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Thank You: Everyone, Everywhere, Every Day

Thank You: Everyone, Everywhere, Every Day

“Thank you so much.”

Was that my 12-year-old son who just said that? Without being told? Did he really just spontaneously say thank you to some random person who only indirectly served our family? “Thank you so much.” I’ve since caught him doing that just about everywhere. Weird, right?

Now, like most parents, I can’t tell you how many times we’ve worked with our kids over the years to say their “please and thank yous.” Sure, that matters, keep doing that. But that is less about gratitude, and more about following socially acceptable manners. Again, that can be a good thing, and there’s overlap, but it’s slightly different.

This wasn’t about manners. It wasn’t about what was expected of him. My son was genuinely thanking someone he had no social obligation to thank. He was just grateful and he wanted to express it.

How did that happen? In a culture that pushes extreme individualism, even to the point of entitlement, where did my son learn gratitude? Well, from his perfect parents, of course! Especially his dad, right? No! I struggle with entitlement and self-interest just as much as the next person, and possibly more. My default is a thankless heart. So how?

The Other Side of “Work Matters”

A couple years ago our church preached a series on how our work is the primary way we love our neighbors. We don’t just love our neighbors by bringing them soup when they’re sick, we also love them by serving them in our vocation. You love your neighbors on Monday by designing or manufacturing helpful products or offering valuable services. You love your little neighbors by serving them at home. My work loves my neighbor. That makes sense to me.

As I reflected, I remember marveling over the other side of this reality. This means someone loved me today enough to toast my bagel at Panera (and to bake it, grow and deliver all the ingredients, and even design and build the structure I sat in). People at the power company loved me enough today to keep my electricity running. The people at the car shop loved me enough to change my oil and rotate my tires, not to mention the people who built the roads to get there. Just start listing it out—all of it. That’s a lot of love!

Sure, I’m paying for those things, but that doesn’t take away the genuine benefit I receive from so many. A truly countless number of people tirelessly work every day to make my life better. 

Everyone, Everywhere, Every Day

So I decided then to add a new discipline to my life, or at least to try it out. To the best of my ability, I’m going to try to thank everyone, everywhere, every day—anyone I see serving me. 

Seriously. Why not? It costs me nothing. It takes literally zero time because I’m there anyway. It requires nothing of me but eyes to see it, a heart to appreciate it, and a mouth willing to express it. And if they’re wearing a name tag, I’m going to try to do it by name and look them in the eyes.  “So-and-so, thank you so much for serving me.”

Sounds great, right, but so much harder than I thought! Once I started trying, not only did I begin to realize how many people love me every day, but I also had to constantly fight the entitlement and pride that lives within me. Thoughts like: Well, it’s their job to serve me. Besides, I’m paying for thisI thank them with my money. Or even just being blind to it or taking for granted the innumerable amount of people serving. This can be especially true of those who work in positions our culture has little respect for.

But once you start… I remember thanking the man cleaning the men’s restroom at a Royals game. Yuck. “Thank you, so-and-so, for serving.” He stopped, returned eye contact, and with delighted surprise in his voice said, “Thanks for noticing.” It cost me nothing. It made his day. When is the last time someone thanked him? 

Once you see the difference it makes, the way it brightens someone’s day to be seen and appreciated, the way it gives dignity to their work no matter what they do, and the way it increases your own sense of gratitude and joy, it’s pretty hard now not to do it.

Besides, the Bible not only commands gratitude, the gospel motivates us, and the Holy Spirit enables us to have truly thankful hearts. Look at 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” In ALL circumstances. For this is God’s will for ME. For YOU.

So I thank the person holding the door, the person sweeping the floor, the TSA agent violating my personal space (yes, even there). I thank the restaurant server, UPS driver, mechanic, and truly just about everyone I can. I wave to construction workers, garbage truck drivers, post office carriers, and police officers.

Now, please don’t miss this. I am not patting myself on the back. I still struggle with being an ungrateful, entitled, self-centered piece of work. Even years after I started doing this, I still forget or get lazy, lose my nerve, or just don’t notice. I’m a mess, people. I don’t do this nearly as much as I wish I did.

See How Much You Are Served

Yet we talk a lot about gratitude, don’t we? We know it’s good for us. We know it makes our lives better. We know it breaks the cycle of entitlement and selfishness. We all want more of it, don’t we? In so many ways, it begins by simply seeing the many people who serve you, and therefore love you, every day. Do you see them?

There are the obvious ones—grocery clerks, baristas, teachers—start there, with the people you inevitably interact with. Then begin to look wider. Who keeps this place clean, safe, efficient—janitors, door greeters, security guards, store managers. If you see them, thank them. 

And although it’s much harder to thank the ones you don’t see, even just acknowledging them makes me more grateful. For example, I just made myself a life-saving cup of coffee. It was amazing. Farmers grew those beans for me in Costa Rica. For me. Someone harvested them, someone roasted them, someone packaged them, and someone thought to import them. For me. They put them on a boat, then a train, then a semi (and someone built the boats, trains, semis, and roads, by the way). For me.

They ended up in a store that required engineers, architects, and construction workers just to build it (not to mention where all the materials came from), executives and managers to run it, and clerks, shelf-stockers, and janitors to maintain it. Then, of course, there are the people who keep our water clean and make sure it gets to my home, who give me power to heat it up, and who designed the coffee pot. Somebody even made me a nice mug to drink out of. For me.

How many people served me so that I could have that cup of coffee? That’s a lot of love! Do you have eyes to see it?

Say Thank You All the Time

So thank them. At least the ones you can, whenever you can, as often as you can, for your sake and theirs. Not because you have to in order to obey social norms, but because you are truly grateful for the love you receive from so many. Say thank you.

Imagine if we all made this simple goal—to thank everyone you see serving you (directly or indirectly) every time you see them serving you. By name, if at all possible. It’s such a small thing, but imagine what that would do, the dignity it would give, the hearts inside us that would grow, and the joy that would be shared.

It won’t cost you a dime. It requires nothing but eyes to see it, a heart to appreciate it, and a mouth willing to express it. Try it for a week and just see what happens.

I can tell you for me, this discipline of saying thank you is changing my life. Sure, I’ve got a long way to go, but it’s actually made me more grateful, more aware, and more sensitive to the world around me. I see people differently. I empathize more with those who work jobs society has little respect for. In return, I receive greater joy and purpose, and even greater delight in my own work (the way I love and serve my neighbors), even in the thankless parts. I feel their love, and I delight to give love in return.

Apparently my kids have noticed. I never meant to teach this to them. It was just a habit I wanted to try for a while, and for their sake and mine, I’m so grateful I did.

Colossians 3:15–17 says: 

“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Under His Wings

Under His Wings

Our family enjoys watching nature shows. Imagine you’re watching a mother bird in her nest with her babies. I picture the nest on the ground, with tall grass all around it, and the babies scurrying every which way. The chicks are completely dependent on their mother for food and protection. Their very survival is dependent on her.

Now picture a hungry lion creeping through the tall grass. He is hungry, powerful, ready to eat, and he’s headed directly toward this mother bird and her babies. Who do you think is going to win? The mom might be able to fly away, but those babies are going to be delicious.

 

What lions are you facing?

Sometimes I feel a bit like those babies, with hungry lions prowling all around me. Lately I’ve been waking up at 2:00 AM, with the opening lines of of Wendall Berry’s The Peace of Wild Things rattling in my imagination:

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be….

Those words get me every time, and it almost feels as if the lions are ready to pounce. What chance does a little bird like me possibly have?

 

Lions vs. Birds: what would the psalmist say?

If you were to ask the psalmist that question, you might find a different answer. There’s a handful of psalms that describe God’s people finding refuge in God, as a baby bird finds refuge under its mother’s wings (Psalm 17, 36, 57, 61, 63, 91). Of those six psalms, three of them (17, 57, 91) all contrast a lion attacking the psalmist and a mother bird protecting him. Psalm 91 includes a cobra and serpent joining with the lions and in Psalm 63, it is the jackals who are attacking us.

In each place, the contrast is similar. The baby birds stand no chance on their own, yet they are safe under their mother’s wings. The psalmist is up against excessively powerful enemies, is completely outmatched, but they are unable to touch him.

In Psalm 57, the literal enemy is the powerful and vindictive King Saul. David is hiding in a cave, and he writes these words:

 

Be gracious to me, God, be gracious to me,
for I take refuge in you.
I will seek refuge in the shadow of your wings
until danger passes.
I call to God Most High,
to God who fulfills his purpose for me.
He reaches down from heaven and saves me,
challenging the one who tramples me.
God sends his faithful love and truth. 

It’s such a picture of trust, but then, David describes his enemies. As you read his words, imagine the lions in your own life:

I am surrounded by lions;
I lie down among devouring lions—
people whose teeth are spears and arrows,
whose tongues are sharp swords.
God, be exalted above the heavens;
let your glory be over the whole earth.
They prepared a net for my steps;
I was despondent.
They dug a pit ahead of me,
but they fell into it! 

David is being trampled. He’s surrounded. Even their tongues are like deadly weapons. He’s despondent. It’s a bad place, and I know some of us have been there. When despair for the world grows in me…in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be… .Yet even so, David builds to praise:

My heart is confident, God, my heart is confident.
I will sing; I will sing praises.
Wake up, my soul!
Wake up, harp and lyre!
I will wake up the dawn.
I will praise you, Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to you among the nations.
For your faithful love is as high as the heavens;
your faithfulness reaches the clouds.
God, be exalted above the heavens;
let your glory be over the whole earth. 

 

Good for David—but what about me?

Read that first verse again, slowly: Be gracious to me, God, be gracious to me, for I take refuge in you. I will seek refuge in the shadow of your wings until danger passes. 

I’ve always been a pretty independent person. It’s difficult for me to ask for help or admit that I need something. I want to fix my own problems and keep myself safe. At the same time, When despair for the world grows in me…I recognize how much I need his wings.

When I imagine what God is inviting me into, I want it. Take just a minute to look closely at these pictures.

 

 

Don’t just glance at them, think about what you see; think about how it makes you feel. Imagine yourself as the baby bird and our good God as the mother hen. Don’t rush this.

This is our home as God’s people—always safe, hidden under his wings. It looks pretty good, doesn’t it? That’s where I want to live. So how do we do it? What does it look like to live under God’s wings? Let me suggest three things to remember.

 

The storms and the lions

First, we have to remember, the storms will still come and the lions will still attack. This isn’t protection from the storms. It’s protection through the storms. David still feels trampled, and in each of these psalms, the threat is very real and very scary.

None of us knows what the future holds, and the lions are out there. There are nights I will still wake up at 2 AM. Where does worry tend to creep into your life? What are some of the scary things you’re anticipating? Close your eyes and picture those things for a moment. Now look again at these pictures and remind yourself, as one of God’s people, this is where we live—under his wings.

 

Our Mother Hen

Second, our Mother Hen will be with us through it all. While God most often refers to himself as our Father, I love that he also compares himself to a mom. I grew up with a good relationship with both my parents, but when I was hurt or afraid or sick, who did I call out for? My mom. God offers us the same gentle, nurturing presence.

Curt Thompson, in his book, The Deepest Place: Suffering and the Formation of Hope, makes the case that our brains can handle a great deal of suffering…as long as we know we don’t have to do it alone. And we are never alone! Not only do we have each other, we have our Mother Hen—our good and gracious God—always with us.

But we forget, don’t we? This is a major reason why we need the daily spiritual disciplines of solitude, prayer, and Bible reading. Perhaps when you engage in those disciplines, begin by taking just thirty seconds to imagine God holding you close, like a mother hen with her chicks. And the next time you rush toward worry or self-defense or self-protection, do the same. Let Jesus gather you under his wings.

 

Gratitude and praise

Third, let this confidence lead to gratitude and praise. Confidence shouldn’t lead us to arrogance or triumphalism, or even a further bitterness toward the lions. Rather, like the psalmist, let it lead to gratitude and praise. As you thank God and praise him for always being with you, reflect on this old hymn by William Cushing.

 

Under His Wings

Under His wings I am safely abiding;
Though the night deepens and tempests are wild,
Still I can trust Him–I know He will keep me,
He has redeemed me and I am His child.

Under His wings, what a refuge in sorrow!
How the heart yearningly turns to His rest!
Often when earth has no balm for my healing,
There I find comfort, and there I am blessed.


Under His wings, oh, what precious enjoyment!
There will I hide till life’s trials are o’er;
Sheltered, protected, no evil can harm me,
Resting in Je­sus, I’m safe ev­er­more.

Refrain:

Under His wings, under His wings,
Who from His love can sever?
Under His wings my soul shall abide,
Safely abide forever.

What Stephen King Has Taught Me About the Real World

What Stephen King Has Taught Me About the Real World

It was 2015. I was on a camping trip with my family, lying in a tent in the mountains of Colorado. It was dark, everyone else was fast asleep, and if you’ve ever slept in a tent in the woods, you know how loud the nature noises can be. It was already the kind of night ghost stories are made of. It also happened to be the night I was reading my very first Stephen King book. I started with a doozy, The Shining, which takes place in a haunted, isolated place in the mountains of Colorado. Yikes.

I’d always avoided Stephen King, mostly because I don’t much enjoy being afraid. Now here I was, shivering in a dark tent, wind rattling the sides, feeling very much exposed. I’m sure it was just the cool mountain air that caused my goosebumps. Nope. I was scared. And I have been on a quest to read everything by him ever since. 

Now here is the disclaimer. Stephen King is NOT for everyone. I’ve convinced my wife, at least one campus pastor, and a few select friends to read some of his books, but this is not an apologetic to start reading him. Some of his books are truly terrifying, and the content isn’t always PG. Or even PG-13. A few of them are downright rough.

Even so, I have become a fan, and not just for the entertainment. Stephen King has expanded my imagination and taught me several important lessons about the real world. I might even go so far as to say that his writing has increased my capacity for faith, but if I did, you might accuse me of pushing it (although I really think it has).

As of now, I’ve read thirty-three of his books, and if that sounds like a lot, he’s written more than eighty since his debut with Carrie, in 1974. While some of them are absolutely terrifying, I’ve been surprised by the diversity within his writing style. People often assume it’s all horror but in my experience, most of them are just suspenseful mysteries. He’s also written some good dramas (Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption), a little fantasy (The Eyes of the Dragon), and at least one that reads like historical science fiction, if that’s even a real category (11/22/63).

He’s super funny, unbelievably creative, and has a surprisingly good window into the human experience. I’d be hard pressed to tell you my favorite, but my top five so far are: The Shining, Misery, It, The Green Mile, and 11/22/63. Oh, and definitely Shawshank. And maybe Dolores Claiborne. Did I forget The Stand? I could keep going, but I’ll stop there.

If there is any living celebrity I could have over for dinner, Stephen King would be very high on the list (his memoir, On Writing, makes him seem surprisingly normal). I’d love to talk with him about what he actually believes about the universe. He clearly has a decent grasp of the Bible and the Christian faith, and it sure seems like he has a profound belief in the supernatural. But what does he actually believe?

I can’t answer that, but I can tell you that Stephen King has taught me more about the real world than I ever expected, and it is these things that keep me coming back.

 

There is more to life than what I can see

First, his writing has reinforced my belief that there is more to life than what I can see. To me, this has been one of his greatest gifts. Now, I’m a Christian, so of course I believe in the supernatural. But I’m also a 21st century Westerner, and according to philosopher Charles Taylor, I live with what he refers to as the “immanent frame.” Like most of us, Christian or not, I live much of my life believing only in what I can see.

Sure, I believe in God. I pray and I expect him to respond. I also believe in supernatural evil actively seeking to destroy everything good. This is what Christians are supposed to believe, right? But it is so hard to maintain that faith when we humans arrogantly and regularly assume that we can find a rational explanation for everything.

Not when I read Stephen King. His writing makes the supernatural plausible. He allows for mystery and tension that defies explanation; that there are things in this world that can’t be explained, that maybe shouldn’t be explained. That there isn’t a formula or lab or a logical argument to answer every question. And that we humans don’t actually know everything.

The Bible also doesn’t answer my every question. The gospel of Jesus contains tension and mystery and things I cannot explain. I don’t have to see in order to believe. I don’t have to fully understand in order to trust. Stephen King expands my capacity to be ok with that.

After all, it says in Hebrews 11:1, Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (NIV) I know his books are fiction (Right?). They’re even outlandish sometimes. Yet they make faith somehow just a tiny bit more plausible. He’s helped me see that maybe, just maybe, there is more to the universe than the things I can see. 

 

There is real evil in our world

Second, he’s made it easier to believe in serious, objective, evil. There is real evil in our world. I think we know that simply by turning on the news, and our Christian faith confirms it, and even offers some explanation for it. But Stephen King helps me feel it, helps me hate it, and even shows me my own propensity for it. 

Nobody can create a villain quite like he can, and as Christians, we believe there is true supernatural evil seeking to destroy us. Peter reminds us: Be sober-minded, be alert. Your adversary the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour (1 Peter 5:8). The devil is real. Demons, darkness, and hell are as real as the chair I’m sitting in, but so hard for most of us to believe in. 

Yet ever since reading It, I can’t even look at a sewer grate the same way, and while I don’t believe in Pennywise, I do believe in a cosmic enemy who is even more evil. Seriously. Even more evil than Pennywise! There are few villains I’ve ever hated more (or feared more) than the ones Stephen King has created, and it has reminded me to have an appropriate fear and hatred of the real supernatural evil in our world. The devil is non-fiction.

But it’s not just supernatural evil. There is real evil alive within each of us. It’s not just Pennywise I’m afraid of, it’s also Nurse Annie in Misery. It’s the evil that lives within the human heart (including mine) that’s also scary. Stephen King understands this, having battled his own demons of drug and alcohol addiction. He understands physical pain, after having been hit (and almost killed) by a fast moving van. Evil isn’t fiction, you shouldn’t trifle with it, and Stephen King has expanded my imagination for our need for rescue. We all long for a hero.

 

Good will ultimately triumph

Which leads to the last thing I’ve learned about the real world from Stephen King. Good will ultimately triumph. No matter how bad the story, no matter how harsh the evil, there is goodness in our world that seeks to overcome it. There is good that resists the evil, and sometimes even a hero who will help overcome it. 

Ultimately, I believe that hero is Jesus. He is the Promised One of Genesis 3 who will crush the head of the serpent under his feet. He is the Victor of 1 Corinthians 15 who had defeated the ultimate enemies of sin and death. He is the One we long for, and he is coming back to make this world right (just read Revelation 19:11-16!).

I don’t know what Stephen King believes. I don’t know what he thinks about Jesus. But I’m grateful for the unexpected ways he has strengthened my belief and my hope and my longing for Jesus.

Yes, there is more to this world than we can see, and some of that is remarkably scary, but the end of our story is good. Evil around us and within us will one day be defeated and even be eradicated, through the work that Jesus has done for us. While it might sound silly, I praise God that at least for me, Stephen King has made all of that just a tiny bit more believable.

Five Habits of Lifelong Relationships

Five Habits of Lifelong Relationships

By Nathan & Kelly Miller

Kelly and I recently celebrated 21 years of marriage, and while she and I have always shared a pretty amazing relationship, it’s not been easy, nor has it been without disappointments, hurts, misunderstandings, and a whole lot of hard work. In fact, these past three or four years have been the hardest. Parenting has gotten more complicated, life has been more stressful, time has been more fleeting. And this whole “midlife” thing is just weird.

We’ve learned more about ourselves and each other in the past couple of years than perhaps all the previous years combined. We’ve also cried more, had to listen more, apologized (and forgiven) more, and been stretched more. Simultaneously, we would both say without any hesitation, that we also love each other (and even like each other) more than ever before.

Recently we were asked by our Re Engage marriage class at the Olathe Campus to share a few of the things that have been most important to us in maintaining a joy-filled relationship. While I’m sure there’s a lot that could be said, and we are definitely not experts here, we wanted to share five habits that help us. 

If you’re not married, we’ve written this with you in mind as well, and we hope you’ll keep reading. Each of these habits can easily be translated for just about any relationship you believe is worth nurturing for the long haul.

 

Habit #1: Stay curious

Stay curious about yourself and stay curious about the people you love. Start with yourself. Never stop learning about and working on yourself. It’s so easy to focus on the other person’s shortcomings, and overlook the fact that I am also a bit of a mess. At the start of COVID, for example, Kelly and I grew increasingly interested in attachment theory, family systems, and how deeply our upbringing shapes our present and future realities. We pursued a variety of podcasts, books, and other resources (check out a few recommendations below).

As we’ve learned more about our own motivations, areas of woundedness, or unmet desires, this has given us new language with one another, greater compassion for each other, and a deeper desire and ability to love one another. We’ve discovered that many of the challenges in our relationship actually started long before we even knew each other. This doesn’t pass the blame (well, maybe a little bit), but rather gives us the ability to truly see ourselves and see each other. We have a newfound ability to see our own shortcomings, so that we can work on ourselves for the good of ourselves and each other.

Start with yourself, but don’t stop there. Never stop being curious about this person you love. For example, I love learning about Kelly, and I feel like I have learned so much about her in the past few years. As she learns about herself, I get to learn more about her, and then I get to meet her in those places of mutual discovery. Always be a student of the people you love, never stop pursuing deeper understanding of who they truly are, and then, knowing better who they are, find new and fresh ways to love them all the more. Stay curious.

 

Habit #2: Make time

Of course, staying curious takes time. So take the time! Sadly, this is an area that in different seasons, we’ve been a bit sloppy. When either of us feels a bit distant or we’re going through a rocky patch, one of the first questions we ask is, “Are we making enough time for each other?”

This is so obvious and still, we can be so bad at it. One of the dominant factors in any great relationship is time. Sometimes you need time just to plan your week or talk about the kids. You also need time to ask probing questions and to listen well. Those conversations cannot be hurried. For us, one of our best habits for this is taking walks together. It’s so much easier to have some conversations side-by-side rather than eye-to-eye. We also love sitting together at a winery, a restaurant, or on our deck.

We also make time for fun together. Whether it’s going on a hike, having a picnic, going out to dinner or the theater, visiting a national park (or whatever you might consider fun), those experiences together make the relationship more enjoyable. When was the last time you played with the people you love? Those moments of laughter and silliness or shared activity can bring such a bond of intimacy. Make time.

 

Habit #3: Apologize first

As you spend all this time learning about yourself and each other, it’s inevitable that you’re also going to hurt each other. This leads to Habit #3: apologize first. 

I can remember early on in our marriage, both of us feeling hurt and upset by each other, and then just sitting silently waiting for the other person to apologize. Waiting…still waiting… why doesn’t she??? Why doesn’t he??? While we just get a little angrier and a little angrier and a little angrier.

At some point, we were both done just sitting there! I don’t remember what prompted this, but it was in one of those waiting moments in awkward silence that I just made a decision. What if I make it a goal to always be the one to apologize first? No matter what, no matter how much I’m hurting, knowing that I’ve got my own messes and shortcomings, what if I always try to apologize first?

Now thankfully, Kelly joined me in this goal, so we both end up apologizing first from time to time. This responsibility should never land on just one person. But let us tell you, this has been a game changer for us. 

We’ve learned (and are continuing to learn) that our relationship’s health is more important than being right or justifying our actions (this should be obvious, but doesn’t always feel obvious).  How fast can we apologize—truly apologize without excuses or manipulation—and how quickly can we offer forgiveness to one another? What would this posture do to your most important relationships? Apologize first.

 

Habit #4: Pray together

We also recognize wholeheartedly that we cannot possibly do any of this on our own, and perhaps the very first habit we ever embraced as a couple was Habit #4: pray together. From our very first night together to last night, every evening before bed we take roughly 60 seconds to remind ourselves and each other that we cannot do any of this without God’s help. 

We take turns. One night Kelly prays. The next night I pray. And, yes, I have fallen asleep more than once while Kelly is praying. We don’t say anything particularly profound, and we don’t think anything particularly magical happens, but the habit itself is so profound. 

Not only does this make it hard to go to bed angry or even distant from each other, it gives us an opportunity to vocalize in front of each other our need for God. That humbles us, and just about any relationship needs humbling from time to time. At this point, we’ve done this more than 7500 times and there is no doubt in our minds that this is one of the reasons our relationship is so strong. 

If you’re not married, find a friend that you can pray with regularly. I know it may seem awkward at first, but it will feel more normal the more you do it. I started praying regularly with my friend Toph even before I met Kelly. We prayed together weekly throughout college and monthly for the past 21 years— 25 years in total. Not only has that provided a rich dimension to our relationship, I think it’s one of the reasons our friendship has withstood the test of time, distance, and a whole variety of different life-circumstances. Finding someone—anyone—to pray with regularly is truly a beautiful gift. Pray together.

 

Habit #5: Never stop cherishing

This last one is really just a bit of a “catch-all,” but we’re pretty convinced that the most important vow any of us make at a wedding is to cherish. If you truly cherish each other, all the other vows should fall right into place. Whether you’re single or married, it’s easy to take for granted the people you value most, but that’s so perilous to any relationship. Never stop cherishing.

I recently realized that I wasn’t doing a great job at this one. Over time it’s so easy to grow comfortable with one another and then to slowly take each other for granted. You stop saying thank you as much, you stop pursuing each other, and you can so easily begin to devalue one another.

Both of us have just recently redoubled our efforts to cherish more. It’s actually been fun to restart this quest together, even after all these years, to ask each other: what makes you feel cherished? What makes you feel wanted and loved? And then try to meet each other in these places for our own mutual joy. 

Again, this applies to all relationships, not just marriage. Ask difficult questions of your loved ones: how can I be a better friend? What would make you feel seen and known and wanted? Then actually take steps to show you care about each other. Never stop cherishing.

 

Jesus, too.

As we’ve gotten better at this relationship thing, it’s also been so helpful to remind ourselves and each other that every human relationship is ultimately meant to point us to the relationship Jesus wants with each of us. For our God pursues and cherishes and has time for each one of us. He loves us, and the very best of our human relationships is only a blurry snapshot of his delight in you. 

We’re 21 years into this, and while we don’t know what the next 21 will hold, we’re excited and we’re confident that as we continue to press into these habits together, and as we continue to receive and prioritize the love our Father has for us, even in the hard times, we can flourish. For the beautiful thing is that the more we receive God’s love, the more we are enabled and empowered to love each other, and when we do, there is incredible delight.

Resources

Anatomy of the Soul by Curt Thompson (and anything else by Curt Thompson)

The Place We Find Ourselves podcast by Adam Young

The Meaning of Marriage by Tim & Kathy Keller

The Great Sex Rescue by Sheila Wray Gregoire, Rebecca Gregoire Lindenbach, and Joanna Sawatsky

 

God’s Face Is Toward You

God’s Face Is Toward You

When my kids were little, one of the best parts of my life was when I’d walk in the door at the end of a long day. They’d run to me, squeeze my legs, squeal with delight, beg me for piggyback rides, the “dragon game,” or other ridiculous forms of roughhouse. Their faces could practically light up the entire room at the very sight of me. I was a hero, a celebrity, the most loved human on the planet and the source of one of their greatest delights. It felt pretty good. 

I have teenagers now. Needless to say, I’m not even sure they notice when I get home (or that I ever left). While I choose to believe they’re still glad to see me (after all, according to Hebrews 11, faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen…), I do miss those little faces lighting up like that at my very presence. You know the feeling, right?

 

A face that is glad to see you

Does anything feel better than seeing another human light up when they see you? You show up at a friend’s house that you haven’t seen in years. You return home from a long and tiring business trip and your spouse greets you at the door. You arrive home after your first semester in college. Your grandkids finally pull up after a long road trip. Even as I write this, I can literally feel my face lighting up just at the very thought of these situations.

We also feel this in the small and subtle things. When you walk into church and you can just tell the people you see are glad to see you. Their faces light up, which makes your face light up, which makes their faces light up even more, which makes your face…. It feels good, doesn’t it?

We now know that there is brain science to back this up. Jim Wilder and Michel Hendricks, in their brilliant little book, The Other Half of Church: Christian Community, Brain Science, and Overcoming Spiritual Stagnation, write:

Our brains desire joy more than any other thing. As we go through our day, our right brains are scanning our surroundings, looking for people who are happy to be with us.

God designed facial recognition circuitry into our brains and linked it to our joy center. My wife’s face lights up when she sees me, and this initiates a joyful chain reaction in my brain that I can feel in my body. Brain science reveals that this joy sensation is crucial for emotional and relational development. Our brain looks specifically to the face of another person to find joy, and this fills up our emotional gas tank. The face is key.

They summarize joy in three points. 1) Joy is primarily transmitted through the face (especially the eyes) and secondarily through voice. 2) Joy is relational. It is what we feel when we are with someone who is happy to be with us. Joy does not exist outside of relationship. 3) Joy is important to God and to us.

Of course, I didn’t need to quote these experts for us to know this to be true, nor do we need science’s confirmation for the things we already believe so deeply. We feel this deep in our bones! We know, even in our own bodies, that this is true.

It shouldn’t surprise us then that God has also known this to be true, for this is how he made us. Long before any of these scientific studies were even imagined, God imagined humans, and he made us to light up at the faces of one another. He made us for joy—joy with him and joy with each other. 

 

“The Lord make his face shine on you”

It even comes out in the “original” benediction or blessing in the Bible. It’s the oldest we have and it has long been my personal favorite of all the benedictions we give at church. In seminary, our pastor used to sing it over the congregation at the end of the service. We say it over every child in our dedication services, I try to work it into every one of my weddings, and I love using it on Christmas Eve and the start of every new year. It’s also become one of my favorite songs we sing from Elevation Worship, The Blessing.

Thousands of years before we knew anything about brain science or interpersonal neurobiology, God knew, and our brilliant Creator God gave us this benediction. I memorized it first in the NIV, Numbers 6:22-26: 

 The Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:

 “The Lord bless you

    and keep you;

 the Lord make his face shine on you

    and be gracious to you;

 the Lord turn his face toward you

    and give you peace.”

 

The original blessing, the blessing God commanded, perhaps the highest blessing we can receive, is that God’s face would light up when he sees us. That he would continually turn his face toward us. For this is the ultimate blessing, the ultimate protection, the ultimate act of grace, and the greatest source of peace. If you want real joy, here is where it is found—seeing God’s face light up when you walk in the room. Knowing that God is glad to be with you.

Reflecting on this passage, Wilder and Hendricks write: 

God designed our brains for joy, and He wants us to live in the glow of His delight. This blessing expresses a joy that can be paraphrased, ‘May you feel the joy of God’s face shining on you because He is happy to be with you.’

 

How can God possibly be glad to see me?

However, if I’m honest, I often wonder, does God’s face really light up when he sees me? He knows me. All of me. He knows the ways I tried to run from him in high school. He knows the mistakes I made in college. He knows my failures as a husband, as a father, as a son, as a brother, as a friend, as a pastor, as a colleague, as a boss, as an employee, as a neighbor, as a citizen, as a human. So many mistakes, so much sin. Every one of my faults is in his face, even the failures I’ve been unable to admit to myself. He sees.

You can’t hide anything from God’s face. And I imagine that disappointed look, like the one your mom or dad used to make. Or worse, I imagine him turning away from me, and walking out on me. If YOU really knew me, dear reader, YOU would turn your face from me and walk out on me. Each of us has felt this happen way too many times. Nothing destroys our joy quite like this.

And yet….

The good news of what Jesus has done for us means our God will never do that to any of his children. No matter what. Ever. You see, Jesus already died the death we deserve, and when he was forsaken on the cross, the Father did turn his face away. That is what we deserve, but Jesus experienced that for us, so that we never will.

Jesus also lived the life we could never live—perfect, holy, righteous, just. He took our shame and gave us his goodness, so that when the Father looks at us, he sees all the good that Jesus is. All of his beauty and righteousness and love. We are given credit for that.

This means, if you are one of God’s children through faith in Jesus, his face is always toward you. It’s always shining when he sees you. For our God is always glad to see you. Do you believe that?

Like lovers who have been separated for months. Like a parent who hasn’t seen their child for a whole semester. Like your grandkids when they finally show up for a long awaited visit. Like your closest college friends at an unexpected reunion. That’s how God feels EVERYTIME he sees you. And he always sees you! His face is always toward you. Can you see his eyes lighting up?

Now I realize this is hard to believe. The gospel of Jesus usually is hard to believe. So how do we actually experience this? I want to feel this—how can we? Let me quickly and inadequately suggest two things.

 

Turn your face toward him

First, if you want to experience the joy of God’s face toward you, you have to turn your face toward him. It’s mutual. He also wants to see your face light up when you see him! Like any relationship, the joy is best experienced by prioritizing time for that person, and mutually enjoying one another.

When you open your Bible, when you carve out time for prayer, when you quiet your life enough to listen for him, when you show up to church each Sunday, when you sing songs of praise to him, when you go on a walk alone in the woods. These are the spaces we are most likely and most often to experience his face and his joy, and he experiences it from us, too. If we want joy, we have to make these things a priority. Like the old hymn says:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus

Look full in his wonderful face

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of his glory and grace

 

Turn your face toward others

Second, if you want to experience the joy of God’s face toward you, you have to turn your face toward others. So often our experience of God’s love comes through the love we feel to and from others. When you show up at church or your community group or Bible study, does your face light up from the people you see? As yours lights up, theirs will too, and you’ll get a taste of the joy of God’s face. If we want joy, we have to make each other a priority.

As we do these things, with faith in Jesus as our deep hope, we’ll experience joy, and we will live out the fulfillment of the greatest benediction. 

Let these words again wash over you—not simply as a wish, but as a truth that is fully yours in Jesus Christ. Read them this time from another translation:

“May the Lord bless you and protect you;

 may the Lord make his face shine on you

and be gracious to you;

 may the Lord look with favor on you

and give you peace.”’  Numbers 6:22-26 CSB

These words have already come true for all who believe. Amen and Amen!