of our fears and hesitations about dying. 

When my my toes start tapping with anxiety, my stomach knots with fear, and my mind is racing with the urge to run away, I am not alone. Jesus empathizes with my anxiety. He knows what it feels like to have adrenaline pulsing through his body and triggering his amygdala to scream “BAD! SCARY!! RUN AWAY!!!”

The author of Hebrews actually emphasizes this reality in 4:15-16, which comes just before the passage I reflected on in my last post. We read:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are.

Not only was he tempted in every way as we are, but we read in the last post that he also suffered as we suffer. Thankfully that is not the end of the verse! It concludes with a declaration of hope:

—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Jesus fully identifies with our temptations and suffering, AND he has the power to do something about it! Jesus does not merely empathize. He helps us. He empowers us. He offers us his very self – his Spirit inside us – as a source of joy, love, security, energy, and strength to do what seems impossible. Grace, says Mike Bickle, is not permission to do whatever we want. Rather, it is the power to live righteously, to do the things God is calling us to do. Jesus’ presence imparts grace for us to face into death, and through death, to live more fully.

Jesus understands the panic I feel about dying, and like a good parent, he helps me tenderly in my moments of weakness. He crouches down beside me and whispers gentle words in my ear, helping me look at the thing I fear. And when I am ready, he helps me take one step toward it and then another. He stays always within reach, encouraging and guiding me forward. I am never alone.

Immanuel Prayer and Immanuel Journaling help us experience Jesus in this way. These simple practices can help us cultivate an awareness of God with us, of Jesus drawing near to us in each moment of life. They can open us to receiving his care and help in times of need.

So if God is calling you to die in some way, as he is calling me to do, let’s NOT try really hard in our own effort to die FOR GOD. Rather, let’s die WITH GOD, accompanied, understood, and empowered by the presence of Immanuel.

Jessie+

 

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“He was heard” (Hebrews 5:7)

by Jessie Handy for Jessie's Reflections on Scripture

Image from godshotspot.wordpress.com

“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him…” (Heb 5:7-9).

I stumbled over these verses as I was reading them yesterday. I was tracking with them through the first bit. While he was on earth, Jesus prayed with loud cries and tears to be delivered from death. Got it. That’s a pretty familiar scene from Gethsemane. It was the next bit that tripped me up: “…and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” “But!” I exclaimed, “But! But what does it mean ‘he was heard’? He wasn’t delivered from death!”

After some reflection and prayer, I realized there are two ways to look at these verses. The first way is to simply explain that God heard Jesus but answered “No, I won’t deliver you from death.” We are often taught (and I’ve taught it myself) that God always hears, but for his own perfect reasons that we don’t always understand, sometimes his answer is “no” or “wait.” I think this is true for Jesus in Gethsemane. Clearly God had a much bigger salvation in mind than delivering Jesus from physical death, so his answer was “No.”

But a second perspective adds a layer of depth without negating the first perspective. What if God not only heard Jesus, but “heard” actually does mean “agreed”? What if God’s answer initially seemed like a “No” but was actually a whole-hearted “Yes!” God did, indeed, deliver Jesus from death – just not until after Jesus had suffered through it. This way of understanding the answer as a “Yes!” makes more sense of the rest of the verse: “he was heard because of his reverent submission.” Why would reverent submission be set forth as the motivating cause for a “No” from God? It’s bad logic. I can’t see how the writer could have intended us to read it that way. Rather, Jesus’ reverent submission was a key reason for God’s glorious “Yes!” in raising him from the dead.

This second perspective also makes sense of the next verse: “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” Jesus was sinless. He didn’t have to learn obedience in the sense that he was sinful and had to learn not to sin. Learning obedience, therefore, must involve more than learning to follow God’s law. Is it possible Jesus’ learning obedience involved growing in the practice of obedience under more and more difficult circumstances, and in response to more and more extreme requests? Perhaps learning obedience involves growing one’s capacity for obedience in even the most difficult situations. If this is true, then Jesus’ willingness to die, his “reverent submission” even in the face of death, was the final lesson in learning obedience. His willingness proved him perfectly obedient, regardless of God’s response to his prayers. And that submission was an essential element that motivated God’s joyous “Yes!” in the resurrection.

So what does this mean for us? From The Life Model, we learn that true maturity involves something like what Hebrews seems to mean by “learning obedience.” It involves the capacity to handle more and more difficult life circumstances while continuing to live from our true hearts – the new hearts that God gives us when he redeems us, hearts that value what he values and act as he acts. In other words, as we mature, we learn to obey in the same way Jesus did, by practice. And we learn it in order to suffer well, but we also learn it by suffering well.

In his book Living With Men, Life Model guru Jim Wilder concludes that perhaps the most important skill for children to learn is to recognize what true satisfaction feels like, and to identify what satisfies. This skill allows children to do hard things and grow into adult maturity, where they can take into account the needs and desires of others rather than just their own needs and desires. For adults to then become parents, they need to learn to give without receiving anything in return. How do we gain these skills? By practicing. By facing into the things that feel like they will kill us. (Thankfully, most of the time what we fear won’t actually kill us!)

It’s amazing how many life-giving things feel like they are killing us somewhere deep inside. For a middle schooler, perhaps it involves mowing the lawn instead of going to the movies with his friends. For a high schooler, it could be admitting to a teacher that she cheated on her exam. For college student, it might be choosing not to go all the way with his girlfriend. For a young professional, perhaps it’s losing a job opportunity because she won’t make false promises. Each of these things involves a short-term “No” which in the long run is actually a “Yes!” to discovering one’s true heart, to loving others, to sharing in the true resurrection life that is a source of life to all. Each of these things involves the same kind of willingness Jesus had – the willingness to obey in suffering, the willingness to die that evokes in God a vibrant, glorious “Yes!” that brings resurrection.

In giving up short-term, temporal, physical salvation, Jesus “became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” just as he obeyed God. Another way to describe this “eternal salvation for all who obey him” is to say that the never-failing, abundant life pouring down from its source in heaven flows into and through us. God is amazingly generous, giving life at times even when we aren’t obedient – that’s what grace means, after all! But the verse says, “for all who obey him,” meaning our obedience does add to the flow of life.

Do you want that kind of life? Then a good question to ask is, “What obedience is Jesus asking of me right now in order to pour out more of the life of heaven?” Or more directly and forcefully, “What is the thing Jesus is inviting me to do (or not do) that feels like it will kill me?” Let’s be honest: it might seem like a silly little thing. For me, it is staying in conversations longer than I am comfortable – past the point where I can feel my anxiety rising, my toes starting to tap, and my mind brainstorming excuses to leave. The anxiety is rooted deep in a gut-level fear of being overwhelmed, of losing control and losing my self, which is a kind of death. But for me this feeling of death is Jesus’ invitation into obedience, and through obedience into resurrection – a new life in healthier and more loving relationships that I can’t experience without dying first. Thankfully, God’s promise is that this new life is part of his “eternal salvation” through Christ, a life overflowing with the vitality of heaven and ruled by a King who because of his obedient death is alive forever and ever.

Jessie+

My next post, Dying WITH Jesus, is an important follow-up to this post. Read it now

 

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The Gratitude Paradox, Part 2 (James 1:17)

by Jessie Handy for Jessie's Reflections on Scripture

image from etsy – bellapapercompany.com

 

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17)

In “The Paradox of Practicing Gratitude, Part 1” I described how the Lord had been inviting me to be thankful for His presence and character, not just for the good gifts He gives. Most experienced Christians know this to be an important truth, though most of us don’t practice it as consistently as we might want to.

But here’s the paradox: sometimes it’s just as important to value the gifts God gives as to value Him directly.

“What?” you’re probably saying, “You just said to value God more than his gifts!”

“Besides,” some of you are adding, “how could it be true that the Creator of the Universe is less valuable than gifts, which are mere created things?”

To quote the apostle John, “This calls for wisdom.” As with every paradox, there is a particular set of circumstances that make it true.

Before I go further, let me clarify: I am not saying that the Creator of the Universe is less valuable than His gifts, which are created. He is more valuable by far! I am saying that at particular moments in our lives our choice to value God’s gifts actually carries more weight than a choice to value God – not because God is less valuable, but because, for one reason or another, we aren’t able to value Him rightly. In those instances, valuing His gifts can be a step down the path toward learning to value Him rightly. And in very specific instances, trying to value Him rather than His gifts can actually turn people away from Him.

Let’s use the example of a woman we’ll call Shirley. Shirley grew up being physically and verbally abused by her father. In her late twenties, she finally works up the courage to share her story with someone at church and agrees to receive Immanuel Prayer ministry. Philip, the prayer minister, begins the session by asking her to remember a time of gratitude. She recalls a weekend spent at her grandmother’s house, away from her unsafe home. She feels the wash of relief and rest as she remembers her grandmother sitting on the edge of her bed, singing her to sleep. Her head tips slightly as if she is listening. A slight smile turns up one corner of her mouth. She sighs, uncrosses her legs, and leans back in the chair. A tear gently slides down her cheek.

At this moment, Shirley is feeling deep gratitude. It is tangible to her emotionally and physically. The gratitude is for her grandmother, for a safe place, for a break from the abuse. Philip has been trained to guide her to thank God for His character and not just for His gifts. He invites Shirley to tell God what she appreciates about Him from this memory. Immediately she sits up straight, her mouth turns back down, and her foot starts tapping. Inside, she feels anger, shame, and despair. She knows she is supposed to thank God for providing her grandmother, and for giving her a break from the abuse. But all she can think is, “He sent me back! After that beautiful glimpse of goodness, I had to go back to my pain!”

In a situation like this, when the recipient does not experience God as safe or good, a prayer minister must start with gratitude for the things the recipient actually feels grateful for. It is pointless to try to force gratitude towards God. The end goal is still to help the recipient experience God as good, safe, and present even in her pain. But in Immanuel Prayer, we are committed to always beginning by laying a foundation of real, tangible, felt connection and gratitude in order to build capacity and keep relational circuits on. This foundation – rooted in the emotions and body as well as the mind – provides a solid platform for building positive, tangible encounters with God later on. Only after we lay the foundation of felt gratitude can we move on to addressing the building structure of beliefs and emotions about God Himself. This may happen in a single session, or it may take a lot longer to build up the capacity to face the pain of God’s seeming betrayal.

So Philip, willing to let the process unfold in God’s timing and Shirley’s pace, re-focuses on the gratitude for God’s gifts rather than God Himself. He reflects back the good things Shirley has described: love and care from her grandmother, and a brief respite from abuse. As Shirley turns back to the sound of her grandmother’s voice singing over her, she lets her body relax and her emotions become peaceful again.

Thankfully, Philip has been staying connected to God while he has been facilitating, and he senses Jesus waiting patiently for Shirley. He knows that God uses every experience to draw us to His love, and that He invites us to value every good gift, not only the most important good gifts, and not only the good gifts that are clearly God-related (James 1:17). So, while he offers Shirley time to soak in the feeling of peace, Philip silently asks God to use this gratitude memory to draw Shirley to His safe love. He prays, “Father, help Shirley come to hear Your voice singing over her too” (Zeph 3:17).

Jessie+

 

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The Gratitude Paradox, Part 1 (1 Chronicles 16:34)

by Jessie Handy for Jessie's Reflections on Scripture

image from thegirlcreative.com

“Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his love endures forever.” (1 Chr 16:34; 2 Chr 5:13; Ps. 106:1; Ps 107:1; Ps 118:1, 29; Ps 136:1)

I must confess that although I’ve been putting the Immanuel Lifestyle into practice for many years now, it’s only been in the last twelve months that I’ve made it a habit to begin my morning prayers with gratitude. This practice has had two very obvious benefits for me. It helps me approach prayer with a greater sense of hopefulness, joy, and appreciation rather than as a task to “get through.” It also helps me become aware of my attitude as I’m starting the day – whether I’m approaching the day appreciative or critical, with my relational circuits on or off. When I can’t think of anything to be grateful for (in spite of how easy and good my life is), it’s a very obvious reminder to get my RCs on before moving forward.

A few months into this practice, I was unsurprised to find my gratitude becoming repetitive. I was consistently grateful for sunshine, the beauty of nature, times of connection with others, my dog’s snuggles, and moments of sensing God’s presence. Because I was truly, deeply grateful for these things, the repetition was not boring. But I also sensed God’s invitation to something more.

More an impression than words, the content God communicated was nevertheless quite clear. “I enjoy your gratitude very much,” He seemed to be saying, “but it’s so circumstantial. What if your circumstances change? What if you don’t have sunshine, or good relationships, or your dog? Then what?” The clear implication was that I needed to find my deepest gratitude in something unchanging – in God himself. It was not a new thought. God’s word invites us to give thanks not only because he has done good things for us, but also “because he is good” (1 Chr 16:34 and other places). It’s a well-tested truth preached and sung and written about often through the millennia. And most likely it is not a new idea to you, reader.

But are you doing it? When you express your gratitude in morning prayer, in Immanuel Journaling, in a live Immanuel Prayer session, or whenever and however you share your thanks with God, do you lift your eyes beyond your own circumstances? Do you find yourself grateful for Him and for who He is? Do you tell him so?

It’s not a difficult shift. I have started doing it, so here’s an example of what it looks like: I begin by remembering a beautiful evening walk on streets lined with purple flowering trees. The large yellow moon hangs just below the power lines, turning the flock of chattering birds there to silhouettes. The mountains up the street create a feeling of being closed-in and protected. I can smell jasmine. The breeze lifts my hair lightly, and I sigh as my body relaxes in the warm, scented air.

Then I intentionally consider what this moment of gratitude reveals about God. I let my circumstances lead me to something beyond circumstance. For one thing, He’s generous, providing beauty and variety in nature, and leading me to live in this physical place that I love. “Thank you, Lord,” I whisper, beginning to talk directly to Him. “Thank you for this beauty, for this place. I have come here because of your call, your faithfulness to continue the work you have begun in me. Thank you for being so trustworthy and so good, to me and to people throughout the ages.”

I let my imagination follow the path of my words. I am walking with Noah as he steps out of the boat onto dry land, standing with Abraham awed by the vastness of the starry sky, lying on my face with Samuel before the ark of the covenant, kneeling with Mary as she washes his feet with her tears. I remember my friend Amelie’s story about God providing a playhouse for her grandkids. I remember my friend Mike’s reverence as he shared about his encounter with Jesus. There is something about God much more vast and permanent than any of our individual stories. I begin to feel my insides expanding to embrace the fullness of God’s goodness. Filled to the brim, my inner self overflows out toward the One who has reached down into this world to show His care.

My circumstantial gratitude has turned into worship, and worship soon becomes relational interaction. I can feel His pure delight in giving good gifts, in moving each life and all of history toward a good purpose. I can also glimpse the fresh sparkle of joy in His eyes when my gaze shifts from His gifts to Him. He is so delighted in me, in my sheer existence but also especially in my attention to Him. Without words, he gladly receives and returns the warmth of my gratitude and love.

And I expect that someday when my circumstances don’t seem to line up with the reality of God’s goodness, this memory of an evening walk and of his sparkling eyes might be a vital anchor of truth, hope, and joy.

(If you are wondering, “Where’s the paradox in that?” please read on to “The Gratitude Paradox, Part 2,” where you will find the answer.)

Jessie+

 

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The Golf Ball – Jack

by Jessie Handy for Immanuel Stories

“He will give His angels charge over you, to guard you in all your ways.” (Ps 91:11)

As I began my Immanuel Prayer session, I was reminded of an incident many years ago when I felt God’s hand of protection over me and our family, nearly two decades before I surrendered control of my life to Him. As I shared the details of it, the sunny Colorado morning seemed to come alive again. I was driving my wife and children down a street beside a lovely golf course. The fragrant breeze coursed through the wide open car windows, and life felt good.

Unexpectedly, “WHAM!” Something impacted the car. I slammed on the brakes, we screeched to a halt, and a golf ball bounced away from us back in the direction of the golf course. Inspecting for damage to the vehicle, I found a dent in the corner of the door post on the driver’s side window at forehead level. Had I been a fraction of a second earlier, the golf ball would have struck me in the forehead or temple. The car would have crashed and likely injured or killed us all.

I was humbled and baffled about why I had NOT been struck in the head by that golf ball. I had turned far from God at that time in my life. I probably deserved to be smacked. But my family didn’t. And then I realized at least two other scenarios had been adverted, also by a matter of fractions of seconds or inches traveled. The golf ball could have come through the windshield and hit my wife or the open driver-side window and hit one of my children. How frightening those possibilities were! I felt overwhelmed when I thought of the possible devastation God had protected us from.

As I re-experienced the tangible reality of his protection, I became aware also of his great love, even to those of us who are living in foolish, careless ways. His plans and purposes for all of our lives will not be thwarted. His power and grace is too great for me to comprehend. I’m so grateful God is in control, even in the midst of our poor choices.
[A graduate of Alive and Well’s Immanuel Lifestyle Class, Immanuel Prayer Minister Training, and Advanced Prayer Minister Training]

 

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