The Sword of Gratitude

Darkness closes in. The silence is deafening. My vision is clouded. I can’t see a way out. Death marches on, threatening, intimidating, and piercing the very depths of my being. There is nothing I can do but wait. . . with heavy breathing and an anxious spirit, I wait for the inevitable. These are dark times. I shovel the darkness out as fast as I can only to discover that another onslaught of more darkness has already arrived in its’ place. I just keep shoveling, but I don’t seem to be making any progress. I am overcome by the throng pressing in and I can’t seem to find a footing.

What should I do? Or maybe the better question – What did Jesus do?

Luke 22 describes the events right before Judas’ betrayal – right before the crucifixion. When the darkness had amassed its’ hordes and was preparing to destroy  Him. . . when death came knocking, with the cross just ahead of Him, Jesus sat down to a Passover meal with His friends. There, He took bread and gave thanks.  Jesus took the time and gave thanks right before His ultimate battle with darkness.  Think about it. He could have done anything He wanted, but He chose to hang out with friends (disciples), remember all His Father had done (Passover meal), and give thanks. The sword Jesus wielded that night was gratitude. And make no mistake. . . gratitude is a sword. It pierces the darkness with light!

Think about it. Gratitude is worship. It’s a recognition of who God is and what He has done. This is worship. Even when we are grateful for a kindness of another person, those things are ultimately a picture of the Gospel. A “thank you” is the acknowledgement of an undeserved kindness, and that’s the Gospel – an underserved kindness. When we are surrounded by darkness, we can choose to try to shovel out the darkness or we can choose gratitude. When we thank God, we remember who He is and what He has done and we begin to reflect the glory of the Gospel. Jesus’ light pierces that darkness as our gratitude remembers, and praises and talks about His work and His character. Darkness trembles at His name. Darkness flees. There isn’t even a battle between light and darkness. Light wins every time. With even an ounce of light, darkness hides it’s face. Gratitude is the sword that defeats the darkness. Gratitude shines the light of Christ into every circumstance. Since it brings light, gratitude always wins in a battle against the darkness.  (nerdy sidenote: Gratitude is probably more like a “Light Saber” than a sword.)

Here are a few Scriptural examples of God’s people remembering and being grateful before a battle with darkness:

        • 2 Chronicles 20:22 – Jehoshaphat and his men praised God and then the LORD set an ambush against the horde.
        • Daniel 6:10 – When he found out He would be thrown into the lion’s den, Daniel thanked God.
        • Psalm 40; Psalm 69 – David thanks God and praises Him in song over and over again in the book of Psalms.
        • Joshua 5 – Israel’s priests and trumpets lead the army around Jericho before the walls crumble.
        • The Passover meal itself (instituted by God) is a thanksgiving remembrance of what God has done and who He is intended to give His people strength and reassurance in all their circumstances.

Thanksgiving/gratitude are also good for us ‘because they reframe our thoughts about our circumstances. When I spend time reflecting on all my blessings, the things God has done for me, the things He has given me, I enter life with a willingness to give and to be a blessing to others. On the other hand, when I’m not mindful of my blessings, I’m more likely to fall into the trap of comparing myself to others. In those moments I feel inadequate and sometimes even cheated. I enter life looking for what I can get out of the situation or what I can take for myself. Gratitude allows me to see the truth that in Christ I am “more than a conqueror” and He is “all that I need.”

Ann Voskamp has done some studies in conjunction with her book, “1,000 Gifts.” She asked people to write down 3 things they are grateful for each day for a year. In the end, they will have collected a list of over 1,000 gifts. Her theory is that this practice changes our outlook, our attitudes, our choices. . . in short, it changes our lives. Here’s a quote:

“If they wrote down just three things a day they were grateful for, they were less depressed, less suicidal, less apathetic, than those who didn’t practice lifestyle gratitude. . . . Research indicated that recording those blessings was cognitive training, a way of reorganizing your brain to focus on goodness. It increases an individual’s positive focus by 25%. . . . Those who practice this type of lifestyle gratitude have higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, optimism, attentiveness, energy, they were more motivated, likeable, other-oriented, forgiving, generous, helpful, more likely to volunteer, and more likely to give back. Giving thanks and giving back are ‘Siamese twins.’ They move as one.” – Ann Voskamp

Here’s a link to download a sermon I preached on this topic:

Gratitude, Hope, and Hospitals

Today my brother, Roger has travelled down to Lake Jackson by himself to visit us. (We’ve been in this house for close to 15 years and this is his first time to see it.) I’m grateful for the time we spent going to church, watching football, going out to eat, and just hanging out. He is not out of the woods yet, but he has come a long way. Today, he a different man than he was just a few months ago. He has a renewed faith. We are able to carry on great conversations.

Today, I’m grateful. I’m grateful for my brother. I’m grateful for our new relationship. I’m grateful for his effort to come down to see us. I’m grateful to God for progress and for hope.  Today, I praise God for all He has done and for His promise to be with us through all of our circumstances.

Matthew 28:20b – (Jesus speaking) – I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

1 Corinthians 13:7 – [Love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Romans 5:3-4 –  . . . we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Walking, Presence, Ice Cream, and Gratitude

08-11 walking smallOver Christmas I noticed something. Now that Kasen has learned to walk, we enjoy going out together to explore the world. I have to walk at a pretty slow pace so he can keep up, but it’s a lot of fun. Anyway, I noticed that when we walk together, I’m always looking up at the horizon – where we’re headed, but Kasen looks at the ground and the surrounding area. He’s worried about stepping over over rocks and picking up sticks, while my concerns are more about our direction and future. It’s important for me to look out for his safety and watch for cars coming over the horizon, but I wonder what I’m missing?

In the same way, if we live our lives always looking for the future – always concerned about being able to make the right corrections so we can be “safe”, we’re never fully present in the moment and will never be able to experience life to the “full” as Jesus talks about in John 10:10. By the way, we don’t have to stress about our safety/future if we’re in His hands. 

Anyway, just some thoughts today.

Another example of Kasen being fully present in the moment and relishing life happened in the car on the drive home from Ft Worth. We stopped and got ice cream at Dairy Queen. Each time Miranda fed him a bite, he’d let it melt in his mouth and then laugh and clap for it’s taste. It’s as if he was encouraging God with a standing ovation saying, “Yeah God! You did a good job on this one! Do it again!”

Do I celebrate and thank God for the small things? Is the taste of ice cream really a “small thing” or is it truly another expression of God’s love for us?