Learning A Secret

The Joy of a Secret

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:

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:11-13

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:

“I form light and create darkness;
I make well-being and create calamity;
I am the LORD, who does all these things.”

Isaiah 45:7

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

Turning Back to Say “Thanks”

One Leper’s Return

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!”

Your Path

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.

What then?

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.”

The Cure of Anxiety

Looking for a Cure

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.

Worldwide Anxiety

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.

Unpacking Anxiety

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.

Proverbs 12:25

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.

Isaiah 41:10

I sought the Lord, and He answered me,
And delivered me from all my fears.

Psalm 34:4

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.

John 14:27

When I am afraid,
I will put my trust in You.

Psalm 56:3

Don’t be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplications
with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Philippians 4:6

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????

Asked ~ Answered

Two Jars

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. 🙂

Teaching Tools

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.

Psalm 9:1

I Can Walk

Learning From Absence

“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?

Appreciating 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.

Capture Gratitude

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.

“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Colossians 3:17

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!! 🙂

“Contentment is the only real wealth.”

Alfred Nobel

Complaining Shrinks Your Brain

How Big Is Your Brain?

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!!

Research from Stanford University has shown that complaining, or even being complained to, for 30 minutes or more can physically damage the brain. Seriously. Complaining has been found to shrink the hippocampus, the area of the brain critical to problem solving and intelligent thought, by physically peeling away neurons.

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.

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.

Basically, your brain makes sure that complaining begets more complaining, sabotaging itself in the process. So, the next time you find yourself on the verge of a grumble-fest, try to shift your focus to something you’re grateful for—your brain and your friends will thank you.

https://www.southernliving.com/news/complaining-changes-your-brain

20,000 Thankfuls

How It Started

“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.

Counselor’s Toolbox

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 be thanksgiving."

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

In the Mundane

Thinking Thanks in the Mundane

“Today I didn’t ‘waste’ the mundane. It was a temptation to view folding laundry as a nuisance. But today it turned into something with eternal value. The Holy Spirit urged me to pray as I folded Josiah’s shirt: I thought about his heart. I thought about King Josiah of the Bible (his namesake) and prayed, ‘Lord, give Josiah the desire to be a man after your heart, like King Josiah.’ Josiah’s socks: ‘Oh Lord, let Josiah be a man that runs hard after You.’

Sarahlyn’s little tea towels: ‘Lord, thank you for a little girl that wants to spend time with me drinking tea. Thank you for her heart to serve.’ Emily’s shirt: ‘Lord, use her mightily and her heart for writing music to glorify Your name. Use her Lord.’ And on and on I prayed until every piece was folded, matched, and grouped together.

The job became a joy and my thankfulness for each person and God’s goodness to me nearly spilled out of my eyes. 🥲 It’s incredible how many thoughts we can have in the mundane that have very little value. That can even be in a spirit of complaining or self-pity, or about something that isn’t good and pure. No benefit whatsoever. They can even be working against God’s best for us. But turn that time into a moment to thank Him and pray, then you’ve done kingdom work. Those are thoughts worth dwelling on. That is worth my time. We have a choice what we do with our minds in the ‘mundane.’ (At any time really.)

What if we choose to meditate on what’s good? What if even in those menial tasks that we can easily resent or see as a less desirable way to spend our time, we chose to use it as an investment… into the heart and soul of another, a deposit for eternity? What if we chose to pray? What if we chose to give thanks along the way? What a difference that would make today AND in eternity.”

This was written by my dear friend, Dawn. She has been a great inspiration to me throughout the years. I love how she takes the everyday mundane and makes it into a teaching tool.

Everyday 1 Thessalonians 5:18

When the Lord says to give thanks in all circumstances, he means giving thanks not just for the hard times, but even in the everyday mundane. I begin by being th(i)nkful, disciplining my thoughts to search for the good, the meaningful behind the mundane, asking His Spirit to guide my thoughts as a radar to spot the undetected.

Formulating that thanks into a prayer thanking the Lord for the gems in the mundane is like making an eternal deposit, turning cardboard into emeralds. In addition to that, when you weave into your prayer specific requests for the people connected to that mundaneness, your intercession not only encourages your own heart, but also brings a blessing for people outside yourself.

How could you be th(i)nkful in the mundane today?

Make-or-Break

Make-or-Break

Have you had a ‘Make-or-Break’ time in your life? It feels like the weight of your actions will have long term effects on your future.

Make-or-Break ~

used to describe a decisioneventor period of time that is very important because it can make something succeed or fail completely

Cambridge English Dictionary

The specifics of your ‘Make-or-Break” situation could be very different from the next person’s. Some people battle health challenges, family challenges, financial challenges or ‘fill in the blank’ challenges.

David and I are very interested with the specific challenges of moving into a new culture as much of our work involves those hurdles. Jumping into a new country with so many things that are completely different from what I have been used to is difficult indeed. Perhaps learning a new language, local taboos, event v. clock time, roles and responsibilities, and very different cultural traditions are part of that learning curve. In Colorado there is an organization that specializes in helping to prepare people for moving into another culture. I was fascinated to learn recently of the value that they put on gratitude.

“The president of MTI has been studying missionary resilience, and one of the main make-or-break characteristics is gratitude.”

Start Easy

“So what is easy for you to give thanks for and what is difficult for you to give thanks for?” The question lingered in the air for a moment. It was easy to quickly give thanks for some helpful things that had happened recently. But choosing to give thanks for the frustrations and ‘out-of-my-comfort-zone’ things were harder. He started with the easy stuff.

  • The sun was actually shining today and brightening things
  • Although my head still hurt, it was manageable
  • We were able to find a store in this new country and buy food
  • God’s Word was truth and helpful in all cultures
  • Our children are healthy so far

The list was just gaining momentum. Then the heavy thought of difficulties, frustrations and overwhelming challenges flooded his mind. Can I think thanks for that visa office, that septic smell, those empty grocery shelves, those staring eyes and people taking our pics with their phones? Give thanks for that yucky stuff???

When you have started a pattern to be looking for things to think thanks about, and expressing that thanks orally to God and to others, you are in a good rut. According to the president of MTI (Missionary Training International), you have begun to develop a ‘Make-or-Break’ habit that could make a huge, defining difference in your life. It could mean your growing success on the field, or concluding your ministry after less than one term.

Stress Exposes

Stress exposes what we are really trusting in. To go through a stressful time is not very pleasant, but it is revealing to discover where we go to cope. When we choose to invest in gratitude and deliberately develop and train ourselves towards th(i)nkfulness, we are building a good foundation that will hold when the blustery winds of adversity and struggle assail.

You could express your thanks orally to others or write it down, but in order for those beautiful fruits to be brought forth, you first have to cultivate that gratitude in your mind. It is a battle that takes place in your thinking. Will I choose to pursue and exercise gratitude, especially when I am overwhelmed and frustrated, and discouraged?

“The more we express our gratitude to God for our blessings, the more He will bring to our mind other blessings. The more we are aware of hidden gifts to be grateful for, the happier we become.”

Ezra Taft Benson

Why not start today in developing gratitude? Set a goal of expressing something you are thankful for in the presence of another person and see how it affects them? See how it affects you. 🙂

Th(i)nkful Round

Th(i)nkful Round

“Who wants to start?” Nick drew in the attention of his children as they tried to stay the wiggles. They were doing family worship time before bed and it was very difficult to actually sit still and listen. Recently they had incorporated a way to teach the children gratitude by doing a Th(i)nkful Round. “I am thankful forrr …” and the word trailed off while they brainstormed. The responses varied greatly. Sometimes it was profound. Sometimes it was simple. But all the comments pursued thinking thanks.

Putting a specific habit into place takes forethought. It is a mental labor with furrowed brows. The victorious life for the believer is pursuing Christlikeness. Learning to dream the dream that God dreams for you. Finding and walking in the steps He prepared for you. Seeing your life through His eyes. Discovering how He wants to use you for His glory.

Carving and reinforcing brain neural pathways of thinking thanks to God for everything in your life
is a defining part of becoming Christlike.

Colossians 3:17

“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

In Colossians 3 there are three verses in a row – 15, 16, 17 – that exhort us to give thanks. It should be pervasive in our lives, the glue that holds things together. Perhaps the Lord urges our gratitude knowing it is extremely beneficial for us as His created beings. Learning to focus on thanks, and expressing it, makes hope ooze out to flavor every element of our existence.

In fact when you focus on the grace that God has poured out, to love us while we were still in our sin, how can you but think thanks?

“It has been said that in the New Testament doctrine is grace, and ethics is gratitude; and something is wrong with any form of Christianity in which, experimentally and practically, this saying is not being verified.”

J.I. Packer, Knowing God.

Iron Sharpens Iron

One way to strengthen your Christian growth is through the accountability of friends. It is like iron sharpening iron Proverbs 27:17 says. It is beautiful how we can edify one another in developing these traits. Whether it is in the setting of family worship in the home or just over a cup of tea with friends, community around you is a great influencer. So, before you get up and walk away from your time together, do a quick Th(i)nkful Round.

I have a dear friend who asked me to keep her accountable every week about being th(i)nkful. So every Monday we text each other our th(i)nkful list. I believe we have done this over two years now. It is so cool for me as well. I love scrolling back on our texts, seeing one list after another of things for which we thought and wrote down our thanks to God. It takes only a few moments to do this, but the effect of it in our brains and hearts last a lot longer.

Action Point

So I would love to assign you an action point. 🙂 What are you actively doing to establish a consciousness of thinking thanks? How about letting me hear of strategies that you are putting into practice? Perhaps your ideas will inspire others to grow in this area.

Last night at Grace-Toti we started our prayer time with filling up our thanks basket. It was amazing to see hands pop up all over the place of things for which people were giving thanks to the Lord!

Let’s get the Th(i)nkful Rounds going. May those rounds be frequent and strong… all around the globe.