Quick To Thank

I Thank God For Joan

I have someone to thank. My friend Joan has been amazing! I asked her to come up with a project that my 7 Rivers Knitters could do while she visited here, and look what she did. She designed these awesome Zulu Decorative Pillow Covers that people can buy to make their home beautiful. We went shopping and cut out fabric together. We planned out and assembled these kits … and what a blessing they have been to the ladies. Yes, it has been challenging for them, but not impossible. We are learning and growing to make new beautiful things.

Joan has been a blessing in my life for many years. This last opportunity to think thanks was just so over-the-top. I was grateful for her thoughtful kindness and for the sustained effort she put into developing this project.

I thank the Lord for Joan. I am thankful to Joan. I am thankful for Joan.

https://www.7riversoutreach.org/7-rivers-knitters

Expansive Credit

The opportunity to thank someone is seldom out of reach. When we thank someone, we give credit to them. As I thank God for my friend Joan, I give Him credit for creating Joan and for sanctifying her and for equipping her as He has.

When I thank Joan, I give her credit as well. I say that I notice how creative she is, how much effort she put into designing the pillows, knitting and sewing a prototype, raising funds for the project, helping me shop for fabric and yarn, compiling kits, mentioning to her that I couldn’t and wouldn’t have done this project without her. There is so much credit I can give for so many things, rather than just saying “thanks for all your help on this.” It is a lovely thing to give someone “expansive credit.”

Am I looking for opportunities to express thanks? To give expansive credit to someone? Or do I maybe just sum up a massive amount of thanks for a sustained and multifaceted effort someone has made with a curt, “Hey, thanks”? Or worse yet, do I just think thanks and then say nothing? Don’t let your introverted personality or stoic culture stand in the way of practicing this godly discipline in your life.

It is interesting to note that when I go without something for a while, I become much more thankful to receive it back. The absence of something we have taken for granted – like electricity or water or a job or a friend – makes us aware of how nice it was to have those things or people. Only then, we realize that we need to be careful not to take that thing for granted. Must I lose something or someone to be truly thankful for them? Too many people give expansive credit to others only at their funeral. Give them a eulogy (eu=good; logos=message) before they die.

Reverse Entitlement

We’re living in an age of entitlement. People believe that they are deserving of privileges or special treatment. “I have this coming to me.” As a Jesus-follower, let’s build our lives on what HE looks like, and overflow with thankfulness. Let’s not overflow with negativity or insensitivity, seldom praising the people we live with and work with. The Bible says bluntly, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” (Proverbs 18:21) We’ve all felt the pain of name-calling, put-downs, anger — things that killed our joy, confidence, or sense of worth. But there are some unforgotten comments that are like wind beneath our wings; among them is the powerful uplift of a “thank you.” An acknowledgment, a “thank you” to a son or daughter for their strength of character, generosity, sensitivity to people who are hurting, for their passion, sense of humor, discipline, insight, or honesty. This will cause them to flourish.”

Dick Hester

Entitlement is a preoccupation about what has not come to me but should have. The energy is on pulling in the focus, on self-promotion, on gaining attention, on demanding privilege. The worst is when lethargy and mediocrity demand such things. Thankfulness is reverse entitlement. It is outward focus, others-promotion, attention deflection, and advocating privilege for someone who deserves credit.

Who Will You Thank Today?

So how about it. Who will you thank today? Be quick to do it. It might not be that hard. 🙂 And as we come up on the Thanksgiving season, perhaps this is something you could do as a family.

I want to have as a goal for every day that I have left to live that I would daily find someone to encourage. Maybe it would be a simple “thank you” for doing that. Maybe a text. Maybe a big smile. Maybe a written note. Maybe something I bake or buy.

It is important to remember that I thank God for that person and then express my thanks to the person. God is sovereignly behind every good and perfect gift.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

James 1:17

The beautiful repercussion of being quick to thank, is that you start being more th(i)nkful. It just happens automatically. You think thanks!

LET’S BE QUICK TO THANK!

Choosing Companions

To Timothy, My Son

Most of us have concluded that the years 2020-2022 have been pretty world-changing. There was another set of three years long ago that brought a lot of change in the Middle East – the years 68-70AD. In that space, Peter was crucified upside down, Paul was beheaded, and Jerusalem and the second Jewish Temple were destroyed. Other apostles had already been martyred for the faith in Syria, Egypt, Greece, Armenia, Persia, and India.

Paul knew that this letter to Timothy (2 Timothy) was his last. His time to depart this earth was at hand (see 4:6). God had given Paul revelation about pieces and parts of end times prophecy, but as was typical of the Lord, He gave Paul no timelines. Paul thought it must be soon, maybe in the next 10-20 years. Paul knew other apostles were being killed, false teachers were building wealth and reputation in the church, and young men of the second generation, like Demas, were falling away.

How about Tim? Timothy was godly but the youngest of the Ephesian elders. He was timid. He had stomach issues. Paul chose his words carefully under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and encouraged Timothy to avoid the spirit of fear which is not from God. God through His Spirit gives power, love, and self control. He exhorted him to stay faithful and to entrust the gospel to faithful men.

The 19 Horribles

In the third chapter Paul gave Timothy a heads-up about how people would change in the last days before Jesus’ return. In only five verses, Paul listed the 19 Horribles. These characteristics have been around since Genesis, but toward the end, society will come under a dominant spirit of the age (zeitgeist) and be defined by it. You might feel these Horribles are strangely familiar.

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.”

2 Timothy 3:1-5

Do you notice #7? Right there in the list of horribles … “ungrateful.” Just like “the hinge” in Romans 1:21 that started the long slide downward for society, unthankfulness and ungratefulness are no small sins. The Greek word means “without grace.” Ungratefulness emphasizes personal hurts, disadvantages, and inequalities, finds flaws and faults, embraces victimization, and rejects authority and society at large for messing everything up. The sister of ungratefulness, three words further on, is “unappeasable.”

“The wicked are always ungrateful.”

Miguel de Cervantes

Companions of Ungratefulness

It is a well-settled proverb that we imitate our companions (Proverbs 22:24-25). It is through others that we often invent, or reinvent, ourselves. We may dress alike, laugh the same, use the same phrases, and repeat their views about things. The companions of an ungrateful person will often become ungodly. You may say that is a harsh statement. I ask you to consider if it is true. The incessant highlighting of wrongs, faults, short-comings, and injustices will strongly impress the mind to also begin seeing the cup way below half-empty.

A person that is thankful and expresses that gratitude attracts different people. She knows there are big problems that require great thought, humility, and serious discussion, but she will highlight things in or around the situation that are cause for joy and cause to give credit to God or other people. This is not a matter of spinning the truth or “redefining reality,” but it is recognizing every reality as a mix of light and darkness, of beauty and brokenness, of merit and mess. It is a characteristic of greatness and great leaders.

It is possible that a believer well grounded in the faith and convinced of the Sovereign One’s control will be able to maintain heaven’s perspective in the midst of ungrateful company. But they will be thought of as alien. Ungrateful people think a chronically grateful person is “just unreal” or is “living in a make-believe reality.”

“Ingratitude is always a kind of weakness. I have never known men of ability to be ungrateful.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Steer Clear

At the end of the Horrible 19, Paul says, “Avoid such people.” Steer clear of them. Don’t seek their company. Paul used the word “avoid” in his letters to Timothy and Titus, saying to avoid quarrels, avoid irreverent babble, and avoid controversies. Similar idea. Ungrateful people are known for the skills of irreverently quarreling about controversies – fault-finding, knit-picking, and mocking.

Instead, Timothy was to surround himself with people who wanted to seek after God, to give credit to Him for what He had done, and to thank those used by God for making life and service a better experience.

So what about you?

First question: Are you described as a person who is ungrateful?

Second question: Do you hang out with ungrateful people?

Do some introspection and evaluate if you are th(i)nkful. Are you on a regular basis looking for things for which to think thanks? Do you express that thanks to God verbally or write it down?

Release Yourself Through Forgiveness

Opportunity for Wisdom

She lied! There was actually no doubt about the action. It was a blatant, outright falsehood. How could Sam forgive her? The damage to his trust, to their relationship, had been done. Why did he need to tell her the truth anymore? Why not betray her trust as she had done his? That seemed fair.

As Sam met with his friend and shared about his pain and anger, the friend pointed him to Ephesians 4:32. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” The contrast was glaring. Sam’s friend suggested that the response to the hurt be kindness in return. What??

In Scripture, we often see the irony of opposites. Tozer once wrote about these opposites. “[A Christian] empties himself in order to be full, admits he is wrong so he can be declared right, goes down in order to get up, is strongest when he is weakest, richest when he is poorest, and happiest when he feels worst. He dies so he can live, forsakes in order to have, gives away so he can keep, sees the invisible, hears the inaudible and knows that which passeth knowledge.”

Now, when we have been mistreated, abused, and sinned against, it is correct to confront in love and to speak truth to the offender. But you also need to forgive, not because they deserve to be forgiven, but because God through Christ, has forgiven you. We don’t forgive because we don’t really appreciate the depths to which we ourselves have been forgiven.

Forgiveness Linked to Being Th(i)nkful

When a person is working through what it means to forgive and not harbor bitterness, there’s a battle within. It feels wrong that the offender doesn’t get what they deserve. And then there is an ‘aha’ moment when we realize that we don’t forgive an offender because they deserve to be forgiven. We forgive because we are so enormously thankful for how God forgave us through Jesus. Forgiveness begins with thankfulness. How thankful we are that we didn’t get what we deserved!!

Think about this admonition.

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Romans 12:14-21

As we think thanks about God’s forgiving us for the millions of evil thoughts, motives, actions and words we have had through our lifetime, and continue pondering the new foundation of the Word, the Spirit and a clean conscience He has given us to stand on, we can release the stone of unforgiveness towards the one who has maltreated us. It may take time. It may need to be worked through with a counselor. But as we think thanks on how God has forgiven us, it gives us a motive to forgive, too.

Releasing Them Releases Us

We don’t forgive others just because we have been forgiven. We also forgive because harboring bitterness and waiting to take revenge is a toxin that poisons us, not them; a cage that imprisons us, not them. Harboring unforgiveness and bitterness has mental, emotional, and biological consequences for us.

There is a release and renewed vigor when we choose to forgive. There is a wonderful freedom that comes from forgiving a person that has hurt us, even if that person has since died. God has created us and He knows that forgiving is what will eventually bring deep healing. The irony is that people often hug their prison cage and sip at their poison. God forgives us so that we can release others and thereby release ourselves. The Lord will deal with the wicked and the unrepentant.

Sure, the optimal scenario is when the offender comes and seeks forgiveness. Until then, we give “accorded forgiveness” based on our own resources as those who are thankful that we have been forgiven much. But when an offender seeks forgiveness, then we enthusiastically give our “completed forgiveness.” Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting, but it is one big decision followed by a thousand small decisions not to bring the matter up again by way of revenge. Forgetting is weakness. Forgiving is strength.

To forgive is to imitate the God who forgave us and continues to forgive us even when we fail to ask. We are so very thankful for His steadfast love and faithfulness, and our forgiving others begins with that thankfulness.

“We don’t forgive because we don’t really appreciate the depths to which we ourselves have been forgiven.”

David Brown

Who Is Your God?

Do You Know Who Is Your God?

A thinker recently told me, “Every mature man needs to figure out who is his god.” I liked that. Do you know who is your god and how you worship that god? You do worship, you know. Whether you are aware of it or not. Every human being worships something or someone.

Do you realize that with any other god beside the One True God, you can never be fully thankful.

A god, or idol, is anything that wins over the true God when two ways diverge. When you come to a fork in the road that requires a choice, you pick what you worship.

Counselors have identified three main gods or idols: the god of comfort, the god of control, and the god of people-pleasing, but they take on varied mantels to attract us and pull us in.

Tim Keller identified several similar Idols: power, work, achievement, image, dependence, independence, religion, irreligion, inner ring, racial/cultural, ideology, materialism, family, relationship…..

Most of us feel a pang of guilt when these idols are mentioned. Most of us could raise our hands that we battle with more than one. There is one sure thing: these gods always disappoint and fall short. These gods will leave you unthankful because they cannot be relied upon.

If you have formed a relationship with the One True God, Yahweh, His character and promises are unchanging, and though His ways lead into deep darkness at times, we know that He is micromanaging every detail for His plan and glory and for our good.

You want to worship such a God the way that He desires you to worship. He desires to cleanse you from your sin and to make you new. His new life and indwelling Spirit changes you from the inside out. He begins to renew your mind as you put off the shackles that belong to another god, and put on the things that please the true and righteous God.

As we conform to the image of the Lord Jesus, we become less us and more Him. We live life with a different perspective than someone who lives for the deceptive and disappointing gods of this world. One of the elements of Christlikeness is to live life thinking thanks to the Father (Matthew 11:25, Luke 10:21, John 11:41, Colossians 1:3).

As we think thanks, we learn to see His fingerprints in our every day lives. Our minds look for things to give thanks for on a continual basis.

The beautiful thing that happens to us when we worship the One True God is that He satisfies us. In His presence is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11).

Deep Darkness

One of the true tests of what your worship happens when you are going through difficulties. It is easy to be thankful and trust God when things are going smoothly.

What about in ‘deep darkness?’

Psalm 23:4 says that even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

The “shadow of death” can be literally translated as “deep darkness.” Even in the times of deep darkness I do not need to fear evil. The reason the psalmist gives is because the Shepherd is with me, His rod and staff comfort me. If you have the god of comfort, you will be very uncomfortable. If you have the god of control, you will be outraged. If you have the god of people-pleasing, you will struggle to keep your friends and family happy in the deep darkness.

Thinking thanks even in the deep darkness seems almost impossible even with the One True God. It feels like it is hard just to breathe. Yes, it is very hard. And it may take a long time before we are able to get to the point where we can even contemplate thinking on something that we can be thankful for.

But when we finally look up, we will see that we did not wander off on our own; the Shepherd has been there. Then we can begin to see things that are gifts from the Shepherd, and then follows a slow release of a deep joy that builds as we gain perspective from a distance.

He has not left me to wither up by myself. He is with me!

Just that thought is enough to give you cause for thinking thanks. He has not forsaken me. He cares about me intensely. He has even counted all the hairs on my head. He loves me with an everlasting love that will not end (Jeremiah 31:3).

God’s Trusted Character

So who is your god? Do you know? Have you identified who it is?

The gods of this world that I am tempted to worship are temporal. They do not satisfy. Yes, maybe there is quick, temporary satisfaction, but they will never follow you into the deep darkness. Only One Shepherd will.

If you worship the God of the Bible, you have the confidence that He is the Blessed Controller of all things. He will work all the difficult things together for my good, conforming me into Jesus’ likeness.

Actively pursue thinking thanks. Figure out a way that works for you. Whether you say it orally to someone daily or write it down or make a voice message to someone. Weave it in to the fiber of your life. Obey the Shepherd who walks with us and guides us.

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

I Thessalonians 5:18

Every Monday

It’s Deliberate

Every Monday we send each other a thinkful list. Our brains search through our immediate situation and we deliberately find things that we can think thanks about. We have done this now for over two years. It is amazing to me that when I read my friend’s thinkful list, I always feel edified. I know that she has hard things in her life, but she chooses to focus and draw out things for which to give thanks to the Lord.

Being th(i)nkful is choosing to deliberately focus on the good in our good times and the good in our bad times.

“I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds.”

Psalm 77:12

Why?

So why do I need to go through the discomfort of forging new brain neural pathways of finding things to think thanks about?

That is a good question. First of all we need to do this because our Shepherd has asked this of us.

He has given a direct command to give thanks in all circumstances that I find myself in (I Thessalonians 5:18). He wants me to ponder His works, His ways, His solutions. It is a good thing for me to trust my Shepherd. It is a good thing to take time out. My Shepherd makes me lie down in green pastures and He leads me beside still waters. Taking 20 minutes out of a hectic schedule to gather my thoughts about what I am thankful for is lying down in a green pasture for a bit. He is pleased. And He restores my soul.

Secondly, this practice will become easier when I have carved that neural pathway deeply. I enjoy thinking about how you can do something more wisely and with less challenge. I can trust my Shepherd’s way because:

“All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep His covenant and His testimonies.”

Psalm 25:10

Wonder in Reine

My husband and I just celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary. David whisked me away to Norway and we had the best getaway ever!! We had been dreaming of going to Reine, Norway and climbing Reinebringen. It is a demanding steep hike to the top of a mountain. On the summit you can see for miles. We got to actually do it!

You can get disoriented driving around all the little roads and alleys in these fishing villages. But up top, you get an incredible overview of where everything is, and how it fits together. God has this kind of view all the time. He sees the beginning from the end. He is the Sovereign One over every nook and cranny and is therefore worthy of our trust.

So if He says, “Karin, give thanks in everything,” I need to heed that. His Spirit is within me and living with me through all of my troubling circumstances. He loves me as He loves His Son who went through troubling circumstances. He knows that thinking and thanking Him will be for my good, so I need to obey. I desire to discern, delight, and do His will in my life, and He wants me to express thankfulness as a core life-skill.

One last thing! We discovered such wonder at the fjord by Olstinden, Reine. The water was clear and turquoise. Looked quite magical, and we stood in awe at the perfect weather and pristine beauty.

Whenever we see such beauty – whether God-made, or manmade, or just created by computer-generated imaging – eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has entered into the imagination, the wonders God has prepared for those who love Him! So we can always be thankful that the future for God’s true children is far better than anything we can see or experience now, as amazing as that might be.

Keep thinking thanks and keep your gaze on Him and His view of your life. Do it every Monday with a friend.

I Do Not Take It For Granted

Removed

In April of 2022 the area around Durban, South Africa, received torrential rains.

Highways were flooded and homes were destroyed from landslides and water. At least 430 were reported to have passed away, with many more still missing. Such devastation and ruin. Food parcels were assembled and distributed. Collections for help to rebuild homes were taken up.

In our little complex of flats, we only lost water and power for several days. Otherwise, were just fine. It was interesting to see how frail we are in our great and powerful Western civilization; just take away our water and electricity, and we are in an absolute crisis. We had to carry water to flush the toilets and boil for drinking. It gave us a clearer picture of what it is like in our nearby rural communities to carry water for your daily needs.

Day after day we got the opportunity to learn that having access to water and power is something to be very thankful for indeed. We took it for granted, and when it wasn’t granted, we learned to value it.

The rural African lives far more like Jesus than we do. When Jesus walked on earth, He did not have running water, electricity, air conditioning, automobiles, or wifi. What was normal for him would now be a crisis for us.

All Of A Sudden

Then one morning I awoke to David saying that the power was back on. Hallelujah!! Later, water trickled from the faucet for several hours, but eventually came back in full.

I was so hit with the fact that I must NEVER take these things for granted. I am now so thankful for the absolute magic of looking intently, turning a faucet handle slowly … and there comes clean water!!

I am more thankful after going through the removal of the object. Like the old adage, “love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.”

I know that my fleshly tendency will be to gravitate towards taking it for granted after a while, but I am fighting that with my whole being. I want to etch deeply in my mind that I must continue to be thankful for the conveniences technology has brought us, while being reminded not to let them make me too soft.

Thank You, Lord, for Reminders

Physical reminders can be quite effective. Going without water and electricity for many days sharply embedded in me a reminder to be thankful for those daily gifts. But I was meditating on a spiritual analogy to this loss of water as well.

Water in the Scripture is a picture of spiritual life itself. The nonbeliever goes about searching for meaning in the myriad dry wells of our cultures. The mirage of the new draws them foolishly to yet another dry well. They are like a desert shrub, like the chaff that the wind drives away (Psalm 1, Jeremiah 17:6).

But when God opens a lost person’s heart to the gospel and he or she receives the Word, they experience the washing of regeneration (Titus 3:5, Ephesians 5:26). Their reborn spirit, indwelled by the Holy Spirit and fed by the Word of God, is referred to as “living water” which will never run dry and will bubble over for the benefit of others (John 4:14, 7:38).

Despite these lovely truths, there are times when I realize that I am spiritually thirsty and dried up. Sometimes it is because I have given out emotionally and spiritually for days without much of a rest. Sometimes it is because I have poured months of counsel into a soul only to experience their betrayal or to see them make woefully bad decisions. Sometimes it is because I have an idol or sin that I am not parting with (Psalm 32:4). Most often it is because I am not washing my mind with the Word to regain God’s perspective. I turn on the faucet and nothing comes out.

But I go down on my knees with tears, and I go to the Word, and I go to the Throne and pour out my heart … and that brokenness dislodges whatever stone was covering the well. The water begins to flow again. “It’s going to be ok. Self, speak truth! Self, give me God-soaked counsel!”

“Well,” I whisper to myself, “through Jesus’ sacrifice in my place, I was forgiven of all my sins (from the cradle to the grave) all at once, I was reconciled with the Creator God and was placed in right standing in His family and Kingdom. I am set to inherit from Him one day. One day soon, Jesus will return for me and my brothers and sisters. This earth is my only hell, and I will live out His mission for my life …” and I end up shouting out with my finger in the air, “because I want to make Him happy, and that’s all that matters!” Guess what? The water is on. He has washed me with His word.

Meditating and saturating my thoughts on all that I have in Christ is fodder for thinking thanks. Recently my husband handed out a paper during a message with the title “Who I Am In Christ.” I have it tucked in my Bible to remind me daily. He has given me so very much in Jesus.

Changed

This temporal removal of having something I needed every day, changed me. It prompted thinking thanks. I want to remain changed. May I not take gifts from the Father for granted.

Water and power are wonderful commodities, but even more importantly, spiritual cleansing and power are essential. I must have that living water and not let the well get blocked. Worse yet, I must never go after the empty wells of my culture.

God offers water full and free flowing to me and to you. It will always be there for us. Torrential rains and flooding will not obstruct it. Receive it with gratitude and cherish it.

I do not take it for granted!

Gratitude Rewires

Thinkful for Percimony

My youngest granddaughter Perci is learning to walk. She lurches, wobbles, and falls, but gets back up. It is so precious to see her try to move one foot in front of the other and maintain balance. Not an easy feat!

But after awhile, she will “learn” – she will have actually unwittingly hardwired her brain to move her body toward her goal without thinking through the steps. She will simply lean and start, alternate between legs, maintain her balance, turn left and right, and achieve her little goals!

It takes months of trial and error, but once the neuro-pathways are developed, it will happen automatically. Percimony will know how to walk.🚶‍♀️

Percimony is also developing a much deeper skill for life – problem solving. She had a desired target across the room (the piano). She decided to take stock of her resources to get there, which were not good since she lacked coordination. She could have sat in a puddle of weeping and woes, but she decided to work at it; trying and failing until she felt her skills getting better. In time, she got there.

How Is Your Brain Wired?

The beautiful thing about Percimony’s brain is that it is new. It is getting wired and programmed for the first time, and wow does it learn quickly. For the rest of us, the ability to learn is getting slower and more difficult as time goes by. What is even more difficult is the task of learning something differently from the way you’ve always done it. This is what the Bible calls “renewing,” which requires a bit of “undoing” first.

To “renew your mind” (Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:23) is to actively examine your thinking in the light of God’s Truth (John 17:17) to assure that you are thinking correctly. It is to identify and root out wrong perceptions of who God is, who Jesus is, who the Spirit is, who your neighbor is, who you are, and how you should relate to these others. Paul wrote that we are to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). We may need to identify and painfully pull down idols of the heart like the desires for control, comfort, and affirmation that have woven their way through all our thoughts.

We are then to plug in thinking that pleases God. This takes work, repetition, and time. It may take an accountability partner to help give you a little signal when “you’re doing it again.” You will likely need to memorize verses in areas where you are weak, and meditate on those truths (Psalm 1:2).

Rewiring for Gratitude!

So perhaps you’re grumpy, chronically unthankful, a glass-half-empty, little black raincloud to all who know you. Perhaps you dismiss it as just being a problem-spotter, or being an idealist, or “just stating the obvious.” While improvements are normally helpful, the truth is that God commands us to give thanks in everything (Ephesians 5:20). Even if it needs fixing, we can begin with thinking thanks. It helps wire our brains correctly to first search for and highlight the good, then move on to remedies.

I love it when the secular experts “discover” what God has long said is actually really good for us.

“Studies have shown that performing simple gratitude exercises, like keeping a gratitude diary or writing letters of thanks, can bring a range of benefits.”

Christian Jarrett

One notable study followed over 40 participants seeking treatment for depression and anxiety. Half were asked to write letters expressing gratitude before the first few counseling sessions, while the rest formed a control group who attended “therapy-as usual.” Three months later, both groups were asked to perform a generosity task while being measured by MRI.

According to Jarrett: “The participants who’d completed the gratitude task months earlier not only reported feeling more gratefulness two weeks after the task than members of the control group, but also, months later, showed more gratitude-related brain activity in the scanner. The researchers described these ‘profound’ and ‘long-lasting’ neural effects as ‘particularly noteworthy’..[This suggests] that the more practice you give your brain at feeling and expressing gratitude, the more it adapts to the mindset…a sort of gratitude ‘muscle’ that can be exercised and strengthened.”

NeuroImage Volume 128, March 2016, Pages 1-10

Exercising My Gratitude Muscle

YAY!!!! Percimony took steps into her daddy’s arms. So much celebration followed. Perci even clapped for herself. :). I am exercising my gratitude muscle as I rehearse so many things for which I am thankful to God. He is a good, good Father and is helping me renew my mind to think on what is true, what is good, what is sufficient, and what is trustworthy. I can give thanks to Him for everything because He is the ultimate Authority in all my days and moments, and does all things well.

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.”

Robert Brault

Even in the Cesspool

Not the Cesspool!

It smells so bad! Could a person actually get used to toxic odors and it not bother him anymore? Recently I learned about an imprisoned brother who was given the grace to actually overcome the horrid smells of a cesspool and find reasons to be thankful for it.

Chen Min Lin lived during a time and place in history where it was illegal to talk about his personal conversion and the Bible. This pastor shared his faith … to a fault some would say. He was incarcerated for 18 years for this crime. After many years, he was assigned to the dreaded cesspool duty. He felt that he had been given a death sentence.

How could he possibly serve God in the cesspool of this prison, trudging around in a field of filth? But the stink of this field had one distinct advantage (pun intended). He was alone. He would always be alone, and no one would disturb him. And so, it was there in the most awful place that he found communion with his Creator. He would pray, lift up his hands, sing to the Lord, and commune with Him right there in the cesspool as he worked.

It became a treasured place to walk and talk with the Lord, even while cleaning the cesspool. (Click on his name to watch the short video describing his joy of finding joy even in the cesspool.)

How I View My Challenges

How do we view heavy challenges that come our way? I know how quickly I am tempted to complain. Yesterday I was struggling through sitting in a very hot church service. It was a fiery day in the mid-nineties outside and our church was going through load-shedding with no power. So not even the fan would work. I was listening to David teaching a Bible college course for four hours in the afternoon.

As I sweated and tried to fan myself with a paper, I realized how easy it was for me to get irritated with something as little as heat. What about all the Ukrainian believers who are right now freezing to death and starving, going weeks without bathing? My endurance surely was quite lacking. 😦

Oh, how good it is to view our challenges with God’s eyes.

James gives us a great perspective. Hard times build endurance and fully-outfitted maturity:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

James 1:2-4

New Resolve

So whatever my hard thing is presently, thank you, Lord!

These difficulties have a purpose. They are shaping me. God is using the difficulties to create something beautiful in me … if I will allow Him to do that! In some cases, the hard thing ends up being a growth point, or a growth era, in my life. Though I may hate it now, I will look back and see glory in the cesspool … where my gray prison walls were exchanged for a radiant sun and gentle breezes … where a kaleidoscope of watching eyes were exchanged for the freedom of being alone with God.

“For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

2 Corinthians 4:15-18

Help me, Lord God (Simakade in isiZulu), to worship you on the pathways you have chosen for me. You may call me to cesspool duty. You may call me to endure the trauma and unspeakable losses of war. You may call me to a dithering and withering job. You may call me to a disappointing and discouraging marriage. You may call me to something as simple as sweating in a hot African church. But as you choose my path, also choose your largest vial of grace and pour it out on my soul to see Your fingerprints, Your opportunities, Your promises, and Your image being formed in my person.

Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.

C.S. Lewis

The DNA of Joy is Thankfulness

What is DNA?

Virtually all living things have a programming code within themselves. It is what makes them who or what they are. You have it and I have it. It is, of course, deoxyribonucleic acid … better known as DNA.

DNA: a self-replicating material that is present in nearly all living organisms as the main constituent of chromosomes. It is the carrier of genetic information.

Paul Tripp makes a bold statement when he states that “the DNA of joy is thankfulness.” The genetic makeup of joy is thankfulness.

We need to first come up with a good definition of joy. You can see the word “hap” in happiness, which is a feeling of pleasure based on happenings around us. It is a positive emotion responding to external stimuli. When outside circumstances become difficult, the positive feeling is gone.

Joy, in contrast, is like a hardy plant that grows based on processes taking place on the inside – the replication of billions of DNA. Like a spiritual evergreen that is rooted in the water of life, joy is a slowly growing positive contentment generated by the Spirit of Jesus inside the believer that is not a mere product of my circumstances. Joy generates an inward smile … not flashy spike of outward elation. When outside circumstances become difficult, the inward replication continues and even increases.

But what ideas is the Spirit using to generate this good and positive calmness in my heart and mind? John Piper writes: “Christian joy is a good feeling in the soul produced by the Holy Spirit as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the Word and in the world” (John Piper, Desiring God, “How Do You Define Joy?”).

First, the Spirit takes our minds to the Word of God, flipping through its pages to discover the steadfast love of the Lord for His people, His sovereignty over the odds, His ability to bring beauty out of ashes, and glory out of oppression. This builds our confidence in Him for our present struggles.

Second, if we give Him the chance, the Spirit also takes our minds through the world of our lives, our friends, family, and church community to search for His fingerprints, for answers to prayer, for so many things to be thankful for even in our struggles.

If you look at the Word and your world only on the surface, you will struggle to find the beauty of Christ and the splendor of His designs. This is often why over-busy people crash and burn when things go wrong; they don’t have time to search for Spirit-guided insights into the Word and the world. Spirit-led “th(i)nkfulness” requires reflection. The more you think and look for the beauty of Christ, the more DNA of thankfulness you produce … and it takes a lot of DNA to grow this tree of joy.

Carrying Th(i)nkfulness

Paul David Tripp gives us a poem in his book New Morning Mercies that explains how remembering to be thankful to God and all He has done can bring us inner joy:

I wish I always

carried it with me.

I wished it always

shaped the way

I look at life.

I wish it directed

my desires.

I wish it was

the natural inclination of

my heart.

I wish remembering

your boundless grace

would silence

my grumbling.

I wish my worship of you,

my trust of you,

my rest in you

would drive away

all complaint.

If my heart is ever

going to be freed of

grumbling

and ruled by

gratitude,

I need your grace:

grace to remember,

grace to see,

grace that produces

a heart of humble joy.

Paul David Tripp

How This Might Work Practically

Studying Psalm 107 helps to create joy’s DNA. Five times the writer encourages the reader to thank the Lord for His goodness and His steadfast love and His wondrous works to the children of men. He ends with: “Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the LORD.”

When we cultivate remembering God’s steadfast love for us, and rehearse all that He has given to us, we begin to wind up that DNA double helix of thankfulness that will produce joy. This is great for husbands and wives, dads and moms, at the end of an event or a weekend to call out, “OK, let’s rehearse the good things God did for us this weekend,” and then do a rapid “thinkful volley” back and forth. The remembering gives a rush of new DNA, building joy in us and inspiring us to trust Him for future days.

Life in the Scorched Earth

But sometimes a field fire just torches your tree. All joy seems lost. I am all too familiar with deep sorrow in these past six months having lost a sister, brother-in-law, dad, nephew and other precious things. How can I remember God’s steadfast love when I sit in ashes?

It is precisely when my circumstances are difficult that I need to remember the steadfast love of the LORD. Though He sent the fire and the tree of joy is gone, there is still the rootstock and the DNA of th(i)nkfulness is still replicating. The God of the fire is also the God of the living water underneath me. My God is still on the throne. He is trustworthy even when He allows hard things. He is with me and comforts me. He cares for me even through tears of sorrow.

With enough DNA, the little sprig of joy will pierce the blackened soil, and joy will begin its journey of growth and fullness reaching toward heaven.

Choosing to remember His steadfast love will genetically produce joy.

Anonymous

Schedule It In

Do You Plan?

Do you use a planner? I tend to write things up on my monthly chalkboard in the kitchen and then keep paper slips as reminders. I do love to draw a big fat line through something that I have accomplished. 🙂

Well, we are way into 2022. The days are marching consistently on whether we give them permission or not. Seconds slip into minutes, minutes conspire to slide passed hours, hours suddenly become yesterdays, days blur into weeks, and weeks disappear into months. How are you doing? Staying on top of things or dragging underneath?

Check this out:

Nicolas Brown has designed his own daily planner, which prioritizes tasks, lists issues to deal with, and includes a section on th(i)nkfulness to begin the day with the right frame of mind.

The caveat, of course, to any effort at planning is that we yield everything to the Divine Editor of our moments and days. Proverbs 16:9 states: “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.”

We do our part in planning our day and seeking to discover the will of the Father, but ultimately the Father may have added some twists and turns that were not at all part of our plan. Then, like a good GPS, we must recalculate and embrace His will. That is at least what we should be doing. Living it out could be another story.

Schedule It In

One thing we know for sure that whatever the Father’s will is for us today, it will include thinking thanks. He commands us to give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God for you. (I Thessalonians 5:18). The Lord wants us to be th(i)nkful in whatever situation we find ourselves in. But beyond the incidental, we can schedule that into our day.

Carving those brain neural pathways of th(i)nkfulness is a matter of obedience, but it is so much more. It helps us process things. It promotes mental health. It edifies us. It wipes the lenses and clarifies our biblical worldview. It encourages us to see God’s fingerprints even in the darkest of human challenges. We can rehearse God’s promises to us even when we are overwhelmed and feeling low. Especially then.

  • We need to keep a “big-God theology.” Our God is BIG!
  • He is sovereign in all the details of my life.
  • He is not surprised at my hardship.
  • He knows that, with His enabling, I can trust Him in this season.
  • He gives me His Word as a ‘How To Process.”
  • This life is a vapor and will soon be over.
  • He is coming back for His Beloved Bride.
  • He is using the present situation to conform me a little closer to the image of Jesus as I yield to Him.
  • My peace does not have to be dependent on my circumstances (2 Thessalonians 3:16).

Living Out The Plan

So how do I hit the “Play” button?

Nick uses a paper that he prints off and places it into a disc binder for easy assimilation. You may have a different daily planner. I use a th(i)nkful journal in which I record things at night before I go to bed. I have been doing a th(i)nkful journal for many years now, and it has developed a way of thinking in my brain such that, throughout the day, I am on the hunt for things that will make it into the journal that evening. It pushes me to look for things for which I can give thanks to God. That mental action has become part of my daily plan.

Sometimes I just want to rehearse Scripture in my th(i)nkful journal – so thankful for the living Word of God that can change our perspective and help us get our eyes on things above and not on things on earth (Colossians 3:2).

Just a heads up that it might be helpful to have an accountability partner as you develop this brain neural pathway. Having someone touch base with you and ask how you are doing in that department can be the nudge to keep you carving. 🙂

Here’s my accountability partner.

“The way we spend our time defines who we are.”

Jonathan Estrin