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COUNTING OUR BLESSINGS

Thanksgiving is a good day to pause and take some time to count your blessings.

Dr. Tony Evans gives the following definition of a blessing in his book Victory in Spiritual Warfare.

“A blessing is your capacity to enjoy what God has given you with a spirit of contentment, ease, and satisfaction while simultaneously being a blessing to others.”

James says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James‬ ‭1:17‬ ‭ESV).‬

Some of the good gifts God gives are material. Others are spiritual blessings. One of my favorite songs during this Thanksgiving season is Counting Every Blessing, by Rend Collective. This song makes it clear that God sends blessings in every season and reminds us to look for the signs of His goodness no matter what we are currently walking through.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving this year, let’s pause and ask ourselves if we are receiving what God has given us with intentional gratitude. In other words, are we grateful for what God has given, satisfied that it meets our needs and content with the provision? If so, even little things provided by God are received as evidence of His goodness.

 

The Benefits of Choosing an Attitude of Gratitude

In recent weeks, my life has been enriched by a Bible study and video series by Tony Evans that our iConnect Bible study class at church has been going through. So when I noticed the following quote on gratefulness by Tony Evans it caught my attention.

“God says to give thanks in everything. That doesn’t mean you need to give thanks FOR everything. You don’t need to give thanks FOR that bad day. Or FOR that bad relationship. Or being passed over at work. Financial hardship. Whatever it is – you are not to give thanks FOR the difficulties, but rather IN the difficulties. That is a very important distinction, and one I think we often miss. Giving thanks IN everything shows a heart of faith that God is bigger than the difficulties and that He can use them, if you approach Him with the right heart and spirit, for your good and His glory.”

Giving thanks in difficulties is an expression of our faith in a good God. It is a practical discipline that teaches us to see our tough circumstances from God’s perspective.

The last several months of my life have been filled with circumstances I would never have chosen. Financial difficulties, needed home repairs that in the natural are an unsurmountable obstacle, a hospitalization with our special needs son David and then his sudden death two weeks ago have made this one of the most challenging seasons of my life.

And yet as I look back on what God has done in my life during this period, I’m amazed. I’ve experienced peace that surpasses all understanding in the loss of our son, a dreaded event which had previously been my biggest source of anxiety. I’ve grown in my knowledge of God more than during any other recent season of life. And as I’ve gotten to know the Lord more intimately, I’ve fallen freshly in love with Him.

Are you facing a situation that you never would have chosen? Realize there is a reason God allowed the details of what you’re going through to touch your life. Recognize He is at work through your circumstances to bring you to a new depth of relationship with Him, to a new level of spiritual maturity as suffering works to conform you to the image of Jesus Christ.

Today, decide to look for the good in your life. Spend time with the Lord, asking Him to help you see your circumstances as He sees them. Focus on the little blessings you see in the midst of the pain – and if you’re like me, I suspect you’ll find they aren’t so little.

Take time today – and every day – to choose an attitude of gratitude to God. And before long, I suspect you’ll find your entire attitude toward life will begin to change. That’s definitely what’s happened in my life – in spite of the fact that the trials our family has been walking through have no end in sight.

 

Gratefulness and Grace

“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians‬ ‭15:57‬ ‭ESV‬‬

During one of my times studying God’s Word this week, I made an interesting discovery. The Greek word translated “thanks” in this verse from 1 Corinthians 15 is “charis,” the same word that is translated “grace” throughout the New Testament. This was a reminder to me of how closely related grace and gratefulness are in the life of a Christian.

Grace has been defined as “the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues.” (Blue Letter Bible)

In simpler words, God’s grace is the kindness He shows daily to the unworthy. There is nothing we can do to earn God’s grace. It is a free gift, given to us because God is benevolent. Giving good gifts is a part of His nature.

Grace is what saves us. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (‭Ephesians‬ ‭2:8-9)‬

Grace‭ trains us how to live lives that are pleasing to God. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,” (Titus‬ ‭2:11-12‬)‬‬

Grace gives us access to God in our times of need. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews‬ ‭4:16)‬ ‭‬‬

Grace gives us comfort and hope. “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.” (2 Thessalonians‬ ‭2:16-17‬)

Grace gives us a future inheritance to anticipate, “so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians‬ ‭2:7‬)

As believers in Jesus Christ, giving thanks for the many blessings we receive through His grace should be a daily practice.

Recently, God has been doing a good work in my life, one that has sometimes been painful but one that has always been by His grace. As a result, I’m beginning to walk in victory in several areas of my life where victory is a new experience. And for that, I want to give Him thanks. Will you join me today in giving thanks for what He is doing in your life?

 

Grateful For Grace

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Matthew‬ ‭7:11‬ ‭ESV‬‬

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” James‬ ‭1:17‬ ‭ESV‬‬

These two verses have taken on new meaning in my life this week, each time I glance out the window or walk out the front door of our home and see one of God’s good gifts sitting in our driveway! After over a year of praying for the Lord to make a way for our family to replace our vehicle that stopped running over a year ago, His gift of provision is a daily reminder of two important truths of Scripture: that our God answers prayer in His own way and His perfect timing, and that His gifts are given because He is a God of grace and goodness, not because of anything we have or ever could do to earn them.

When the Lord provides for a major need in our lives in a way we would have never come up with in our wildest imagination, being grateful comes easy. The words on a neighborhood church sign that we drove by on our way home from the car dealer with our new mini-van last Friday said it perfectly: “God works in unexpected ways!” I never would have come up with the idea of meeting this need through a retired widow living on a fixed income, one who has been a prayer warrior for our family for many years.

The provision to purchase a vehicle without adding to our debt came on the very last day of a month when God had been speaking many life-changing truths to my heart through an e-book by Andrew Murray entitled Waiting On God: A 31-Day Study. This timely study had reminded me that God works in His timing, that as we wait for Him to work in our circumstances He is first doing a needed work in us, that we must wait patiently as we focus on losing our will in His perfect will, that the Giver is greater than the gift and our waiting on Him is the only way to learn to find our life and joy in Him. These truths and a long series of other important reminders of God’s ways during the waiting have been a source of strength during the painful and stretching month of September.

But of all God has spoken to me in this amazing provision, what has stood out above all else are six short words spoken by the leader of our church iConnect Bible study class last Sunday morning, a dear friend who along with his wife has been walking with my husband and me through a situation that is still very much in progress, one where God is doing a major overhaul on our lives. The simple words, “What a gift of God’s grace!”

The very nature of God’s grace is that there is absolutely nothing we can do to earn it. It is an undeserved gift from God. Faith is a part of the progress, but even that doesn’t earn us anything good from God. Scripture teaches a pathway to grace that God has been walking us down during this past six weeks, the pathway of humility. As James 4:6-10 says, “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”

This week as I rejoice in the good gift God has given our family since my last Thankful Thursday post, I am equally grateful for the spiritual truths He has reminded me of during this situation we have been and still are walking through. As we move forward from here, the turning around of the overall situation we are dealing with is still definitely a work in progress. The work in my husband’s life and in my life are also still very much works in progress. But the lessons God has been teaching us about His character and His ways are settled a little deeper in our lives. And they are unchanging. ‭‭We don’t know what lies ahead of us in the coming months. But we do know our God and His ways a little better than when this season first began.

God’s Treasures of Darkness

As I began this new month of October, I started a new devotional series by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, entitled Growing In Gratitude: A 30-Day Devotional Guide. In the first devotional reading, she defines gratitude as “learning to recognize and express appreciation for the benefits we have received from God and from others.” She adds, “This means constantly being on the lookout for blessings, making each day a treasure hunt.” That final phrase immediately brought to mind a Bible verse shared in the comments on a recent Thankful Thursday post I wrote for God-Living Girls with Chronic Illness.

“I will give you the treasures of darkness And hidden riches of secret places, That you may know that I, the LORD, Who call you by your name, Am the God of Israel.” Isaiah 45:3 NKJV

These words from the prophet Isaiah have taken on special meaning in my life since this verse was shared the comments following that Thankful Thursday post. At the time, I was facing one of the hardest steps of obedience God had ever asked of me. I knew the right thing to do, was determined to obey, yet was in a major battle in my emotions. I made the correct choice, and while the full answer is still in process it was clearly a turning point in some extremely difficult circumstances we have been walking through.

The term treasures of darkness, in the original Hebrew, refers to the blessings God has stored up in His storehouse, ready to bestow upon us as we choose to walk in His ways. Deuteronomy 28:12 uses this same Hebrew word to describe the blessings God has stored up, ready to pour out on us when we walk in obedience to His Word.

“Darkness” can refer to literal darkness, as in Genesis 1:4-5, when God separated the light from the darkness and called the light day and the darkness night. It is also used of figurative darkness, a night season or time of adversity.

The Lord has a storehouse of treasures stored up to lavish upon His children who walk in obedience to His precepts during the dark seasons when circumstances seem overwhelming and we have no light to see what lies ahead.

And why does God do this? That we may know that He is the “I Am”, the true God, the God who has the power to enlighten our darkness. “For You will light my lamp; The LORD my God will enlighten my darkness.” (Psalms 18:28)

My husband and I have been walking through a dark season of great financial pressure, caused by serious damage to our home during hurricanes Ike and Harvey, very little help with repairs from our insurance company, some credit card debt we have been working to pay off, and our inconsistent and limited self-employment income.

When on top of all of this, we learned that our homeowner’s insurance was being cancelled because of the poor condition of our home, I felt like I was drowning emotionally and knew I was going under if I didn’t get some encouragement and help in dealing with my emotions. I reached out to a friend from our church, the wife of the retired pastor who leads our iConnect Bible study class.

Over four years before, when we began looking for a small group to be a part of in our large church, we read in the church bulletin that this small group was beginning a study on Genesis and Creation. This especially caught my husband’s attention since  he had recently written a screenplay that included scenes from the Creation story of Genesis. We visited the next Sunday and have been a part of this close knit class ever since.

The first “treasure of darkness” God gave in this situation was the understanding that we thought we chose this small group over four years ago, because the study posted in the bulletin that was about to begin caught our interest. But in truth, God spoke to my heart, He chose this group for us because He knew we would need the friendship and hard-earned wisdom of this couple in this situation several years later. When I made the initial contact because I needed help dealing with the emotional overload caused by our circumstances, I had no idea that my friend and her husband had walked through a similar situation earlier in their marriage. But God knew.

Other times, especially after difficult steps of obedience, God opens his storehouse and bestows a treasure so big we stand in amazement at His goodness. This past Sunday, we received a blessing that left us in tears and speechless. In the midst of great financial stress because of thousands of dollars of damage to our home, we have also been depending on rental cars and friends for transportation since our car broke down over a year ago and the repairs to get it running again were well beyond our means and the value of the car. For over a year, we have been praying for God to make a way for us to get a dependable vehicle without us adding to our debt (which we have been working to pay off). Sunday, God answered that prayer, through a retired widow who has been a prayer warrior for our family for many years. This former nurse for our special needs son came by for a visit and to bring some supplies for David and an anniversary card for Mitch and me. I opened the card and was a little puzzled by the message she had written. “Prayer do change things. Here is some help for your transport needs”… until she handed Mitch and me a certified check which will allow us to buy a dependable used car.

God usually uses people in the treasures of darkness that He bestows upon us when we walk in obedience to Him. But the thing in common no matter how big or small these treasures are is that we know without a doubt it is a gift from God and a clear revelation of His love for us. God’s treasures bestowed in darkness may come through people, but God is their ultimate source and recognizing that makes us fall more deeply in love with Him. Through His treasures of darkness, we know He is the true God, the one who is bigger than any dark circumstances we currently face or may face in the future.

Battling Anxiety by Prayer with Thanksgiving

“BE ANXIOUS FOR NOTHING , but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians ‭4:6‬ NASB

The above Bible verse has been one of my favorites for many years. I memorized it at least ten years ago. I’ve tried to live it out whenever circumstances came that caused anxiety, even studied Max Lucado’s book Anxious For Nothing last year and found help in overcoming some anxiety I was battling during that time.

Yet when I learned about three weeks ago that our home was no longer insurable due to extensive damage during the last two hurricanes that hit the Houston area – that to have continued insurance coverage on our home we had an estimated $40,000 of repairs (not covered by our insurance company) that we needed to find a way to cover – I still had a major battle with anxiety. Yes, I tried to cast my burdens on the Lord, but the anxiety remained. I prayed, but I still was waking up in the middle of the night feeling so anxious about this situation that I couldn’t get back to sleep.

Knowing I needed to find a way to deal with this before it started causing major problems with my health, I prayed and sensed the Lord speaking to my heart that I needed to reach out for help. We had already shared some of the details of what we are facing with the couple who lead our iConnect Bible Study class at church, so I made a call and explained the problem I was having to my friend Donna.

After listening patiently to my explanation of what had been happening, my friend gave me several practical suggestions to use to conquer my fears. First, she reminded me of the above Scripture. We discussed some of the specific fears that were keeping me awake at night. Donna asked me to make a list of those fears and others that came and then find Scriptures I could use in prayer to combat the nighttime fears. And she reminded me of the second action called for in Philippians 4:6, giving thanks to the Lord in the midst of our current circumstances. She also gave several other practical suggestions, which I’ve been putting into practice.

This was nearly two weeks ago, and nothing in our circumstances has changed. But my outlook on the circumstances has turned 180 degrees. Yes, I’m still having an occasional battle with anxiety keeping me from getting a full night of sleep some nights. But the combination of identifying my fears, reminding myself of what God’s Word says about the things I’m fearing, and looking for things to thank God for in the midst of this situation has made a big difference.

Dr. David Jeremiah, founder of Turning Point Radio and Television Ministries and senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church, said:

“No matter what our circumstance, we can find a reason to be thankful.”

I don’t believe Philippians 4:6 is telling us to give thanks FOR the problems we are walking through but rather IN the troubles that are causing anxiety. Frankly, I’m not thankful about the damage that happened to our home or the fact that neither the government disaster relief agency nor our insurance company did anything to help after hurricane Harvey last summer. I’m not thankful that our attempt to find a new insurance company that would actually do more than take our money ended up causing our insurance to be cancelled because my husband was honest about the current condition of the house. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing to give thanks for in this situation.

I am thankful that the damage to our home last summer did not mean we had to move out, which would have been a huge problem with the medical needs of our son David. Many in the Houston area were not so fortunate. I’m grateful that God provided enough money to repair the leak in the roof so that future rainstorms did not result in even more damage. And I’m thankful for supportive friends who are helping us through this difficult time in a way that encourages us to honor God and His Word. And above all, I’m grateful that God has been with us as we walk through this difficult season, doing a work in both my husband’s life and my life.

Prayer is an important key to getting past our anxious thoughts. But remember when Philippians 4:6 gives us counsel on how to overcome anxiety it adds something to prayer. Thanksgiving.

My husband and I have prayed about our situation, reminding God that without His help there is nothing we can do to turn this around. We are doing the things He has shown us to do. And we are thanking Him daily for His blessings in the midst of the hardship.

Are you currently battling anxiety over some circumstances beyond your control? If so, I want to remind you that they are NOT beyond God’s control. He loves you with an everlasting, steadfast love and He has a track record from Creation till now of faithfulness. So instead of giving in to anxious thoughts, pray. Tell Him what you need. Praise Him for who He is. Thank Him for how He has come through for you in impossible situations in the past. And even look for something you can thank Him for in your current stressful circumstances.

The situation may not change overnight – but I suspect YOU will begin to change. And according to Romans 8:28-29, that’s one way God uses everything we face for our good and His glory, as we are conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Add giving thanks to your prayers and see what happens.

 

Beware of the Counterfeits, Embrace the True

In my walk with Christ, I’ve noticed that the world often presents us with alternatives, counterfeit versions of the spiritual disciplines we are taught in God’s Word.

For example, God’s Word clearly teaches the key to success in life is to meditate on and then obey God’s Word. Joshua 18 says, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.” The world promotes other types of meditation that have nothing to do with God or His Word.

The Bible also calls us to the discipline of giving thanks in all situations. One well known Scripture that teaches this is 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” The world likewise acknowledges the value of giving thanks.

Earlier this week, I received a video on a secular app I use to help me in my weight management entitled “Gratitude Meditation.” It basically combined the two spiritual disciplines of meditation and giving thanks, but in a strongly distorted way. And it opened my eyes to the truth that while the world sees value in the practicing gratitude, it isn’t the kind of gratitude we as Christians are called to express.

The world’s idea of gratitude often begins with looking inward and is little more than a form of positive thinking. It looks at blessings, but fails to see their true source.

Christ-centered gratitude begins with looking upward. It is centered in the unchanging character of our God and the promises of His Word. A life of gratitude without Christ misses the mark – it is still empty and purposeless, because it leaves God out of the picture.

It’s much healthier spiritually to turn our focus on Christ-centered gratitude. The best description I’ve found of Christ-centered gratitude comes from Bible teacher Kay Arthur.

“God is in control, and therefore in EVERYTHING I can give thanks – not because of the situation but because of the One who directs and rules over it.”

Therefore today I am grateful for…

☆ 1. Christ’s provision for today’s needs, even when I’m not sure how the overwhelming needs ahead of me will be met.

☆ 2. The strength I have in Christ to do the things He has called me to accomplish today, even in the midst of my physical weakness.

☆ 3. His grace and loving care, even in the midst of a day of physical and emotional pain.

Christ-centered gratitude acknowledges the reality of what we are walking through, but it also acknowledges and gives thanks to the Lord as our help in the midst of the storm.

Remember, Christ-centered gratitude is possible because no matter what you are going through, Philippians 2:13 reminds us we are not left to our own resources, “for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”