My Boundless Gratitude — in Retrospect

This Thanksgiving was a chance to reflect once again on my “Gratitude Quotient.” I concluded that I’m happier and more grateful than I’ve been in many years.

However, I uncovered a blog I wrote several years ago admitting two disturbing things: (1) I’m still not nearly as grateful as I should be for how God has blessed me; and (2) Many of the things I’m now MOST grateful for are past events I wasn’t grateful for at all  when they were taking place.

I call this second point “gratitude in retrospect,” the phenomenon of being grateful today for situations I once grumbled about.

Perhaps you can relate. Have you gone through difficult times when it was extremely difficult to give thanks? But now, as you look back, you see that God was at work through it all. Gratitude (finally!) rises in your heart as you see how the painful events have been beautifully woven into the fabric of your life.

  • Maybe you had a relationship breakup that tore your very heart…but it paved the way for the Lord to provide someone much better in your life.
  • Maybe you faced a severe trial in your health…but it caused you to make lifestyle changes in your diet and exercise – and now you’re feeling better than ever.
  • Maybe you lost a job you thought you’d have until retirement…but God opened (or will open) a new door that’s a much better fit for your gifts and passions.
  • Maybe you’ve experienced a financial meltdown, such as foreclosure or bankruptcy…but you learned vital lessons that eventually put you on the path to prosperity.
  • Maybe you went through some other difficult experience that has now given you a platform to help others.

These are just a few examples of how “gratitude in retrospect” can occur. I first noticed this in my life a few years ago, when a friend suggested that I write a book about church splits. “That’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard,” was my initial thought. “Even though I’m an expert on church splits, who would ever be interested in a book about that?”

But my tech-savvy friend pointed out that 8,000 people every month do a Google search on the subject of church splits. “Wow. There must be a lot of people dealing with this,” I concluded.

As a result of that conversation, I wrote The Complete Guide to Church Splits: Prevention, Survival, and Recovery (which I can send you upon request). This event was a great example to me of Paul’s statement that we can comfort others with the same comfort we received from God during our own times of affliction (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).

Working on my book about church splits sparked something much bigger in my heart than just a new book project: I discovered that God had been a lot more faithful than I had given Him credit for. And I became much more grateful for the difficult things I’ve experienced in life – even though my gratitude was too often in retrospect.

I’m still troubled by my struggle to be grateful at the same time as my trials are occurring. The Bible instructs us to give thanks “IN everything,” not just AFTER everything (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

I’m also sad that although I’ve given lip service to Romans 8:28 for decades, God’s amazing promise there is still not rooted as deeply in my life as it should be. Paul had gone through incredible trials (2 Corinthians 11:22-28), yet he said, “We KNOW that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

As the truth of Romans 8:28 becomes more a part of my life, I hope to become more grateful all the time – not just in retrospect. I want to become increasingly aware that God is always working to “connect the dots” in my life, creating a masterpiece I could never have imagined during my times of adversity.

So I pray you will join me in being grateful TODAY – no matter what the day brings…no matter what you may be going through. You may not understand it all today, but you can be confident the Lord is working out His wonderful plan nevertheless.

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Ron’s New Appreciation for the Holidays

Ever since his divorce several years back, my friend Ron has complained to me this time of year about the upcoming holidays. He has his reasons, to be sure, but he’s begun to sound like a broken record.

“It’s just not the same,” he moans. “With my wife gone and my kids living far away, it’s always an agonizing time for me.”

Then he typically cites the gluttony, commercialization, overspending, and other holiday sins as justification for his negative attitudes. You’ve probably met people who think like that.

“Let’s face it, Ron,” I sometimes tease him. “With your ‘humbug’ attitude, your parents should have named you Ebenezer!”

A few weeks ago, he threw in a new line that really got me thinking. “I wish I could just press the fast forward button and wake up on January 2,” he told me. Although part of me sympathized with Ron on this, I spent some time praying we would gain a new perspective.

Then suddenly it hit me: Thanksgiving and Christmas aren’t just ordinary holidays. They represent two of the most important attributes of a happy, successful, and impactful life.

Let me explain…

If you asked me the most important attitudes a person could ever cultivate, my answer would clearly be GRATITUDE and GENEROSITY. Yet although I’ve lived more than six decades now, somehow I overlooked the fact that these are exactly the core principles behind Thanksgiving (gratitude) and Christmas (generosity).

Notice that gratitude and generosity are both “magnetic” traits. People in the secular world or New Age Movement call this “The Law of Attraction,” but it’s a Biblical principle too. Gratitude and generosity attract blessings and favor to our lives, both from God and from people.

In contrast, blessings and favor are repulsed  by INGRATITUDE and STINGINESS. No wonder Scrooge didn’t have many friends until his epiphany came.

Through gratitude (a heart of thankfulness) we enter into the gates of the Lord’s presence (Psalm 100:4). And have you noticed how people love to give things to a person who’s truly grateful?

Likewise, generosity is one of the primary keys to a life of blessing and impact. Proverbs 11:24-25 (NLT) beautifully points this out:

Give freely and become more wealthy; be stingy and lose everything. The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.

Do you want to prosper? Then set your heart on becoming more generous.

Do you want to enter into a time of refreshing in your life? Then make it your aim to refresh others.

More importantly, do you want to become more like your Heavenly Father? Then one of the very best ways is to become more generous. You see, a central character trait of your Father in Heaven is that He’s a GIVER. “God so loved the world” that He didn’t just think more positive thoughts toward us – He GAVE His Son! (John 3:16).

If you truly see how loving and generous your Father is, you’ll be that way too. But if you view Him as stingy and miserly, you’ll end up behaving like Scrooge and having a miserable life to show for it.

So, what about Ron?

Armed with this new understanding of how Thanksgiving and Christmas mirror God’s two major character traits for a happy and holy life, I’ve been endeavoring to help Ron gain a new perspective too.

“Ron, you may not like every aspect of the holidays,” I’ve told him. “But what if you used Thanksgiving as a monumental opportunity to work on your GRATITUDE? And what if Christmas became your yearly reminder to live a life of GENEROSITY?”

In all likelihood, next year at this time I’ll have to remind Ron again. But who knows? If he truly begins to practice a life of gratitude and generosity, he may even attract a new wife by then. That would be amazing, but miracles really do happen…especially when we’re consistently grateful and generous.

#PrayForRon

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The Key to Experiencing Thanksgiving All Year Long

Rockwell, Freedom from Want 1943.jpg

Thanksgiving is clearly the greatest holiday ever created in America—and not just because of the great food and football games.

A few years ago I had a new revelation while writing Thanksgiving notes to some friends. In past years, I would say something like, “I’m thankful for YOU this Thanksgiving.” That certainly was true enough, but it missed an important point: I wasn’t only thankful for these friends on one day of the year, but rather was grateful for them all year long.

Suddenly my mind was flooded with Paul’s words to his friends in Philippi: Every time you cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanks to God”  (Philippians 1:3 MSG).

Isn’t that cool? At the mere thought of his friends, Paul had a “Thanksgiving moment.” Even when distance or jail cells prevented him from seeing them face to face, his Thanksgiving rose to God whenever he even thought of these people he loved so much.

I hope you have friends and loved ones who brighten your life like that. Whenever someone mentions their name or the Lord brings them to mind during your prayer times, you light up inside. You find yourself welling up with gratitude that such a person would be a part of your life.

This year I found myself realizing in a whole new way that if you have good friends and are a person of prayer, you can experience Thanksgiving anytime. There may not be any turkey or football, and your loved ones may not be physically present with you at the time. But you can “break out in exclamations of thanks”  nevertheless.

Let’s be honest, though: We all know people who don’t bring such a cheery reaction when they come to mind. Rather than sparking joyous praise, they bring us concern or sadness or even a tinge of anger when they come to mind. This could be someone who has wronged us, who we’ve not yet forgiven. Or perhaps it’s a spouse or child who’s not living like we think they should.

Fortunately, Paul has an answer for this kind of situation too—when instead of thankfulness, we feel burdened down when we think about how another person is doing. Just a few verses after the words above, Paul adds one of the most beautiful promises in the entire Bible: I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns”  (Philippians 1:6 NLT).

Look at how these two verses work together: In verse 3 Paul describes his great joy and thankfulness every time he remembers his fellow believers in Philippi.

But in verse 6, he reveals the secret of why he could rejoice even when some people weren’t doing very well: He knew God was still at work! Instead of remaining distraught about the circumstances of such people, Paul knew He could commit them into the Lord’s loving hands, confident in His ability to change their heart and turn things around for them.

Do you see how your whole perspective changes when you look at the people in your life through this two-fold lens in Philippians 1? Every day—and every moment of every day—can become a time of spontaneous Thanksgiving. So you don’t have to wait another 364 days—let the hallelujahs ring out now!

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Thanksgiving, God’s Kindness & the ‘Giving Back’ Question

hands-giving-back

I’ve never really liked the phrase “giving back.” Maybe it’s because we’re often called to show kindness to complete strangers and people who aren’t in a position to give us anything in return. Although we’re possibly “giving back” to God  in some way, we’re usually not reimbursing people for anything they’ve first given us.

Yet this Thanksgiving I find myself reflecting on the responsibilities we all have when we realize how blessed we are. On this day when we recount the blessings we’ve received from God, it’s also a great time to ask ourselves how we can BE a blessing to others (Genesis 12:2).

One day King David woke up with this same quest on his mind: “Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, to whom I may show the kindness of God?”  (2 Samuel 9:3)

If you know David’s story, he had experienced lots of hardships on his way to becoming king and fulfilling his destiny. As part of God’s training process, he had overcome lions, bears, giants, and a deranged, homicidal king. At times he had to run for his life, living in caves and other dark places.

But by the time we get to this episode in 2 Samuel 9, David was feeling overwhelmed by how much God had blessed him. He recognized that he had abundantly received “the kindness of God.”  And as a natural by-product, he wanted to find someone to share the blessings with.

Sounds something like Thanksgiving, doesn’t it?

David had a particular desire to bless those from the lineage of his former enemy, King Saul. What a great example this is for us. Perhaps there’s someone you need to reach out to who was once your nemesis. Maybe there was friction or suspicion in the past, but it’s time to overcome all of that with kindness and generosity.

Remember the Pilgrims and the Native Americans? Talk about cultural differences! But what if we could reenact that same kind of spirit in our cities today, where police officers and the black community sat down to break bread and share their resources together?

In David’s case, the options were pretty limited. It turned out that the only person left of Saul descendants was a bitter, crippled man named Mephibosheth.  This son of Jonathan was living in a desolate place called Lo Debar, and his self-image was so low that he considered himself no better than a “dead dog”  (v. 8).

Just the kind of person you should invite to your home for Thanksgiving, don’t you think?!

Remember: When you’re looking for people to show kindness to, they might not be the easiest people to love! In fact, you can count on the fact that the people who need love the most will be the hardest to love.

But love them anyway.

Mephibosheth was described to David in such a way that the king might have been reluctant to get involved with such an unsavory character. Yet David immediately had the man brought to Jerusalem to eat at the king’s table—just as if Mephibosheth was one of David’s own sons (v. 11).

Thanksgiving is a time for families, of course. But it also can be a great time to invite someone else  to sit at your table, as David did with Mephiboseth.

I hope you are feeling blessed today. If so, is there someone you can show the kindness of God?

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Thanksgiving, Ferguson, and the Kindness of God

 

This Thanksgiving I find myself reflecting on the responsibilities we all have when we realize how blessed we are. On this day when we recount the blessings we’ve received from God, it’s also a great time to ask ourselves how we can BE a blessing to others (Genesis 12:2).

One day King David woke up with this same quest on his mind: “Is there not still someone of the house of Saul, to whom I may show the kindness of God?” (2 Samuel 9:3)

If you know David’s story, he had experienced lots of hardships on his way to becoming king and fulfilling his destiny. As part of God’s training process, he had overcome lions, bears, giants, and a deranged, homicidal king. At times he had to run for his life, living in caves and other dark places.

But by the time we get to this episode in 2 Samuel 9, David was feeling overwhelmed by how much God had blessed him. He recognized that he had abundantly received “the kindness of God.” And as a natural by-product, he wanted to find someone to share the blessings with.

Sounds something like Thanksgiving, doesn’t it?

David had a particular desire to bless those from the lineage of his former enemy, King Saul. What a great example this is for us. Perhaps there’s someone you need to reach out to who was once your nemesis. Maybe there was friction or suspicion in the past, but it’s time to overcome all of that with kindness and generosity.

Remember the Pilgrims and the Native Americans? Talk about cultural differences! But what if we could reenact that same kind of spirit in our cities today, where police officers and the black community sat down to break bread and share their resources together?

In David’s case, the options were pretty limited. It turned out that the only person left of Saul descendants was a bitter, crippled man named Mephibosheth.  This son of Jonathan was living in a desolate place called Lo Debar, and his self-image was so low that he considered himself no better than a “dead dog” (v. 8).

Just the kind of person you should invite to your home for Thanksgiving, don’t you think?!

Remember: When you’re looking for people to show kindness to, they might not be the easiest people to love! In fact, you can count on the fact that the people who need love the most will be the hardest to love.

But love them anyway.

Mephibosheth was described to David in such a way that the king might have been reluctant to get involved with such an unsavory character. Yet David immediately had the man brought to Jerusalem to eat at the king’s table—just as if Mephibosheth was one of David’s own sons (v. 11).

Thanksgiving is a time for families, of course. But it also can be a great time to invite someone else to sit at your table, as David did with Mephiboseth.

I’m feeling blessed today, and I hope you are as well. If so, is there someone you can show the kindness of God?

 

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