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Posts Tagged ‘thankfulness’

“A life in thankfulness releases the glory of God.”
— Bengt Sundberg

“A single grateful thought raised to heaven is the most perfect prayer.”
— Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

“The person who has stopped being thankful has fallen asleep in life.”
— Robert Louis Stevenson

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pastor-nickPoint 3:  Before Our God

The book Pollyanna has both irritated and intrigued me. For those of you who don’t know the story, it is an American book written about a girl named Pollyanna who delights a rather depressed village with her “glad game” where she thinks of all the blessings that come from every day experiences and at moments the rest of us would be cursing under our breaths. The book has had such an effect on American culture that we even use the words Pollyanna and Pollyannaish to describe people who are just too happy and cheerful for their own good.

The book irritates me because I am a pessimist by nature. When I see a half-glass of water, I don’t think about whether the glass is half-empty or half-full. I wonder why it isn’t the coffee I ordered. By nature I expect for the worst,  wait for the worst, and am disappointed when the worst doesn’t come. I can’t stand overly cheery people as a rule. I figure the only reason they can have a smile is that they are to dumb to know any better.

Yet, the book intrigues me as well. Perhaps it is simply out of jealousy. I want to have that heart. I believe that is what Pastor Nick’s point three was about. Not walking around with a goofy grin, but developing a heart and eyes that sees the world as God does. And because of those eyes walk in new obedience and service.

How does that happen? I can promise you it isn’t through games and wishful thinking, neither is it from grunting and straining as if trying to lift a truck by yourself. In fact, we have little to do with the process. The power comes from God who gives us faith, and the Holy Spirit which prompts us to express love through laboring and enduring. A personal by-product of labor and endurance is thankfulness.

I know I am wandering around a bit, but try and follow these rather disjointed thoughts. As I am typing this, something odd struck me, thankfulness is a by-product. I think so often we try to make thankfulness the goal in and of itself, rather than realizing that it is only a by-product of something far greater and more meaningful.

A car can’t run on exhaust fumes, it can only produce them. Thankfulness is something produced, but it is not the fuel that runs the car, and it certainly isn’t the reason the car was built in the first place.

Perhaps a key of being thankful is too stop trying to create thankfulness and run of thankfulness, but rather simply act in such a way that thankfulness becomes the natural exhaust of the engine.

Does that make any sense?

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Today I have been thinking more about thankfulness and what struck me was how unique being thankful is. Take for example the difference between a compliment and thankfulness. At first being thankful for someone seems rather similar to giving a compliment to someone but they are really radically different.

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Imagine if I were to say to Pastor Nick, “nice sermon.” It would be a nice thing to say but underneath the words what is happening? I don’t give Pastor Nick anything more than my opinion. The words are very transitory, what I mean by that is, they don’t last. “If I tell you, “you are wearing a nice tie”, and tomorrow you don’t wear the same necktie, the words no longer carry any weight. The words are only as long-lasting as the tie.

Compliments also give nothing to the speaker. The words that are spoken have little to any connection to my life. Again, “Pastor Nick, nice sermon.” leaves me with nothing more than a vague memory of being momentarily entertained, but the words aren’t treasured, nor are the experiences for that matter.

On the other hand, if I say “I am thankful for the sermon Pastor Nick.” Watch what happens. What I am really saying is that something spoken struck me in such a way that I must keep the words alive in me. I have chosen to take his words and make them my own in such a way that I can more deeply and fully praise God. Not only am I saying something to Pastor Nick, I am saying something about my own heart and about the heart of God. The words have transcended the experience and are not taking on a life of their own.

Yesterday I said I wanted to explore ways to be thankful and how to show thankfulness. So here goes.

We can be thankful in three distinct ways: with our heads, our hearts, and our hands. Both in the ways and the how this seems to be the case, it must come out in one of those three ways.

With our heads – we can be thankful for the truth, the expression of the truth, for clarity, for decisions (whether we like them or not), challenges to current thinking. I am sure the list can go on, these are just a few from the top of my head.

With our hearts – we can be thankful for love, concern, rebukes, perseverance, courage, faith

With our hands – action, restraint, giving, receiving, even an offer of something impossible is something to be thankful for.

That last one might seem a bit odd, so let me try to explain. As I mentioned before I struggle with depression. I have tried to kill myself twice in high school and in the past struggled with the desire for years.  The last severe depression was when I was around 30. I was unemployed, living in an apartment with a rat sharing my mattress, unable to speak, lying in bed without the courage or energy to get out of it, even to chase away the rat. My pastor came over and the greatest gift he ever gave me was “I know you don’t have any faith. You can borrow some of mine until yours come back.” Now obviously, I couldn’t really have his faith any more than I could have his heart while it was still beating in his body. But the offer gave me hope, something that I could cling on to when there was nothing between me and an ever widening bottomless hole. There are few moments in my life that I am more thankful for, than an offer of something that couldn’t be given.

So how can we show thankfulness to others?

1.       Tell them – Be specific, tell them exactly what they have done, what part of who they are that makes you thankful.

2.       Pray for them – a head, heart or hand that can produce thankfulness in others does not occur by accident. Nor are the swarms of hell happy over that person. Pray for continued strength, wisdom, guidance that they may continue to be a blessing.

3.       Support them – whether it is through money, time, or working alongside them, you can show thankfulness by supporting the “ministry” of the person we are thankful for.

4.       Reflect them – If you claim to be thankful, to be changed because of someone, but have no reflection of it in your own life, you are nothing but a vampire. You are simply sucking the person dry without ever actually possessing what it is they have given so preciously. If you are thankful for a person, one of the best ways is to model what you have learned.

I don’t know if any of this helps, or even makes sense, these are just some random reflections.

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pastor-nickPoint 2. Thankful for Others in Christ

Being Thankful When It Is Hard

 

 

The two most difficult things to happen in life are to watch yourself fail and watch someone succeed, especially in an area that you are failing in. And yet, this is Pastor Nick’s second point – we must learn to be thankful for others in Christ.

 

A pastor of mine, a long time ago in America told a very brief story that went like this. I told my wife, “I love chocolate cake!” She told me “no, you love yourself, and chocolate cake pleases you.” Ouch! C.S. Lewis talks about playing chess and asks the question “do you really like to play chess? If you only like it when you win, it isn’t the game you enjoy, it is the winning. Chess is only the vehicle that you use.” Again, ouch! But these two illustrations point to the problem we have when can’t seem to be thankful for others in Christ: that somehow being thankful lowers us in the eyes/esteem of others, of God.

 

I believe there are two ways of learning how to be thankful, just as there two ways of exploring the universe. When you explore the universe we either choose a telescope to get the big picture, so see something so large and distant that there is no other way or we choose a microscope to see something so small it is easily missed. The same is true for exploring thankfulness in regard to others. We can either start very big or very small.

 

Consider someone it hard to like much less be thankful for. When we use our thankful telescope, we are trying to take in all that God has made at once, and just as space is mostly dark and empty, but that isn’t what we focus on when we look up at the sky, we look for the tiny sparks of light. We must do the same with our foe.

 

We begin with the large: All humans are made in God’s image, you are a human, therefore, you are made in God’s image and that is something to be thankful for. Another may be: You have been chosen by God, that makes you holy, called out, special and that is something to be thankful for.

 

As above, the other choice is to start small. Every person is made in the image of God and that is doubly so for the believer, who has both the image of the Creator and the Holy Spirit living within them. Since that is true, every person possesses something – a gift, a fruit, a trait or characteristic that you can be thankful for. If the person is especially disagreeable this can come in handy. We can choose to be thankful for a gift we do not want.

 

I have a friend who loves children, I personally don’t, to me they are, as my old Bible professor used to say in college “Vipers in Diapers.” I could be thankful for that gift – one, because it was true, and two I lost nothing in my own eyes, how I perceived others looking at me or how I imagined God looking at me. I am sure this is NOT the best way to be thankful, these are only examples of ways to be thankful when it is hard.

 

Tomorrow I want to explore some ways to be thankful and how to show thankfulness.

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Point 1 in the Sermon – Paul is Mr. Thanksgiving

I have never thought about the Apostle Paul as “Mr. Thanksgiving”, somehow it kind of felt irreverant to say that, but in reality, thankfulness seems to be as much of a core to his being as being “Mr. Apostle” or “The Artist Formerly Known as Persecutor of the Church.”

As I think about this point today, I am struck by two different things. The strangeness of the role of thankfulness in his life and the reasons why he should be thankful.

Why strange?

When I look over Paul’s life, the first word that comes to mind Was hardship. He worked very hard to be obedient to the law, even describing his obedience as “flawless” and you know how much work that must have taken. He lived a life as a “church policeman.” Suddenly he has a total paradigm shift and he finds that everything he ever learned was wrong. After being struck down and blinded by Jesus he spends three years in the desert re-learning the gospel.

During his Christian life he is nearly drowned, beaten, stoned, put in prison, denied access to simple things like coats and blankets, kept from friends, bitten by a poisonous snake, chased out of towns, created riots, thrown out of synagogues, isn’t trusted at first by the other apostles, can’t work with other missionaries… and the list could go on and on and on.

Yet, through most of it, we learn about Paul’s problems through Luke in the book of Acts. Paul seems to be too busy praising God, thanking God and serving others to notice all of chaos around him.

Perhaps that is the secret, or at least a secret to being thankful. Getting my eyes of myself and my problems. Worry and pity seem to be the children of free time and a self-centered life.

The second question is more difficult for me. Why was Paul so thankful? Given the above, it would seem natural if not right to simply collapse.

I struggle with depression, not just the blues, full blown depession. I have most of my life. I remember talking to my pastor in America and saying “I have run the good race, I lost. I give up.” As I compare my struggles to those of Paul, he seems to win in “please pity me” category. But that isn’t how he thought. Why?

I think it comes from Paul knowing two things: 1) who he really was and 2.) knowing that God was not only bigger than that but willing to forgive all that Paul was.

Paul knew he was a sinner, his training as a Pharisee showed him that every day. How many laws there were, how many he daily broke, how many things each day that were left undone. He knew all too well how much he lacked.

He knew the depth of his hatred. He not only disliked Christians, hated Christians, he actively looked for them to destroy them. That has got to be a frightening place to be, knowing that you can stand collecting coats as another man is being stoned to death in front of you and not be bothered at all.

Yet, it is because of this that Paul can be thankful. After coming to the end of himself, with nowhere else to go, he encounters a great and mighty God. Who has chosen him to be saved, chosen him to be a messenger, chosen him to take the good news to ends of the known world, before slaves and kings alike. Despite all that he has done, in fact all that he is, God has chosen him. How can he, or anyone of us who is truly honest about ourselves, be anything but thankful!!!

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