Posted in Character, Faith

Growing in Gratitude

Thank You

Sometimes things don’t go according to plan. I had several activities in mind for this Thanksgiving weekend. My daughter and I figured out a cooking schedule for all our dishes. Family from the Seattle area arrived Wednesday night. We were ready for a fun, food-filled celebration. Then, later that night, one of the granddaughters got sick. My daughter was up with her every hour. Some time during the night, my grandson also got sick. There was lots of laundry on Thanksgiving Day for the soiled bedding and towels. We still managed to prepare and enjoy our meal. Everyone was in good spirits, and it seemed like the worst was over. However, on Friday afternoon some of us started to feel sick. My son, daughter-in-law, and grandson went home for their second Thanksgiving celebration. By the evening both our households were miserable.

This isn’t the first time illness has visited a holiday celebration, and it probably won’t be the last. There have been many Christmases, Easters, and Mother’s Days when one or more family members got sick, requiring adjustments to my expectations. Each time I am faced with a decision—Will I practice gratitude? Or will I practice self-pity?

I have lots of experience practicing self-pity. During my child-rearing years, feeling sorry for myself came easily. “Why is this happening to me?” “Bad things always happen on special days.” “It’s so unfair!” My mopey attitude would take an unfavorable situation and make it worse.

Many years ago I felt convicted by a passage of Scripture.

Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people (Philippians 2:14-15, NLT).

I have never liked arguing, but I can be really good at complaining. If I don’t guard my thoughts and attitudes, complaining can flow like water. Complaining spreads negativity and affects the people around me. Additionally, complaining damages my example as a Christ-follower. The light of Christ in me does not shine as brightly. I certainly don’t want that!

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done (Philippians 4:6).

Giving thanks is the opposite of complaining. (It is also a remedy to worrying.) I want to grow in gratitude. This Thanksgiving was a perfect opportunity to practice it. I was concerned that my family members felt terrible, and I did my best to help care for them. But, I wasn’t discouraged. I was out of commission for two and a half days. In the midst of my discomfort, I thanked the Lord for His continual presence with me and I prayed for healing of my family. I felt thankful that we had a long weekend to recover. I appreciated the kindness of a friend who went to the store to buy Gatorade when none of the adult in our home were able.

Every time we encounter circumstances that are less than what we would like, it is an opportunity to practice gratitude. When are you tempted to complain? How can you turn complaints into words of thanksgiving? Take the challenge to avoid complaining and practice gratitude.

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, You are good and perfect, always loving and faithful. When times are tough at home, in the workplace, or other places in my life, help me to focus on your blessings and develop an attitude of gratitude. Help me to shine as a bright light of Christ through my attitude, words, and actions. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

 

Advertisements
Posted in Faith, Personal Development

Finding Grace in Thanksgiving

I am grateful

The Thanksgiving weekend tops my list of favorite holiday celebrations. I love Christmas and Easter, because of their spiritual significance. I know the calendar dates are not accurate, but where would we be without the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ? However, Thanksgiving is the pinnacle for me, as I reflect with gratitude on the many blessings of life surrounded by the people dearest to me.

We hear a lot about the importance of gratitude this time of year. The deliberate practice of gratitude comes to the forefront, especially for Christ followers. In fact, it is entirely possible to be thankful without expressing gratitude. We may recognize God’s blessings and appreciate the kindness of others (being thankful). The next step is to actively express that recognition and appreciation (being grateful).

There is another element we do not hear much about during this season. That is grace.

A thankful heart starts with finding grace. In the Old Testament God’s grace describes deliverance from enemies or adversity. It also speaks of empowerment, daily guidance, forgiveness, and protection. In the New Testament, God’s grace focuses on the provision of salvation. It is God’s love in action towards people who earn the opposite of love. (That would be all of us.) Grace is the undeserved favor of God.

The longer I follow Jesus, the more I’m aware that I don’t deserve any of God’s kindness. There is no way I can measure up to His standard of absolute perfection. He has already paid the penalty for every single wrong thing I have done and made the way for me to spend eternity with Him. I am truly entitled to nothing. Anything I receive is a beautiful gift of grace, and the Lord continues to give and give and give.

I am not suggesting that we become self-deprecating. We are highly valued and deeply loved by the Lord who created us and knows us by name. He desires to be in relationship with us. Nevertheless, His love and desire originate from the Lord Himself not from our own greatness.

Even though we have been given much, our human nature complains about what we don’t have and that what we do have is not enough. It zooms in on the suffering, the tragedies, the injustices and inequities. Thankfulness cannot be found among such negativity. I don’t want to ignore the sorrows or pretend that everything is rosy, but I want to view life through the lens of grace. The lens of grace helps me to see the good in the midst of messy relationships and a hurting world. It leads to a thankful heart, which I choose to express.

Cultivate an awareness of grace, and be thankful. Don’t let your thankfulness go unsaid. Practice gratitude by giving voice to your appreciation.

Have a grace-filled Thanksgiving, my friends.

PSALM 100 (NLT)

Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
     Worship the Lord with gladness.
    Come before him, singing with joy.

 Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
    He made us, and we are his.
    We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
    go into his courts with praise.
    Give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good.
    His unfailing love continues forever,
    and his faithfulness continues to each generation.

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, I am so thankful for Your goodness and love. You have provided me salvation through Jesus Christ and pour out many blessings. Shine the light of Your Holy Spirit on the areas of my life affected by selfishness and entitlement. Teach me to see through the lens of grace, to recognize your gifts, and to express thanks. Empower me to be a person that practices gratitude well. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Character, Faith

The Thanksgiving Tree

img_9763

A couple weeks ago, one of my staff members surprised me. She came into my office and declared, “I think you’re rubbing off on me. May I show you something?”

My curiosity was piqued, and I traipsed after her to the staff meeting room.

“You know how I don’t like to think deeply about things?…” she began.

“Like, not at all,” I teased. This staff member clearly doesn’t enjoy my love for introspection and exploring the “why” behind “what” we do, but she is always a good sport during staff meeting exercises.

“Well, you got to me.” She chuckled as she pointed to the wall.

There on the wall was a large poster with a bare tree made of construction paper.

“It’s a Thanksgiving tree,” she explained. “There are paper leaves to write what we a thankful for, and then we put them on the tree. I made one for the office and one for my house.”

I smiled with delight. She was correct. The Thanksgiving tree was right up my alley. My staff and I have been filling the bare places on the tree with colorful notes of gratitude. We still have a lot to add.

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Even though it isn’t a church-centered occasion like Christmas and Easter, it is still very much Biblical.

The Bible refers to giving thanks and gratitude over 140 times. That number doesn’t include the word praise, which involves the element of thanksgiving.

As Christ-followers we should be the most grateful people on the planet. Consider the gift of salvation that our heavenly Father provided through the excruciating sacrifice of Jesus. We who were separated by sin from Him are now in relationship with Him. We have been adopted as His dearly loved children. What else do we really need? Anything else is a bonus. And yet, He has poured out His blessings on us.

Thanksgiving is a time built into our calendar where we can focus our attention on gratitude. We live in a culture of entitlement. It’s easy to get sucked into the lie that we deserve more than we have. Regardless of our income, we somehow believe we should have a comfortable place to live, a nice car, the newest version of the iPhone (sorry, Android users) and other technology, and go out to eat as often as we want. All our ventures should succeed, and we should enjoy widespread recognition for our accomplishments. Add other things to the list as it applies. Negativity seeps into our lives as we entertain these kinds of thoughts. Negativity breeds discouragement. Discouragement infects others. Tragically I have witnessed families and groups—even entire organizations—dismantled by discouragement.

Hope is required to move forward from a set back, disappointment, or mess. Hope allows us to to see the blessings and possibilities in our lives. Gratitude primes the pump for a positive, hope-filled perspective.

Perhaps you feel that your life is lacking, that it is bare like a deciduous tree in winter. You can turn that around by reflecting on your blessings and adding the colors of gratitude. If you’d like you can even start your own Thanksgiving tree. And then, use it to inspire you to develop the discipline of gratitude throughout the year.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever (1Chronicles 16:34).

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3).

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, it is easy to get caught up in an attitude of thanklessness. Open my eyes to see where I have allowed selfishness to rule and to discover any lies I have believed. Teach me Your ways, O Lord, that I may walk in Your truth. Show me how to live with a perspective of gratitude during this Thanksgiving season and throughout the year. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Character, Faith

Don’t Be Your Own Worst Enemy

pexels-photo-54377-large

Life can be tough. We live in a fallen world, and there is a devil whose mission is to “steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10). But can I just be honest with you? Sometimes I am my own worst enemy. I can be so skilled at sabotaging myself, the devil doesn’t have to be around for me to mess things up. I don’t want to dismiss the presence of evil. However, as a human being, I prefer blaming someone else when I should take responsibility for my own actions. The devil may be the tempter, but I’m the one who takes the bait.

I am so grateful for God’s promise of victorious love in Romans 8:38-39:

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

When I’m steeped in self-sabotage mode, I believe that circumstances or people in my life block my ability to experience God’s love. If God loves me so much and His love is so powerful, why can’t I see it? I fail to realize that I, through incorrect thinking, have separated myself.

Thankfully I’m learning to detect some of my self-sabotaging attitudes more quickly these days. I am more aware of when the negative thoughts begin, and then I turn my attention to Jesus.

What are some of these self-sabotaging attitudes?

Self-pity. I adopt a victim mentality. Nothing about my situation is good and there is nothing I can do about it. Because nobody really understands the depth of my pain, I dismiss anything they say to help me as invalid.

Pride. I question God’s sovereignty and wonder if He is really in control. After all, I think that my plans, purposes, and priorities are better than His. I know what my life should look like. I am impatient with His timing and resent the detours along the way.

Unbelief. Ultimately I don’t trust the Lord with my life. I lose sight that He is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving. As a result all I can see are limitations and lack. Fear or discouragement takes over as I assume the worst.

After recognizing self-sabotage, how do I turn my attention to Jesus?

Exchange self-pity for gratitude. God doesn’t “owe” me anything. He provided the way for me to be in relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. That is enough, and I am truly blessed. The Lord has given me everything I am and all I that have. No matter how tough my situation, I can experience joy and peace through the Holy Spirit. I determine to be content and grateful.

Exchange pride for humility. I confess that I really don’t know what is best. I surrender my life anew to God and acknowledge that apart from Him I can do nothing. I ask the Lord for a teachable spirit and look for opportunities to serve others.

Exchange unbelief for trust. I can identify with the father in Mark Chapter 9 who begged Jesus to deliver his son. “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief” (v. 24). I rely on grace to trust Him more. I pray for the Lord to empower me from his glorious, unlimited resources with inner strength through His Spirit. I ask for Christ to make His home in my heart, for my roots to grow down into God’s love and keep me strong (Ephesians 3:17).

Do you recognize self-sabotage in your life? How will you turn your attention to Jesus?

Those who know your name trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you (Psalm 9:10).

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, thank You that You never leave me where You found me. Thank You for giving me new life and teaching me new ways of living. Help me to see when I have attitudes or do things that sabotage myself. Help me to exchange negative thoughts and actions for thoughts and actions that honor You. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Posted in Faith, Personal Development

A Thanksgiving Challenge

Meet James and Mary, a newly married couple. They were a curious pair, he a widower, she a recent divorcee. They had found each other through a series of interesting events. After a whirlwind romance, they got married to the surprise and consternation of family and friends.

Opposites attract is a saying that I’ve seen epitomized many times, but James and Mary perfectly embodied it. James was cynical, seeing the negative in every situation, and freely sharing his criticisms with anyone who would listen (and even those who weren’t). Mary was an over-the-top optimist, seeing the positive in every situation, gushing happy platitudes with anyone who would listen (and even those who weren’t). As James dumped his woes, Mary enthusiastically proclaimed, “Speak life to the situation not death, honey. Think about all the ways God has blessed you.” James gave a sheepish smile, and then continued with a toned down version of the same story. Mary sighed undeterred and sang out, “He has such a good heart!”

This scene replayed itself many times in various forms while we were together. James would pour out negativity and Mary would counteract with positivity. Back and forth they went. Their antics resembled the shenanigans that often occur in our minds.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful (Colossians 3:15, NIV).

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Like Mary we know these Scriptures are true. It is God’s will for us to live in a state of gratitude. Yet, like James the negative circumstances in our lives capture our attention. I find it is so easy to dwell on what is going wrong instead of right. I can be in a funk for quite a while until the Holy Spirit reminds me to focus my attention on the goodness of God. Back and forth it goes.

There have been so many times I have felt convicted during a church service. As the congregation is encouraged to share something for which they are thankful, I can think of absolutely nothing. I search my memory bank through the fog of disappointment and discouragement for some glimmer of light, until finally…finally I see it—A blessing I have failed to acknowledge, a kindness shoved into a recess of my mind. As it rises to the surface, more good thoughts follow.

This Thanksgiving season, I issue a challenge to you (and myself, as well). Allow your mind to reflect on God’s goodness. When worries and negativity surface, eject them with God’s Word and express your gratitude for what He has done. It may look extreme, like James and Mary in action, but let thankfulness win.

Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power
and the glory and the majesty and the splendor,
for everything in heaven and earth is yours.
Yours, Lord, is the kingdom;
you are exalted as head over all.
Wealth and honor come from you;
you are the ruler of all things.
In your hands are strength and power
to exalt and give strength to all.
Now, our God, we give you thanks,
and praise your glorious name.
1 Chronicles 29:11-13

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, you have blessed me so many ways. Thank you for your love and care. Thank you for being abundantly present in my life. Help me to develop an attitude of gratitude. During this Thanksgiving season, let me focus on your good gifts and express appreciation often. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Posted in Personal Development, Servant Leadership

Give the Gift of Thank You

thanks2

In 1999 my husband and I moved to the Lower Yakima Valley to pastor a church and raise our family. Relocating to a new town to answer the call of God and impact the community for Jesus was an adventure we eagerly embraced. There was so much to learn about our new home and the culture of the area.

One thing I was unprepared for was what I perceived as a lack of manners among the kids. The first day I taught Children’s Church, I was shocked that none of the students said, “Please” or “Thank you”…ever. Saying “please” and “thank you” was standard practice in my home and some of the first words I taught my own children.

Instead, requests were demands. “Gimme that!”

When the students received anything, they acted as if it was owed to them.

I quickly embarked on a mission to not only teach the Bible, but to pass on the importance of manners. I figured if I started with the children, it might rub off on the adults. Within a few weeks, it became standard practice for the kids at church to say “thank you” to God, and to say “please” and “thank you” to each other.

To me saying “thank you” goes beyond social courtesy. It is a way to show gratitude and kindness. It abandons the attitude of entitlement that we humans are so prone to adopt.

Behind every “thank you” is the acknowledgement that I really do not deserve any good thing that comes my way (no matter how small) and I am blessed to receive it.

During this Thanksgiving season, we emphasize appreciation to God for the many blessings He has bestowed on us. We become more focused on His goodness to us and we express thanks. We open our eyes to the grace we have been given. This is as it should be.

The Apostle Paul penned these words as final instructions to the Church in Thessalonica. They are sandwiched between instructions for healthy relationships within the faith community and instructions for corporate worship. It’s as if he’s saying, “In a nutshell, this is how to thrive as a follower of Jesus Christ.”

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV).

Along with rejoicing and praying, giving thanks should be an every-day-throughout-the-day activity.

Thanksgiving should describe our posture toward the Lord. It should also describe our posture toward others. Expressing our gratitude to the people around us is an important (yet often overlooked) element of living a life of thanksgiving.

Take personal inventory for a moment. Do you regularly and frequently express thanks to others? What about…

The customer service representative or coffee house barista. But that’s their job!

The strangers you encounter along the way. But I don’t know them. That would be awkward.

Your children. But they’re doing what they’re supposed to, and I had to remind them five times.

Your employees or followers. That’s what they’re paid for (or what they signed up for). Besides, they could be doing so much more.

Your friends. They already know I appreciate them.

Your spouse.  What?!!! Really?!!!

How did you do? Which area do you need to address most?

It’s natural for us to notice what people do wrong. Unfortunately it produces criticizing, complaining, nagging, and frustration. However, living a life of thanksgiving begins when we pay attention to what people are doing right, and we express gratitude for it. We give the gift of “thank you.” The Spirit of grace will flow, producing the love, joy, peace, and other fruit we so desire.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23).

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3)

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:17).

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, thank you for blessing me. Help me to grow in the grace of gratitude, not taking your gifts for granted. Teach me to express thanksgiving more often to you and to others, so that giving thanks becomes a way of life. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Posted in Character, Faith

The Gratitude Approach

Not too long ago, I was lamenting the fact that I am a realist. It is easy for me to wear “the black hat” in meetings. I see facts and circumstances more quickly than possibilities and vision. I tend to live in the present rather than the future. Yes, I have learned the leadership skills for strategic foresight and communicating a compelling vision, and I utilize them well, but they aren’t in my natural zone…And so my thoughts went on.

Then, in the midst of my mental wrestling, inspiration broke through.

The pessimist sees the glass half empty. The optimistic sees the glass half full. More importantly, the person of gratitude is thankful for the glass and what it contains.

I can’t really change the way I’m wired. However, I can choose my response to what I see. Whether the glass is half empty or half full, I can choose to be thankful. I can choose to give thanks for the things that are going well. Even when circumstances are difficult, I can choose to give thanks. Not necessarily for it, but in the midst of it, because God’s grace, strength, and encouragement are extended to me. As I choose to express thanksgiving, hope rises in my heart and spills out on others around me. I call this “The Gratitude Approach.”

Many Bible passages instruct us to give thanks always, for everything, in all circumstances (Ephesians 5:20; Colossians 3:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:18). This seems like an amazingly tall order! What is even more amazing to me is that God does not ask us to do something that is impossible! Of course, “The Gratitude Approach” does not occur naturally. It comes as we spend time with Jesus and allow His life to flow in us, and then through us. It comes as we walk in His grace.

When we practice “The Gratitude Approach,” we acknowledge the ways (no matter how small) God has revealed His care to us. We take our eyes off the stress and difficulties of life, family, and workplace, and focus them where they belong–on the Giver of life and breath, on the Provider of all our needs, on the Artist who inspires and creates, on the Lover of our souls who is more than enough. Then we can see that God indeed is actively working His special plan and has invited us to join Him.

As we prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday, I challenge you to consider “The Gratitude Approach” as your own. Pessimist? Realist? Optimist? Choose to be grateful on Thanksgiving Day and beyond.