Postlude of thanks

joyful

In wrapping up this series on gratitude, I’d like to highlight a few practical ways to infuse our daily lives with thanksgiving and share some of my own reasons for thanksgiving that have come out of reflection on this year’s thorns.

Opportunities to integrate acts and an attitude of gratitude:

  • Find a time each day (or week) that you can regularly spend recounting what has happened that you can give thanks for
  • Expand your view of gratitude beyond immediate things in ‘your world’…what about nature? what about things in the lives of neighbors, friends, family? what finer details of your life are just a given? anything you’ve been overlooking that is worth thanks?
  • Pray for a heart of thanksgiving
  • Partner with someone to encourage accountability. Check in once a week…send a text, email, or call them to see how it’s going
  • Look for opportunities to write a note of thanks or express verbal appreciation for people around you (friends, family, co-workers, roommates, professors, etc.)
  • Branch out…even to some folks you might not know as well…i.e. sending a letter or email of thanks to one of your church’s mission partners for the work they are doing
  • When you have a situation that would tempt you to complain, examine if there might be some aspect of God’s provision in it…even if you cannot see anything, entrust it to the Lord, letting Him know you are confident He is able to use even that for good.
  • Spend some time reading through scriptures expressing gratitude.
  • Set aside time each week or month to sing some hymns of thanks to God.
  • Journal about your history with God…the ways He’s acted on your behalf and through your life up until this point.

If you have an idea…please add it to the comments section! 🙂

Here are some things I’m thankful for this year:

  • A more comprehensive knowledge of Scripture
  • A deeper sense of God’s sovereignty and His goodness…even when I don’t understand
  • The rich blessing of working in women’s ministry and seeing the harmony of very different ladies coming together for a common goal
  • A spirit of partnership among colleagues at the library
  • My parents and my younger brother…for their quiet moments of support
  • A ‘yes’ from the Lord this semester about attending a class. I missed school.
  • Believers who have been faithful before our generation and recount their stories in books and in music, so we can hold fast to them today
  • People who I might not even realize who have prayed for me this year. I felt their prayers and truly can’t imagine where I would have been without them.
  • A stirring desire to take up ballet again these last few days…it usually brings me joy, but while I’ve been very sad this year, it felt like a weighty burden instead and so I’d let it go
  • His presence in places no one else could enter; His persistence when I wanted Him to go away; His love as I saw so much in me that was unlovely; His confidence that this chapter will not be the end of the story He has written for me

Thanks for reflecting on these things with me. God’s grace to you!

Thanks…for thorns

rose

“Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” Job 2:10

I’ve been working my way up to a post on thanks for things that we didn’t want to happen, or things that we’ve asked for and haven’t received. This morning, I listened to one of Nancy Leigh DeMoss’s podcasts on gratitude that relayed a prayer that is so fitting for this discussion. Here it is:

George Matheson was a 19th-century Scottish preacher who lost his eyesight at a very early age. As he wrestled over this set of circumstances, he eventually prayed this prayer:

Dear God, I have never thanked You for my thorns. I’ve thanked You a thousand times for my roses, but never once for my thorns. Teach me the glory of the cross I bear. Teach me the value of my thorns.

Oh, that we can learn what it means to offer thanks and praise to God even for the things we wish He would change, or fix, or take from us!

Are there any thorns in your life that you’ve prayed for God to take away, that you might serve Him better? Can you find some aspect of that thorn that can be used for His glory?

When I think of thorns in my own life, I rarely think of them as blessings or avenues of God’s provision. I generally view them as limitations and places where I don’t measure up. Nevertheless, thorns keep me humble where I might otherwise be proud. Thorns soften my heart in places where it would be hardened. Thorns permit me to reach the end of self and find I’m desperately lacking and in need of Him.

Perhaps in my most recent wrestling with thorns, I have discovered that true beauty of character seems to be somehow connected to the presence of thorns in our midst and the way that we choose to respond to them when faced with the reality that they won’t simply go away.

Friends, may we be found faithful with the thorns He has permitted, in His sovereignty, through His love, and for His purposes.

Here’s an excellent song for giving thanks in every set of circumstances!

But, I don’t feel like giving thanks…

What are some of the alternatives to thanks-giving?

Sometimes, we just don’t ‘feel‘ like expressing thanks. Here are a few illustrations of the repercussions when people don’t offer thanks:

Romans 1:21:  “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

Ephesians 5:4 “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.”

Philippians 4:6 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Allow me to summarize a bit, then. Sometimes when our hearts are inclined to be ungrateful, we are more susceptible to the ways of the world and the call of Madam Folly (see Proverbs). Other times, we might find our lips mocking, joking, or condemning instead of offering thanks, praise, and encouragement. Still other times, we are gripped with anxiety when we focus on our circumstances rather than God, who is always greater than our need. Each of these instances tear down our relationship with the Lord and with others.

So, scripture instructs us instead to praise Him, give Him glory, offer up thanks, and pray with anticipation that God provides.

This past week, I’ve been setting aside time each morning on my way to work to give thanks for things God is doing, who He is, and how He has provided. When an upsetting time came up this weekend, I actually thought to myself, ‘Alright, what out of this can I give thanks for?’ Friends, that’s not like me. If nothing else, I could say thanks that the Spirit is working that I would ask such a question when I’m prone to mentally itemizing every detail that is going wrong!

As I was listening to this week’s sermon, I was gently reminded to expect opposition. Here I am, asking the Lord to help me change an area of my life where He hasn’t been on the throne. I’ve let doubt, fear, and complaint take their turns sitting there, instead. That’s not going to be a smooth transition; trials will come and have already arrived. But God has taught us to give thanks anyway. He modeled it through Jesus and He equips us to do so by the work of His Spirit.

Thanks for things great and small

Charles Spurgeon said, “Let us daily praise God for common mercies-common as we frequently call them, and yet so pricelss that when deprived of them we are ready to perish.”

I think that it comes more naturally to us to give thanks for the really big things and the relatively small things, but someone miss that huge chunk of day to day provisions that we come to expect. To illustrate what I mean, consider that when someone comes along and helps you out with an enormous project, you probably offer profuse thanks, right? Likewise, when a coworker takes care of a minor task for you that will save you time, you are likely to express thanks for that as well.

Yet what about the day in, day out things that make up that whole realm of the mundane in our lives? Do you thank your wife for doing the laundry? How about God for providing that job you go to month after month, year after year? Then there’s your church leadership for all of the behind the scenes work they do (often unpaid) to keep things running. What about your roommate for the little things he or she does that make your day brighter or easier? Do you thank your husband for his help with the children?

I venture to say that the folks that make up our routines are likely to get the least thanks from us, especially given the amount of contact we have with them. However, if we don’t express frequent gratitude towards them, what happens? Generally, we come to a point where we marginalize their contributions towards us and they feel it and don’t appreciate it! Further, our relationship with the Lord is affected by our lax attitude.

Perhaps one of the saddest aspects of this lack of gratitude is that it is usually unintentional. We are thankful for all those mundane things at first, when they are new, but as we grow accustomed to them as part of the rhythm of our lives, we mentally (and sometimes emotionally) focus our efforts on other things in life, things that are now new or things that are demanding or things that we are working towards. That’s why the remedy is to be intentional about extending thanks. We have to be reminded that all these things are actually worth the time it takes to recount them as blessings.

May we make every effort to give thanks to God and those closest to us for their daily graces, and through that, may our relationships deepen and abound in joy.

Scriptures on thanks

Gratitude is “learning to recognize and express appreciation for the benefits we have received from God and from others.”

Scripture has much to say about giving thanks. In the Old Testament, there are repeated references to giving God thanks because of His goodness and enduring love (1 Chronicles 16:34), His trustworthiness (Psalm 28:7), salvation (Psalm 118:21), and His answers to and provision for our requests (Daniel 2:23). The New Testament writers highlight the benefits of life in Christ, such as: grace in Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:4), victory in Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:57), generosity that overflows into thanks (2 Corinthians 9:11-12), peace of Christ (Colossians 3:15,17), that the kingdom cannot be shaken (Hebrew 12:28, and that Jesus will be the one on the throne forever (Revelation 4:9).

In reviewing passages that address thanks and thankfulness, it’s apparent that the emphasis is on directing our thoughts and our hearts towards the Lord. It is He who we have to thank, for who He is, for what He has done, and for what He will yet do with us, through us, and in us. So part of having a thankful heart involves looking up rather than inward or outward for reasons to be joyful and glad. As our eternal focus grows, we can sincerely learn what it means to give thanks no matter what is headed our way on earth. The deepest things we really have to be thankful for are grounded in our Lord and Savior, not in our circumstances or abilities. These things are always true and solid, even when our journey looks grim and our efforts are feeble.

May the Lord help us to recall who He is and what He has done with fresh faith and genuine gratitude.

I was particularly excited about this verse…“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.” (2 Corinthians 2:14)

Watermark has a simple, but excellent song about our gratitude for salvation in Christ that I’ve been mulling over recently.

A people known for their…gratitude?

gratitude

Do you think that Christians are a people that are known for their spirit of gratitude?

I confess that if they are, I’m not one of the spokespeople! 😦

However, perhaps for the first time, I genuinely want to be.

Recently, I met with a woman from my church who mentors me. She made a point of spending some time outdoors at our local beach and offering up thanks to the Lord for what He is doing and what He has done. There was such a spirit of gratitude, trust, and humility in her. I have a deep respect for her because I know that although her life is certainly blessed, it hasn’t been easy. Still, her inclination is to have hope and to make a joyful noise unto the Lord.

About a week later, I came across a new book by Nancy Leigh DeMoss called Choosing Gratitude. Gulp. Oh, Lord…I murmured inwardly…I see a theme coming, but you know better than anyone that gratitude is a great deficiency in my life. Sure, I’m ok at pleasantries…telling folks thank you and writing thank you notes…but actually having a heart of gratitude…er…think again.

When I hear remarks about how I should be grateful for such and such, I get this horrible lump in my throat. I can’t quite choke past the ‘should.’ This overwhelming sense that if I was really a good Christian, I would will myself to be grateful under all circumstances. It sounds like this burdensome chore to me that I’m supposed to grin and bear and act like I love it and yet somehow not appear to be pretending.

There’s good news. Well meaning Christians might make comments like this, but God doesn’t heap tasks on us that we ‘should’ do and then put the burden on us to make it happen and make Him look good while we’re doing it. For that, I can say…I’m grateful! 🙂 There’s hope of becoming a grateful person because as we submit ourselves to Him and His work, He takes the burden and He transforms us into people with His heart. So, when I go to Him and say, wow, I blow it in this area over and over and…(you get the point)…in His time, He can refine me no matter how far off I am from where He intends me to be.

This week, I want to elaborate a bit about gratitude, what scripture teaches about gratitude, and how we can practice gratitude in the midst of all kinds of circumstances. I welcome you to join me in these posts and, feel free to share your own recommendations, too!