One little word that makes all the difference

flowers-in-hand_277221852There I was, minding my own business, innocently browsing through endless Facebook posts from my infinite number of friends (never been more popular in my entire life!), and I noticed that one buddy in a moment of excitement and adoration wrote out the doxology as his status.

“Praise God to whom all blessings flow. Praise him all creatures here below.
Praise him above, ye heavenly hosts. Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.”

Only he got one word wrong — as some of you may have already noticed.

I grew up in church where we sang this almost every Sunday, so it jumped off the screen at me.  And it’s always those little windows of time when you see something old in a new light that spark fresh insights.  That one little word makes a huge difference.

From whom” not “to whom.”

Big deal; who cares?

Okay, call me knit-picky, but it effects how we view God, how we view our relationship to him — how we view life.  God deserves our praise, to be sure.  And my mom taught me at a young age the incredible power that is released into our lives when we praise God in the middle of our difficult circumstances.  There’s value in that; it’s honorable to send your blessings to God.  As that cranky old oatmeal commercial guy used to say, “it’s the right thing to do.”

But we miss a powerful point about the character of God and his amazing love for us if we get that one word wrong.  “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights, who does not change like the shifting shadows”, James tells us.  God is a generous God, a giving God. One who pours out good stuff on us, just because he loves us.  And he doesn’t quit when we mess up.  He doesn’t change his mind.  Like that powerful revelation in Exodus when he proclaims his name to Moses: “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love … (Ex 34:6).

That good stuff is for us.  
And if we miss that point, we’re missing out on some jaw-dropping grace,

some amazing love,

some unheard-of favor. 

Not because of who we are, or the fact that we’re constantly buttering him up with our praise.

Just because that’s who he is.

 

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”  That’s your heritage.  That’s your birthright.  We can love him all the more because of his love for us, because he is constantly pouring out blessings — even when we don’t see or feel them.

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow.” That one little word can turn your whole day around.

 

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photo credit: Hamed Saber via photopin cc

 

This blog was orignally posted on Cafe Inspirado, Aug 15, 2011.

 

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STEVE SCHMIDT serves on the pastoral staff of Expressions Church in Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity. He did his doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York.

He blogs here on IMPACT Magazine’s Cafe Inspirado column, and you can always find him skulking on Facebook.

 
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The God Who Says “No”

bread_12167742114I was watching an episode of West Wing the other day, and Toby, the sulky, dark, idealistic character, quotes an Italian proverb to C.J, the Press Secretary:

Quando dio vuole castigarci ci manda quello che desideriamo — “When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.”

Interesting quote. But it got me thinking: Thank God, my God is not like that.

It reminds me of something we hear all the time in pious circles: don’t ask God for patience. Patience comes through suffering — and you sure don’t want that.

You know, I suppose there is some biblical basis for that statement. Doesn’t James tell us, “the testing of your faith develops perseverance”? Sure, we can learn patience through suffering and difficulty, but isn’t it also one of the fruits of the Spirit? “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal 5:22). It’s a characteristic that is developed in us by God’s Spirit as we mature. Maybe it doesn’t always have to come as the result of long suffering. Maybe God isn’t always that harsh: “I want you to grow up, so I’m gonna throw a bunch of hardship your way …”

I’d rather think of God in the terms Jesus described him. “Who among you who, when your son asks for a loaf of bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Mt 7:9-11).

What kind of parent would say, “Ah, son, Ah daughter. You ask for a good thing, like patience, so I must torture you now”? The same goes for other things in our lives. If we ask for something that might harm us, do we think God would punish us by actually giving it to us? What kind of Father is that?

What if we take the flipside of Jesus’ saying? “If your hungry son asks for stone, won’t you give him bread instead? If he ignorantly asks for a serpent, will you give it to him? If he mistakenly asks for a scorpion, won’t you give him an egg for breakfast instead? If you, as messed up as you are, wouldn’t give something harmful or dangerous to your children even when they ask, how much more would your Father in heaven also not do such a thing?”

We gotta stop thinking of God as some kind of impersonal machine, dolling out trouble when we ask for a virtue because that’s the formula: trouble leads to patience. This God, who loves us so much he actually came down to physically walk and talk with us in the flesh, we gotta stop seeing as a ruthless, heartless Cosmic Force.

If I ask for something that might harm me, if I’m desperately praying for an answer that might actually be dangerous for me, or cause me greater pain, I’m comforted to know that my Father — a wise and loving parent — cares enough to say “No”. He has no problem saying, “you don’t need that now” or “no, that’s not good for you — you can’t have that.”

I wanna turn that Italian proverb upside down. This is the truth I embrace. “When God wishes to bless us, he doesn’t always answer our prayers.” I’m happy God sometimes says “no.”

Just something to chew on …

 

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photo credit: GWP Photography (will be away…ty!) via photopin cc