Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

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

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Growing in God through thankfulness: What are you thankful for?

what are you thankful for

Last time we learned that when we allow ourselves to depend on God in our service to him, our attitude changes. God has invested special gifts in us – both natural and supernatural. The gifts we are given became an opportunity to serve the Lord and others in a unique way. When we serve, our attention is in two parts – on God, and on the task at hand. Sometimes that task involves stopping for the one. Other times that assignment involves practical service so that needed infrastructure is there for ministry: feeding the poor, clothing the needy, loving broken people, encouraging people through arts that inspire and bless. That requires administration, health care, engineering, and many more skills that take hours to develop. When we serve, we need to keep our eyes on the one who loves us and gives us opportunities. It’s not like we have to serve out of obligation. If you are doing that, then it’s better to set aside the service for a while and just receive God’s love. If we never do a single thing for God, He will still love us very deeply. However, when we do serve, it gives us many ways to express our love and gratitude to God. That gratitude causes us to focus on Jesus and allow our hearts to be filled deeper and widened to contain more love.

How do we develop a thankful attitude? Some people have a hard time being thankful – especially if they feel entitled, and self-focused. How do we rid ourselves of cold hearts, entitlement thinking and ingratitude? A cold heart could be called a heart of stone; a heart where the conscience is seared and there is no compassion. The very opposite of thankfulness and gratitude is unforgiveness, bitterness and complaining. Do we really want to go there? Bitterness causes all kinds of complaints and mean spirited acts. Hebrews 12:15 warns us to not store up a bitter root grows up in our heart and so defile us (and many). When we are bitter and self-focused, we fall into a form of worshiping ourselves. Unfortunately this is the very heart of the old baby boomer motto of “me, myself and I” and “looking out for number one.” If you focus on yourself, you’ll find lots to complain about! And so the cycle spirals down into self-pity and what Leanne Payne calls the ‘hell of self.’ This self-affliction is a horrible prison to be locked in! While the barometer against entitlement is thankfulness, you still need a change of heart.

Thankfully, God gives us a promise through the prophet Ezekiel in Eze. 36:26-27: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” So God has the key to unlock our prison. Lord, please save us from ourselves! (Read Romans 7:7-25) I am thankful that I was drawn out of this kind of thinking – but if I’m not careful, it is easy to forget. I am thankful for God’s faithfulness and share the writer’s shout in 2 Chronicles 20:21. “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his love endures forever.”

Let’s go deeper to discover more. What is thanksgiving? Thanks isn’t just one of the “magic words” of politeness that we teach children (like please and thank you). A simple definition may be (according to Wikipedia) “Thankfulness is the expression of gratitude, especially to God.” This is especially true in the example, “he offered prayers in thanksgiving for his safe arrival.” Or thankfulness can be the appreciation of a benefit or a gift. Thankfulness can be shallow or very deep from the bottom of your heart. Most of us are thankful for something at some time in our life.

What am I thankful for? What are you thankful for? When I was living in the Kootenay mountains of BC’s southern interior, I was always thankful for the incredible beauty. Every day I chose to explore the mountain roads, lakes and ranges, I was thanking God for what I could see around me. And so one of the reasons why I remember Canadian Thanksgiving of 2013 is from the sermon that Jim Reimer gave at Kootenay Christian Fellowship in Nelson BC. It was the first time I remember such a talk, which was especially needed at a difficult time. So Pastor Jim started us off with things and people to be thankful for. Later on we shared communion together, and we were to share one word to reflect what or who was the reason for thanks. Jim held his microphone for each person to share, and my word was “church family.” Jim’s list included thankfulness for: Parents, family, friends, rainbows, sight, oxygen, hearing, touch, smell, taste, speech, a heart to pump, lungs, immune system, hands, legs, mind, health, tears, fears and pain, sadness to appreciate happiness, sun, sunset, rain, snow, rainbows, nature, animals, Internet, transport, technology, movies, time, job, music, bed, home, soul mate, best friend, enemies, lessons learned through mistakes, joy and love.

Recently I asked my Facebook friends what they were thankful for. Some were deeply personal about their faith, encouragement from others and family. Others drew connections between gratitude and forgiveness or thankfulness and happiness. I agree with these connections. But one statement stood out – from a friend in Sierra Leone, who has lived through war and the Ebola crisis. She was thankful for being alive… the most basic gift.

Thanksgiving is a holiday in North America. In the US, it is traditionally based on a Plymouth, Massachusetts celebration of a good harvest between 1621–23.  Although there was an earlier time of “official” Thanksgiving at what became Berkeley Plantation in Charles City, Virginia (in 1619). American Thanksgiving is generally celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. In Canada, the origins of Thanksgiving can be traced back to 1578 and the explorer Martin Frobisher. He tried to find the northern passage to the Pacific Ocean and took a break off of Frobisher Bay (perhaps near the present-day Iqaluit). They held a formal ceremony and communion thanking God for surviving the journey through storms and icebergs. Others also trace Canadian Thanksgiving to the French settlers in New France (Quebec) in the early 17th century. Other immigrants added their own voice to Thanksgiving celebrations, although the United Empire Loyalists may have brought the turkey theme to the day. It is good to use Thanksgiving, or perhaps Christmas Day or New Year’s Day as foundational days to stop and be thankful. Yet, what if we chose to be thankful every day? Thankfulness is an attitude – perhaps of gratitude, but also thankfulness causes you to think outside yourself and your circumstances. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 reminds us to give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Giving thanks was what I was encouraged to do in October 2013, after I was let go by a radio station I was working for as an ad writer and producer. It’s no secret that the broadcasting industry is a cutthroat business, but still this was an opportunity for God to work something deep into my life: gratitude. My pastor comforted me, but also reminded me that “perhaps this was God’s timing for this to happen at Thanksgiving.” He encouraged me to keep thanking God in all the little things and that Jesus would carry me through. He told me “I feel God is up to some good things. I wonder what door will be open to you. He is our provider and source. In times like this all we can do is trust him. He will make a way…” And so he has. While I’m not working for pay (yet), I moved back to Ontario to be with my husband again. I volunteer in one of my churches in admin/reception and media team. I continue to write, teach and blog. I do prison ministry. I carry on and am thankful for all the little things God brings my way. That thankfulness for each little surprise and gift that came my way made a huge difference. It was like Jesus was carrying me, like the person in the Footprints poem. What happened was a deep outpouring of love from my church families and my own family – especially my parents and my husband.

So Christian living places thankfulness at the centre. We can express thankfulness in many ways. We give traditional thanks for the meals that sustain us physically. Jesus gave thanks as he broke bread and fed five thousand (Matt 14:19/Mark 8:6). The Apostle Paul gave thanks for a meal in the midst of a major storm at sea, and God was with them despite their circumstances (Acts 27:35). Rabbis even encourage giving thanks before a meal AND afterwards. (rabbi blessing link)

Thanksgiving is also is part of other prayers. Many times the Israelites gave thanks throughout the Old Testament. Often thanks are found connected with praise and testimony, such as: I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds (Ps 9:1)

Thanksgiving is also part of the ACTS acronym of remembering how to pray liturgically: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication. It reminds us of the prayers that have already been answered before we add to our prayer list. This keeps us mindful that God will not forget what we have asked.
Thankfulness is also something that is deeply needed in the church. Sometimes when people minister to us, we forget to say thank you. We forget and think, ‘why should I? They know how much I am thankful.’ But no! That is not the case! Thanking someone isn’t trivial – the person who is thanked receives deep encouragement and it shows that their gift or action actually meant something. I was involved in the local Cursillo movement and have been deeply blessed by their ministry. Unfortunately it was frowned on to thank your sponsor and those involved in blessing you. Yet, does it really diminish the sacrifice of those who have given? Those who give most often just want to see the person happy and or blessed. Your true gratitude is a gift to those who have ministered to you. And for me, my best gift on holidays and birthdays is when you see the giftee’s face as they are receiving my gift.

Thankfulness also causes us to grow in our faith. The Apostle Paul encourages us in Col 2:7 to continue our walk in God, be established in our faith and overflowing with gratitude. Perhaps deepening faith and being thankful are like two poles that long distance walkers used to keep their pace and balance steady (Christian Answers link).

The Christian life is like that long distance journey. Some of the circumstances we encounter are more difficult than others – and it is then that we remember the thankfulness and trust connection. Paul reminds us in 1 Thess. 5:18 to give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. This does not mean to give thanks FOR all things, such as the difficult times, but to be thankful in some way at all times. Thankfulness is a lifestyle, almost like being an optimist – looking for how God can redeem a situation and make things better. Some of you may have read Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place. In that book, Corrie shares about her family’s time in a WW2 concentration camp. They were sent there after they were discovered helping hide Jewish people from the Holocaust. Corrie and her sister Betsie were thrown into a building that had many fleas. While the fleas made life uncomfortable, Betsie was thankful for them! Why? Well, the Nazis avoided their bunker due to the fleas. That meant they could have uninterrupted Bible study and fellowship! So Betsie went even further for being thankful for something unpleasant, because she had the big picture in mind. She trusted that “everything works together for good with those who love God”(Rom 8:28)

Thanksgiving is also a deep part of worship. Psalm 110:4 ties thankfulness and praise: “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.” Think about it. Many Psalms and other scriptures are put to our worship music. Giving thanks and being thankful is a deep heart felt theme. Our thanks also touches God’s heart. Remember when Jesus healed the ten lepers? Ten were healed of leprosy, but only one returned to thank Jesus. When he did so, Jesus healed him in an even deeper way – beyond the leprosy. “One of the [lepers], when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well. His gratitude was connected to a deep healing and wellness. (Luke 17:15-19)
Andy Cook even likens the “faith has made you well” to faith has saved you, since the Greek word for well used in this passage is the same as salvation (σῴζω). (Andy Cook link)

And so, salvation is another thing to be thankful for as we focus on and worship the Lord. Let’s move beyond our day to day grumbling about the little things and be thankful for what is going right. Let’s be thankful for how God has helped us through difficult times; for kindnesses shown through others, for the big and little blessings he brings our way. They are there if we look. I thank God for your reading this article. May He bless you through and through as you (and I) learn more about thankfulness and our faith. Let’s examine ourselves, give thanks and encourage each other. Let’s sing as in the song “Give thanks with a grateful heart,” and allow God to enlarge our hearts. Let our hearts be filled with love as we continue to thank God in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Eph 5:19)

Have you given thanks today as an act of worship? Next time we will grow in gratitude as we share in the cup of Thanksgiving.

Bless you and Happy New Year!

Laurie-Ann