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!

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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.

Joy & Pain…in service

Slowly, but surely, I’m plugging away at Fernando’s ‘Call to Joy in Pain.’ A few things I gleaned from today’s reading were that if churches really want to see the congregation rise up as servants (and not merely consumers), one of the very best ways to see that accomplished is for the leadership to invest themselves in loving the flock. Love motivates and inspires. We are living in a generation that refrains from vulnerability in relationships, but when we allow that to go on, we are short-circuiting the good work that comes from dealing with difficult circumstances honestly and seeking the Lord to help us to help those in our church body who’s needs surpass our perceived abilities to offer time, resources, energy, etc.

These are some helpful reminders for those of us who plan to be involved in lifelong ministry, whether full-time or part-time, paid, or volunteer. We all have a part to play here. As much as we sometimes feel that our schedules are already brimming, I would encourage you to prayerfully consider if there is any capacity in which the Lord might want to use you to either love another church goer or help someone from the body out with a practical need. One of my periodic things is writing letters to women from my congregation to encourage them in their walk, let them know I’m praying, or follow up about something that I know has been happening in their lives.

Sara Groves is one of my favorite artists…when I think about love, there are a few things that pop into my mind almost immediately: excerpts from C. S. Lewis’s Four Loves and Kierkegaard’s Works of Love (see quote tab) and songs from Sara Groves. Here are the lyrics for one of them:

When it was over and they could talk about it
She said there’s just one thing I have got to know
What in that moment when you were running so hard and fast
Made you stop and turn for home
He said I always knew you loved me even though I’d broken your heart
I always knew there’d be a place for me to make a brand new start

Oh love wash over a multitude of things
Love wash over a multitude of things
Love wash over a multitude of things
Make us whole

When it was over and they could talk about it
They were sitting on the couch
She said what on earth made you stay here
When you finally figured out what I was all about
He said I always knew you’d do the right thing
Even though it might take some time
She said, Yeah, I felt that and that’s probably what saved my life

Oh love wash over a multitude of things
Love wash over a multitude of things
Love wash over a multitude of things
Make us whole

There is a love that never fails
There is a healing that always prevails
There is a hope that whispers a vow
A promise to stay while we’re working it out
So come with your love and wash over us

Searching for a new paradigm

A reflection out of my reading in Call to Joy & Pain and work with Live a Praying Life

This year has confronted me about how much I have grown up with clearly drawn lines around where God’s turf was in my life and that there has been terrain where He was not to tread because, after all, it’s my life.

But it isn’t really; it’s His.

As I aim to grow in Him, this season has surfaced a great many ‘I wants’ that have been severely disappointed. I realize that I was raised to have a plan and move towards it, but the more my plans fall through, the less I believe that paradigm works. To complicate things further, God tells us that He has plans for us, yet we don’t constantly walk in the knowledge of what those plans entail. He hasn’t exactly sat me down with a timeline and told me word for word what I need to do to arrive there…wherever ‘there’ is. Sometimes, we have to walk purely by faith that God does, indeed have a plan, one that we cannot see.

I don’t like the idea of relinquishing my whole future to God, wholly undefined from my own vantage point. What might He fill that life with? Still, is there anyone else who would be better to give that blank check to? My prayer life is being disrupted in these thoughts of what it means to pray…that it is more about being transformed into persons with His heart and His desires. Suffering and pain can be part of the means God uses to produce the character He needs to see His work accomplished.

Even in the face of knowing enough about God to know that He is good and His ways are perfect, it’s difficult to say with each instance or circumstance of life, ‘This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.” I have these what ifs and what abouts that choke out joy and highlight pain or failure.

Somehow, in a way that I cannot see, God will supply all that I ever needed. I don’t yet grasp what it means to live with anticipation of what God will do, without being tempted to define what I think that should be or keep my heart on the fringes so I don’t risk more brokenness.

All of the misshapen pieces I have examined this year, the places I wish I could hide or fix, struggles that I could not mask, I know that God has a use for those things. On what might seem desolate terrain, He will amaze me with what harvest He can grow, in His time and in His way. The purification process will one day yield fine metal for Him to use. In the meantime, He helps me take down my fences and tills the ground for a work that has yet to come.

Ajith Fernando’s Call to Joy & Pain

A dear friend of mine recently referenced Fernando’s Call to Joy & Pain: Embracing Suffering in Your Ministry. I thought I would take a look at it since it was related to some of the work I’ve been doing in scripture reading and Bible study.

In the introduction, Fernando addresses a very significant issue for Americans in acknowledging the “cultural incompatibility of the cross.” In the book, he will proceed to discuss both joy and struggle in the life of a Christian and how they are sometimes woven together throughout our experiences.

He points out that satisfaction competes with joy for our attention and investment. Satisfaction is not bad in and of itself, but when we pursue it at the cost of things that God has asked us to do or to forsake, then we’re in trouble. Fernando indicates that addiction is perhaps the most pronounced expression of satisfaction that has won out over joy in a person’s life. However, he reminds the reader that, “without the joy of the Lord, all pleasure has a hollow ring to it.”

I would agree that particularly in the current generations, we are facing a strong temptation day after day, to pursue satisfaction over a deeper, truer Christianity. Experientially, satisfaction fades away all too quickly, and we find ourselves feeling empty again and wanting something or someone else to fill that void.

Over the last several years, I’ve become increasingly convinced that our capacity to know the fullness of joy is connected to our willingness to receive pain. I think when we push away the painful times in our lives or attempt to ignore them, we are also cutting off the potential for a more complete joy that the Lord ushers in after a season of trials, or waiting, or growing.

Quotes from Piper’s Future Grace

Hodge, “Faith in his promises, founded upon the apprehension of his faithfulness and power, and their harmony with all his revealed purposes, [and] their suitableness to our nature and necessities, must produce confidence, joy, and hope.”

Piper’s response, “an essential element in the faith itself is confidence and joy and hope…[they] are part of the warp and woof of faith…Yes, it is true, that faith yields delights. But if we do not taste the beauty of Christ in his promises as delightful, or as satisfyiing, we do not yet believe in a saving, transforming way.

Is this not one of the reasons why so many professions of faith miscarry?…Unless we see the Lord as glorious, we will not be ‘transformed into the same image from glory to glory.’ When affliction comes, we will fall away. What holds us is prizing the surpassing value of Jesus (Philippians 3:8).”