“Not again!” she said as her daughter spilled milk all over the kitchen floor. She had barely finished cleaning up the first mess. It seemed like lately all she was seeing were the negative things in her children. She knew that this was not the best way to go through a day, but she was tired, and she was missing her husband since he had to be away working long hours as a Covid nurse. Something had to change!
Let me introduce you to a creative momma who came up with a marvelous idea. Instead of focusing on all the negative things that the kids were doing throughout the day, she chose to look for things that were an encouragement, and she wrote them down on an “encouragement board.”
If she came across something that was nice, she would jot it down ~ maybe the children played quietly for half an hour mid-morning, or perhaps one child said ‘thank you’ without being prompted, or she observed a kind gesture. These were the things that Lori would record.
Then after dinner, she would gather the kids around and read the compilation from the Encouragement Board out loud for all to hear. The kids smiled, giggled and added comments. What a nice way to end the day before bed! The children would head to bed thinking of the blessings that had made their way to mom’s Encouragement Board. And of course, a seed thought was planted in their minds of what they would do the next day that might make it to the board.
We could say that “adversity is the mother of invention.” Below is this precious family.
Focus is a Choice
When you are going through particularly difficult days, what do you meditate on? It is the slack, lazy and simple mind that goes with the flow; it chooses not to choose; it selects the “slave to external stimuli” mode.
A wise mind embraces the conscious discipline of choosing what to think on. With introspection, it considers options; it rejects lies and worthless, dead-end, dry-well ideas and, guided toward a God-perspective by the Word and the Spirit, selects things more positive and edifying. Thankfulness is at the core of this mindset.
I love how Paul in Romans 12:1-2 challenges us to be transformed in our thinking. The Greek word means metamorphosis, like when Jesus went from His normal appearance into a transformed, radiant appearance. This is no small thing in our lives. It takes mental choice to change thought paths and embrace God’s admonition to give thanks in all situations.
It is easy to be physically lazy; it is easy to be mentally lazy. But in the long run, it can kill you. Following impulses, emotions and the values of the world is just so natural, but God has called us to lives of supernatural thinking, speaking and behaving. How about starting your own “Encouragement Board?”
It was late Friday afternoon outside Detroit, Michigan. We were in stop-n-go traffic on I-275 around the city.
David’s peripheral vision saw something in the rear-view mirror approaching fast, and he yelled “Hold on!” All of a sudden we felt a hard hit from behind. Our little Honda CRV was slammed from behind. They launched us up into the truck in front of us and made that truck run into the truck ahead of it.
Confused, but safe in tight seatbelts, we were ok. We did all the things that needed to be done, and in the end, our little brown companion, nicknamed “Coffee,” was deemed totaled.
So here was a great opportunity for us to practice what we preach. We loved that little Honda. She was paid off. David had diligently serviced and repaired her to last for 350,000 miles. She served us well for eight years and was waiting for us whenever we returned to the States. But she belonged to the Lord though, and when He saw fit that her job was over, that had to be ok.
Why Is It So Hard?
When something happens that is not what we had expected, there comes an opportunity to readjust our expectations. We profess that we have left everything in His hands, and that we belong to Him. But when loss actually happens, it still is hard. Why?
It feels like it was not right. It feels like He must have not noticed or protected. We know from scripture that is a lie. He controls and is aware of all things. He even knows the number of hairs on my head (Matt. 10:30).
Adjusting my expectations to what is evidently His different sovereign design is part of “renewing” my mind, and doing so enables me to discern His good and acceptable and perfect will for me (Rom. 12:2).
Plugging In Th(i)nkful
As the moments passed there on I-275, and we got a clearer picture of what God had for us on that Friday afternoon, we had the chance to put th(i)nkfulness into practice. Right emotions would follow right thinking.
We made phone calls to friends nearby and were overwhelmed with how God provided for us. We could see His fingerprints, and so David and I began to list what was good and what would have been much worse but didn’t happen:
I was able to communicate with Ann Magee and she and her husband (a pastor near Detroit) were so kind to drive a good distance to pick us up
The accident happened near someone we knew and not six hours away from any contacts, like where we had been the evening before
We walked away from an accident that could have demanded our lives or have left us handicapped in various ways
We weren’t at fault and didn’t have to feel badly
Though it made some funny noises, we were able to drive our car out of the way and up to the next exit to a safe place
People all over began praying for us; we felt God’s supernatural peace as we rested all things with Him and were thankful (Phil.4:6-7)
We did not have grandchildren in the back where they could have been hurt
Stephen Magee, a Physical Therapist Doctor, gave us good advice on how to work through whiplash
We were able to see how quickly life can change unexpectedly; the reality of every day being a gift was etched more deeply into our mind.
Don and Ann were so gracious to let us borrow one of their cars to complete our long trip reporting to churches and supporters
God allowed this accident to happen at the end of our State-side time so we were able to finish our trip up with no further need for a car before heading back to SA
Have The Renew Plan Ready
When opportunities arise that were not expected, we have to have our ‘renewing our mind’ plan ready to put into action. God’s Word is the agent of renewing correctly. We are allowed to pour out our hearts to the Lord (Psalm 62:8) and yet He asks that we are thankful in every circumstance (I Thessalonians 5:18).
Having a plan ready with truth-anchors could prove very helpful indeed.
I Corinthians 10:13 promises that God has checked my test. He is faithful, and with me, and will give me a way of escape as I call out to Him. My circumstances may not change, but the way I see them can.
Romans 8:28 promises that God is using all things to conform me to His Son. The happenings of my day are not random. He is using them to make me like Jesus as I respond like Christ would.
Hebrew 13:5b-6 promises that the Lord is with me and will not forsake. He is my Helper.
Philippians 4:13 promises that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
I am loved by my Creator even if He allows pain in my life (Psalm 119:71).
God is God and I am not.
He is completely trustworthy and does things well. I may not agree with or understand His ways, but I can trust His character and wait on Him to give me direction for each step forward.
May you be able to discern that good and acceptable and perfect (GAP) will of God in whatever twists and turns He has for you!
“Can you just hold this for one minute?” She was getting her phone ready to snap a quick picture. “There, that’s good,” she called out.
My friend had started this habit of discovering one blessing she was thankful for each day and snapping a quick picture of it with her phone. What a fabulous idea! She would have to back up all these photos eventually, but there was still room for a lot of photos.
This is my beautiful friend. I met her at a university where we were part of a conference. She has been on my daily prayer list for a few years now. God allowed her to go through some very deep waters of sorrow.
God is trustworthy, but He certainly does not promise that our paths will be free of sorrow and pain. In fact, His Son had plenty of sorrow and pain during His earthly journey, and He instructed each of us to pick up our cross and follow Him (Luke 9:23-24). Expect the difficulties.
She and I were able to meet for just a few precious moments and catch up. Her eyes were glittering with new life. She was drawing deeply on grace from our precious Lord Jesus who promises to give that life-giving water.
She shared a new habit that she was developing in her life. I was impressed, so I asked for permission to share it and she gladly gave it. Here it is: Every day she seeks out one thing to take a picture of that is her blessing for that day. I LOVE it!
Picture The Blessing
Now, think about what you would take a picture of today if you were to do that. Would it be the water that you have available? Would it be the air conditioning if it is super hot … or a heater if you are cold? Would it be a picture of a book you are reading … or an instrument you love to play or listen to? Food? So many options.
My friend had found hope and joy in life by concentrating on being th(i)nkful. She was intentionally looking for things that were blessings in her life. Hearing her describe her newfound habit was so inspiring to me.
In this blog, I have recommended speaking out or writing down what you are thinkful for. This adds a third practice – take a picture of it. So, now I want to look for things and capture my thanks to the Lord digitally.
Jeremiah reminds us in Lamentations 3:21 that when we call to mind the steadfast love of the LORD and His mercies, we have hope.
“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope. The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”
My friend had lost both a husband and a mother in the not too distant past. One was to an excruciating long road of cancer. I know that many of you have also gone through, or are going through, similar difficult roads. The Lord knows in great detail what you are experiencing. He feels with us more that we can imagine. Our human perspective is to want immediate relief. If He loves me, why did He let this happen? Why does He let it continue? I know that is what it feels like, but God is God and I am not. He sees things bigger and farther than I do. He wants me to trust Him even when it hurts like crazy.
Because of these truths I can thank Him for my circumstances:
God does not lie.
He promises that He knows what He is doing.
I can trust Him.
This life is a vapor, but the Lord and His Word will last forever
He has promised to never leave me nor forsake me
He has counted all the hairs on my head
He has loved me with an everlasting love
His Son is coming back pretty soon
When we begin to recount all of what the Lord has done, hope seeps in and begins to fill our empty, achy souls. It will eventually come right. He has promised. Keep your eyes on Him and cry out to Him to help you start to see all the gifts, the sweet things, the blessings, and the encouragements around you.
Do you have a secret about how to do something well? Some little-known way to make a meal or a moment really special for other people? Something that is a winner every time? Not a bad secret. Not luscious gossip about another person. Not a way to get rid of people you don’t like. A delightful secret to getting a job done.
Recently I became aware of a secret to making grilled cheese ~ mayonnaise!!! Spreading a layer of mayo on the bread before grilling the sandwich makes it grill evenly, look delicious, and taste like you used butter. 🙂 I was overjoyed to learn this secret, I love knowing this secret, and well, ok, I guess I love passing it along … so it can hardly be called a “secret” anymore.
Learning A Secret Cure
But there is another huge secret that I would love to whisper in your ear. This secret is much more important than grilled cheese. This secret has to do with fighting depression and angst. It is a key to processing life, the downs, dark shadows and despair that come our way.
This secret did not originate with me, but instead with the One who created us and knows us better than we know ourselves. The Apostle Paul had a life and ministry that was hard on his body – hiking mountain passes, coping with his ship going down, and getting attacked by mobs. Sometimes, he received a financial gift; at other times he had to pay his own way. He wrote this from prison:
Learning Paul’s Secret
Here is Paul’s secret: I have learned to be content.
The Oxford Dictionary defines “content” as an adjective meaning “in a state of peaceful happiness.” Someone has said that “contentment is wanting what you have, not having what you want.”
Whether I am going through a very discouraging time or whether I am riding high on the wind of accomplishment and joy, I can choose to be content and be th(i)nkful. That seems almost impossible. How can I be content, in a state of peaceful happiness, when I feel my life is falling apart? Feels bizarre.
The secret key is how you process the happenings in your life. What are you thinking about? Whose perspective are you choosing?
Fight for the Secret Key
Importantly, Paul says in Philippians 4:11-13 that he has learned the secret of being content. Learning typically means chosen and fought for. When you learn another language, you must choose to do so and then persistently fight to follow through. Paul learned contentment. I wonder how many times he failed while trying to learn.
Can I also learn this secret? Can I craft brain neural pathways of contentment? Of course I can. God gives the “how-to” in the last verse. “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Christ wants me to choose contentment, to fight for contentment, and when I fail, to choose contentment again. Call out to Him for His strength in order to be content with what He has allowed in my life.
The Outside and Inside
But contentment is about my view of things outside of me, my circumstances. My only discontentment should be about what inside of me is unlike Him. I must never be content with the extent of my fallenness, my fleshliness, or my rebel sighs against my circumstances and their Author.
You see, in God’s mind, our externals are about our internals. Our circumstances are meant to test and change our hearts and the hearts of those watching us. He does not waste pain or difficulty. God has designed my challenges and my successes, my wealth and my poverty, my health and my disabilities. He is behind everything in my life. In Isaiah 45:7, our God makes it very plain:
Part of the choosing and fighting for contentment is choosing to search for things for which you are thankful. Th(i)nkfulness produces contentment. I can be thankful for what is going well and talk about the “glass half full.” I can be thankful that I don’t need whatever seems to be lacking because God has promised to meet all of my needs.
I can be thankful for pain and loss and sorrow because I am learning, I am dying to my own will, I am becoming deep and not shallow, I am praying more than ever, I am more sympathetic to others suffering in the same way, I am receiving His grace to overcome, I have His presence and attention through this, I may get extra gospel opportunities, I have a hope that this too will pass, and if I die, it will be the best thing that ever happened to me.
Summing up, the secret to fighting depression and angst is to repeatedly express my thankfulness to the Author of my circumstances, and then to fight my way through many, many lessons, with His strength, to learn contentment. Now, go and share your secret with somebody else.
“Be content with what you have for He has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.'” Hebrews 13:5
One day as Jesus was heading to Jerusalem, He was met at the edge of a village by ten lepers who were keeping their distance, as the Law of Moses required. Knowing Jesus’ reputation as a healer, they cried out to him to have compassion on their suffering.
No one in Jewish history had ever been healed of leprosy. The rabbis concluded that such a healing would surely be a sign of the Messiah. Strangely, Jesus told the ten men to go and show themselves to the priests, something you were to do when you were already healed, as you can read in Leviticus 14.
No doubt puzzled, they did what Jesus told them to and went on their way to Jerusalem. And as they went, they were healed! Can you imagine? A miraculous healing – instantaneous and complete – and the only recorded instance of Jesus healing multiple people at the same time! But more than that, for a leper, the relational healing that would follow as they could again be readmitted to the community that had shunned them for years.
One of them, a Samaritan, immediately turned back, and praised God with a loud voice. He fell on his face at Jesus’ feet and gave thanks. Then Jesus asked in disappointment, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:11-19).
One. Only one. Only 10% turned around and said “thank you.” He said it with a loud voice – I love that part! He must have been overwhelmed with thanksgiving.
What baffles me, and bothered Jesus, is why the other nine didn’t say thank you?? They weren’t thinkful. They didn’t think back. They didn’t turn back. No doubt, they were overjoyed, but they just kept moving forward, running to see the priest and then their loved ones, and perhaps attributing the miracle to Jesus. But they didn’t think, stop, turn back, and say “thank you.”
Think. Stop. Turn Back.
Psalm 107 captures why Jesus was disappointed in the nine. It begins, “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble.”
The writer then recalls four deadly scenarios where God stepped in to help people: 1) some got lost in a scorching desert, 2) some were prisoners of war, 3) some were suffering a deadly disease, and 4) some were caught in a raging storm at sea.
In each of the four scenarios (vv. 6, 13, 19 and 28), “they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.” And after each rescue, the writer admonishes (vv. 8, 15, 21 and 31), “Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!”
In this post, I am not addressing the dilemma of when we call out to the Lord and He does not seem to answer. I want you to ponder what you do after you ask and He gives you exactly what you asked for. What then?
When you prayed for safe travel … and arrived safely.
When you called out for healing … and got better.
When you asked for help on that exam … and completed it having remembered everything you studied.
When you begged for mercy in a troubled pregnancy … and gave birth to a perfectly healthy child.
When you tearfully asked the Lord for encouragement … and a rainbow radiated out of the dark clouds in front of you.
Will you think, stop, turn back, and say “thank you?”
Will you be the one? A ten percenter?
Or will you be one of the nine … who is just so pleased and happy … and keeps moving forward eager to tell others how your situation turned around? Will you just be “thankful for” and not “thankful to?” Will you make Jesus cock his head and once again wonder how a person can be so helped and yet not turn back to say “thanks.”
Psalm 107 begins by saying that if you’ve been redeemed from a bad situation, you need to say so and give the Lord the credit due to him. When we believers hear the word “redeemed,” we immediately think of being saved, bought back from the hopeless slave market of sin. So, perhaps we can start there with our thanks.
But beyond that, the steadfast love of the Lord has blessed us with so many good things, and answered so many of our prayers for help in the affirmative, that we surely have much to thank him for.
Psalm 107 ends: “Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the LORD.”
Cure is an interesting word. Some define a “cure” as relief from the symptoms of a disease. Others define it as something that causes a recovery from a disease. And still other sources define a cure as a complete and permanent solution or remedy.
So, a cure can be defined on three levels … ending the symptoms, ending the disease in one person, or ending the disease in an area or globally.
What’s saddest is when the treatments or cures for a disease are out there, but people don’t know about them or have access to them. For instance, there are treatments and a cure for tuberculosis (TB), and yet South Africa has almost 60,000 deaths a year, about 7 deaths per hour, from TB, far worse than our Covid-19 deaths.
One of the greatest “diseases” the world says we face now is the dis-ease of the mind – anxiety. Our present world is infected with anxiety disorders.
“The early years of the 21st century have witnessed a worldwide epidemic of poor mental health and related illnesses. But while depression is the condition most will associate with mental health issues, and is the leading cause of disability worldwide, it is not the number one mental health concern people face. That unwanted accolade goes to anxiety.“
World Economic Forum
The very imprecise statistics regarding anxiety disorders worldwide are that 264 million people (4% of the population) struggle with anxiety disorders. Yet studies in places like the United States and South Africa consistently show almost 20% of the population struggles with some sort of anxiety disorder. Women make up roughly 63% of the total number.
A simple definition of anxiety could be: distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune. The world says there are a multitude of recognized anxiety disorders that cause worry and stress due to social interactions, personal health, safety, work, or a particular phobia.
There is generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, agoraphobia, specific phobias, social anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, selective mutism and separation anxiety disorder, to name the most common.
God Speaks About Anxiety
How I wish that there was a vaccine for anxiety! We could all have a shot and then be very unlikely to fall prey to the “disease” of anxiety. But alas, there is no such thing.
Some people seem to have a natural resistance to anxiety, an indomitable cheerfulness, a determination to see the bright side and to suppose that things will work out just fine. I love those people. I am not those people.
A grave mistake many strugglers make is simply taking meds to dull or mask the symptoms without those meds being part of a larger game plan to deal with root causes in the mind and heart. Anxiety takes root in our thinking.
There are quite a few verses on anxiety actually:
Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down, But a good word makes it glad.
Casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.
1 Peter 5:7
Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.
I sought the Lord, and He answered me, And delivered me from all my fears.
Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.
When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You.
Don’t be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplications with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
There are many more. This is just a small sampling.
Here is God’s cure. Our Creator, who made all our emotions and abilities to think and reason, gave us this prescription. He encourages us to run to Him with our anxious thoughts.
Does He know how pervasive and consuming those thoughts and fears are in our lives?
How Do I Heal From Anxiety?
Anxiety is a cruel and excruciating struggle. It elevates your heart rate and blood pressure, steals away your sleep, shortens your emotional fuse, robs your joy, mocks your hope, draws in your entire prayer time on one topic, and distracts your focus, even destroying your ability to read God’s Word and think about what it says.
To rewind, unpack and process through deep anxieties is a very engrossing, difficult task, especially if the anxiety has had time to grow long entwining roots. If you are experiencing anxiety, here are several things to ponder and consider doing:
A loving and sovereign God is sovereign of my circumstances, present and future. God is God and I am not. Much of my anxiety has to do with loss of control, a projection that the ambiguous future will turn out badly, which is not trusting in my God or believing that He is loving and will help.
I am not alone. I am not the first one to face trials like mine. Others have done so successfully. God will suit the trial to my capacities – He has checked that I can handle it with His help. God will bring me out in His time and way if I wait on Him and trust in Him. All of these ideas are in 1 Corinthians 10:13.
God created the Sabbath for human beings, and Jesus called us to give Him our burdens so that He could give us rest. Much of my anxiety might be over-busyness and a corresponding loss of perspective. Perhaps I need to retreat to a quiet place or speak with an objective voice, an advocate outside my world to regain peace and perspective.
God’s Word is alive and can help me battle temptations to worry and despair. I can write out scripture verses that deal with anxiety and put those cards in a place where my eyes will see them. Twice a day, and when I feel the coming crush of anxiety, I will read those verses out loud, and meditate on them.
Rather than using my negative creativity to imagine a horrible future, I choose to look at the good that God has surrounded me with. I will actively, consistently choose to be grateful and form brain neural pathways of thinking thanks. I will get in the habit of writing out at least five things daily that I am thankful for.
Anxiety doesn’t forbid me to say thank you … or does it????
David and I had dinner at a friend’s house recently and I noticed something on the counter. There were simply two glass jars labeled with ‘Asked’ and ‘Answered.’ Some small pieces of paper and a pen were conveniently placed on the jars ready to be used.
Psalm 17:6 was written out in front of the jars.
“I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me; hear my words.”
When I asked a little more about it, I saw what an incredible tool this was to help us think thanks. A visual reminder of how God has answered our prayers stimulates th(i)nkfulness.
Our friend would write out on a piece of paper the request and drop it in the ‘Asked’ jar. Later a review would take place, perhaps over a meal, of how God was answering those requests. The answered requests would move to the ‘Answered’ jar.
Every glance at the jar would be a reminder that God indeed had heard the petitions. He had answered. Great faith builder!!
Thankful for Answers
Every day we have needs. The car doesn’t start again. That niggling pain becomes more prominent and we need medical attention. Relational challenges present themselves giving us opportunities for wisdom. Finances are dwindling. We sin and need cleansing. We sorrow and need to be renewed in our minds to remember that we are pilgrims and headed for a celestial city. We pray and ask God to please hear our cry.
He does and He answers as He sees fit and in His timing. But I wonder if we take time to really thank Him for those answers?
He answers over and over. He guides us to His Word and encourages us to grow in trust. He is faithful and true. Thank You, Lord.
But what about when He chooses to answer ‘no’ or ‘wait?’ We struggle with letting God be God, but knowing His character, we can be confident that if He explained all of His reasons for the “no” or the “wait,” or let us see the alternate reality of what would happen if He said “yes,” we would be convinced that His answer was best.
I CAN TRUST GOD’S CHOICES
I CAN TRUST GOD’S TIMING
Knowing His character, we must trust that He is doing what is best. He can be leaned upon to have the right answers, positive, negative, or pending. 🙂
Incorporating teaching tools is such a helpful way of getting a message across. Having these two jars on the kitchen counter will beg a conversation when visitors come. They can be used to teach children about learning to recognize when God has answered something that we asked Him for. Often, they will be more diligent than we are at checking and changing the slips of paper. You might find their little prayers in there as well.
Children learn more from your ‘walk’ than your ‘talk.’ Let them observe you actively looking for how we can give thanks for how God answers our requests.
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.
“Going through a recent health challenge that left me flat on my back, unable to barely move, did a remarkable thing in my heart,” she said. “Now I rejoice just to walk through the grocery store. I give thanks I can bend and get out of bed.”
We learn best by experience. When something is taken away from us, we become acutely aware of how much we miss it. And we are more thankful if it returns.
“Absence makes the heart grow fonder”
Thomas Haynes Bayly
From small things to big things, we grow in thankfulness when we experience its absence.
We bang our big toe and it hurts so badly. Just to be able to put on a shoe again becomes a cherished thing.
We finish a difficult project that took up all our free time … but we start to realize that we actually loved working on it.
We see a loved one move overseas, and we realize how much we miss them. To touch them again is so meaningful.
What are some things that have grown in value to you? Does something have to become absent for you to really be thankful for its presence?
Focusing on things that God has given me right now and expressing thanks is cultivating contentment. It fosters observation and th(i)nkfulness. It is a mindset that promotes mental health and a peaceful life. “What I want and what I have already are the same thing.”
My friend in the opening story above had walked through the grocery store hundreds of times. Often it was rushed. When her intense back problems began and she had to be confined to bed and allow her back to heal slowly, there came a new appreciation to just be able to walk again. Perhaps the great gratitude she now feels for being able to walk would not have come unless she lost it.
“But godliness with contentment is great gain.” The Lord describes a person who has great gain in 1 Timothy 6:6. That person has learned to be godly and content.
Sometimes the capture happens automatically, like when you loose your ability to walk and it is restored, you automatically capture gratitude.
But we can capture gratitude on purpose. Over a cup of coffee, while commuting, or during free time, you can imagine one of the joys in your life, or one of your senses, is eliminated. What would you do? How would your life be different? If God chose that for you, He would give you grace to handle it and to overcome.
But now, come back to reality and praise the Lord that it is not gone! By eliminating something we count on, and then bringing it back, we can capture thankfulness. We are more motivated to not take that thing for granted, but instead appreciate it and express our thankfulness for it to the Lord.
Thank You, God:
That my eyes work
That my hope is not based on me, but instead in YOU!
That one day You will return for us.
That I have access to the Word.
That I can walk
That my inner ear isn’t infected, causing me dizziness
That my headache lifted
That I have a bed to sleep in
Today focus on something to be really thankful about. Capture that thought and feed it!! 🙂
A Southern Living article highlighted some recent research revealing that when you complain on a consistent basis, it actually shrinks your hippocampus. Talk about a health hazard!!
For most of us, complaining has become such a part of life that it barely registers. We have developed “easy-complain” neural pathways that are greased and ready in our brains. Negative, murmuring, fault-finding, coming-up-short, not-quite-right, glass-half-full, this-will-end-badly thoughts find no barrier or balance but are drawn into the grooves quickly and easily. We have become pathological complainers.
A Medium post by Mission.org explains this phenomenon perfectly: “The more you complain about things like flakey friends or being asked to push up a project’s deadline, the more neurons in your brain stitch themselves together to easily facilitate this kind of information. Before you know it, complaining becomes so easy for your brain to grasp, you start doing it without even consciously registering the behavior.”
Obedience Brings Brain Health
But even more motivating than the fact that grumbling and complaining shrinks our brains should be God’s instruction to us in Philippians 2:14, ” Do all things without grumbling ….”
God, who created the brain with all its function, also knows how we are to use it. At face value, thankfulness rather than complaining may seem like one of those good ideas God would want us to do for His pleasure. Yet as we look deeper into His ways, His commandments and precepts, we find that they are not burdensome but are specifically designed for our benefit and well-being. There is actually a link between thankfulness and your health, and specifically the size and function of your brain.
“Give thanks in all circumstances,” He admonishes us in 1 Thessalonians 5:18. He describes a successful person as “abounding in thanksgiving” (Colossians 2:7).
The thoughts you allow to have free reign in your brain neural pathways are what you eventually become. Without discipline, you can allow sinful thoughts to program your mind and alter the electro-physical patterns of your brain. This will make positive changes to your thinking much harder to achieve later on. Aggressive weeding of complaining early on is essential to develop brain fitness and power.
Substitute th(i)nkfulness for complaining! Pull up a level or two to God’s perspective. Choose to form neural pathways of looking for things to think thanks about and express that thanks to God, others, and yourself. Let your ears hear your gratitude.
“Get it on your thankful list,” he yelled as he left the rehab. She had just finished explaining to her counselor something that she really worked hard to complete. Part of the program at this drug recovery center was that every day each person had to make a list of five things they were thankful for. It was an assignment. It felt irritating at first. Actually felt impossible.
Trying to write down anything that she was thankful for felt like walking up a steep hill.
But since she would have to report on what she wrote down at the end of the day, she acquiesced. After a few weeks, the hill didn’t seem quite so steep. The practice of writing down what she was thankful for came easier. It had become a habit … a good habit.
Other people coming through the program soon got into the same required habit. She had started recording the required five things just on the paper she had available, but it wasn’t long before she ran out of paper.
The thankful lists made their way into inexpensive journals. The required list of five things at the end of the day often grew to eight, ten, or even twelve things. She had a nice collection of those journals now. Encouraging to behold.
In fact, Sarah was getting close to finishing three years at the rehab and her thankful list had a running tally of 20,034 to date.
As a counselor I have found that the practice of learning to think thanks and expressing that thanks to God and to others has a place in my “Counselor’s Toolbox.”
In whatever counseling situation that I find myself in, gratitude is a necessary part of finding solutions and remedies.
In Ephesians 5:1-4 there is a interesting contrast presented:
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among the saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there bethanksgiving."
Choosing to think and express thanksgiving is the opposite of the sin that Paul is warning the Ephesian believers about in this passage. It is the correct behavior of a person walking worthy of the Lord, walking in love, pleasing the Lord.
How Long Is Your List?
Knowing that practicing gratitude is so helpful, does it alter your own behavior? Do you have a list of things that you are thankful for? I do not have an updated tally for mine. I have so many journals and papers filled up that I am sure it is in the thousands. I do know I kept track of the first 1000.
I encourage you to invest in a th(i)nkful or gratitude journal if you find yourself in a difficult season in your life. It is a well-documented tool of hope and solution. Our Creator God knows our frame and our challenges … and He ordered us to do it.
Virtually every sin that we commit is a result of a lack of thankfulness