THE POWER OF GRATITUDE

But first–

THE PROBLEM WITH INGRATITUDE

It closes the heart to receiving. The elder brother said, “You never gave me a kid so that I might make merry with my friends” (Luke 15:29), and he didn’t expect it from a stingy dad. Ingratitude brings two dangerous outlooks–victimization and entitlement. They will paralyze you! Guaranteed.

Ingratitude puts you in bad company. Jesus said that His Father “is kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:35). I wouldn’t put those two words in the same sentence—but Jesus did! Ingratitude brings you into a stinking crowd. Paul said that “there will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful…” (2 Timothy 3:1-4). He concluded with a warning: “Have nothing to do with them.”

Ingratitude places you in the enemy’s camp. No one has ever shown greater ingratitude than Lucifer, the most beautiful creature God ever made. And yet he envied God and staged a coup on the throne. How stupid can you get?! Ingratitude turned him into the ugliest creature in the universe. And he’s never had a grateful thought since.  So would you agree with me that ingratitude is serious, not a little sin? On the other hand–

THE POWER OF GRATITUDE

It makes you shine. Thankful people are fun to be around and exude a radiant countenance. I don’t have to tell you that ungrateful and grouchy people are at the opposite end. Would your friends call you a grateful person?

Gratitude allows you to receive grace from heaven, because you don’t feel like you are entitled to it. When you have a grateful heart, you always feel like you are being blessed. You can’t help it—God simply pours it on. Think prodigal. If you don’t enjoy healthy, holy, happy relationships, ingratitude may be a root cause.

Gratitude connects you to important people–like parents. If you want to draw closer, express thanks for what they have done, not what they haven’t. (And if they are still drawing breath, it’s not too late). My friend Jacob did it as a college freshman. I asked why he was not looking forward to thanksgiving. He answered, “They don’t talk about spiritual things, and they still treat me like a teenager” (which he was). I told him to write a letter of gratitude, make it long, and write it out freehand, because Mom will treat it as a trophy. He did. I’ve seen the parents four times since. Every time they bring up the letter. It changed their home–for years. Way to go, Jacob! Gratitude is powerful!!

Gratitude and generosity are siblings. Generous people cause thanksgiving to rise to heaven: “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous to every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God” (2 Corinthians 9:11). If you have learned generosity, you probably picked up gratitude along the way.

When? “O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever” (Psalm 30:12).

Why? “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures for ever” (Psalm 118.1).

How? “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise.” (Psalm 100:4).

Who? “Surely the righteous will give thanks to your name” (Psalm 140:13).

YOU CAN GET GOOD AT GRATITUDE

I dropped my blind friend off at the airport and into willing hands Saturday at 5AM. He called four hours later: “You wouldn’t believe what happened. I’m in Charlotte on my way now to Palm Beach, and the flight is a different number, but it’s the same plane. I don’t have to change planes, just change seats. Isn’t that cool?!” I rejoiced with David, realizing that  I would not have called a friend to say, “I don’t have to walk off this plane and get on another –cool, huh?” But for a blind person, a change is a challenge, especially an airport change, especially walking off one plane and getting on another. The thought creates tension for a person who hopes he gets help, trusts he isn’t forgotten. He may ask for help, if anyone is around and interested.

Then he said, “Another cool thing–I found my cassette at the bottom of my bag.” He memorizes what he puts into his two bags–and where. We look for things we can’t find in a bag–but we can see!  After two trips to our home, David memorized the floor plan. He doesn’t want to be crashing into walls in the middle of the night. As we maneuvered our way up our walk, he said, “Oh, there’s the little bump in the pavement.” He was right!

Relationships are important to David. He remembered the names of the grandchildren he met–once. He was hoping he could see Shepherd–for the second time. He had met him a year before. He was thankful that two of my sons stopped by. Not a huge thing to some–huge to David.

I said on the phone, “I am going to start my sermon on gratitude with your plane story.” He responded, “Good. I want to keep the thanksgiving angels busy, the ones who bring our thanks to the throne.”

I’m not sure about his angelology, but I know one thing–he wants to get good at gratitude. He is not a victim, although he sure could be, a victim of the hospital that didn’t know excessive amounts of oxygen mess with the retinas; of his parents who split up the household that took dad out;  of bullies who made fun of him. He could be a whiner–blaming parents, the hospital, the God who saw it all and apparently did nothing. He could feel entitled to more because he has less.

We know what blue looks like. When I asked about colors, he said he associated the color blue with the ocean and the sky, neither of which he has ever seen.  His world is colorless. David doesn’t know what he looks like, or his mom, or his older brother, who sometimes tells him what he does wrong.  

When he leaves for the bank, he doesn’t want to go at rush hour, because he keeps cars waiting when he crosses the street. Oh!  He has been romantically involved with two different girls, not to the point of getting physical but to the point of feeling close. But he didn’t know what they looked like. They just felt special. One died–the other moved.

When David departs, I thank God for my life, my wife, my children, my eyes, the color green, lilacs, the Christmas tree. I too want to keep the thanksgiving angels busy, if that’s really what they do.

HOW TO DEVELOP GRATITUDE

What if…

…you thanked God when tested—and He turned it into a testimony?

…you thanked parents for what they gave and forgave them for what they didn’t?

…couples tossed expectations and chose gratitude?

…you changed your environment with gratitude and started an epidemic?

…you shed your whining, developed gratitude—and found it fun?

A STORY ABOUT GRATITUDE

“Now on his way to Jerusalem…” (Luke 17:11).  Jesus had set His face for the showdown. What could slow Him down? Ten lepers. His last miracle in this region. Those who said, “Next time,” lost their chance.

Outcasts in every way, they didn’t dare get close. They knew the rules and cried out: “Jesus, Master, have pity on us.”

One command changed their lives: “Go show yourselves to the priests.” “And as they went, they were cleansed.” Priests were the Department of Health. They needed to act in faith for God to act. It often works that way. They went—it happened. One returned, while nine kept going: “That’s what He said to do.”

“I know, but don’t you want to say, ‘Thank you?’”

That guy was a Samaritan, the least likely to return to a Jew. Jesus asked three questions: “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

Jesus expected people touched by love to show gratitude.  Saying, “But He told me to go to the priest” doesn’t settle the issue. Who is Jesus waiting for you to thank—parents, a teacher, coach, neighbor, relative, policeman, Holy Spirit?

INGRATITUDE IS SERIOUS

It doesn’t go unnoticed in heaven. It disconnects us from Jesus. While gratitude sets us up for a miracle, ingratitude closes us off. It suggests entitlement. The elder brother said, “You never gave me a kid so that I might make merry with my friends” (Luke 15:29).  The last days will highlight ingratitude (2 Tim. 3:2). Don’t you!

Ingratitude sets you on a path toward perversion: “Although they knew God they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21).

On the other hand…

GRATITUDE IS CONTAGIOUS

Thankful people are fun. They exude a radiant countenance. Gratitude allows you to receive grace from heaven, because you don’t feel like you deserve it. Think prodigal. Gratitude connects you to the people for whom you express appreciation. If you want to grow relationships, develop gratitude. Works every time.

Far better to join the Samaritan who returned than the presumptuous group who just kept walking. They got the “please” down but not the “thank you.”

You are most likely a grateful person. As you read, you may think of areas where you can walk in greater gratitude. Suggestion: try “thank-you” in difficult times and wait for miracles—when you’re being tested, when temptation presses in, when irritation is rising, when pressures at work escalate, when tension at home mounts, when conflict in relationships bring extra frustration. Thanksgiving shows that your God overturns evil with good. Hardship either discourages us or forces us to upgrade our confidence in the sovereignty of God.

YOU KNOW YOU HAVE A GRATEFUL HEART IF…

…your prayers sometime don’t get beyond thanksgiving.

…you often reflect on those who have impacted your life.

…you manage to give thanks in the midst of pain.

…you can only stand in awe of a God who has been so kind and faithful to you.

 

GRATITUDE INVENTORY

(Suggestion: print and use for your Thanksgiving time together. Happy Thanksgiving!)

  1. Have I expressed enough thanks to my mother and father?
  2. Have I thanked teachers who made a positive contribution to my life?
  3. Have I thanked coaches, pastors, siblings, people who serve me, like mail carriers?
  4. Do I give thanks in the midst of difficult circumstances?
  5. Do I resist the temptation to complain because my situation is not better?
  6. Have I chosen to give thanks for a hardship rather than holding onto a wound?
  7. Do I give thanks instead of expecting others to wait on me?
  8. Am I content with what I have or do I deserve more?
  9. Do I have a distorted picture of God that keeps me from thanking Him?  (The elder brother was angry and could not receive from his father).
  10. Have I chosen as an act of the will to be thankful rather than waiting for proof?
  11. Do I need to receive more before I will have a heart of thanksgiving?
  12. Would people close to me say that I have an attitude of gratitude?
  13. Has gratitude turned to skepticism because things turned out differently than expected?
  14. Am I generous with my money? Generous people are thankful (2 Cor. 9:10); ungrateful people are stingy.
  15. Am I happy? Grateful people are (Ps. 92:5).
  16. Do I live in the peace of God? Gratitude keeps me there (Phil. 4:6,7).
  17. Do I recognize that God is in charge? If so, I will be thankful (Ps. 97:1).
  18. Is life for me a matter of giving? “Thanks—giving” means both thanks and giving.
  19. Will I fit well with the atmosphere of heaven? It is full of thank-you’s (Rev. 7:12).
  20. Do I struggle with lust? Thanksgiving is a guard against sin that takes from others.
  21. Do I live close to Jesus who demonstrated a thankful heart? (Matt. 15:26, Jn 11:41,Lk 10:21f).
  22. Do I express gratitude every day?  (David appointed the Levites to give thanks twice daily: I Chr. 16:4, I Chr. 23:30).
  23. Do I thank God in hard times, knowing that He will bring good out of bad?
  24. Am I able to thank God even when my personal security is threatened? (Dan.  6:10).
  25. Am I thankful for people God has connected me to? Paul gave thanks for people he wrote to.
  26. Have I thanked God for healing and health? (“Where are the nine?” Luke 17:17).
  27. Have I grown self-indulgent? (They are “lovers of themselves, lovers of money.. ungrateful, unholy…” 2 Tim. 3:2).
  28. Am I thankful for God’s truth? (“At midnight I rise to give you thanks for your righteous laws.” Ps. 119:62).
  29. Am I thankful for food ? (Acts 27:35; Ro. 14:6; I Tim. 4:3).
  30. Am I thankful that God is gracious? (I Cor. 1:4).
  31. Am I thankful for deliverance from death, even though I wasn’t aware that it was happening? (Angels attend to us and keep us from harm).
  32. Am I thankful for government leaders? (I Tim. 2:1,2).
  33. Am I aware that ingratitude can harden my heart? (Rom. 1:21).
  34. Am I humble? Thankful people are humble people.
  35. Am I modeling a thankful heart for my children and for others that I serve? (Col.3:15,17).
  36. Do my prayers often include thanksgiving? (Phil. 4:6; Col. 4:2; I Tim. 2:1).
  37. Do I enjoy singing? (Is. 51:3; Jer. 30:19).
  38. Is my thanksgiving contagious? (Paul’s gratitude caused “thanksgiving to overflow” 2 Co. 4:15).

6 REASONS WHY YOU CAN BE GRATEFUL

1 YOU ARE DRAWING BREATH.

Life is a miracle. That the body functions as it does witnesses to God’s genius and creativity. The organs don’t compete with one another but assist each other, just as the body of Christ is meant to do. Your body is a picture of how the church is called to function. We complement each other rather than compete with each other, just like our bodily systems do. Take another breath–and thank God!

2 YOU HAVE ETERNITY IN YOUR FUTURE.

Scripture tells us to put all our marbles in the age to come: “Set your hope fully on the grace that is coming to you with the revelation of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 1:13). We have the new earth to look forward to. The prediction for today may include dark clouds, but tomorrow promises to be sunny.

3 IN THE MEANTIME, GOD USES EVERYTHING.

He is an economist. He doesn’t throw out our failures–He uses them. In His creative genius, everything counts. So there is no room for regret. We repent–and move on, knowing that “where sin abounds, grace does much more abound.” What a way to live. Regret is a useless emotion. Worse yet, it puts our engine in reverse and keeps us from walking into our God-appointed destiny. It doesn’t get us anywhere except on the road to discouragement. By contrast, we can know assuredly that God uses our bad decisions as well as our good. When Jesus showed up on Resurrection evening, He came to commission, not to complain. The greatest failure in the lives of the disciples was answered with the words, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” I want to follow a King like that!

4 YOU ARE LOVED,

In your best times and in your worst. God is not in a bad mood today. He has not turned His back on you because you turned your back on Him last week. He has a good forgetter. With regard to our sin, the prophet tells us that “He remembers them no more.”

5 GOD HAS PLANS FOR YOU TODAY.

“We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). It doesn’t insult me that God has planned specific works in advance, and I get to step into them today and in the days ahead. Call it predestination. Look at the word: you have a destiny that has your name on it–planned ahead of time. God thought about you in advance and has gifted you specifically to do what He has designed for you. That brings peace and a deep sense of fulfillment. Today is not another random day where we throw the dice and see what number comes up. We are living out the purposes of the architect of our soul. Good reason for gratitude.

6 CIRCUMSTANCES CHANGE–GOD DOESN’T.

He is teaching us all to live above the circumstances. We learn to not ride the roller coaster of up and down situations. We live above them, subject to a God whose plan is not conditioned by the weather report. His Word is sure and steadfast. We can count on it–today and tomorrow! Blessed Thanksgiving!

 

UNITY AND DIVISION (part 2)

Paul loved unity so much that he confronted disunity when he saw it. Euodia and Syntyche were two strong women who had worked with Paul. He had learned to walk toward tension, not away from it, which people typically do. He confronted it rather than avoiding it.

We don’t know if the sisters were reconciled, but if they were not, don’t blame Paul. He gave it his best shot, exposing the problem for the whole church to know–as well as the church down through the centuries. Paul’s two-verse admonition (Philippians 4:2,3) says much about restoring damaged relationships and making unity a standard:

  1. Confront conflict. Don’t let it grow by choosing not to address it.
  2. Treat broken relationships as serious. If unity convinces the world of the message of the gospel, disunity shows them we can’t get along. The world scoffs because the church is in constant skirmishes with itself. If we say, “Not that big a deal” and let disunity simmer below the surface, the dis-ease of disunity grows. Others will take their cue from a silent leadership and not take it seriously. Pardon me, but you’re singing off key!
  3. Treat the group as more important than the individual, a highly important and oft- neglected truth. If someone on a music team can’t sing but has been on the team for five years and parents are generous supporters, you may think to ignore the issue. Wrong! The well-being of the group overrides the feelings of an individual. Confronting the issue helps honest people work toward harmony. This is needed in the family–and in the church family! Everyone has a part to play. Leaders help people find it.

Wow! How embarrassing! Didn’t Paul care at all for the feelings of Euodia and Syntyche? Looks like he shamed them by going public. These two gals didn’t know their feud would be famous–for two millennia! Had they known, they might have taken their disagreement more seriously. Was Paul right in doing what he did?

Jesus said, “If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother…” (Matthew 5:23,24). Right relationships lay a proper foundation for right worship and for strategic evangelism. Disunity taints corporate life. If you want to improve the quality of your worship, strengthen the quality of your relationships (Thank you, Graham Cooke).

Paul was right. The division was serious. These were not new Christians, and they had locked horns. Others were needed to bring them into agreement: “Yes, I ask you also, true yokefellow, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel.” This was not a personal passing issue to overlook. They needed encouragement from the outside to see the seriousness of division and the high priority of unity. The church desperately needs what Paul saw. Make unity a higher priority than personal feelings–and you’ll enjoy the harmony that is created. Guaranteed.

UNITY–A PRIORITY (part 1)

When my father was close to death, every word counted. He met with his six children one by one to speak life into us. I’ll never forget his words to me. Relatives came, and those who needed an admonition got it. Even the maid dusting his room was challenged to live for eternity.

Last words can be monumental. So what did Jesus say just before going to the cross? He prayed that the family might be one just as He and the Father were, “so that the world may know that you sent me” (John 17:20-23). He said it twice for emphasis. If Jesus had unity on his mind, should it be on ours as well?

WHAT DOES UNITY LOOK LIKE?

Paul used the human body to talk about unity: “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body though many, are one body, so it is with Christ” (I Cor. 12:12). The body does not compete with itself. Like a football team working together under one coach, it operates in unity. Like a well-trained symphony orchestra, each person or part functions in harmony under one conductor. Unity is deeply satisfying.

HOW IS UNITY CREATED?

“Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” We’ve been singing that song since 1955. How’s it working? Wars have escalated. Unity comes by way of the cross: “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph. 2:12).

We can’t make it–but we are called to maintain it: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-3). Humility is needed to walk in unity.

SO HOW DO WE MAINTAIN UNITY?

UNITY REQUIRES DIVERSITY. Diversity is essential for harmony, but it must be orchestrated by heaven, not by personal desire. Diversity without direction is disaster. The world wants diversity, but on its terms, and it creates terrible disharmony.  “There are varieties of activities (diversity), but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone (unity). To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (I Cor. 12:6,7). Imagine an orchestra without a director, each playing the composition his own way without a score. Call it diversity.

UNITY IS NOT UNIFORMITY, which is leveraged from top-down leadership to restrict personal freedom. In music it is unison–one note. Gets boring after a while. Harmony is more satisfying to the soul. Uniformity is an abusive leader wanting everyone to think and act like him.

DISUNITY IS ADDRESSED. “I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord” (Phil. 4:2). We must desire unity so much that we address disunity whenever it appears. We show more concern for the whole than the individual parts. Disunity grows when it is either ignored or called diversity and celebrated. Disharmony ruins the whole song, and the world says, “I don’t know what you’ve got, but I hope I don’t catch it.” (More to come).

THE VULNERABILITY OF THE CROSS

Have you noticed? It’s football season–everywhere. Think of the mascots. The Vikings. The Norwegian Lutherans had a liturgy that read, “Spare us from the Vikings.” They were terrorizing. We also have the Timberwolves. Teams usually pick aggressive names, like the Bears, the Lions, the Tigers. Could we use something nicer? How about the Minnesota Lilacs?

Heres one: the Minnesota Lambs. Laughable? Then think of the Son of God, the one through whom and by whom all things were made, the King over all Kings, the Lord over all Lords. When he comes to the earth he created, he comes not as Lord but as Lamb. John saw it: “Behold! The Lamb of God.” Hard to think of an animal more defenseless. He came not to dominate but to die, “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28).

The cross is Jesus at his weakest–and God at his strongest. Foolishness to the wisdom of the world, but wiser than man’s wisdom and stronger than man’s strength. One cannot get more vulnerable than hands stretched out, nailed to a crossbar. There is the helpless Son of God, and there is the power of God unto salvation.

So how do we overcome the enemy, far stronger than any terrorist? By the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 12:11). How are we to walk in the world? Jesus said, “I send you out as lambs among the wolves.” Hey, thanks. We’ll get ripped apart. What’s up?

When Paul was Saul, he was aggressive and competitive. He had by his own estimation “advanced beyond [his] contemporaries, so zealous was I for the tradition of my fathers” (Galatians 1:16). But he learned a new way of living. He was given a thorn in the flesh. It was painful, so Paul prayed like he did when others were in pain. It didn’t work. He prayed again–and again. No change. Instead, a word from heaven: “My grace is sufficient for you. For my strength is made perfect in weakness.” So Paul concluded, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” The former all-star didn’t like being weak, but he came to understand how God worked through weakness. It became a strategy for ministry and a way of life. He found that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness” (Romans 8:16), not in our strength.

We don’t like being weak either, so if we are weak, we may pretend that we are strong. Fake it ‘til we make it, right? We give the appearance of strength, but that doesn’t help us to connect with people. The Pharisees pretended to be holy. In fact they were thieves and murderers, sinners in religious clothes. They had no idea how to walk as lambs. Do you?

So give me a “thumbs up’ if what you read shows appropriate weakness. Andrew, our first-born of six, wrote this email to his siblings a few years back: “I want to head into this New Year with no regrets…One of my biggest regrets is how I have not been gracious toward you…I know many times I have been harsh and I am sorry. I wish I had specific things to point out…I am sad and sorry and ask you to forgive me.   With love, Andrew.”   Way to be weak, Andrew. You helped to change the atmosphere in our home!

Go the way of the cross. Your weakness matches well with God’s strength.