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

Everything…in All Things

Very, Very Close

Jerry Bridges is one of my favorite authors. His classic, Trusting God, devotes the last chapter to ‘Giving Thanks Always.’ I just re-read that this morning as I am going through this book with a young lady that I am mentoring. Here, at the very end of his exhorting us to trust God even when life hurts, he emphasizes the importance of thinking thanks.

“The basis for giving thanks in the difficult circumstances is all we have been learning about God in this book: His sovereignty, wisdom, and love, as they are brought to bear upon all the unexpected and sudden shifts and turns in our lives. In short, it is the firm belief that God is at work in all things – all our circumstances – for our good.”

Jerry Bridges

The words “in everything” from I Thessalonians 5:18 and “in all circumstances” in Romans 8:28 are very, very close in the Greek and even in English. It is precisely because I can trust that God is working all circumstances together for my good – chiseling, sanding, poking, heating, smoothing and varnishing me – to make me like Jesus, that I can give thanks in everything.

Thanksgiving, the Opposite of Pride

When you give thanks, you are admitting that you received something. You needed something, and then you received it … and so you acknowledge the help, you throw the credit to another person. You are confessing that you are not self-sufficient. You have been dependent. You are a debtor.

While many nonbelievers feel and express their thankfulness, the world’s value system struggles with thankfulness, instead emphasizing what we lack, or mythically claiming that our own inner resources brought us success. Thankfulness toward God is especially set at naught because He is not truly a part of their worldview; they are trying to suppress any recollection of Him.

“Although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

Romans 1:21

For those of us who have trusted in Christ alone for our salvation, we are different. Our worldview says that God is close, that He knows and cares, that He sovereignly ordains and orchestrates all our circumstances for our good and His glory. If the trial was no longer developing our good and His glory, it would immediately end. We should feel inwardly compelled to give thanks! Part of the sanctification process started at salvation is to renovate our fleshly tendency of ingratitude into a spirit of gratitude as a fruit of the Spirit working in us.

We humble ourselves before God and cast our anxieties on Him because he cares for us (I Peter 5:6-7). We accept the adversities with His help and give thanks even for “thorns” – the pains, the delays, the heartaches, the frustrations – that come our way. As Thomas Brooks wrote years ago, we should be “mute Christians under the smarting rod,” except for giving the thanks we give for the design in the disaster.

God is Good at Being God

The foundation for how we can think thanks in all circumstances is that we trust a sovereign God. He can handle our trust. He is good at being God. 🙂 Oh, that I would be quick to get to this point.

Always look for the fingerprints. They are all over the place. He is the Master Artist and is taking all the pieces of my life and putting it together for his glory. I can praise Him even when I don’t see the full picture yet. It will be so good.

“The way to cast our anxieties on the Lord is through humbling ourselves under His sovereignty and then trusting Him in His wisdom and love.”

Jerry Bridges

Thinkful in Sorrow

All So Fast

My family has had a lot of sorrow these past two months. In September my sister Sonja and her husband JP both died of Covid within two days of each other. It was such a surprise. Sonja had been caring for my aging dad, now almost 88-years-old. When he picked up Covid, she had him rushed to the hospital. But then she got sick, and then her husband. We had only a few days before JP and then Sonja had passed into eternity.

My aged father made it through Covid double-pneumonia strangely enough, but has since deteriorated significantly and is now on hospice and hoping to see His Savior soon.

Wow! So much… so fast. Death is so normal, so common – millions die every day. But death is not good, and death is not right, and death was not in God’s original design. It takes your loved ones out of view and out of reach, made worse when it does so suddenly, or does so years or decades before their expected departure. It is a witness that this whole earth is broken and in need of fixing.

Thinkful for Future Fixes

Death is no stranger in the Bible – the word is mentioned more than 500 times. Fortunately, Death lost its keys, its teeth, its power and its sting at the cross (Rev. 1:18, Heb. 2:14-15, 2 Tim. 1:10). Those who live and believe in Jesus will never die; their earthsuits will shut down and go to sleep, but the core of who they really are, their soul-spirit, will rise undiminished in freedom and elation to the side of the One who chose them and called them into His Kingdom and family.

For those who walk with Jesus, the fear of death is gone. But one day, Death, as the last enemy, will be vanquished forever (1 Cor. 15:26, Rev. 20:14, 21:4). Amazing. Death will be gone.

Thinkful For Current Joys

We were thankful that the Lord sustained dad so that some of us traveling in for Sonja and JP’s funerals were able to visit with him; he was not snatched away from us. We were also thankful that the Lord chose to heal dad of Covid.

When dad moved into hospice, he was assigned a chaplain. We were so thankful that, in God’s providential kindness, the chaplain had been a missionary, just like my dad. They connected right away about getting the gospel to the lost who have never heard. Now on a regular basis this dear man visits, reads scripture to him, and they pray together. My brothers were able to organize a CD player with a hymns CD that is playing in dad’s room. The old hymns of grace are ministering to his spirit as he rests.

Thinkful for Past Memories

As our hearts ache and we struggle to accept the fact that these dear ones are suddenly gone, we also recount a lot of sweet memories. Just this past July, the Lord allowed me to visit with dad and Sonja three times. One of those times, Sonja shared with me that she had acquired some scripture cards online and was giving them out to people at the bank or the shop, especially if they looked sad. I loved seeing her desire to share the Lord and give hope to people through His Word. Little did we know that she had only a few weeks left.

I think of childhood memories growing up in Norway and how we loved to sled down the hill to where we lived in Brumunddal. Sonja was so daring. She didn’t seem to fear anything. I admired her courage. In the frigid winter months, we would cozy up, and our mom would read library books to us in the evening as we sat with our knitting. When she would come to the end of a chapter, we would always say, “Just one more chapter.” 🙂

A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered.

C. S Lewis

Processing Sorrow

We live beside the Indian Ocean where the beach is broken up by rock outcroppings against which the waves crash. Grief is like a wave of the sea. It billows so strongly and then subsides, then billows again.

What has been an anchor for my soul in times of deep sorrow over the years is latching onto a special verse from God’s Word. This time I chose Psalm 71:3a “Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come.” When the waves come, I hold onto the rock, but amazingly the Rock holds onto me as well. With the rock, the waves are not so frightening, and I will not be swept away.

Thinkful List:

  • JP and Sonja went to heaven so closely. They would have struggled so to be left alone without the other. God was merciful and took them together.
  • Dad has had a wonderful life serving the Lord, and now when he is finishing up, he can look forward to his reward and not be afraid to meet his Creator.
  • Chaplain Todd Johnson is being like a balm in Gilead and ministering to my dad. This is such a special kindness to me being so far away here in Africa. Very thankful to God for this.
  • My brothers provided the CD player and dad’s favorite hymn CD to be played in his room.
  • My brothers have visited with my dad, told him they loved him, and he replied that he loved them too.
  • Psalm 71:3a is a comfort to my soul.
  • So many people are praying for us, and it pours grace over us.
  • When you come face to face with death, it helps you to live differently, more purposefully. It is a good thing to clarify your focus, priorities, and goals in life.

May you also find grace to think thanks in your own sorrow!

The Encouragement Board

Shifting Your Focus

“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.

“When you’re thankful for what you have….the list of things to be thankful for seems to grow.”

Melanie Beckler

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?”

Practice What You Preach

Crisis

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.

Opportunity

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).
Don and Ann Magee ~ blessings flowed through them upon us

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!

Picture That

Wait One Second!

“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.

Recall Mercies

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.”

Lamentations 3:21-23

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.

What will you take a picture of today?

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????