Who Is Your God?

Do You Know Who Is Your God?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deep Darkness

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

What about in ‘deep darkness?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s Trusted Character

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

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

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

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

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

I Thessalonians 5:18

Gratitude Rewires

Thinkful for Percimony

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

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

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

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

How Is Your Brain Wired?

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

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

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

Rewiring for Gratitude!

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

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

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

Christian Jarrett

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

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

NeuroImage Volume 128, March 2016, Pages 1-10

Exercising My Gratitude Muscle

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

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

Robert Brault

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

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

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

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????

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

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 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?