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More Than a Song

Flash back to the 1970s. I’m standing with my childhood friends at the front of the church. I’m nervous and excited with toes cramped into those shiny black Sunday shoes. There on the edge of the sanctuary stairs, our children’s choir sings the words from Nehemiah 8:10 about the joy of the Lord being our strength — but praise didn’t begin then. Praise predates the Free Methodist Church, McDonald’s and even the hymnal.

The pages of history show God interacting with and revealing Himself to ancient Bible characters like Moses, Mary, Miriam and David. What is their response to God’s revelation? It’s praise!

Through the centuries, praise rises from catacombs of the early persecuted church to the cathedrals and the birthplace of modern religion. Today people of every nationality, tongue and class continue lifting praise to God’s heart — from members of the persecuted church, who may mouth the words only (lest they be heard), to star-studded concerts with thousands of cheering fans, smoke machines, light shows and sub-woofers — praise rises.

Yet, it’s more than this.

Praise Is a Weapon of Warfare

An entry in my “First Years Journal” tells me I first made a confession of Christ at age 3. But until life falls apart, we may not realize how faith works. Times of trial help head knowledge become heart knowledge.

Four years into marriage, my husband Jeff loses his 13-year career position as a health-care computer programmer. We mail countless résumé packets. Trips to the empty mailbox deepen our hopelessness. Despair hangs thick in the atmosphere of our lives.

Jeff sits motionless in a chair. A loud silence hangs over him. I see depression stealing the fire from his eyes. In its place shadows lurk. In my mind’s eye, I see him as I knew him before. He’s throwing himself into a constant pursuit of life, enjoying recreational logic, playing every sport or game he can. Now he just sits.

As I watch him. I think of that meal I made, when I was trying to cheer him up with his favorite food. I see the dark circles under his eyes, the ashen color of his face. His words echo in my mind: “I just want to die.”

Those words trigger an alarm from somewhere inside me. I take Jeff’s hand, feeling the weight of his athletic frame working against my efforts.

“What are you doing?”

“We have to fight!”

“Huh?” Jeff looks at me puzzled and a little miffed.

Finally, he lets me pull him up.

We stumble to the furnace room, the place which, through our toughest years, we refer to as the “prayer room.”

I rearrange the pillows on the ground and shut the door.

“Now let’s get on our knees and praise God.”

Jeff looks at me as though I am crazy.

“This is what I do when I feel like I’m about to lose my grip. We have to do this. We have to fight!”

I reach for Jeff’s hand. He interlaces his fingers in mine. We lift our clasped hands upward, aligning our physical posture with our desperate need for God.

“Lord, we praise you. We praise you even though we don’t feel it. Honestly, it’s the last thing we want to do. But we choose to praise you. Help us God! Show us, Lord, the discipline of Paul and Silas. If they could do this in a real-life prison, we can praise you right here in the midst of our circumstances” (Act 16:16-40).

Jeff and I continue holding hands as we hear the furnace cycle. He rests his head on my shoulder as we keep our praise vigil — “God You are all-powerful. You are our Creator. You are our Rock. You know us. You know the number of hairs on our heads. You understand us. You love us. We feel letdown, yet we are your children. Nothing can separate us from your love—not trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, or danger” (Romans 8:35-39).

We continue, “God you own everything. You know everything. You have all power to do anything, to change every situation, to transform any life. You healed the sick of their diseases. You spoke to the storm and made it quiet. Your timing is perfect. We know You will cause all things to work together for our good, and You use the fire of tribulation to refine our character. We long to be all You desire. We lay our lives down at Your feet. We know You see us, and hear us, and that You care.”

As we praise God in that furnace room, or should I say, the prayer room, it happens, like it has so many times before. God honors our act of faith we call praise. Our focus shifts our hearts away from circumstances and toward God. It tells our fear who God is. It quenches doubts which threaten to uproot everything we believe about God.

I love the real-life account found in 2 Chronicles 20. King Jehoshaphat’s army goes out to battle. I imagine these warriors marching to the battle lines, clenching their teeth, gritting their gizzards to fight the enemy or die trying. They grasp spears and javelins; they’re girded in body armor. But instead of fighting physically, God instructs them to sing praises. I can imagine the looks of astonishment on their faces and the dropped jaws as they adjust their tactics. God sees their act of faith and wipes out the enemy!Praising God is still as powerful a weapon today.

Praise is a Practice You Work at

I’m a singer. Through the years, I’ve sung in churches and auditoriums, touring across parts of Europe, Canada and America. Now I mostly sing in my local church, helping as a worship leader. It takes preparation — practicing the timing, the intros and outros, the vocal technique and the blend (if singing harmony). I learn the words — and music — and visualize them. It’s hard work to put a program together.

Often people come up afterward and say, “I appreciate how you praise God up there on the stage.”

I say thank you. It feels great to know my preparation helps others encounter God. Then I share some of my story and say something like, “God has been challenging me. Sunday is — well —practice. He’s training me on how to praise Him during the Monday through Saturday parts of life. It’s changing my life.”

I share about the 13 very tough years through which Jeff and I have lived. Two and a half years of Jeff’s debilitated depression — joblessness, 10 years of trying to start a company with a friend — the business failing, and Jeff’s current job as a janitor. These aren’t natural places of happiness. But praising God brings us to the place of being overwhelmed with God, instead of circumstances. Like a photographer works a zoom lens, when we habitually choose to focus on God, God becomes the big picture and our troubles become the background.

I believe praising God is how King David encourages himself in the Lord in 1 Samuel 30:6, Paul and Silas’ prison chains were broken in Act 16 and how we triumph over any circumstance life brings us.

Praise Is a Fire to Refine Us

As I am worshiping privately, God surrounds me with his reassuring presence. God also confronts me with counterfeits — things in my life I thought I couldn’t live without, “stuff” to which I didn’t realize I had assigned such worth.

Idols take the shape of all kinds of things. We idolize successful people, cars, houses, clothing, and comfort. Intangibles can also be idols.

I think back to painful moments, when my life felt needy for the material provisions I was used to. God uses all that as an opportunity. He shows me how even the seemingly innocent American dream of a secure life can be an idol. God is faithfully helping me rid myself of it by the practice of redirecting my focus to Him.

Through the toppling of my world, and the upheaval of my dreams and expectations, God shows up, teaching me how building my life on anything else but Him is like putting foundations in the sand.

Praise enables us to let go of the things we don’t really need, so we can hold on to what’s most important. Like the Apostle Paul learned, it teaches us how to be content whether we’re in plenty or in want, whether feasting or in famine, because all we need comes from God’s strength working in and through us. Praise enables us to say, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:12-13).

Praise Is a Gift from the Giver

Praise leaps from the pages of the Bible. In Job 38, God speaks of the stars singing at creation and angels shouting for joy! God who created everything also ordained praise and worship.

Creation itself points to and speaks of God’s greatness — from the snow-covered Swiss Alps, to ocean waves crashing on tropical shores; from microscopic strands of DNA, to galaxies viewed through telescopes. God puts the fragrance in roses, the play in puppies, and the heat in jalapenos.

The act of leading our heart to ponder God’s works amazes me. In the midst of a frustrating day, I can take a moment and look out the window to watch a sparrow. As I watch, I ponder the scientific know-how of a God who designed these creatures so they fly. I ponder the blind faith of that little wild bird — she leaps into the air—launching into seemingly nothing, expecting it will work. Praise is like that. I have to smile at our God who says that he watches the sparrow. He says we are worth so much more (Matthew 10:29-31).

In the process of praising God, I get stuck in wonder, awe and humility. I feel small. Yet feeling small in the presence of God is just what we need. Psalm 19:1 says “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” I’m hushed by the God who created sunsets and the universe while bringing fresh mercy everyday with each new sunrise.

Praise Transcends Time and Traditions

I love to imagine what the Psalms sound like. As a songwriter myself, I long to hear the music of these lyrics. I imagine trumpets, lyres, tambourines, stringed instruments, flutes and harps!

As I experience holy moments, music often interweaves with these moments. Music is like that. It is God’s idea our minds are wired in such a way music takes us places emotionally. The challenge is to continue — to grow and experience more and more of who God is.

I remember moments as a teenager at a camp when a college group sang a song, and I felt as if angels were all around. But I don’t want to get so trapped there I limit my limitless God to a moment in history. I don’t want to constrain my worship and praise to just music or a style.

Praise and worship means the child and the elder coming together in harmony. It means quiet times of reverence and drums rolling, trumpets sounding, guitars screeching.

It is a gift and a practice; a weapon and a sacrificial offering. It can take the mundane to miraculous; change the sour to sublime. It is for the church and for the individual, for corporate times and private silence. Through it, God breaks prison bars, reveals hidden idolatry and sets us free.

Praise is hands reaching up to God. It is our Son-lit faces lifted heavenward. It is a heart learning how to wean itself from earthly expectations. It can be a quiet “Amen,” a shout, or a cheer. Praise is as tender as a tear rolling down our face. As holy as a sigh as we watch a sunset. It is our heartbeat. It is a garment we put on (Isaiah 61:3). It is the music of our faith. In it, we find the joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10).

Tammy Bovee is a Spring Arbor University graduate, a songwriter and a freelance author for newspapers and magazines. She’s currently working on a book sharing priceless lessons God has taught her and her husband, Jeff Bovee, through their marriage.

When have you praised God in the midst of difficult circumstances?

Share your comments here or on https://www.facebook.com/Repurposedwife/

Article by Tammy Bovee first appeared on:

http://fmcusa.org/lightandlifemag/more-than-a-song/

 

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God’s Light in my Life

“Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart.” Psalm 119:11

Imagine how dark the world would be without light? Imagine how meaningless it would be? God’s Word is a light that defines and gives life meaning.  The Bible expresses God’s heart. A little earlier in Psalm 111:105 we read, Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.

Let’s explore Psalm 119:11 and what it implies, remembering that God’s Word is light in the darkness.

In Psalm 119:11, the word “statute”, means law. The idea behind “heritage” means inheritance. Why would the Psalmist say that having God’s laws as his inheritance brings joy?

If someone left us an inheritance what would we think of first? If we were honest, it wouldn’t be a set of rules. Honestly, we wouldn’t really see the value in it. Unless of course it was a set of rules, or directions to a treasure.

The Psalmist here is hinting at a sense of uncommon values. He treasures God’s way of life. He knows God. He has acquainted himself with the ways that seem right to man, but in the end lead to death. He knows that God’s ways lead to the very best kind of life.

He understands God who created human life has laid down statutes to live by. And these are very good. They lead to a tremendous treasure, character, and delight of being pleasing to God.

Imagine for a moment, if God didn’t reveal his ways of holy living to us. Imagine how frustrated we would be trying to figure out the way we should live! What is right? What is wrong? How would we live in family? How would we function as a church? How would we please God? If we didn’t know God’s laws.

So the Psalmist is rejoicing that not only has God revealed how best to live, but I believe, he is also rejoicing in the relationship aspect this reveals. God loves us enough to communicate with us the best ways and practices.

Imagine for a moment, how meaningless a game would be without rules. Imagine how chaotic and unsafe our streets and highways would prove, without rules. It is not a stretch to realize how meaningless our lives are without knowing God’s ways, without understanding the best practices for life.

What a reason to rejoice. We know how to live in a way that God says is best. We know the God who created these statutes created them for for us to reach our best in life.

We are not “saved” by obeying God’s ways and means to the best life. We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus. Yet, our salvation is based on a vibrant, active, communicative relationship with God. If we love God, we will desire, seek out, and follow through with his directions for how to live.

I love the truth in John 10:10 that describes God as a God who seeks and desires the very best for us; that we live abundant lives.

When God warned us to:

Have no other gods before him; not make idols in the form of anything in heaven or on earth or in the waters, not to bow down or worship them; To not misuse God’s name; to remember to keep the Sabbath day; to honor our parents; to not murder; to not commit adultery; to not steal; to not give false testimony; to not covet

He did so for the benefit of us.

How much addiction and unrest, and strife, and wickedness and sleeplessness, and lack of God’s favor we forfeit when we forget to live by God’s ways?

Some of us grew up memorizing these 10 ways to live, yet, do we really know them by heart? Do we understand the importance Jesus placed on them? That God’s desire was that we not only observe them, but that we take them into our hearts and apply the intent behind them to our everyday life?

God not only gave these commands, he enables us to follow them, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Let us eagerly desire to find the joy of the living lives in greater dependence and obedience to God!

Prayer: God, you know that these commands aren’t always easy. Help us know how to live. Show us how to value what you value and love you. Show us how to be in the world but not of it. Show us God how to enjoy your pathway, and to run in it, and experience the freedom of the life you always intended us to live. In Jesus name, Amen.

Hitting the wall of Desperation (Finding Joy in the Midst of My Life)

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Psalm 107 describes 4 desperate groups of people.

  1. People wandering in the desert who are thirsting and hungering until their lives ebb away
  2. People in iron chains of bondage/labor because they rebelled against God and his counsel
  3. People who became fools and suffered affliction because of their sins
  4. People out on a fierce raging ocean, whose courage has melted away

In each situation, when “they cried out to the LORD in their trouble” “He delivered them from their distress” (vs. 6, 13, 19, 28).

  1. For the parched and hungry wanderers, God led them by a straight way; he satisfied their thirst and filled the hungry with good things (v. 7 & 9)
  2. For those in bondage, he brought them “out of darkness and the deepest gloom and broke away their chains” (v. 14)
  3. For those who were foolish and suffered affliction because of their sin, “God sent forth his word and healed them; and rescued them from the grave” (v. 20)
  4. For those out on the sea, at their wit’s end, adrift on waves that seem to rise to the heavens and go down to the depths, whose courage had melted, “God stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed” (v. 29); God “guided them to their desired haven” (v. 30)

Have you ever found yourself in a desperate place?

I have. I remember the way it felt to be overweight. I weighed close to 200 pounds. I had an addiction to food. I overcame that addiction through prayer and by God’s help. At my weigh-ins, from 197 down, I wrote over the charted weight loss, the verse from Philippians 4:13, which declared my dependence upon God to help me get out of my desperate situation.

Years later, as I had gained some weight and tried to get it off again, I hit a wall. I couldn’t seem to get myself motivated enough to get back into the discipline I needed to get healthy again. Until I admitted my inability to do this on my own, and asked God for his help, I couldn’t seem to get myself motivated for the long haul and committed to the changes I needed to embrace.

I had maintained my weight loss for over a decade; I had slipped into an attitude that I could somehow do this on my own. I had grown proud and forgot that God had delivered me. I had forgotten to be thankful to God.

As I approached my need to lose weight, only when I admitted my powerlessness over it, and my need for God, did the answers start coming.

I think this is what the Psalmist is referring to here—the joy of dependence upon God, and our need to daily remember it’s not us who has gotten us out of the desperate situations. It is God. Thankfulness is the key to remembering what God has done in our lives and sustaining lifelong changes.

Today, take a long look at the pathway of victories behind you. Remember all the ways God has been faithful to you. Remember his love endures forever and is great (vs. 1-2, vs. 43). Give thanks with joyful songs (v. 22).

Are you facing another desperate situation? He will make a way. He is the same God. But first, you and I must humbly come to the end of ourselves and cry out to God for help.

Prayer: God, I know. I know your ways are mysterious. I confess my pride before you, and lay my life bare before your holy gaze. I lay down my defenses. And I humble myself. I turn from my self-interest, my thinking I can devise my way through. And I turn my empty hands toward you. You are my redeemer. God, help me. Thank you for your enduring and great love for me, and for never giving up on me. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Fighting for Joy (Finding Joy in the Midst of my Life)

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Day 11

Psalm 96

Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all the peoples. For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and glory are in his sanctuary. Ascribe to the LORD, O families of nations, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering and come into his courts. Worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth. Say among the nations, “The LORD reigns.” The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the people’s with equity. Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy; they will sing before the LORD, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the people in his truth.

If only we could see God as he is. If we could get a glimpse of his glory… the joy of his countenance, the radiance of his personage…it would make a difference. But we can’t see God.

Honestly, at times, Christians even get depressed. The Psalmist is an example. He encountered a lot of ups and downs in life. Certainly, God knows our human state. He understands every turn of events that creates hurt in our hearts. He knows us. We don’t have to hide our emotions from our all-knowing God. What good does that do?

We read a Psalm like this on joy, and it makes our heart yearn for God. It makes us desire his presence. His love, and the radiance of God’s face to shine upon us…

I wish some days I could just climb up in his lap like a child and rest there in his arms. Maybe down here, even the best of days, pale compared to the way it will be in heaven. Maybe, we feel depressed sometimes because deep in our hearts, we know nothing in this world can ever satisfy.

And that hurt in our hearts, points us to Father God, our Father who sees us as his children. He sees when our toys break. He understands our hearts when our piggy banks break. He knows how we feel when the sky is cloudy, and the day is dark. He knows how it feels when our hearts break. He knows, and he cares.

Maybe what this Psalm is after is to challenge us… that Maybe the songs we have sung before our hearts were broken, were happy songs about circumstantial joy. Whereas now, now as we hold our broken toys, our broken dreams up to Father God, and cry, Daddy fix it…he cares, but the one thing he longs to fix most, is not so much our broken toys, or even our broken dreams, but our  hearts. I think He wants to re-purpose us so we are not fixated on the latest rage in toys, or even dreams. He wants our lives to reorient around the things that last forever, and to seek his kingdom and his righteousness first. And then, all will find perspective.

Today, let’s sing to the LORD a new song, adjusting the focus of our hearts to the things of heaven, not so much the things of earth.

Prayer: God you know us. You understand we are people with senses. We desire to hold our treasures in our hands. We want to store them up, so we can look at them, count them, feel the pride of ownership. You desire we store treasures up in heaven. We want to smell, feel, see, hear, taste – in order to know a thing is real. Whereas you want us to have faith, without having to smell, feel, see, hear, taste… God we need your help to wrap our minds around what it means to seek you first… and what true Christian joy is all about.

We need you to help us separate ourselves from the worldly treasures we have come to place such value upon that it depresses us when we can’t afford them, they break, wear out, or become obsolete.

Oh, God, show us there is hope for us. Help us reorient our hearts to seek you first. To truly desire you, above any earthly thing. For then, our joy can be boundless. In Jesus, Amen.

Finding Joy in the Midst of my Life (A Daily Bible Study)

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Day 10

Psalm 43:3-5

Send me your light and your faithful care, let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell. Then I will go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight. I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God. Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

Have you felt as if everyone and everything is working against you and even bent on misunderstanding you and causing you pain? I have. It’s a terrible feeling.

King David writes from a very dark place in his life. Yet, he pleads with God to send to him light and faithful care. He has experienced God’s presence in the past. And as David pours out his heart, he asks God to lead him once again to that place, an altar.

The king prays, leading his heart to God’s presence. And then God responds, leading him still deeper. As his heart moves into that sacred place, into God’s presence, God, Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, inspires David to ponder why he is downcast? Why is he disturbed? God re-calibrates David’s desire to be loved and treasured toward the only one who can truly do this right.

God alone is the perfect lover of our soul. God wants us to bring to the altar all the concerns weighing us down. Our need for love, our desire to be treasured… God cares about the way we feel. He cares when it feels like no one else does. He knows every problem and need. And in his presence, as we lay each of our concerns down on the altar, we can take up hope. God is our Savior.

Prayer: God help us to lead our hearts to your altar. Help us practice being in your presence. Lead us from our places of darkness, into your light. Into your hope. Into your salvation, into your love! In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Finding Joy in the Midst of my Life (A Daily Bible Study

 

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Day 9

“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” Job 38:4-7

Job didn’t realize he was God’s chosen vessel through which the Lord was going to reveal a mysterious side of himself. He didn’t realize his story would be included in the best selling book of all time, the Bible. All he knew was he had a wonderful life and somebody took it away.

Although these questions seem a little harsh, God knows how to get our attention and he knows how to speak to us, so we know it’s him. God was trying to redirect Job’s focus off his problems to God’s eternal perspective…

The questions God asks inspire a sense of awe. They help me realize 1.) there was a time I didn’t exist. And 2.) the world will go right on turning when I go to heaven.

There is humility in realizing these two facts. The moment we realize this and make God the center of our universe, instead of self, is a moment of joyful discovery, a redirection of purpose, a reorienting of the meaning of life itself.

Life is about glorifying God and relating to him, and enjoying him.

In your life, how can you begin embracing eternal perspective? How can putting God at the center of your universe create a sense of joy?

How might God want to use your story, even the very hard parts, to minister to someone who is needing encouragement?

Prayer: God, you know right where I am right now. You are aware of every single concern. In fact whoever it concerns, or whatever the need, you care more than me about it. You desire to redirect my focus away from my self-interest and toward you.

And the wonder of it all, is that somehow you can use me, and redeem my hurts and humbling circumstances, by blessing someone else with the comfort you gave to me, at the time I was hurt (2 Cor. 1:3-4).

Sometimes you ask us to wait, but sometimes, the person or persons who need the comfort are right in our midst, today. Show me Jesus, where you’re working (Romans 8:28-29) and help me adjust my life so I am where you desire to use me, even my life, as seemingly small and insignificant as that may seem. Because you love me, my life matters. Thank you.

Thank you for being creator of the entire universe, and also a personal God who promises to carry the weight of my concerns as your own personal concerns (1 Peter 5:7, Phillips). I love you Jesus! Amen.

Finding Joy in the Midst of my Life (A Daily Bible Study)

Day 8

“Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews through the provinces of King Xerxes, near and far, to have them celebrate annually the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar as the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration. He wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.” Esther 9:20-22

Have you experienced a moment where your sorrow was turned to joy, and completely lifted from your heart?

The Israelites had a very close call. A strong enemy wanted them annihilated. But God intervened in unlikely ways. Now Esther was queen, and Mordecai was elevated to honor and position. He declared a holiday, and had the people give of their resources to one another and to the poor.

What has God done in your life? How has he blessed you?

When you are blessed, it multiplies your blessing, when you give to others. Who might God want you to bless today?

Prayer: God the week is coming to an end. We feel tired, but we are blessed. We think of the many ways you have helped us recently. We also remember, the ways you have seen us through difficult times as we think back over our lives. We feel great joy, for all you have done for us!

Gifts come in all shapes and sizes. God, some of us have the gift of helps, the gift of encouragement; some of us have money someone might benefit from. Some have a super servant heart and want to serve someone who cannot do for themselves. God show us what your desire is for us, in giving to others, to multiply our joy by giving to someone else. In Jesus’s name, Amen.