Tag Archives: Henri Nouwen

Can God use those who are weak? Growing through leaning on God

 

 

 

 

 

During my last article, we discovered the near joy of letting go of our self-sufficiency. We often need to come to the end of ourselves to find God.  We realize that there is something more.  Heidi Baker often cries out “More!” in her pre-talk prayers.  Andrew Murray had to come to the end of himself so that he could lean more on God – in his preaching, devotions and impact on others.  He was used as one of the leaders of the 1860- 1862 Cape Awakening here in South Africa.  Sometimes those with incredible abilities have to put them aside so that they don’t coast through life on those abilities.  These are incredible gifts, yes, but God has so much more.

When it comes to the extraordinary, brilliance often comes through imperfect vessels.  This is the case in secular society outside the church, like Stephen Hawking’s science done in a body trapped by ALS.  But it shows up even more so in the lives of people like Joni Eriksen Tada, who was a very active person until she had a diving accident at age 18.  She became paralysed from the shoulders down.  However, she shines with brilliance in ministry and reaches out – she’s written 51 books, hosts a radio show and so much more.  She’s an inspiration.  Joni posted on Facebook about God being her support and stay recently.  While some people would say, “Hey, why hasn’t God healed you?”  I say, sometimes God chooses another way.  Yes, absolutely God heals.  I’ve received healing for some problems myself.  I’ve prayed for others and they’ve received healing.  But sometimes, for a season, God blesses in a different way.  Joni shared “God has used my many years in a wheelchair to remind me that yes, I am completely inadequate and anything but competent – goodness, I’m just a quadroplegic!  But my weaknesses keep pointing me to the source of all authority and ability, God, and God alone.  Praise the Lord, He makes us competent as ministers of the new covenant!”

Don’t ever think that because you have a disability or struggle with illness that you can’t have God give you a life filled with purpose.  I can think of countless times that God has used me on the mission field to surprise people.  The gospel, and especially the cross can be offensive to some people. And if it comes in a different package then what your culture expects, wow.  This happened to me the first time I went to Pakistan.  During that time, I could still walk without a cane, since the osteo-arthritis did not yet appear in my knees.  But I was still plus-size in a land where most people were rail thin.  If anyone was overweight, they would be lightly teased.  In my case, teasing came, and I just laughed it off, until it increased and I finally got it to stop. That’s a whole different story.  However, the matter was that the people of Kot Lakphat in Lahore got a taste of the gospel through a different package, an offensive one. And…it got them to think.  God is still doing the same for me in South Africa.

If God can use a donkey to rebuke and stop someone causing harm, as he did with Balaam in the Old Testament, he can surely use everyone.  Everyone has a story. Everyone has a purpose – whether they are able bodied or not.

So we’re going to hear some stories!  In Kenya, being disabled is considered a curse. Stereotyping and social exclusion are common problems among the disabled in Kenya, according to Anjeline Okola of the Ecumenical Disability Advocates Network. I’ve ministered in Kenya four times, and last stopped there while Tony and I were on our way to Sierra Leone. Thankfully for me I was not disabled at the time.  However,  I’ve learned of an inspiring Kenyan female pastor who co-pastors in the Bahati neighbourhood of Nairobi.  The Bahati neighbourhood isn’t far from the Eastleigh area where I used to minister to Somali refugees.  This pastor’s name is Dawn Gikandi, and she was ordained by the Presbyterian Church of East Africa.  She was born disabled due to her mother being hit by a car when crossing the road.  When her mother was advised to abort her child.  She was told that her child would never walk and may suffer severe deformities.  But instead, the child was loved on. She was given the name Dawn, which signified the beginning of their joy.

Dawn wears a back brace tightened around her back to give it strength and uses a walking stick for stability. She says these do not stop her from enjoying her work.  She seeks to make God real to people, and says that God is not limited to choosing able-bodied people for service. She said that “God can use anything or anybody for his work.”

To learn more about Dawn: click here

Ron Piggott:  My long-time friend Ron is another example.  Ron practically lives in a power wheelchair. I met him when I was in seminary and he was in Bible College.  He became like my little brother.  He had several surgeries on his hips when he was a little boy due to Leg Perthes disease.  He was fine and quite active in online ministry and work with youth until his hip joints deteriorated. He had four surgeries, and stayed with Tony and me during some of that time.  After his hips began to finally work, his knee joints also became very bad.  He has managed life in a power wheelchair for years now.   Many people have prayed over him for healing, but instead, Ron was given a deep grace to endure.  He has wisdom beyond his years, with an attitude of grace and perseverance. He is thankful for Holy Spirit helping him manage his life, as well as being able to reach out to others.  He continues to minister online through several websites devoted to evangelism and Bible verses.   Local youth randomly drop in on him and he pours love and encouragement into their lives.  Recently one of them shared to Ron that a few years ago, he came to visit with secret plans of suicide.  Ron spoke life into the boy without him even realizing what was in his heart.  Another boy shared that Ron taught and showed him how to be a man.  Normally a father figure does this for his son, but Ron did this instead. The mission field was coming to his house.

Ron even turns the chance encounters of curious people asking about his wheelchair to opportunities to pour God’s love into people.  And since Ron is no stranger to the internet, he set up a You-Tube channel to minister to struggling people on life skills and on dealing with disability in a positive way.  My little brother is just as much a missionary as I am, and people are receiving life through Jesus.

Avis Goodhart: Avis Goodhart got a taste of missions when she went on her first mission at age 50.  That’s not as unusual as you may think – Tony’s first was at age 64.  She had dyslexia, permanent nerve damage from Bells palsy, and a life of past abuse.  She was let go as a special eds teacher, and God used her skills on the mission of Peru.  And although he calls herself an unlikely missionary, she founded a children’s centre and school, which has lasted for more than 20 years.  She often says “Don’t waste your pain.”

I had the opportunity to meet Henri Nouwen, who was a wonderful Dutch devotional speaker and writer.  Later in life he worked with L’Arche, a French ministry to the developmentally disabled.  And he often fought depression through his life, and chose to keep ministering by allowing himself to be a wounded healer.  I saw him speak at my University – with the encouragement to put our brokenness under the blessing of Jesus.  Jesus transforms our pain and brokenness, just like he did his own.   It was a perfect example of 2 Corinthians 5:4 – He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.

Andrew White:  I was also blessed in hearing Canon Andrew White in person.  He’s a charismatic Anglican priest, who started out in England and eventually earned the nickname of “Vicar” of Baghdad.  He was the only western Anglican priest in what was originally an expat church.  During Andrew’s ministry in Baghdad, the congregation was all Iraqi.

He has a huge heart of reconciliation in the Middle East, and compassion for the persecuted Iraqi Christians. Had it not become incredibly dangerous, he would still be ministering there.  He was like a dear uncle to many children and the poor. He is not only a priest, but is also a medical professional.  He had a medical outreach in his church that provided free medical care, dental care and prescriptions to Muslims and Christians alike.  Yet he is disabled himself through MS.  His own clinic found a way to treat him with his own stem cells, which gave him further perseverance in his ministry.  He is often in Jordan with his Iraqi refugees, making sure the Iraqi church remnant survives, and there is a school for the children.   And while he walks with a cane and has to limit his ministry time, the time he spends with those he is with is very, very precious. You would feel like you were a beloved member of his congregation.

Michele Perry:  I was amazed to discover that there is an Iris example of a disabled leader.  Michele Perry has an amazing story. She accomplished much after coming to faith at age seven, including motivational speaking, leadership training, consulting and writing before she was 16.  She also “stopped for the one” in the American inner-city streets, the streets of Calcutta, and later in Bangladesh.  She was led to Iris after seeing Papa Rolland speak in Denver and went off to Harvest School, like Tony and I did years later. She even arrived at the school with shingles, which was healed by God in Mozambique.  She was the one who pioneered the Iris base in South Sudan, which is now led by Carolyn Figioli.

Michele endured the war-torn South Sudan bush with only having one leg. I can’t imagine how hard that must have been, but her book “Love has a Face” describes all the walking and ministry she did, so she must have been fit.  Add to her situation that she stood out. The fact that she was so white, among very black Sudanese, was already a contrast.  She said, “If I had been Sudanese, no one would have cast a second glance. But I am very white and everyone was fascinated. In addition, I have one leg and walk with crutches, making my white appearance all the more fascinating.”   They probably gave her the same curious looks that I received in Pemba when I was walking around with a cane, only having one leg is even more obvious. She was already forced to depend on God physically, and her time in Sudan taught her even more about extreme dependence on God in other ways.  We cannot love people to life on our own – it’s entirely with his life.  It’s entirely through Him transforming our hearts to reflect His.  Having a less than perfect body even shows the point even more. It’s only by His grace.

Michele came to faith in the hospital.  She said she was no stranger to hospitals. She was born missing her left hip, leg and kidney.  She also had other birth defects that needed 23 surgeries before she was 13.  So she walks with crutches.

Michele came to faith when Jesus gave her a physical encounter in her hospital room. He was pure love. She said, “there he was in my room. He looked with eyes that saw me and loved every part. The good parts, the not-so-good parts, the broken parts – He loved them all.”  Michele was not invisible, she was seen.  She later learned that others were invisible too, and part of her ministry was to see them, to notice them, and to love them.  In Bangledesh, she shared with beggars on the corners who wondered why she was not begging as well.  They told her, “you only have one leg, you should be in your country begging, and you definitely should not be happy.”  So she introduced them to the One who took care of her needs and gave her joy.  She didn’t let her disability stop her.  In fact, Jesus made her thrive, because she completely depended on him.   She loved on her Sudanese community as well, and had many children under her care.  Some of them were fearless and loved three year olds, who knew how to pray with confidence.  Her personal favourite prayer was offered up by such a child.  It was, “Jesus, please bring Mama her leg.  I know it is in heaven.  Bring it here now, Leg grow.”  Michele said, “If I ever had a doubt of my leg being restored, my children’s faith has sure helped to banish it.”  While she still has one leg, Michele continues to be used of the Lord to touch many lives.

Speaking of Christian leaders missing a body part, here is another example.  Bethany Hamilton is a surfer, who often speaks to youth to encourage them.  She even went on a mission trip to Thailand a year or two after the horrible tsunami in 2004. Bethany unfortunately lost one arm to a shark attack.  She struggled with what to do with her life after this event, and eventually re-learned how to surf professionally.  You can see her story in the movie Soul Surfer.

Andrew Murray:  In my last talk, I shared about how Andrew Murray’s strengths or attitudes of self-effort could get in the way.  Eventually he learned that he simply could not minister in his strength, especially when it came to writing.  He had to dictate his writings to his daughter Annie (or another relative).  He was forced to do this because he couldn’t hold a pen for long.  When he was 21, he never completely recovered from malaria and overwork in his early ministry tours in what was the Transvaal).

Andrew shared when he was praying about whether to leave his first pastorate of Bloemfontein for one further north, where there were no pastors. His mother encouraged him that God may speak of his limitation through his health.  He was encouraged to use this as an opportunity to lean on God in ministry, rather than take up another pastorate based on his human strengths and gifts alone. She was concerned that he would burn out and eventually leave the ministry. Unfortunately many pastors do this!  Andrew shared that he had “painful tingles in his arms, hands and back whenever he doesn’t get enough rest.” (Olea Nel – 2nd Andrew Murray novel)

Each of these Christian leader’s stories show that they brought their disabilities to God.  Dawn Gikandi resisted her call due to her disabilities, but then trusted God to make her able to minister his love.  This is in a country where the disabled are  shunned.   My little brother Ron has peace with how God uses him to touch lives, even when he is in daily pain.  His resilience surely is a gift from God. Avis Goodhart was given a chance to turn her life into something beautiful – so the unlikely missionary to Peru poured the love of Jesus into kids.

Henri Nouwen may not have been a missionary, but he took his own brokenness and gave it to God.  He was used to bless many, including the disabled in the L’Arche community.  Andrew White has a difficult life physically, but is ONE of the most joy filled people I’ve ever known.  He shines with the same deep light of the persecuted church, and is given the ability to minister to persecuted Iraqi Christians in the midst of his own pain.

Michele Perry founded Iris South Sudan, although she had to give it up after 13 bouts of serious malaria and other problems. But she endured the bush for seven years, plus ministry in many other slums – with one leg. And still she keeps going, because of her dependence on God.

And lastly Andrew Murray learned to depend on God once again – first he had to give God his strengths.  Now he had to give God his weakness – and he could write through help of dictation.  After all, having a co-writer wasn’t new. The Apostle Paul did this as well.

So, what are your strengths?  Give them to Jesus.  Don’t let them get in the way, so you burn out for God. Don’t live by your strengths.  Give them to God.

What are your weaknesses?  Give them to God as well.  He will make them strengths in a way that seems like a paradox.  Yet it isn’t.  Jesus promises us that we can do all things through him who strengthens us.  But this is really a promise when we rest in him and don’t strive.  Let him work through you.

Also, give him your expectations. Each of these people discovered that ministry and life would look different for them. God has a much better way. Surrender your expectations to God.  Allow him to open your eyes, and widen your horizons.  That way, it’s easier to receive God’s surprises!

Blessings to you all,
Laurie-Ann Copple

Waystogrowingod.org
Coppleswesterncape.ca

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Growing in Gratitude: Paradox and Ministry

Chalice

Last time we discovered that it is possible to eliminate negativity and complaining in our lives though a lifestyle of thankfulness and gratitude.  In February (2015), I attempted to go on a negativity fast for Lent, and it was for the most part- successful.  However, there were challenges. After I declared that this was a fast for God, not only were everyday challenges more of an uphill battle, but there were other difficulties that made some days “screaming days.”  Difficulties were exacerbated by: roller-coaster hormones (after all, I am in the menopause stage of my life), financial stretching, an overlapping schedule with different ministries, a lack of sleep, and even more important, I felt like my life was stuck behind a giant pause button.  During that time, I had to lean very heavily on the Lord for extra grace.  I had to believe (along with the Apostle Paul) that God’s grace “is sufficient for [me], for [God’s] power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. (2 Corinthians 9).

Cup of Thanksgiving overflows
Some people could see my initial efforts as wimpy.  Full-time missioners and missionaries often minister no matter how tired they feel.  Many workers in the secular world work very long hours, as I did in the radio broadcasting world. I am not one for encouraging burn-out, for we all need Sabbath times of rest. Yet sometimes we are simply worn out not by work, but by complaining, bitterness and negative attitudes.  So when you give thanks in all things (1 Thess. 5:18), your cup is no longer half empty like the pessimist. Your cup is far more full than the optimist’s half-full glass.  Looking at the glass isn’t just about perspective, although it does include seeing life through different eyes. The eyes of a thankful Christian are opened to what God is doing in us and around us.  This isn’t just a human thing – it’s a supernatural thing.  Your eyes become open to the “more.” This is how the cup turns from being half-full to overflowing. The Psalmist says “You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows.” (Psalm 23:5)  The overflowing cup is a symbol of being so full of the Holy Spirit that God’s glory and love easily spill out of you.  That’s exactly the time that God works through you, because it is clear that you are more than the “natural you.”

Cup of Suffering and of Joy
Our cup is also a cup of Jesus’ pain and suffering. “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16) The Apostle Paul talks about sharing the ‘fellowship’ of Christ’s suffering as part of truly knowing him. (Phil 3:10)  How can gratitude and suffering be in the same cup? How can we experience joy in the midst of suffering?  How can we encounter God’s glory in the midst of suffering? Are we even willing to suffer alongside Christ? This cup of suffering is what Jesus drank when he died for us (Matt 26:26-27, Mark 14:22-23, Luke 22:17,19). While we don’t have to go through crucifixion as Jesus did, we do go through suffering and times of difficulty. Sometimes we even go through persecution because of our faith in Jesus Christ and ministry for him. Jesus walks alongside us, and he carries us through these difficulties.  When we thank him in the midst of difficulties, we acknowledge his presence, and allow him to work in our hearts despite the refining fire of challenges. We aren’t suffering alone. Jesus is with us.

Suffering and Gratitude
Suffering can make us bitter or cause us to grow.  If we keep a good attitude of thankfulness, the suffering actually refines us.  It takes us through a process which builds in us perseverance, character and hope (Romans 5:3-4). When you keep thankful in such circumstances, it helps keeps your eyes centred on what God is doing in your life.  The process actually is circular – we start with thankfulness and end up in gratitude.  Thankfulness acknowledges who God is and how he is working in your life, despite the difficulties.  Gratitude is the growing state of your heart as God uses the refining process to create good soil.  This good soil is the same believing, faithful heart that Jesus refers to in the parable of the sower (Mark 4:3-20).

Recently, my husband and I returned from a trip to Williamsburg, Virginia. We spent special time with our dear family-friends in the Iris Virginia church. The visiting worship leader, Jonathan David Pettit,  prophesied over me that I was like “spiritual Miracle Grow” (a plant fertilizer).  He told me that “because I had not allowed my heart to become bitter, despite the ‘crap’ in my life, he was using me overcoming these experiences as fertile soil.” He would use these experiences to help others overcome their difficulties. He would use me as a cheerleader for other’s dreams, because I had ‘been there.’ In the moments Jonathan shared, I had a profound sense of gratitude for God working out the messes in my life in a way that gives God glory.

How do we develop this heart of gratitude?  Perhaps the best way is by disciplining ourselves to stay thankful, no matter what we encounter.  Gratitude becomes a growing response we develop, and God deepens his imprint in our lives. Our eyes and ears become increasingly more open to his love and blessings, and our faith and compassion for others deepen.  We begin to develop a fruit of gratitude as we believe God’s promises and grow more thankful; this is similar to how one develops the fruit of the Spirit.

What is the fruit of the Spirit? These are: “love, joy, peace, forbearance (patience), kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22-23).  We grow in response to what God is doing in our lives, and if we keep a good attitude, we are thankful. Henri Nouwen taught that when we encounter the fruit of the Spirit in others, we experience them as gifts. When we continue to be surprised by new manifestations of life and continue to praise and thank God and our neighbour, routine and boredom cannot take hold. Then all of life becomes a reason for saying thanks. Thus, fruitfulness and gratitude can never be separated.” (Lifesigns 70-71) Thus, “gratitude flows from the recognition that all that is, is a divine gift born of love; it is freely given to us so that we may offer thanks and share it with others.” (Robert Jonas, “Henry Nouwen” P 69).

Paradox of Gratitude, suffering and ministry: “How to have a Good Day”
So gratitude grows despite the paradox, and because of the presence of the Holy Spirit, gratitude can grow deeper alongside the paradox of suffering and joy.  Earlier I mentioned about people working tirelessly despite having difficult circumstances.  Some people could call that having a bad day, but they still press on with what they have to do.  Iris leader Surprise Sithole believes that it is always possible to “have a good day” despite circumstances, and he passed this belief on to missionaries Rolland and Heidi Baker.  Rolland shares, “One day we [Surprise and Rolland] were running a bush outreach meeting in Malawi, and on this day, Surprise delivered what was, for me, his most memorable sermon.  Malawi had been in famine most of the year. The crops had failed. It was extremely hot, almost 50 degrees C. The people hadn’t had any proper food in months. A lot of people were sick, and the bubonic plague had just come to this particular village.  Surprise’s sermon that day was entitled, “How to have a Good Day.”  No matter where we are or how bleak the circumstances, Surprise is always having the best day of his life. Irrepressible joy like this culturally clashes with much of the church.  I didn’t like it myself for a long time.

What I’ve learned, though, is that we minister to others out of the places in our lives where God has ministered to us. God works in us to produce a miracle, and we minister that miracle to others.  God has given Surprise the gift of joy.  When he ministers, the Lord uses this joy, supernaturally, to touch others. Some might think it inappropriate.  Actually, it is entirely inappropriate. He is bringing an authentic expression of joy to those who have none, and Jesus is producing joy in them.  Think about what Jesus has done in your life and how you express it to others, sharing His blessing.”  (Heidi and Rolland Baker, Reckless Devotion. P 23-24)

Gratitude and “Miracle Grow”
Surprise has grown in the paradox of suffering and joy (read his book Voice in the Night) through thankfulness and gratitude to the Lord. It shines out of everything he does in ministry, and Heidi Baker is very similar.  When you hear Heidi share at the end of the Compelled by Love film, she looks over her life and ministry and says that she is so grateful to Jesus for all he has done – in their ministry and generally for his sacrifice and love for all of us.   Earlier Jonathan David said that I was becoming like Miracle Grow.  However, gratitude in the midst of difficulties, gratitude in the midst of outreach and ministry is an important key to growth in these conditions.  It is one of the keys of the persecuted church that connects joy and suffering.

Earlier I mentioned Henri Nouwen.  I had the privilege of meeting him when I was a student at University of Toronto.  He spoke at St Michael’s and talked about putting our brokenness under the blessing of the Lord.  He would heal our wounds, then minister through them to others. Jesus embraces all of our lives, the sorrow, the joy and every moment.  Nothing is separate from God.  “Jesus calls us to recognize the gladness and sadness are never separate, that joy and sorrow really belong together, and that mourning and dancing are part of the same movement.  That is why Jesus calls us to be grateful for every moment that we have lived and to claim our unique journey as God’s way to mould our hearts to greater conformity with God’s own. The cross is the main symbol of our faith, and it invites us to find hope where we see pain and to reaffirm the resurrection where we see death. The call to be grateful is a call to trust that every moment of our life can be claimed as the way of the cross that leads us to new life.   (Henri Nouwen, “All is Grace” 39-40)

So gratitude directs us to where the Father would lead – since it keeps our eyes on God.  He leads us into action, and he leads us into rest; all depending on the season he puts us in.  That is the paradox. Suffering and joy? Gratitude in the midst of difficulties? Can we even figure out thankfulness and gratitude?  Not entirely – but we have spent five posts on this aspect of our faith.  It is one that goes well beyond a feeling of being blessed to being carried into what God has for us.  Gratitude should be unending, because our faith journey does not stop.  Jesus is always leading us somewhere.

Next time we will further explore the cup of suffering and joy. It’s a lesson the persecuted church through the ages can teach all of us.  Until then, be blessed, and grow in God.

Blessings,
Laurie-Ann

Laurie-Ann lives in Ottawa, Canada.  She works for Kingdom Culture Ministries (in Gloucester, Ontario) in social media/pastoral care and administration. She attends that church and St Paul’s Anglican Church in Kanata, Ontario.  She is available to speak to small or large groups on a faith donation basis.

 L-A on KCM social media in Wburg

Laurie-Ann working remotely on social media-pastoral care ministry

Growing in Gratitude: The Cup of Thanksgiving

thankfulness chest

These past months, we have explored growing in our faith through thankfulness to God (and in a smaller way, to others). We learned to be thankful for the good, or what will turn to ultimate good in our lives. Thanksgiving can be found in acts of worship, and in thinking far outside our circumstances.  Thankfulness is an expression, or fruit of having a heart of flesh rather than a heart of stone (Eze. 36:26-27). We also began to explore seeing through the eyes of thankfulness.  Sometimes the word gratitude is shown as an expression of thankfulness. I mentioned gratitude eight times in December’s article due to the intimate connection between thankfulness and gratitude.

In January, I discovered there was so much more to thankfulness and gratitude. I was impressed that this area of our faith walk deserves a pause to think deeply about thankfulness. Thankfulness is part of our healing and re-storying our lives through the eyes of faith. Many Psalm writers did this in ancient Israel, including King David. Thankfulness can be combined with soaking prayer so that our act of thankfulness goes even deeper into our soul.  This means that through the Holy Spirit, thankfulness is a key that God can use to transform us. Thanks is also part of the very prayer we use to come to initial faith in Jesus Christ (often called the ‘sinner’s prayer’ but simplified in the Alpha movement as “sorry-thank you-please”).  Thankfulness needs to be a daily part of our walk – it helps us keep our eyes on Jesus, especially if you are experiencing difficult times or you’re in transition from one stage of life and ministry to another stage.  Let’s explore thankfulness and gratitude further.

Is there a difference between thankfulness and gratitude? Or are they aspects of the same thing?  I researched the two words, and often the two concepts are interchangeable. However, I had a sense that gratitude is deeper than thanks. Gratitude is an internal emotion of deep thankfulness. The act of giving thanks is an outward action term; it’s a desire to offer your thanks for something that’s been given to you; or something that you already have.   Personal coach Linda Ryan believes that “being grateful is appreciating something that you have not yet received, but [you] have faith it’s coming.”  She looks at it like this:  “I am thankful for my wonderful family and friends; I am grateful for all the great people I am going to meet.  Being in a state of gratitude keeps us mentally and emotionally connected to our goals.”  http://www.coachlindaryan.com/2011/11/dont-just-be-thankful-be-grateful/ 

So being grateful also makes us more confident and less restless in life’s “in-between” times; it gives us focus.  Michael Austin Witty  (Looking for the Faith-Gratitude Connection) takes this further when he says:  “Before a miracle happens, thankfulness is faith.  Afterwards it is gratitude.” This statement implies that thankfulness and gratitude are a process that we can grow in, which makes good sense to me.  However, I believe you can experience gratitude when you receive God’s love right now, not just in the future. Say God is radically touching your heart, by healing a deep emotional wound. Right now, the Holy Spirit fills you with love and forgiveness. Your entire being feels light, loved and full of hope. So then, what’s the primary emotion you will feel if not gratitude?  Say God uses you in a very special way that you did not expect!  He brings a hurting person to you and you are given an encouraging word, compassion and a gift of healing right when they need it most.  He has had you ‘stop for the one.’  So you are grateful that you got to be a part of that special moment – God is here with us right now!

God doesn’t just work in the past and the future.  Too many of us lose the opportunity of receiving what God wants to bless us with today – this happens if we only focus on the future.   Here’s an example:  I applied to a three-month mission school in southern Africa over five weeks ago. I became more and more anxious on whether or not I’ve been accepted. I kept looking at the ministry site a couple of times a day to know one way or another.  While it is normal to be excited at the possibility of ministering in Africa in the coming months, the anxiety drew my eyes away from God. I was beginning to lose focus on what God is doing right now during my time of preparation.  I began to grow restless and lose my peace.  However, I was gently reminded by a close friend that I need to “live in the now and let God take care of tomorrow.”  Does this sound familiar to you, like  Matthew 6:33? (Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well)  While the biblical concept of seeking God first is about worry and provision, it also deals with trusting God’s sovereignty. Trusting that God is in control and being grateful that he is in charge, opens up a deeper place in our hearts for God.  While we wait for answers, Jesus calls us to that secret place where your eyes are only on him.  You spend valuable time with him.  How can one work in the mission field or any kind of ministry without spending time with God first?  It is essential.

So, I can sing along with the writer of the worship song “Give thanks with a grateful heart” – that God has my back.  I can trust him to work out what I need and what I will be doing.  And while I wait, I’m deeply grateful for being carried like the person Jesus carries in the Footprints poem written by Mary Stevenson.  When you are in gratitude, God gives you even more of what you need. This includes better health, peace of mind, less stress, alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism, and energy. One way to help expedite this process is to go on a negativity fast for at least 21 days (read Dr. Caroline Leaf and/or Steve and Wendy Backland). By the end of that time, you will have trained yourself to no longer be a complainer.

Gratitude is connected to deep faith, and even joy.  One blogger says that “faith and thanksgiving are close friends.  If you have faith in God, you will be thankful because you know his loving hand is upon you, even though you are in a lion’s den.  That will give you a deep sense of joy, and joy is the barometer of the depth of faith you have in God.” [http://christiananswers.net/q-comfort/growing-thanksgiving.html] That gratitude grows in two ways: one, as you are completely dependent on God (as in the Footprints poem) and two, as you actually see answers to prayer happen in your life.  When this happens, don’t forget these little victories.

Thanks and gratitude can and do change your perspective in the best way.  A “treasure chest of thanks” or a “gratitude jar” can help you remember and itemize each day’s blessings.  When I was part of Kootenay Christian Fellowship in Nelson BC, I set up a prayer jar in the back of the church so I could collect prayer requests for the email prayer team.  Had I stayed in Nelson, I would have added a gratitude jar of answered prayers and other blessings.  You can also have a gratitude jar in your own home!  Some churches have times where they share testimonies with the leaders (and congregation).  This time is like an audible gratitude jar!  What is a testimony? Some dictionaries call a testimony: a legal proof, a divine decree or a recounting of a religious experience.  Others, such as Merrium-Webster, add “an open sign,” an open acknowledgement, an evidence and a “firsthand authentication of a fact.” These are real blessings that have come our way. Remember them and be grateful, since the God who gave them won’t stop in blessing you.

Let’s look at the story of the feeding of the 5,000 in the Gospel of Matthew. Before the miracle that stretched the bread and fish, Jesus gave thanks.  That thanks opened the door to God’s miracle of provision.  Something similar happened to Iris Global’s Heidi Baker when she was in a difficult situation.  They had just been kicked out of an orphanage and had limited resources.  A friend from the US Embassy decided to bless Heidi’s family with a pot of chili and rice. The food was enough for Heidi’s family of four, but after a prayer of thanks over the food, the meal stretched to feed everyone present. This wasn’t just a case of adding a little more rice to the mix, but a literal miracle.  Heidi said, “We began serving and right from the start, I gave everyone a full bowl. I barely understood at the time what a wonderful thing was happening. But all our children ate, the staff ate, my friend ate, and even our family of four ate. Everyone had enough.” (Rolland and Heidi Baker, There is Always Enough, pg. 52)  Heidi even says near the closing of the Iris movie Compelled by Love, that she is so grateful for what God is doing each day. That gratitude grows daily.

Gratitude like this becomes an everyday lifestyle and a discipline. Earlier I had mentioned doing on a negativity fast.  One action Steve and Wendy Backland had tried with their congregation was to give some people a ‘no-complaint wristband.’ You can also look in your gratitude jar and read some of the entries if you are feeling down that day.  Gratitude can be developed as a discipline by choice.  Henri Nouwen wrote that “The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy. Gratitude as a discipline involves a conscious choice. I can choose to be grateful even when my emotions and feelings are still steeped in hurt and resentment.” (Henri Nouwen as quoted in Robert Jonas, Henri Nouwen.)  Henri Nouwen also noted that “The choice for gratitude rarely comes without some real effort. But each time I make it, the next choice is a little easier, a little freer, a little less self-conscious. Because every gift I acknowledge reveals another and another until finally, even the most normal, obvious, and seemingly mundane event or encounter proves to be filled with grace. There is an Estonian proverb that says: “Who does not thank for little will not thank for much.” Acts of gratitude make one grateful because, step by step, they reveal that all is grace. (Henri Nouwen, The return of the Prodigal Son, pg.85)

Gratitude is also like a fruit of the Holy Spirit. The named fruit of the Spirit are:   love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5: 22-23).  It is a by-product of deeply abiding in the grace of God and relationship with him.  Henri Nouwen also talks about the fruitfulness of grace.  He says,  Gratitude flows from the recognition that all that is, is a divine gift born of love and freely given to us so that we may offer thanks and share it with others.  The more we touch the intimate love of God which creates, sustains, and guides us, the more we recognise the multitude of fruits that come forth from that love (Robert Jonas, pg 68).  Without a spirit of gratitude, life flattens out and becomes dull and boring. But when we continue to be surprised by new manifestations of life and continue to praise and thank God and our neighbour, routine and boredom cannot take hold. Then all of life becomes a reason for saying thanks. Thus, fruitfulness and gratitude can never be separated. (Henri Nouwen, Lifesigns. P.70-71)

Gratitude brings us to the cup of thanksgiving!
In the New Testament, thanksgiving is the very essence of the Church’s life. In liturgical churches, the word eucharist actually means thanksgiving!The very centre of the Church’s liturgical worship of God is when, in remembrance of all His saving acts in Christ, the faithful “lift up their hearts” and “give thanks unto the Lord.” (Orthodox church in America)

Pastor Jim Reimer from Nelson, BC shared the connection of gratitude and the Cup of Thanksgiving (1 Cor 10:16 NIV) while I was still part of his congregation. He noted that there is a deep connection between Eucharist (or in some churches, Communion or the Lord’s Supper) and thankfulness.  As we receive the wine and bread, we are thankful for Jesus’ sacrifice. We remember what he did for us.  But even more, we are grateful for his presence in our lives, and what he continues to do.  He brings us to more and more freedom. He does not leave us the way we came to faith, but causes us to grow.

Gratitude becomes the drink in which we grow in love.  Gratitude keeps us connected and wanting to connect to Jesus in a deeper way. And in a sense, everyone has a cup to drink.  1 Thess. 5:18 encourages us to give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  So instead of our cup being half empty or half full, OUR cup, the cup of thanksgiving, runs over (Psalm 23:5).  The paradox is that Jesus’s experienced his cup of pain, suffering, treason and death (1 Cor. 10:16), but through Christ, it is our deliverance.  Jesus becomes our cup of thanksgiving.  For this, and him, I am deeply grateful.

Next time, we will continue to explore gratitude, and what we can do when life just isn’t going our way. Meanwhile, drink deep of the Cup of Thanksgiving.

Blessings, Laurie-Ann Copple
Ottawa, Canada