“The Gifts: His Preservation, His Direction”

The Book of Common Prayer was totally new to me when I first went to St. John’s. I had heard of it, but never heard anything from its pages, or so I thought. Having been raised and baptized in a tradition that frowned upon prewritten prayer, this was one of those things that was, I guess you’d say…questionable. It was sort of, in my mind, like the “vain repetitions” that Jesus spoke concerning and criticized.

Perhaps like me, you’ve heard that prayer is supposed to come from your heart. I’m not saying that it shouldn’t. But what if your heart is so burdened or clogged up or trampled upon…or just slowly turning to stone…that you don’t have any words to pray from your heart? When it doesn’t seem worth the energy?

This is where I was. This is why I am gradually learning the real treasures that can be found in “The Book Of Common Prayer,” and not only from there, but from other collections of prayers as well from other Christian traditions.

Today, I thought it might be good to share this prayer with you from “The Book Of Common Prayer.” It’s one that I latched onto right away and committed to memory. It’s a special form of prayer called a “Collect” and after thanking God for bringing us (not just me, but all of us) safely to a new day, it asks for two of His Gifts: His Preservation and His Direction.

Hopefully you will find this prayer meaningful and will receive new insights each time you read it as I do. So rather than giving you any of my commentary on what His Preservation and His Direction mean to me, perhaps it is best for you to listen to what God’s Spirit is saying to you as you read these prayerful words.

The graphics in this series have a real “Old School” feeling but that sort of fits. (A reader had commented positively along these lines some time ago.) Like the others in this series, I wanted it to be something that you could print and post on your refrigerator or even in your cubicle at work. (On most systems, I believe, you can select and print just the image without these other words.) I picked a chicken and a sunrise because…Well, did I ever tell you about my chickens?!?

Thanks so much, everyone!

“The Gifts: My Praise, My Thanksgiving”

This series is still being shaped in many ways “right before your eyes” based on what you are sharing with me! That’s really exciting!

You’ll notice that the main title has changed to “The Gifts,” and it looks like the graphics will be built on two frameworks.

One is “The Gifts Of God For The People Of God.” Those are words from the Eucharist or Communion celebration, and that’s what the first graphic in this series was about. This framework seeks to ask and answer the questions “What if the only thing Jesus has to give us is Himself? Would we be satisfied?” This is about relationship and seeking Jesus for who He is rather than “getting stuff” from Him.

The other is new today and is “The Gifts To God From The People Of God.” It seeks to ask and answer the questions “What if the only thing we have to give Jesus is ourselves? Would He be satisfied?” This is also about relationship and “being enough in ourselves” to please God.

I think that both of these are things that many of us may struggle with from time to time when we focus on “getting stuff” and “being enough.” I think it’s right to say that is usually the way that the world operates, but it’s not the way that God operates.

For me, so often I’ve felt like I have nothing to give God that will please Him, that in one way or another, I just wasn’t good enough. Maybe you’ve felt like that too? It really wasn’t until recently that my feelings about this have changed as I’ve rethought “Things That Are Pleasing To God.”

Here’s the turning point realization for me: My Faith may please God, but He gave it to me in the first place and Jesus is My Coach to improve My Faith.

What if we looked at Our Heavenly Father like a loving earthly parent? (Even one from an old TV show like “Family Affair” or “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father” if imagining a loving earthly parent is tough for you. Seriously, I get that. I really do.) He gives his children money to go and buy a Father’s Day gift to give to him. Even lets them use his wrapping paper, his scissors, and his tape to dress it up like a great Father’s Day gift. He even gives them the materials and some ideas for the Father’s Day card to go with it all!

What if that’s really what Our Heavenly Father does with us? Only He gives us the faith, the courage, the generosity, the love and all of the other things we have to then give back to Him? And He lets us believe they were all from us! (Because we haven’t held on to those things.) And it’s exactly what He wanted! (Because they really are.) And we are the best children ever! (Because we really are.)

Yet all the time we know He gave us the gifts to give back to Him, and Jesus served as our guide for the tough parts, and the Holy Spirit helped from start to finish! That’s like a family relationship, wouldn’t you say?!? Yes, it is! And yes, you are enough!

But I am lowly and in pain; let your salvation, O God, protect me. I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving. This will please the Lord more than an ox or a bull with horns and hoofs. Psalm 69:29-31 (NRSV)

So what about the gifts of “My Praise, My Thanksgiving”? What about “Even In Afflictions And Pain”? Just think about this. Jesus never stopped offering praise and thanksgiving, even during His most anguishing and painful moments. He is our Example. He is our Guide. We can embrace Him and say, “Jesus, please show me and help me to have praise and thanksgiving, even though right now it feels like life is crushing me.” He gets it. He’s been there.

If I could give you “Ten Easy Steps,” I would, but I can’t. I really can only give you “One Often Difficult But Not Impossible Step,” and that is “Grab Onto Jesus.” He is enough. You in Him are enough.

“A Pillar Of Cloud, A Pillar Of Fire”

This morning I read these verses and immediately thought of how they apply to my life right now, not knowing what is ahead, not really knowing which way to go. The words, to me, fit perfectly with “The Gifts Of God For The People Of God.”

The question still remains. What if the only thing Jesus has to give us is Himself? Would we be satisfied?

Here we have the Lord Himself, not as bread and wine, but cloud and fire, not as sustenance, but as guidance and comfort.

The Lord was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day, nor the pillar of fire by night, from before the people. Exodus 13:21-22 (NASB)

It was the Lord Himself, just the Lord Himself. That is all that they had. That was all that they needed.

This lesson was so important that it was repeated as the conclusion to Exodus.

Throughout all their journeys whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the sons of Israel would set out; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day when it was taken up. For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel. Exodus 40: 36-38 (NASB)

I’m asking myself, “What if my graphics and writing here are just steps towards ‘the next thing’ whatever that may be? What if the skills and experience that I’m learning now will help me journey closer to ‘the next thing’ and all of this will just gently fade away once The Pillar Of Cloud and The Pillar Of Fire are taken up and the Lord Himself revealed?”

Who would have ever imagined that this Pillar Of Cloud, this Pillar Of Fire would satisfy, guide, and comfort? And yet they do.

“What If The Only Thing…?”

I am offering my apologies for not posting yesterday. I wasn’t quite sure what words to write, and although this was something that I had wanted to post, it didn’t quite seem right to me visually. I don’t have a pile of work just waiting to be shared. When I say “Hot Off the Press!” that’s exactly what I mean! I usually do the visual part the night before and the written part the morning of posting. This may seem odd to you, but until I get a graphic looking right, I am really not sure what words to put with it. You see, I look at the graphic and feel the whole message, and then I have to find the words to fit it last of all. Yes, that really is most likely a backwards approach! I am not sure if this will become a new graphic series or not, particularly since there are seven already! Nevertheless, I will treat it like it’s own series because the core questions are just that important.

Let’s think about these two core questions. They are ones that I’ve asked before in various ways in other posts:

What if the only thing Jesus has to give us is Himself? Would we be satisfied?

This is particularly relevant for me at this time in my life because April 3rd of this year was the last day that I reported for work and April 30th was the last day for my company benefits. This was due to an outsourcing type of transition for my department. At my age (not too many years away from retirement, but still too many years away from retirement) and with my skills, there are not as many similar jobs available, and a guy does need to pay his bills and keep his church pledge commitments!

I’m still processing all of this in my mind and heart. I’m still a little “stunned” even though we all knew that this outsourcing transition was going to occur. It’s very difficult to have worked really hard, to have been told again and again, “John, you’re the best!” only to find that there is no place anywhere else in an organization for you. It makes you doubt yourself. Yet I don’t knowingly harbor any bad feelings or resentments.

In some respects, I’m just going through the motions of taking care of what needs to be addressed, putting in my applications, and all of the other expected everyday life kinds of things. I bought some baby chicks. I’m building a chicken coop for them. This is right now my way of embracing life. Now I’m back to those questions again.

What if the only thing Jesus has to give us is Himself? Would we be satisfied?

So I’m face-to-real-life-face with those questions, and I’m truly having to look at them in possibly the most serious way ever for me. What if there is no new job? No new benefits? No new career move? How does all of this work it’s way out? Every day is like a new parable, a new opportunity to help someone who needs help more than me. (I still give a few dollars to homeless guys on the street, even though that could be me one day.) Anyway, every day is like a new parable, only I’m not reading the parable, I’m part of the parable, as are we all.

Each of us is in this parable that Jesus is telling on a cosmic scale…“There once was a man who lost his job…There once was a woman who was told she had cancer…There once were two children who were born to an addict…There once was a family whose house was destroyed by a bomb….” So how will the parable unfold? Will there be a job, a cure, a recovery, a reconstruction? And what if there are none of those things? Will we trust the Teller Of Parables no matter how the parable unfolds and ends? Will He be enough?

Who would have ever imagined that this bread of heaven, this cup of salvation would satisfy? And yet they do.

In the coming days and weeks, I will be exploring some possibilities of generating income through my work here with Nickel Boy Graphics. One HUGE question is “How can I do this so that it does not interfere with the creative process, the sharing process, and the feeling of connection that I have with my Readers?” Another HUGE question is “How do I generate income from the graphic work as an artist without becoming a character in my own comic strip, ‘The Lloyd Servant Show’?” This is uncharted territory for me! Yet I must say always and forever, success or failure, “Just Jesus Himself is enough. Just Jesus Himself fully satisfies me.”