The Reason Behind 10,000 Reasons: In the Moment

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. ~ Psalm 19:1

Especially in this past week, but always at this time of year, I am awestruck at the beauty of trees. Green leaves attempt to hold firm against an onslaught of bright reds, soft oranges, brilliant yellows, and the deep, nearly purple, leaves. Even on cloudy days the trees stand out in their brilliance, not needing the light of the sun to show off just how beautiful they are. There have been countless times when I have thought to grab my camera in order to take a picture of just how beautiful these trees truly are. The only thing stopping me is that I know better.

Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. ~ Psalm 19:2

My mother gave me my own camera when I was eleven or twelve years old. Before the progression to digital point-push-erase picture-taking, I had to make sure that each picture counted. The scene and subjects were carefully selected. The content mattered. I submitted photographs along with drawings to our local county fair, and I began to look to capture moments at an early age.

More than two decades later, having lived all of my life in Michigan, I have not lost my fascination with the changing of leaves in autumn. I would rather be outside at this time of year than in the summer months because I simply cannot get enough of the color, the ever-changing work of a true Artist.

There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. ~ Psalm 19: 3, 4a

My sense of wonder for our seasons was renewed earlier this year when our mission group presented a slide show of Michigan-specific photographs to students in Honduras. The photographs showed children playing in leaf piles, forests ablaze in autumn colors, skiers shredding the slopes and much more. Almost every picture created an audible response from the students. One or two students began giving an audible “Wow,” and very soon the entire student body declared “Wow!” as each picture changed.

Wow, indeed.

In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun, which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. ~ Psalm 19:4b, 5

Reflect for a moment on the words of the psalmist that you have read up to this point. I assure you that the person who put those words into recorded history had no digital camera and was not posting photos for the rest of the world to “like.” No, the psalmist could only look and become so filled up with wonder that the words spilled forth in praise.

As recently as last year I took photos of the autumn colors. Every time that I look back on them, I wonder why I took the picture. The photo does it no justice. I have considered investing in a better camera, but I know it will not be the same as walking through a street or trail lined in color. Our technology today strives to make visual representations as lifelike as possible. We all know better. We know that the photo is not the same.

I am convinced that part of the fascination (and obsession) with social media is our futile attempt to capture the moment. We want to capture what we are experiencing and share it with others. It is our attempt to make our moments have value. What we have missed is that the moments have the most value when we are most present in it.

Noticing moments of gratitude and recording them is one step in the process of connecting to our Creator. Yet it is only a step. Much like committing a keyboard’s setup to muscle memory, we need the practice. I could record a moment of gratitude for the autumn colors. I can find Scripture that supports my gratitude for what I am seeing. I could take a photo of the colors and share it with others in an attempt to add the value of others to my moment. But true gratitude comes when I see the beauty, I am in awe of the mystery, and give thanks to the Creator of what I am seeing. Gratitude comes when I remain fully in the moment.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. ~ Psalm 19:14

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The Reason Behind 10,000 Reasons: Beyond Our Control

There is an obvious connection to my less-than-stellar mood over the past few months, and I need to look no farther than my own posts. I began a daily pattern of sharing my reasons for gratitude, my blessings, after reading Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts. Three years ago my youngest son had been able to list hundreds of blessings in a classroom exercise based on the same book. Listing 1,000 reasons for joy, for gratitude, shouldn’t be that hard, right?
With patience and daily observation, I made it to 1,000. What an accomplishment! Externally it was an accomplishment, but internally I noted no significant change. Where was the irrepressible joy? Where was the bubbling laughter for every day? Why had my lens not changed? Reaching this emotional and writing plateau left me unsatisfied. The next inspiration came to me while singing along to Matt Redman’s song “10,000 Reasons.” Yes, that was it! I should push the boundaries, go farther than others have, and reach for 10,000.
This time I would add a layer; I would add roots. In order for a blessing to make the list, it would have to qualify with a base that could be found in Scripture. I continued my quest and was pleased to find that so many of the blessings connected to Scripture. Then I sputtered. Then I stopped. What gives?
There were two weeks out of this year when the blessings flowed freely from my fingertips. I could see them all day and in every situation. God’s goodness was apparent. There was only one problem: I cannot afford to be out of the country all the time. When I traveled to Honduras I experienced rich blessings. I saw God’s goodness all over the people, all over my days, all over the country. When I returned to the “comforts” of home, I was strangely unsatisfied. All that I have or may hope to have was failing to help me see God’s goodness.
Why?
Because the wrong person has been in control: me. Or at least I have believed the lie that I am in control. Gratitude has never come from what we can give ourselves. You may appreciate the food on your table, but how grateful are you if you are the one who put it there? If you fix a fantastic Thanksgiving dinner, you may feel blessed, but is it the same as what you feel if someone gives the entire meal to you? How much gratitude do you experience if you expect that there will be no Thanksgiving meal but then someone blesses you beyond what you can repay? Maybe we have been wrong all along; maybe it is better to receive.
In the story of Joseph found in Genesis, Joseph had to manage the the wealth of blessings as well as the stress of famine. In managing the famine, Joseph was first able to collect all of the money the people owned. When the people ran out of money and still needed food, Joseph collected all of their livestock. Once again the food ran out, and Joseph collected all of the people’s land. They had nothing left. And even what they had, the seed they had been given, was expected to be returned to Pharaoh to the tune of 20%. What would you imagine their response to be? They have no money, they have no livestock, they have no land, and they have a 20% tax. Bitter resentment? Anger? Despair? How about gratitude? ““They said, ‘You’ve saved our lives! Master, we’re grateful and glad to be slaves to Pharaoh.'” (Genesis 47:25, MSG)
They were grateful?! They were. You see, sometimes we need to be stripped of what we think we have in order to appreciate what is really there. This is nothing new, but it can be incredibly difficult if you have lived a life that allows you to think that you have made it – you have arrived – and you have provided. Please learn the lesson voluntarily before you are forced to do so: God is in control, and God is good. When you allow yourself to believe that you have provided the good things in your life, you miss out on God’s grace. You have not earned it. You have not deserved it. But God gives anyway.
Take these two things away from this: 1) Count your blessings as those things that you have no control to provide; learn to recognize grace. 2) Give in ways that cannot be repaid. If it is true that we appreciate the blessings we cannot repay, then we ought to share that same opportunity with others. When you receive grace – and know it – you cannot help but share it with others.