Friday, November 20, 2015

Cultivating a Thankful Heart

Dear Friends, 

I wonder for how many of us Thanksgiving sneaks up without the opportunity for us to take the time to reflect on what the day is all about.  Or maybe we’ve just gotten too busy with all the preparations.  As you start this Thanksgiving week, I encourage you to take some time out to cultivate a thankful heart.  Many years ago we featured an article entitled “Returning Thanks” by author Paul Thigpen that I thought would be a timely piece for us to re-visit again as it provides some help in cultivating a grateful heart, especially when the circumstances in our lives are less than ideal.  Enjoy! 
At times, we may find ourselves in wintry spiritual seasons, when a frost settles on our hearts and our sense of gratitude freezes over.  During these times, I’ve learned that gratefulness is a habit to be cultivated, a labor of the soul that seeks God.  As with the other virtues, we can’t employ a mechanical technique to make us thankful.  But we can learn to direct our attention to those things that draw us to God in appreciation for who He is and what He has done.

In that regard, here are some insights I’ve discovered along the way:
  • Give thanks as a holy discipline independent of feelings.  True gratitude involves the heart as well as the lips.  But sometimes when our hearts are cold our words can be sparks that kindle our gratitude.  That’s why the Bible repeatedly commands us to thank Him (Ps. 136, Eph. 5:19-20, Col. 3:17).
  • Give thanks for the small and ordinary things.  With blessings, as with relationships, familiarity often breeds contempt.  We should keep in mind how the world would have seemed to that grateful leper Jesus healed.  Ever after that miracle, he must have given thanks for all 20 fingers and toes, for the power to run and leap again, for the smiles of children who once would have hid in horror.
  • Look for the hidden blessings.  Paul told the Colossians to be “watchful and thankful” (Col. 4:2).  Sometimes we must keep ourselves alert to the graces God gives subtly or indirectly.       Sometimes we grumble that the gifts we have are different from the gifts we would have chosen for ourselves.  For example, we hear people complain about their physical appearance or other natural endowments, wishing they were prettier or stronger or smarter.  Sometimes we fail to realize that not every gift we seek would be to our benefit.     
  • Thank God especially in the midst of adversity.  God doesn’t ask us to be thankful for the sorrows that come our way, but He does want us to demonstrate trust in His care by thanking Him in spite of them.  The Apostle Paul said, “Give thanks in all circumstances,” not for all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18).
  • Turn your attention from your problems to God’s priorities in your life.  We may have to take a step back to see the big picture if we want to be grateful for what God is accomplishing in us.  Jesus gave the Father thanks for His last meal just hours before the horrible death He knew was waiting (Matt. 26:26).  Jesus was grateful because He saw the bigger picture of God’s plan—that “the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God” (Jn. 13:3).
  • Give your attention and care to those whose lives make your particular blessings stand out by comparison.  Have you been grumbling that you can’t afford a new couch for the living room?  Go serve in a soup kitchen for the homeless. Have you found it hard to thank God for your boss?  Talk a few minutes with the folks in the unemployment line. Do you complain about minor aches and pains?  Pray for someone with a terminal illness. Your gratitude to God is sure to grow.
  • Set aside time daily to express thanks to God.  In ancient Israel, a daily habit of thanksgiving was so important to the life of the nation that the Levites were officially appointed to stand in the temple every morning and evening to thank God (1 Chron. 23:30).  In a more private context and a later generation, we find Daniel kneeling to thank God three times a day (n. 6:10).
  • Keep a record of God’s faithfulness to you.  “Count your blessings,” as the old song says.  Try listing them in a regular journal that you review periodically. One family I know keeps a “Thank You Book,” complete with pictures, dedicated exclusively to recording answers to prayer and other blessings from the Lord.
  • Show gratitude toward others as well as God.  Make it a point to tell family and friends how grateful you are for their kindness.  Stock up on thank-you notes and use them generously, even for small favors.  Thank the folks involved in your daily affairs: the bus driver, the office janitor, the grocery store clerk.  The more you appreciate all these people, the more you’ll appreciate the One who put them in your life.

If we cultivate the discipline of gratitude, we can overcome the temptation to turn our backs on the Lord in self-absorption.  Instead, we’ll be sure to run toward the Lord, fall at His feet, and whisper often the words He delights to hear: Thank you.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Jill Briscoe 
Executive Editor
Just Between Us Magazine

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Patience of Unanswered Prayer

Dear Friends,

Are you struggling with your prayer life right now – or perhaps getting weary as it seems so many prayers leave your lips unanswered? 

Remember Past Experience

I find it especially helpful to think of some experiences in the past that God has turned around for me.  I go over them bit by bit, reminding myself how dark and hopeless it all seemed and then the way God moved in turning the whole thing around.  I let myself savor the memory of those incidents and then simply pray, “Do it again, Lord, do it again!”

“Do it again prayers” are a great way to go when you get discouraged.  Once I was impatiently waiting for answered prayer for a family member.  It was a case of praying for conversion.  In this instance, I began to doubt that God would “do it again.”  So I spent some time lying on my bed reliving my own conversion experience.  I came from a background similar to that of the person I was praying for.  As I thought about it, I marveled at the perfect timing of the events leading up to my conversion.  After I had revisited that experience, I found myself praying “do it again” prayers with renewed confidence.  As we persistently remember the mercies of God from the past, we will find it easier to persist in the present.   

Pray for Endurance

Most of us quit before the answer comes, but we should pray about quitting before we actually do it.  If you find yourself about to quit, stop right there and say, “Lord, I am just about to stop praying because I am very discouraged.  I see nothing at all in answer to all the praying I’ve done already.  There is not a cloud in the sky, and so I am about to give up.  If you want me to continue, please give me some help; give me some hope.”  I have found that when I pray like this about quitting, I don’t!  Somehow help comes, and I put my head down and go on. So if you’re having trouble persisting, first remember past mercies and then pray for endurance.  

Why don’t you make my prayer your prayer as you continue to wait and trust the Lord with the things on your heart? 

A Prayer About Unanswered Prayer

Tender Jesus,
caring for the ones who care not anymore ~    
for those beaten by circumstances
and driven by sorrow
to believe that they are lower than dogs,
bereft of a reason to live~
hear our prayers.

Tender Jesus,
moved with compassion for the sorrowing ~
teach us the work of prayer.

Tender Jesus,
teach us the perseverance of prayer
in the face of a silent heaven
when  you ask us to wait awhile
for the answers to our petitions.
See us ~
those who would see you smile
and  feel your hand of blessing.
Touch awake faith in a Father who cares;
a Father who will never reject,
who is active on our behalf.
Oh Lord, teach us the patience of unanswered prayer!



Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor
Just Between Us Magazine