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:

Stories I Need to Tell – Sword Fighting

I’ve told you guys quite a bit about my nephew Tyler. Here’s a story about his younger brother, Tucker.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATucker and Tyler were really into the “Lord of the Rings” movies, so we played swords a lot during those days. (I couldn’t find a pic with swords – only this one of Tucker with the hulk hands – we used to do battle with them too.) One day while playing with Tucker, we slung the swords at each other like crazy and as the swinging ceased for a brief moment, he decided that he had beat me. There was no real reason – he just said that he had beat me. I was still holding my sword though. He pushed his sword up to my chest and demanded for me to drop my sword. I acted as if I were going to and then started swinging again. He wouldn’t fight back though. Why? According to him, he had already beat me. So I let him put his sword in my chest again and we began this dialog.

I said, “Why should I drop my sword? I’ll never let you kill me. Never surrender!!”

He said, “You will.”

“Why would I do that?”

“‘Cause I said so.” (let me remind you that he was about 3 feet tall.)

“I won’t.”

“You will.”

“No, I won’t surrender. . . . . .Ever.”

“Yes, you will,” he said.

One more time I asked, “Why would I do that?” Then I dropped my sword.

He dropped his too and ran to me with arms wide open saying, “This is why.”

He hugged me as hard as he could and I held him too.

I actually held him and said in my most evil voice, “Now, I’ve got you!” And we played the “You can’t escape game.”

Anyway, later that night when I laid down for bed I wondered if there had been times when I was trying to fight or do battle with the world, and God just wanted a hug? I wondered what would have happened if I had never dropped my sword with Tucker? What about other people that I think I need to do battle with? Is there a way I could hug them instead of fighting? Would I allow myself to drop my sword with them?