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Jo 23One morning recently, I found myself setting out with some reluctance to get to a speaking engagement. It was pouring rain—and on top of that, I was tired and had found it hard to get my head around what I planned to say to this particular group. Why am I doing this, I grumbled to myself, as I headed off?

From the moment a gentleman I did not know had asked me to speak, there had been some confusion about this meeting. I offered him the choice of two topics and he decided on one, but also asked me to include some material about writing our life stories. I had therefore tried hard to condense my original talk to give me time to do what he asked. But not long before the date I was to speak, I received another email from him—and somehow now, he had switched to the other topic I had suggested! Hmm. This time, I decided I would simply ‘wing it’ and condense as I went, then try to add my few final points about life stories as asked. But I did not feel gracious about it—at all. Surely God could not bring anything good out of this particular speaking engagement!

As I drove along, a verse I had read earlier that morning came to mind:

I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Psalm 16:8

I took a deep breath—it would all be fine. But just then, as I carefully negotiated a roundabout at low speed, my trusty old car began to ‘fish tale’ on the wet road. I managed to right it but felt more than a little shaken up. How apt that verse became for me in that moment! I continued on my way, speaking that verse out loud. I could do this. After all, God was with me.

And God certainly was. As soon as I arrived, people came from various directions to help me set up and meet my every need. And as I began to speak, I could sense the audience was ready to hear what I had to say. I relaxed and sailed through my input, even covering the extra points I had been asked to add. And at the end, the questions came thick and fast.

Afterwards, a good number gathered around my book table, some just to say thank you and others to buy a book or two. I had some wonderful conversations and found the whole experience so fulfilling. And to my surprise, I even received a small cheque for my efforts!

I had not wanted to go—and I had certainly not expected God to bring such blessing out of the whole event. Yet despite my negative attitude, God still graciously used me that morning. How thankful I am that God is so much greater than my feelings or circumstances—and how much I need to echo Paul’s words of praise to our wonderful God!

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

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I confess I’m a ‘glass half empty’ person. Sadly, I have to admit I focus on how much more water has to be poured into that glass before it is full rather than how much it already contains. And sadly, in the process, I suspect I miss out on much of the joy and encouragement God has for me in that moment.

An almost too clear example of this occurred this week when my husband and I celebrated our wedding anniversary—our forty-third! We decided we would head to a nearby Club for dinner. As we entered, my husband showed his membership card and was given a special ticket to put in a nearby barrel. Apparently, at 7.00pm, a name was to be drawn from this barrel and some lucky person would be given the chance to win up to two hundred dollars by spinning a small ‘chocolate wheel’.

Well, we didn’t think much about it after that. We rarely enter such competitions and of course don’t tend to win anything as a result! But as we were finishing our main course, we heard someone loudly calling out my husband’s name. Lionel made his way to the wheel, spun it—and won fifty dollars!

What a neat thing to happen on our wedding anniversary! My husband quickly pocketed the fifty dollars, commenting it would almost cover the cost of our meal, including drinks. Needless to say, I was delighted. But then … well, then that ‘glass half empty’ side of my personality kicked in with a vengeance.

‘That’s great you won fifty dollars,’ I told my poor husband, ‘but it would have been even better if we’d won the two hundred dollars—or even the hundred dollars!’

My husband looked at me a little stunned but just smiled. He was still basking in the glory of winning fifty dollars. But then, as we waited for our dessert to arrive, something—or perhaps Someone—prompted me to think about my response. Instead of rejoicing over our totally unexpected fifty dollar windfall and the fact that our meal would now cost almost nothing, I had felt peeved that we had missed out on even more money!

At that point, I felt ashamed of myself and my miserly response—but I almost laughed out loud at myself too. How crazy to spoil the joy of the moment by wishing something even better had happened!

‘Well, I think I showed tonight how much of a “glass half empty” person I am,’ I commented.

My husband agreed—a little too readily for my liking! But I couldn’t argue. After all, it was our wedding anniversary.

Since then, this whole event has caused me to reflect in general on my response to God’s gracious acts of kindness in my life—and everything else I enjoy from God’s hand on a daily basis. How often do I ignore what I have and selfishly wish for more, instead of responding with a heart full of thanks? Surely my thoughts and words need to take the same line as Paul’s do in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

How about you? Are you a ‘glass half empty’ or a ‘glass half full’ person? Do you think one honours God more than the other?

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Have you ever played Snakes and Ladders with a pre-schooler?  Perhaps you too have had the job of explaining that if you land on a square with the end of a ladder in it, then you can actually climb UP the ladder!  On the other hand, you might also remember the deflated look you received when you passed on the bad news that landing on a snake’s head means you have to slide DOWN said snake and thus lose a lot of the hard won ground you have gained!

Snakes and Ladders is definitely a game of fluctuating fortunes, so when our granddaughters first learned to play it, I was quite happy to help them along and ‘let’ them win.  Nowadays the game still has its tricky moments for my four-year-old granddaughter – sometimes it’s a challenge to work out which way she is supposed to head.  After all, is fifty really the next number after forty-nine? Yet on the other hand, she has also become quite resourceful even at her tender age and occasionally tries to employ a couple of original techniques to aid in winning.  One is to throw the die behind her back or somewhere far away and then miraculously when she picks it up to turns out to be a six!  But the other is much more ‘spiritual’ – it involves fervently praying aloud to God to give her a six!

‘Please God – I really, really need a six!  Pleeeaaase listen to me!’ she entreats in an agonised voice, with screwed up face and hands cupped plaintively around the die.

And when, as happened yesterday, she does throw a six, she lets out a sigh of relief and exclaims in a delighted voice: ‘Oh, thank you, God – you did listen to me!’

Now I thought I had better put her theology straight at this point. So I tried to explain that whether she ends up throwing a six or not, God is still listening – and that God doesn’t always give us what we think we want or need.  But I didn’t get much further than that.  For some strange reason it seemed to be going over her head – and anyway, she had lost interest, since she had won the game.

I came away from this experience with the humbling thought, however, that perhaps God was trying to say something to me through it all. At times I’m sure I treat God like a ‘Snakes and Ladders’ God, crying out for help when disaster threatens and only giving thanks when I am rescued – if even then.  Yet I don’t want to be like that – I want to live in a place of rest and peace with God, knowing that whatever happens, God is still the same loving, holy, powerful and awesome God and will be forever.  And I want to ensure that Paul’s words are true of me at every stage of my life – as I hope and pray they will in our granddaughters’ lives:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6)

How about you?  Are you into ‘spiritual’ Snakes and Ladders?

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