Following the Instructions for a Grateful Heart

One morning, deep into the throes of our kitchen renovation, it dawned on me that I had no idea where our toaster was. Having reduced breakfast to the lowest common denominator of toasted bagels with cream cheese, my quest for the toaster was more than idle curiosity, and when it showed up in the furnace room, I was too relieved to bother with self-recrimination or even the why behind its whereabouts.

I’m no Martha Stewart even under the best of circumstances, but renovating our kitchen has stripped away any semblance of gracious living. For now, with the dining room piled from floor to ceiling with boxes of kitchen cabinets waiting to be installed and with electrical wires hanging like spit curls out of every wall, I’m just thankful to put any kind of meal on the dining room table—which, last time I checked, was in the living room.

At this point, I should apologize for making much of what is clearly a first-world problem. My access to reliable electricity and clean, safe running water puts me in company with the privileged 40% of the world who can join me in turning on a faucet to wash a plate or fill a glass. This, along with the fact that I’ve functioned just fine at this address for twenty-five years with our old, unsightly, and insufficient kitchen set-up makes me wonder why we are putting ourselves through this painful process. The word on the street (which, of course, comes to me through Facebook) is that, while the process is wretched, I will be very thankful with the end result when it is done.

The question that nags and will not be ignored is this:

Can I be thankful NOW?

Knowing what I know about the sovereignty of God and the blessing that comes after the patient submission to process, can I practice gratitude in the midst of the mess?

I’m not interested in a bait and switch in which I light a candle, practice a brand of skillful denial of the obvious circumstances, and then declare myself patient or grateful–at least for the moment. According to the Apostle Paul, gratitude is more than a spontaneous response or a pumpkin-spice-feeling. It is a matter of obedience to the will of God.

Author and poet Wendell Berry put words into the mouth of a fictional, elderly widow named Hannah Coulter who, in addition to being a crackerjack farmhand when needed and probably making a great pie crust, also had a clear handle on her biblical theology:

“You mustn’t wish for another life. You mustn’t want to be somebody else. What you must do is this:
‘Rejoice evermore.
Pray without ceasing.
In everything give thanks.’
I am not all the way capable of so much, but those are the right instructions.” (Hannah Coulter, page 113)

Following the Instructions

In this season of gratitude and pumpkin lattes, I will be focusing on those “right instructions,” knowing full well that I, too, am “not all the way capable of so much.” And yet this business of obedience to the Spirit of God is not to be confused with Operation Bootstrap. It is, rather, an operation by which, “the very God of peace will sanctify me wholly” through purposeful rejoicing in what is given and a prayer life that images the inhale and exhale of breathing.

Rolling into the month of November, whether your greatest challenge is deciding between pumpkin and apple pie** on the day of the feast–or whether God is choosing this season to grow you through adversity that makes my kitchen renovation look like a walk in the park–let’s return to the words of Paul in the way we turn to our recipe for fool-proof gravy, knowing that even though we are not “all the way capable,” the instructions are good, for they are absolutely true, and they are given to us with love:

 Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (I Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Giving thanks,

Michele Morin

**P.S.  My advice:  Go for a small slice of each.

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God Has a Bigger and Better Story for You

We are a story-telling family, composing on-the-spot homespun tales, filling up the long minutes of road trips with audio books, laughing together over replays from crazy conversations, and delighting in glory-moments together after the fact. As our family continually rotates in wider orbits, stories have become the fibers that connect us, that keep us known to one other.

I’m grateful that all our story threads are woven into the fabric of the huge over-arching narrative found in the pages of Scripture. This once-upon-a-time-that-really-happened got its start in the mind of God, but the plot first hunkered down in the idyllic setting of Eden. Nancy Guthrie picked up her pen, gathered up the tangled threads of that story set in a garden, and she moves forward in hope through the unfolding of God’s redemptive plan in her latest book, Even Better than Eden: Nine Ways the Bible’s Story Changes Everything about Your Story

On her meandering way from the thunderous God-force of creation to the end of the ages, she shares stunning truth about “what the original garden has to show us about the more secure, more satisfying, and more glorious garden we’re destined to live in forever, which will be even better than Eden.” (14) It’s easy to forget that Eden was born out of an uninhabitable wasteland on a planet that was “formless and empty.”

  • Guthrie follows this story of wilderness through the Old Testament and the wanderings of the discontented Israelites, the ruins of Jerusalem after Nebuchadnezzar’s armies had had their way, and into the New Testament where Jesus passed His wilderness testing and Paul lived pinned down by a thorn in the flesh, but found contentment in his spiritual wilderness;
  • Then, there’s the story of the tree, a symbol from Genesis to Revelation that pops up in the appearance of the lampstands in the Tabernacle and in prophetic symbolism. By grace, we are invited to find our way to the tree of life by way of Calvary’s tree;
  • The story of God’s image is full of hope, for though it was marred, it was flawlessly revealed in Christ and will ultimately be restored in us;
  • The story of clothing begins with God providing for Adam and Eve with love and tenderness that points to the truth that one day we will be beautifully clothed in “the greater glory Adam and Eve forfeited” (70);
  • The story of the Bridegroom features Eve as the original bride in the very first wedding conducted by God which went terribly wrong. That pain resonated throughout Israel’s history, but the ruined bride will one day be restored and presented to God’s Son, the second Adam’
  • The story of sabbath began before there was Law and remains as God’s gift;
  • The story of offspring unpacks Psalm 91 within the greater context of God’s sovereignty over evil and the “Offspring of the Woman” (Jesus) who will put an end to evil once and for all;
  • The story of a dwelling place assures believers of God’s intention to make His home with us–an intention that cannot be thwarted even by our own fumbling and fluctuating intention to cling to Him. The tabernacle, the temple, and God’s indwelling Spirit all bear witness to His zeal and devotion;
  • Finally, the story of the city reveals that all of Scripture points toward the story of two cities– “the city of man and the city of God. And what matters most about your story is which city you have made your home.”

Nancy Guthrie renders biblical theology with beauty and a depth of emotion that motivates me to become a better learner, and a more passionate student of Scripture and observer of life. A firm grasp on the gospel-oriented-big-picture of the Bible’s 66 books will change the way you read. God takes a long view of goodness and hope, and his promises for our welfare point to a life that exponentially transcends the three-score-and-ten we fixate upon.

A good foundation in biblical theology also impacts on the way we pray.  For example, God’s promise of protection in Psalm 91 is not the lucky-rabbit’s foot that means our children will “never face danger or death in this life. But [rather that God] has promised to gather his own to himself, where he will protect them from ultimate and eternal harm.”

Following the threads of these nine stories reinforced my understanding of God as both transcendent and relational. Finding myself within the context of His desires for me — a hope that far exceeds my own aspirations for myself and those I love — opens my eyes to the beauty of struggle and the redemptive nature of waiting as we fix our eyes upon the unseen, and trust God for a future home that will be truly (and amazingly!) even better than Eden.


Many thanks to Crossway for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

Grace and peace to you,

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Even Better than Eden: Nine Ways the Bible’s Story Changes Everything about Your Storysimply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.