“This is what I shall tell my heart and so recover hope: the favors of Yahweh are not all passed, his kindnesses are not exhausted. They are renewed every morning.” Lamentations 3:21-22
“I’ll never forget the trouble, the utter lostness, the taste of ashes, the poison I’ve swallowed. I remember it all—oh, how well I remember—the feeling of hitting the bottom. But there’s one other thing I remember and remembering, I keep a grip on hope: God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! I’m sticking with God (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left.” Lamentations 3:19-24, The Message
“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.” Therefore I swore in my wrath, “They shall not enter my rest.” Psalm 95:7b-10, ESV
When I was eight years old we discovered that I was partially blind in my left eye. Naturally, it shook my entire world.
About a year later, a family friend came to preach at the church my father pastored. Because I was a snarky Pastor’s Kid, I refused to attend “Super Church” with the other kids and sat in the service while this pastor preached. Midway through his sermon he stopped and said “there is someone here with some kind of left eye problem and God wants to heal it.”
That was oddly specific and I knew that he was talking about me. My mother kept urging me to get prayer, but I didn’t want to do that in front of other people and anyway, I was pretty skeptical (as nine year olds can be). I was convinced that my parents had told him to say that. They hadn’t. My refusal of the grace that was offered to me resulted not only in my continued partial blindness, but in making this man look like a fraud.
Since embracing Christ, I have often prayed that God would indeed heal my eye. So far that prayer has gone unanswered, although the entire situation taught me a valuable lesson: when God shows up and offers you grace, you take it.
“There has never been a day like this one and there never will be another one like it to come.”
My mentor prayed those words over me a few months ago and in an instant, they captured my imagination. Of course no one day is like another, but I know that I often live like they’re disposable. Just one more day to get through until some Other Day, when the goal toward which I’m working will be achieved.
I’ve observed over the almost-nine years I’ve followed Christ, that God seems unconcerned with my timeline or my benchmarks. I want to measure my life in big events, to celebrate shows of professional strength and achievement and minimize failure. God counts the hairs on my head, records my “tossings,” and bottles my tears. This vast and omnipotent God, who “inhabits eternity” chooses to dwell with “the lowly and contrite in spirit.” God, who is the source of all life and creativity, seems to choose the mundane, the small, the weak, the vulnerable.
And as Jackie’s devotional pointed out, God works in the aggregate, of choice upon choice, recognition of grace upon grace, day after day. It seems like God does big events that punctuate time, like the resurrection, but it took 33 years from Christmas to the cross. That’s roughly 12,045 mundane days.
So it seems that God wants us to live our lives not in grand epochs, but in these 24-hour increments we take for granted. In the verses on which today’s reflection is based, we see that God offers fresh, new mercies every day. In Psalm 95 and in Hebrews, we’re told that “Today” is the day of salvation, in James, that we have no idea what will happen tomorrow.
But I tend to live in tomorrow. I have viewed the achievement and acquisition of broken things in this world as “big” and the daily “loyal love” of God as “small.” I take grace for granted every day while I’m looking for the Next Big Thing. Oh thanks that you forgive my sins, that you bottle my tears, that you love me when I’m being LIKE THAT, but it’s not enough. Hey God, could you just let me sap all the joy out of letting you surprise me each day with new mercies and grace by either giving me what I want or telling me all the things you’re doing in advance?
Because the reality is, that every day is an advent, an opportunity for God to come with new mercies.
During Passover, observers recite Psalm 118 which contains the famous verse, “this is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Reading it in light of Psalm 95/Hebrews 3 and 4, we can see a thread being pulled through scripture with each referring back to the exodus, when that generation of Israel probably saw the most awesome works of God’s hands: plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, manna from heaven, water from rocks. And yet, despite all this wonder, they didn’t believe and so could not enter the Promised Land. Through those scriptures we’re exhorted not to harden our hearts while today is still “Today” because if we do, we won’t enter God’s rest. Not because God wants to exclude us, but because how could we even recognize it?
I often think back to that moment in church. I have no doubt that God can still heal me and that his will is that I will be whole and I will one day. But I also know that I take for granted God’s grace daily–I miss out on beautiful days, because I want to stay inside and keep working, I miss out on joy when I choose to wallow in hopelessness. I missed out on healing because I hardened my heart. Today, which God has chosen to cram full of his mercies, kindnesses, loyal love, etc., may we be able to perceive and receive all that he offers and say “this is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
Do: Since it’s Advent, a helpful exercise might be to journal out the ways you have experienced grace in the past 24 hours. This could be beautiful weather, work success, the kindness of friends or strangers, reading something etc. Did you recognize it as grace?
Listen: It is Advent after all, so here are three hymns I have found to be helpful toward contemplating Christ’s coming.
Pray: “O hidden love of God, whose will it is that all created spirits should live everlastingly in pure and perfect fellowship with Thyself, grant that in my life to-day I may do nothing to defeat this Thy most gracious purpose. Let me keep in mind how Thy whole creation groans and travails, waiting for the perfect appearing of the sons of God; and let me welcome every influence of Thy Spirit upon my own that may the more speedily make for that end. When Thou dost knock at my heart’s door, let me not keep Thee standing without but welcome Thee with joy and thanksgiving. Let me harbour nothing in my heart that might embarrass Thy presence; let me keep no corner of it closed to Thine influence. Do what Thou wilt, and use me as Thou wilt, both now and in the larger life beyond; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.” (Morning Prayer, Day 13, A Diary of Private Prayer).