When you have nothing to give

Ashamed, I hesitate. It seems a poor gift for a King.

I offer it anyway. All of my longing, my emptiness, my helplessness.

And the Gracious One reminds me of another woman who gave him all of her nothingness, her entire poverty. He received it as a gift of everything.

For in this upside-down kingdom, it is not fullness, independence, sufficiency which the King seeks, but emptiness. Acceptance of our own inability.

“Grace fills empty spaces, but it can only enter where there is void to receive it, and it is grace itself which makes this void.” (Simone Weil)

It is grace itself which makes this void. Do you hear the wonder in this truth? Grace, who himself empties us, will never turn from us in our brokenness. He waits instead to fill us with Himself.

And so tonight, this is my prayer for you: As you continue to surrender to this hand of grace which is emptying you still further, preparing space for Himself, may you also be wakened to the deepening of His own presence within you.

Why we must sing

Into yesterday’s questions, yesterday’s glimpse of poverty and inability to praise, God speaks through a woman who has asked the same questions.

“I know there is poor and hideous suffering and I’ve seen the hungry and the guns that go to war. But I have lived pain and my life can tell: I only deepen the wound of the world when I neglect to give thanks for early light dappled through leaves and the heavy perfume of peonies in June and the song of crickets on summer humid nights and the rivers that run and the stars that rise and the rain that falls and all the good things that a good God gives.

How does it save the world to reject unabashed joy when it is Joy Who saves us? Rejecting joy to stand in solidarity with the suffering doesn’t rescue the suffering. The converse does.

The brave who focus on all things good and all things beauty and all things true, even in the small, who give thanks for it and discover joy even in the here and now, they are the change agents who bring fullest Light to the all the world.”

Ann Voscamp ~One Thousand Gifts, A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are

And so today I give thanks. I still feel the pain of yesterday’s sidewalk-dwelling fellow image-bearers. But it doesn’t stop me from praising. It makes it all the more essential that I do.

Today I celebrate the God of the impossible. The God who is able to do more than we ask or imagine. The One who stepped into the pain and felt it himself so he could exchange despair for hope.

This is the Extravagant Giver who does not stop at essentials but pours out blessing upon blessing, a whole sky-full of one lavish canvas after another, the show changing every moment for more than an hour.

And I sing because he is not oblivious to the state of the world. He weeps with the poor. But he knows that evil will not have the last word. Love will. And so he paints beauty and declares hope and shouts his love and I must too.

So I sing to this Lavish Lover who calls us to give and then gives it all back and tells us to use it to host a party with him and the poor at the center.

Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the LORD your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the LORD your God always. But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the LORD your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the LORD will choose to put his Name is so far away), then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the LORD your God will choose. Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice. And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own. (Deuteronomy 14:22-27)

I sing because nothing is too hard for him, and one day all that is wrong will be set right and there will be no more tears or sorrow or homelessness.

More of the endless gifts:

Never ending Love-paintings in the sky

Faithfulness new every morning

Hope in the darkest of places

Hearts that can hurt and heal and beat with His heartbeat

Being called to share his life

The promise that all will be made new.

holy experience

When your heart breaks for the broken

This morning I planned to write of God’s lavish generosity. Now I cannot.

I passed too many broken people on the street on my way home. Two slouched against a wall, cardboard signs proclaiming fragments of their stories. An old man sprawled near the crosswalk, useless legs angled awkwardly beneath him. A stooped grandfather paced, weeping, pleading with passersby for just a few cents. Most did not raise their eyes from the pavement, spirits and bodies broken from years of neglect and abuse.

“He defended the cause of the poor and needy . . . . Is that not what it means to know me?declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 22:16)

How different, this, from our comfortable ideas of what it means to know God.  I cry out to know God, to hear his heartbeat. Today he shows up not with warm comfort but with a summons into lives and places I fear to go. His heart, which beats rest and peace and generosity, beats for all. It beats justice and love and hope and righteous anger and it beats that this homelessness and hopelessness is not how things were meant to be. Every person should know they are special. Every one should belong.

I cannot hear the heartbeat of God unless I am willing to go where it can be heard. He walks among the desperately needy. When I refuse to follow, fearing the disclosure of my own desperate poverty, his heartbeat fades into the distance. I long to know God, to hear his heartbeat and have mine beat in time with his. . . yet still I freeze when I walk past someone sitting on the scrap of pavement they call home.

Our worlds are so far apart. I don’t know how to connect. What does it mean for me – an introvert who struggles with meeting new people no matter who they are, a person with a disability that prevents me standing for more than a few minutes, a resident of a large western city – what does it mean for me to defend the cause of the poor and needy?

I don’t know yet.

I do know that the enormity of the need is overwhelming. Thankfully, I am not asked to care for all. Hope comes through healing relationships, and I cannot befriend everyone.
God does not ask me to befriend everyone. But he does call me to see each person as one who bears his image, however tarnished it might be.  Every image bearer, whether a friend, a checkout clerk, or someone living rough, deserves certain simple courtesies: a smile, a kind response to their words, an acknowledgement of their presence. With time, maybe I can even learn to speak a gentle greeting first. And I can always whisper a prayer to the only One who can restore their health and freedom, to the only One able to heal the fear that keeps me from reaching out.
I can ask God to help me see them as he sees them, to see myself as he sees me. To help me remember how little difference there is between us.
I can refuse to shut out the pain. I can continue to listen for God’s heartbeat, allowing the longing for justice and hope to grow.  I can choose to follow the sound of his heartbeat, though I do not know where it will lead.
Today, that is all that He asks.