Thanks… for Everything

“What are you thankful for? Gratitude 101.”

The message of this chapter is one that is usually shared around the Thanksgiving table, but Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth shares that she purposely waited until the back half of her book Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy to address this. The focus of this book is to present Christian gratitude, in contrast to what she speaks of as the “simple garden variety” gratitude.

The first thing to understand concerning Christian gratitude is the importance of matching up the gift and the Giver. That has been a major goal of the earlier chapters in this book, to remind us of the truth of James 1:17, that every good and perfect gift ultimately comes from our heavenly Father, regardless of whose hands it passes through on the way to us.

“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.”

The underlying principle of Christian, God-centered gratitude is the goodness of our God. If we miss this truth, it’s like building a house directly on the ground, skipping the foundation. Christian gratitude is built on the foundation of the goodness of our God. And on this foundation, we can build a lifestyle of purposeful gratitude that won’t crumble the first time we face a difficult set of circumstances.

Psalm 34:8 is a good verse to memorize about this attribute of God.

“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

Nancy says, “My desire is simply to free us to experience and express more of God’s goodness, and to keep us from grieving His Spirit by failing to recognize and express appreciation for the benefits we have received from Him and from others.”

How often do you look at the practical blessings that surround you daily and see them as a reminder of God’s goodness and boundless grace? Reminders that He cares for us and provides for our every need?

Let’s close this week’s lesson by a time of practicing gratitude to God in each of the three specific areas covered in this chapter. Grab a journal or notebook and let’s take fifteen minutes of practicing gratitude in these three areas.

This exercise is to enable us to see how many things we truly have to give thanks for. As the songwriter put it:

“Count your blessings, name them one by one,

And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.”

 

    The first area mentioned includes the visible, material blessings the Lord gives us (pages 113 – top of 114). Take time now to get out your Gratitude Journal and make a list of as many of these as you can think of in five minutes.
    Next, she writes of our spiritual blessings, giving a few examples on pages 114 – the top of page 119. How many spiritual blessings can you think of in five minutes?
    Finally, she writes about relational blessing, on pages 119 – 121. Take another five minutes and make your own list.

Let’s close today with a song that reminds us we’ve “been blessed beyond all measure.”

A Sacrifice of Thanksgiving

Charles Spurgeon, a nineteenth century British pastor, was well acquainted with suffering. Debilitating gout, rheumatism, neuropathy, kidney inflammation, painful slander, recurring depression – all were a part of his life. Yet in physical, spiritual and emotional suffering, Spurgeon chose to trust God’s heart. He said concerning the suffering that touched his life:

God is too good to be unkind and He is too wise to be mistaken. And when we cannot trace His hand, we must trust His heart.

“Our infirmities become the black velvet on which the diamond of God’s love glitters all the more brightly.”

Many of those who read my blog posts have been diagnosed with a wide variety of chronic illnesses. If you fall into this group, you too are well acquainted with suffering. Even if you don’t deal with the daily challenges of chronic illness, you still likely have your own story of suffering. We all long for days when suffering will no longer be a part of our lives. Unfortunately, suffering, pain, illness, sorrow, and death – all are a part of life on this earth which is under the curse of sin.

Revelation 21:4 speaks of a time when this will no longer be true, when God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore.” While as Christians we have this to look forward to, it is a future hope, one that will be fulfilled in the new heaven and the new earth. Life on this earth will never be totally free of suffering for any of us.

As the introductory quote for this chapter says, giving thanks for trials of all kinds – for suffering, for pain, for loneliness, for loss of loved ones, for unkind words spoken to us that hurt deeply – is “a very difficult duty.” Yet this is what the Lord asks of us. Giving thanks to God in the midst of our difficult circumstances is our declaration to those around us and to the spiritual forces of wickedness that God is good, no matter what happens.

Scripture clearly calls for us to give thanks even when to do so is a sacrifice.

“Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High… The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!” Psalm‬ ‭50:14, 23‬ ‭‬

Gratitude is costly. It is a sacrifice. It is something we admire in the live of those we see as spiritual “superheroes” – people like Joni Eareckson Tada or Elisabeth Elliot or Corrie ten Boom. But as Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth says, “The capacity to respond to adversity with faith and gratitude is not limited to spiritual ‘superheroes’ and biblical characters.” We too have been given the ability to “endure the worst life has to offer and still come up ” thankful.” And when we chose to do this, we glorify God and experience His salvation and deliverance.

Sometimes, when we choose a grateful attitude, God’s will is to change our situation. Other times, His will isn’t to change our circumstances but instead to change us in the midst of the situation we would love to see changed. Ultimately, anything that reminds us of our need for God is, in the truest sense, a blessing. While an attitude of gratitude doesn’t always result in a change in our situation, it does put us in a position to experience the good God has for us in the midst of the difficulties that touch our lives.

Nancy concludes, “the only thing more debilitating than what they’re going through” – than what we’re going through – “would be going through it ungratefully.” Those who say “No” to resentment and ingratitude, who look for the evidence of God’s goodness even in the presence of excruciating pain and incredible loss, are the ones who survive and even thrive spiritually. Will you choose to be one who says “Yes” to a walk of gratefulness and trust that God is good, no matter what you are currently facing?

Peace In Tough Situations

My devotional reading this morning in Breaking Free Day By Day, by Beth Moore, began with the following question.

“Have you had a time when you were surrendered to Christ in the midst of real difficulty and you found His peace beyond understanding?”

This immediately brought to mind the day in November 2018 when I was in a small room in the emergency center of St. Luke’s Hospital in the Houston Medical Center. We had already been told that our son David was in critical condition, and while the medical staff was doing their best to stabilize him, his private duty nurse and supported home living aide and I were taken to a nearby room to wait. As I sat in that room, it became a sanctuary of God’s presence. The Lord clearly spoke to me that He was ready to take our son to heaven to be with Him. The words brought no fear, no fight, simply a deep willingness to surrender our precious son to the Lord.

For years, as we battled through one life-threatening situation after another in David’s life, I had dreaded the time when God would take him home. Even in recent years, fear of David’s death had been my biggest source of anxiety. Yet as we faced the time of surrendering our special-needs son to the Lord, there was no fear, no dread.

Concerning situations such as this one, Beth Moore said:

“When we are in crisis and finally give up trying to discover all the answers to the whys in our lives, His unexpected peace washes over us like a summer rain… Peace comes only in situations that are completely surrendered to the sovereign authority of Christ.”

Elisabeth Elliot said in the deepest valleys we walk through, we gain the deepest insights about our God. This deep valley has taught me much about God’s peace. The Greek word translated peace, as used in Philippians 4:7, refers to the sense of rest and contentment that comes from living in harmony with God, accomplished through the gospel.

As I read this brief devotional this morning, my eyes were opened to truth of why God spoke to me that day in the hospital. God was not asking my permission to take David home, I already knew that. In reality, He was inviting me to walk through this very painful situation in His peace. Through surrender to His clearly revealed will, I’ve walked through one of the most painful seasons in my life with a deep sense of peace. Yes, we miss our son. Yes, we have grieved his loss. But if I had to find one phrase to characterize these last four months it would be supernatural peace, that peace spoken of in Philippians 4:7 that makes no sense in the natural, that surpasses our human understanding and is a gift from God.

Teaching Tuesday: Prone To Stumble

“The steps of a man are established by the LORD, And He delights in his way. When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, Because the LORD is the One who holds his hand.” Psalms‬ ‭37:23-24‬ ‭NASB‬‬

When trials pile up, one on top of the other, even the most dedicated Christian will often stumble. This is a part of growing spiritually, even as a young child just learning to walk occasionally trips and falls.

This morning, as I was reading today’s Scripture passage in Confident Trust: Believing God’s Plan Is Best, this month’s Bible reading plan by Rachel Wojo, God used the above verses to give me a clear picture of His love for His children. Our loving heavenly Father doesn’t always take us on the straight and level path, the one with no obstacles to overcome, because if He did that we would continually remain immature. He works in our lives through the difficult seasons of life to help us grow up spiritually. But He’s also well aware that the very weaknesses in our lives that He’s working to change may cause us to stumble and even fall along the way.

As I read these verses this morning, a picture came to my mind of a father and son, walking together down a rocky path. The son was running ahead of his father, not watching where he was walking, and stumbled over a rock on the path. Plop! The young boy was on the ground. But within seconds his father was at his side, picking up his son, wiping off the dirt and drying his tears.

This is the way of a loving father – of our loving Heavenly Father. Though he allows us the freedom to run ahead and often doesn’t remove the obstacles in our path that may cause us to stumble, He is watchful and quick to come to our side when we stumble and fall.

Psalm 37:23 says our steps are established by the Lord. The Hebrew word translated established means fixed, securely determined and directed. The root word connotes being firmly established, firmly anchored and held firm, as a roof which is “firmly established” on pillars.

Yes, God has a plan for our lives, and if we have chosen to commit our lives to the Lord, trust Him, and walk the path He has laid before us, this passage says He delights in our way. But this doesn’t mean we will never stumble and fall. But be encouraged that even if you stumble, the Lord is at your side. He loves you and will help you up, wipe you off and dry your tears, and then hold you by his hand as you continue down the path He has set before you.

Why Choose Gratitude? Eight Benefits of Being Thankful

Be 62C78836-C1F4-4DEA-A7F3-C7ED5F8AD6D6Today we are on Chapter Four in our ongoing study of Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth’s book Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy. (All Bible verses in ESV, unless noted.)

Have you ever faced such difficult circumstances that you felt being grateful was an impossible choice? Mrs. Wolgemuth begins this chapter on why we should choose gratitude in every situation, regardless of how difficult, with an interesting story from the diary of well known eighteenth-century Puritan preacher and Bible commentary writer Matthew Henry.

While living in London, Matthew Henry was accosted and his wallet taken. Knowing that it was his duty to give thanks in everything, he meditated on this incident and recorded the following:

“Let me be thankful, first, because he never robbed me before; second, because although he took my purse, he did not take my life; third, because although he took all I possessed, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.”

No matter what situation we are currently walking through, there is ALWAYS something we can thank God for in the midst of it. To quote our author, “the person who has chosen to make gratitude his or her mind-set can view anything – anything! – through the eyes of thankfulness.

 

Whether you are “grieving a loss that never settles far from your conscious thoughts,” or “crying yourself to sleep at night over a situation with a son or daughter that is beyond your ability to control,” it’s still possible to give thanks. “Maybe you’re facing some health issues of your own, or your income just isn’t meeting your monthly expenses,” you can still choose to be grateful. Even if all of these or some other overwhelming problem is causing you to struggle, an attitude of gratitude is still possible.

But learning to do this may not happen overnight.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth says, “The grateful heart that springs forth in joy is not acquired in a moment; it is the fruit of a thousand choices. It is a godly habit and pattern that over time becomes a new muscle in our spiritual makeup.”

But in such bothersome circumstances, why should I choose to give thanks? What will I gain by doing so? In this chapter, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth lists eight positive benefits of expressing gratitude in even the most painful situations (with one Scripture and a short quote from the chapter on each benefit).

GRATITUDE IS A MATTER OF OBEDIENCE

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

Be thankfulGod has commanded it – for our good and for His glory.” 

GRATITUDE DRAWS US CLOSE TO GOD

We are called to “enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise” (Psalm 100:4).

Or as Nancy puts it, “Thanksgiving puts us in God’s living room. It paves the way into His presence.

GRATITUDE IS A SURE PATH TO PEACE

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7 NKJV)

To put it even more simply: In every situation … prayer + thanksgiving = peace.”

GRATITUDE IS A GAUGE OF THE HEART

Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name; the upright shall dwell in your presence.” (Psalms 140:13)

The only people who can sustain a consistent flow of thanksgiving between them and God are those who know who, what, and where they’d be if He hadn’t intervened and saved them from themselves.”

GRATITUDE IS THE WILL OF GOD

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

In other words, you may find yourself a lot closer to hearing God’s heart on a certain time-sensitive matter, not by making pro- and con-lists or anguishing between multiple options, but simply by doing what you already know to be His will.

GRATITUDE IS AN EVIDENCE OF BEING FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:18-21)

Being thankful is a prime example of being filled with the Spirit… The fact is, we cannot whine and complain and be filled with the Spirit at the same time. When a thankful spirit resides in our hearts and expresses itself on our lips, it’s an evidence that the Holy Spirit lives in us, that we are yielding to His control, and that He is producing His gracious fruit in and through our lives.”

GRATITUDE REFLECTS JESUS’ HEART

And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:27-28) 

On four occasions, it is recorded in Scripture that Jesus gave thanks to the Father, probably the most remarkable one within hours of His betrayal, arrest, scourging and crucifixion. As He observed the Passover feast with His disciples, Jesus gave thanks before partaking of the elements, which He fully understood “represented His body and blood, soon to be broken and poured out in horrific fashion for the salvation of sinful man. On a night when from a human perspective He had every reason to be self-absorbed and to give in to self-pity, resentment, or murmuring, He spoke words of thanks to His heavenly Father, words that flowed out of a thankful heart.” 

GRATITUDE GETS US READY FOR HEAVEN.

And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying, ‘We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign.'” (Revelation 11:17)

So think of today as a ‘dress rehearsal.’ And do it just the way you will when you’re doing it ‘live’ at the actual performance.”

 

 

 

 

Thankless or Thankful: Which Will You Be?

Today we are looking at chapter three in Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth’s book Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy.

My heart broke as I read the true story Nancy uses to introduce the theme of this chapter. The story begins on September 7, 1860, a little over seven months before the beginning of the American Civil War, and focuses on the heroic actions of Edward Spencer, a young seminary student who risked his life to rescue the victims of the doomed steamship Lady Elgin.

The Lady Elgin was carrying more than 300 passengers and crew on a sightseeing tour from Milwaukee to Chicago when it was struck by the schooner Augusta. Most of those aboard the Lady Elgin perished wheny the ship broke apart in the waters of Lake Michigan. But seventeen people were saved that night by Edward Spencer, who battled the breakers for six hours. An experienced swimmer, he had a rope tied to his body, and swam through the waves to grab exhausted passengers.

In the process, this young seminary student received numerous injuries from floating wreckage which changed his life forever. Never able to fully recover from the physical toll on his body from his act of bravery, he had to give up his dream of being a pastor and spent much of his life confined to a wheelchair. Yet, the most important thing to Spencer, according to his brother, was not whether he should have risked his life and livelihood to rescue these seventeen people. His biggest concern was whether he had done his best for Jesus.

Nancy gives a sad postscript to this heroic story. When later asked by a reporter what stood out to him the most about this life-changing experience, Edward Spencer replied, “Only this: of the seventeen people I saved, not one of them ever thanked me.” Those words brought tears to my eyes.

A similar story is told in Luke 17:11-19. I especially like the Message paraphrase of this story about ten lepers whose lives were transformed by Jesus.

“It happened that as he made his way toward Jerusalem, he crossed over the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten men, all lepers, met him. They kept their distance but raised their voices, calling out, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’

“Taking a good look at them, he said, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ They went, and while still on their way, became clean. One of them, when he realized that he was healed, turned around and came back, shouting his gratitude, glorifying God. He kneeled at Jesus’ feet, so grateful. He couldn’t thank him enough—and he was a Samaritan.

“Jesus said, ‘Were not ten healed? Where are the nine? Can none be found to come back and give glory to God except this outsider?’ Then he said to him, ‘Get up. On your way. Your faith has healed and saved you.'”

These two stories, one a part of American history, the other told by Jesus, teach us an important lesson. When we are in difficult, life-changing circumstances, it is easy to become so focused on what we are personally going through that we forget to express gratefulness to those who have reached out to us to help us through our trials. In both of these stories, the people who failed to say “Thank you” were probably feeling a bit over-whelmed by what they had just been through. As Nancy says, “ingratitude is not always a calloused, who-cares shrugging of the shoulders. Sometimes it’s just fourth or fifth on a list we never get around to following through on.”

As I read these words earlier this week, my heart was convicted. Most of you know that my husband and I lost our special-needs son David last October. Since his memorial service in December, we have been extremely busy trying to complete a long list of things that were needed to bring closure to this difficult season of our lives. One of those items was writing thank you notes to many who had ministered to us in various ways during this time. Some were sent almost immediately, others after Christmas, but as I read this chapter I was reminded that there were still some important notes that needed to be written and mailed. So this week, my husband Mitch and I have completed another task on the still lengthy list of things needing to be done by writing and sending these last few thank you notes to some special people in the church where we are members. Our church has a theme which I love: Being living proof of a loving God to a watching world. As we have walked through one of the most difficult seasons of our lives, our church has demonstrated this theme to us in real life, and that meant our gratitude needed to be expressed in a concrete way.

Nancy concludes this chapter with five gratitude robbers that we need to beware of and cautious not to give place to.

Unrealistic expectations.We can start to expect a lot – from life, from work, from others in general – until no matter what we’re receiving in terms of blessings, it’s never as much as we were hoping for.”

Forgetfulness. When we remember all God and others have done for us, gratitude is a natural response. “Forgetfulness and ingratitude go hand in hand.

Entitlement. “When we take simple blessings for granted as if they were owed to us, or conversely, when we start to think that our house, our car, our wardrobe, or our general station in life is beneath what we deserve, ingratitude finds all the oxygen it needs to thrive.

Comparison. “Any time our focus is on ourselves – even if it’s on the good things we’re doing – it keeps us from being grateful for what others are contributing.”

Blindness to God’s grace. We need to remember that God’s mercies that are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23) “are not blessings we deserve but graces given by God’s loving hand to fallen creatures, those whom He has redeemed by His good pleasure.”

Remembering to thank God is very important, but today’s lesson is a reminder that people also deserve our gratitude whenever that do something that makes our load a little lighter or simply do something that blesses us. Saying “thank you” costs us nothing, and it’s an easy way to spread encouragement to those around us.

A Different Kind of Gratitude

As I shared last Thursday, at the beginning of this year I felt the Lord prompting me personally to do a study of Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy, by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. Since that time, several ladies in God-Living Girls with Chronic Illness which I help lead have decided to join me in this study. I will also be doing a weekly post on this personal blog based on the chapter we are currently studying from the book.

Nancy DeMoss calls gratitude “a vital transformational life preserver amidst the turbulent waters of runaway emotions,” and because that’s where I’m frequently walking during this season of my life it seems like the perfect time to do this study. As we begin our study, this has for me personally been a week of battling runaway emotions. Between the skin rash I first noticed on December 4th (the day of our son David’s memorial service) that has not responded to treatment, a long list of tasks that needed to be done following David’s death that is taking much longer than we expected to complete, and the adjustments to all of the recent changes in our lives, this has been a challenging and emotional week.

Christ-centered and grace-motivated gratitude is the focus of the teaching in this book. The world acknowledges the importance of gratitude, but without a relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ, this gratitude usually lacks an object of gratefulness or becomes people-based. The kind of gratitude we need to enter the joy-filled Christian life is different. It is an expression of gratefulness to God that is both a byproduct of and a response to the redeeming grace of God.

A call to this type of intentional gratitude is a call to transformation through God’s grace and spiritual discipline. Change is a process that takes time and ceaseless vigilance. In this area, it will require both confronting the “stubborn weeds of ingratitude” – which manifest themselves in fretting, complaining, and resenting – and choosing gratitude in every situation until a grateful spirit becomes our reflexive response to all of life.

Nancy DeMoss says eventually choosing gratitude results in choosing joy, a quality we all desire to experience in our lives. But getting there will require each of us to constantly renew our mind with the truth of God’s Word, set our heart to savor God’s good gifts above all the world has to offer, and discipline our tongue to speak words that reflect His goodness and grace.

Choosing gratitude involves elevating it to a place of priority in our lives. Nancy DeMoss talks about how Christians tend to view gratitude as an inferior Christian virtue – one near the bottom of the long list of “important” qualities such as faith and love. There is one major problem with that reasoning. A grateful heart is a major key to effectively living out these virtues. Without gratitude, faith eventually deteriorates into a practice of religion that’s hollow and ineffective. Love without gratitude will over time “crash hard on the sharp rocks of disappointment and disillusionment.” Nancy adds,

“True gratitude is not an incidental ingredient. Nor is it a stand-alone product, something that never actually intersects with life… It is one of the chief ways that God infuses joy and resilience into the daily struggle of life.”

Christ-centered, grace-infused gratitude has the power to change lives – our lives and also the lives of those who observe and receive the benefits of our expressions of gratefulness. It is fitting in every situation and all the time, even in life’s most desperate moments and difficult situations. It gives hope and has the power to transform overwhelmed strugglers to triumphant conquerors. Nancy DeMoss says it has the “effervescent power… to freshen the stale air of everyday life.”