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

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

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. 🙂

The Aroma

Aroma Drifting In

The loud sound of grinding coffee beans burst forth from the kitchen … followed predictably and delightfully by the aroma of coffee grounds, and then a few minutes later, by the wafting wonderfulness of freshly brewed coffee. I couldn’t see it, but its presence was detected by the nose.

Steaming hot water poured over crushed coffee beans creates a specific aroma. I don’t drink coffee myself, but I sure enjoy the smell of coffee.

Fragrance of Christ

God uses the picture of aroma when describing us walking in victory with Him. All the glory goes to Him. He has conquered us. It is His victory that we get to be part of. He has taken us captive. We are vehicles of the fragrance of Christ.

“But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.”

2 Corinthians 2:14-15

John MacArthur describes diffusing the fragrance of His knowledge this way: “The imagery comes from the strong, sweet smell of incense from the censers in the triumph parade, which, along with the fragrance of crushed flowers strewn under horses’ hooves, produced a powerful aroma that filled the city. By analogy, every believer is transformed and called by the Lord to be an influence for His gospel throughout the world.”

Have you pondered what that aroma of Christ smells like?

We are emanating a fragrance. We smell.

When the Lord describes us spreading the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere, I envision a person who is reflecting Jesus. Through our engaging of people, our thoughtful and kind words, our facial expressions, and our body language, we are wafting unmistakable scents that, in God’s estimation, smell better than coffee, jasmine, or fresh pastry … they smell like His Son who paid for our sins on the cross and rose again to be victor over death and the grave.

But there is a crowd of unregenerate believers watching our procession. To some, the aroma emanating from the procession is repulsive and offensive, representing ignorance and delusion; in their thinking, these people are just captured slaves of the victor, brainwashed, hopeless. Others are still watching and sniffing; some may be your children.

But there are others in the crowd whose hearts are strangely enamored with the victor who seems to be a benign conqueror who has actually taken these people captive for their own good. The heads of the slaves are high, their faces noble; some are even smiling. No one is struggling to break loose; they carry no shame or fear. Amazingly, they are slaves who have been set free from their old world. The sight and the smell draw the watchers forward and they feel this strange compulsion to jump into the procession; to join the slaves.

What Fragrance Are You?

Missionary Dawn Perry shared with me recently that she had been studying about this triumphal procession that the Lord leads us in. We are in this parade, not because of ourselves, but because of what Christ has done.

And as we walk through life in this procession, we give off a fragrance that not only reminds our God of His Son, but is affecting the onlooking crowd as well. Verses 15-16 continue: “we are a fragrance … among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” Will the crowd be drawn to us or repelled by us? Every act, every word to a nonbeliever who knows I am a believer either pulls or pushes them. We are being watched. We are being smelled.

Dawn highlighted the Th(i)nkful Tree concept. She recalled that when we choose to embrace and think thanks about the hard things in our lives, we are like the tree drawing up the living water from where our roots are grounded to keep our leaves green. Living leaves smell different from dead leaves, and the blossoms that break forth after a tough winter bring their own wafting scents and feathery joys.

The testimony of a person practicing th(i)nkfulness gives off a strong fragrance of Christ. Oh, may we smell good! To our God chiefly, but also to a sniffing and skeptical world.

Th(i)nkful: (adj) describing people who choose to download grace/strength from the Lord to think thanks about every circumstance in their life and to express that thanks orally or in written form.

The Season of Faith’s Perfection

Ian and Freda

“The paper is lying on the kitchen table,” Ian told his dear wife Freda. “Just jot down something that you’re thankful for as you pass by.” And so, they each began to compile a list.

Freda had struggled with cancer for 20 years. Slowly it was winning, and now it was invading the neural pathways in her brain. Ian and Freda were both Afrikaners living in South Africa and loved the Lord. They were walking this difficult season together. As Ian moved through his day, he often found opportunity to stop by the kitchen table and jot something down that he was thankful for. Not so easy for Freda. She tried and a few things made their way to the list, but it was hard.

David and I had the privilege of meeting Ian Murray recently and he shared this story with us. His Freda has been gone for 12 years now, but by God’s grace, he “landed on his feet.” He continues to serve the Lord and to find purpose in God’s sovereign plan for his life. We were amazed at his kind and gentle ways of trusting in our God. He reinforced in our minds the strength that comes from focusing on thinking thanks, even in your darkest times.

Living with Hope

Facing struggles almost always makes us initially doubt God’s love for us. That’s a big and persistent flaw in our thinking – when our circumstances turn dark, we think God’s attitude toward us is also dark. When our wind is contrary, God is angry with us. When I am hit with one setback after another, God is really irritated with me and feels it is payback time. And we believe the inverse as well – that when there is good health and wealth and smooth sailing, God really loves me. This is such a wrong view of God and of the usefulness of the circumstances He has chosen for us.

“We must see our circumstances through God’s love instead of, as we are prone to do, seeing God’s love through our circumstances.”

Jerry Bridges, Trusting God Even When Life Hurts

We need to remember that God is committed to re-forming and con-forming us to the character of His Son. Romans 8:28-29 promises that all the things in our lives – the wonderful, average and horrific – work together for our good. That ‘good’ is our being made like Jesus … Jesus, who was loved by the Father using every superlative, but who went through suffering, loneliness, misunderstanding, hostility, injustice and a slow murder. Do you see the problem of connecting my circumstances with God’s emotions toward me? It robs me of the hope – the steady confidence I have in His love for me and commitment to my good.

God will accomplish His work in us and His mission through us until we finish the days He has numbered for us. He won’t miss one detail. Psalm 139:16 tells us that all of us have an allotted number of days to live. The tally of Freda’s days were determined before there was yet one of them. When we rest in the sovereignty of the Lord, we can look past the challenges that confront us presently. We can look to the Orchestrator of my circumstance for help and hope. He gives grace. A little at a time. We can make it holding tightly to Him because the Orchestrator is also the Sustainer.

What Happens When We Are Thinkful?

There is an interesting phenomena that happens when we choose to think thanks. The brain neural pathways we develop start searching for other similar things to travel those pathways. The mind begins to sluff off the discomforts and irritations we face, and although those hardships may still be very much present, the focus has been moved to find grateful things. Emotions may not applaud at first, but they are fickle and soon trail along.

Another thing that happens is that we become a testimony to others. Just like when David and I sat around Ian’s table and he shared with us about his wife and the journey they had together. David and I were edified by their example. We were strengthened to also follow in that kind of pattern. Struggles we will always have. The Lord Jesus promised us that. It is how we process the struggles and move through them that makes the difference.

It was the discipline of listing thanks in a trying time that was the key for Ian and Freda. Yes, it didn’t change that Freda passed on to glory, but it made a difference in how those preceding days were spent. Thankfulness brought them through the season of faith’s perfection as she swung out into eternity on the promises of God and faith fell away because it was replaced by sight.

What About You?

So if it was your story, how would you pass the time? Now Freda’s faith has been made perfect, but what about that season that we, on earth, are still going through as our faith is being perfected?

Anxiety v. Hope

Beyond Hope?

If another person would look at his situation, they would not see much hope. He was, like, ancient.  She was decades beyond fertility.  It looked impossible, hopeless.  BUT…Abraham did not give in to anxiety. He had been given a promise by God.

Romans 4:18, 20-21

In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.”

No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what He had promised.

The Weight of Hope on Your See-Saw

Have you ever pictured your emotions on a see-saw as life goes by?  On the one side you have the weight of anxieties and on the other is the weight of your hope.  How heavy is your hope?

aaa see-saw-faith

Compare these two definitions:

HOPE: a confident expectation

VS

ANXIETY: a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome

Which side is winning in your thoughts?  How heavy is your hope?  When anxiety sits down, does your cardboard hope launch into the air and waft down to a useless place nearby?

You may ask, “how can I possibly add weight to my hope?”  It feels so light and flimsy.

Turning the Weight of Difficulty into the Weight of Hope

Romans 5:3-5 gives us steps to build hope in our lives.

“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope and hope does not put us to shame [will not disappoint], because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

We begin with thankfulness for the weight of difficulty.  All of our suffering is structured and purposeful; God is behind it, with His inimitable smile and His eagerness for us to succeed.  So, we start by rejoicing, thinking thanks, about our sufferings (difficulties, weights and pains in life).  God’s Word says that suffering builds our endurance, which is hanging on and doing what’s right even though we are thinking about how tough this is.

But over time, endurance builds character, which is doing right without really thinking much about how tough things are.  When you have learned character, this gives you hope, a confident expectation that God is pleased and will one day reward you for sticking with it through difficulties.  You won’t be disappointed!

Through this process, you turn the weight of difficulty into the weight of HOPE!  Heavyweight hope defeats anxiety in the boxing ring almost every time.

Some of you were very anxious about the coronavirus in March, but as the months roll by, things have actually gotten worse but you are more used to bearing the weight of that difficulty, and are trusting in the Lord more steadily.  Your endurance is becoming character, and as you please the Lord by trusting in His promises and sovereign plan, you take things in stride. Your hope is in Him, not in your country, not in the politicians, and not in the medical experts.

Confident Despite the Odds

Abraham lived about 4000 years ago. He chose to trust in God’s promises to him. He suffered for decades without a son. He learned endurance. After a while, his character took it in stride and he built a heavyweight hope in God.aaa seesaw 1

His confident expectation in God’s promises was greater than his confident expectation that he would never have biological children.  Because Abraham counted God able to do what He had promised, God says that it was counted to him as righteousness (Rom. 4:22).

God kept His promise to Abraham.  He is going to keep His promises to you, too.

Our Father is unable to break His promises to us. When He promises that He will send His Son back for us, it can be trusted. When He promises that all things work together for our good of being conformed to the image of His Son, we can rest in that. When He promises that He will give us wisdom when we ask, we can count on that.

“For in hope we have been saved … if we hope for [confidently expect] what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it” Romans 8:24-25.

Th(i)nkful Boost

What suffering could you rejoice in today? How could you give thanks for challenges in your life that threaten to weigh you down and steal your hope?

It starts with one step. Think of one difficult thing today that you could rejoice about and give thanks for.  Write it down or share it orally with another person.  Get in the habit of sharing every day one thing that you are thankful for.  It will boost your hope.

Abraham felt like it was impossible, but his emotions were wrong.  He chose to believe. With God all things are possible and He keeps His promises.aaa seesaw

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind.  Has he said, and will he not do it?  Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?  Numbers 23:17