Comforting Grace

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Shout for joy, you heavens; rejoice, you earth; burst into song, you mountains! For the Lord comforts His people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones. — Isaiah 49:13

I hear it on Sunday, thinking our preacher’s looking straight at me, me trying to look away:

When God moves us out of our comfort zone — into places that are way bigger than us, places that are difficult, hard, painful, places that even hurt — this is a gift. We are being given a gift. These hard places give us the gift of intimately knowing God in ways that would never be possible in our comfort zones.

Where’s the back door of the chapel? I’d like out.

I look out the window to snow coming down. Shift hard in my chair. Can’t find any comfortable position. I’ve been way out of my comfort zone for months. God taking this book I’d written, my story with my bare heart, taking me way out of my comfort zone.

All the way to the Bible Study Sisters on Saturday morning, I’d told myself I wasn’t opening my mouth, not saying a word, not letting anyone into how all this felt. And when the other Anne had looked up from Zechariah 8 and asked me how it was for me, I didn’t say a thing, couldn’t, for everything quavering, heart running all liquid. I had mouthed it to the ceiling, a murmur looking up, trying to keep it all from spilling. “How did I get here?”

When God moves us out of our comfort zone… When God…

We’re in the God-zone when we’re out of our comfort zone and the Holy Spirit, our Comforter, comforts us when we step outside our comfort zone. It’s only in the uncomfortable places that we can experience the tenderness of the Comforter.

When everything opened and fell on Saturday morning, Annette had left her chair to come and hold me and Mama had reached over and squeezed my hand and I had brushed it back, smiled, believing. Knowing. Anne had prayed long and earnest and I had felt the Spirit’s embrace, like the warmth of the sun laying its arm down across my shoulder. I had felt it, how the sun had shone.

We’re in step with the Holy Spirit when we step out into hard things. Faith gets out of the boat. And walking in the Spirit means stepping out to walk in the waves and feeling the comfort of His grip. Isn’t this gift?

And on Sunday morning I look across the sanctuary. Can you really  say that to the girl who doesn’t wear her engagement ring anymore, to the beautiful mother whose husband left and the cancer has come, to the bent widow sitting next to the empty chair? Can you really say that to them, to the world? That the greatest gift we can ever receive is the gift of losing our earthly security and comfort? So that we can unwrap the intimacy of the Savior and His heavenly comfort.

I swallow hard.

Counting one thousand gifts is about eucharisteo, that Greek word that expresses what Christ did at the Last Supper: take the bread of pain as grace. Give thanks for that which is hard. Endure the cross, all in view of the joy set before.

Counting one thousand gifts means counting the hard things — otherwise I’ve miscounted.

After Sunday lunch and the dishes, I sit with the kids opening up a game board and I open a book and read this: “Ecstasy comes from the Greek word ekstasis. Ek meaning out. And stasis meaning standstill. Ecstatic = out of static.”

I close the book. He keeps whispering it to my trembling heart, to me who knows and then forgets: Those who fully live, who live ecstatic lives of joy, embrace moving out of comfort zones. Ecstatic joy is found outside of static comfort zones. Because it’s moving out to where the Spirit moves. The Spirit is never static. Never standstill. Like the wind, the Spirit always moves.

Shalom crawls up onto my lap. I lay the book down but I hold on to the words.

“Mrs. Nagel told me at church that she’d seen flowers poking up before this snow came. Do you think they are still out there somewhere, underneath the snow, Mama?” She looks out the window.

The snow’s still coming down, a mystery of white.

“There are signs of spring out there.” I tuck a curl behind her ear and say it soft. “Outside, in the cold, still signs of spring. Gifts coming.”

She smiles, rubs her hands happy.

Outside of comfort’s warmth, gifts unfurling underneath. Signs of radical change emerging everywhere.

Winter being overturned, of eucharisteo in the midst of hard things — of a revolution of thanks in all things to the God over all things.

Shalom and I fill a pitcher of water for the crocuses on the table.

She counts the blooms. “There are seven!”

I smile at her so ecstatic.

And I stand there watching… Watching the water flow out into this ponding circle and then moving out, always farther and further out.

Lord, thank You for the gift of coaxing me out of my comfort zone and further into the comfort of You. I really trust You enough to say it today: Thank You for the gift of losing my earthly security and comfort — so that I can unwrap the intimacy of You and Your heavenly comfort. Today, Father God, move me out of static comfort zones so I may know the ecstatic joy of the comfort of Christ!

Excerpted with permission from One Thousand Gifts Devotional by Ann Voskamp, copyright Ann Morton Voskamp.

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Your Turn

Have you allowed the Lord to lead you out of your comfort zone? Or have you maybe been pushed out of your comfort zone by circumstances beyond your control, or by another person’s choices, or by a loss of relationship, or a job, or an unexpected family addition? In that very place are you receiving the comfort of God? Right there where it is so hard, unfamiliar, maybe unwelcome, and uncomfortable? Someone once said “God lives at the end of your rope” and I think that’s so true. That’s where I found His comfort! How about you? Come share with us on our blog. We want to hear from you about counting the hard things as gifts. ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full






Ann Voskamp

Ann Voskamp is the wife of one fine, down-to-earth farmer; a book-reading mama to a posse of seven; and the author of the New York Times bestsellers One Thousand Gifts, which has sold more than one million copies, and The Broken Way. Named by Christianity Today as one of fifty women most shaping culture and the church today, Ann knows unspoken brokenness and big country skies and an intimacy with God that touches wounded places. Millions do life with her at her daily photographic online journal, one of the top 10 most widely read Christian sites: www.annvoskamp.com

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