Tuesday, November 7, 2017

30 Days of Thanks-Being Thankful Isn’t Always Easy

     This month, I’m blogging about Thanksgiving. Not just the November day of celebration, but about developing a lifestyle of thanksgiving, which can radically change your life. Several years ago, I wrote a bible study called “30 Days of Thanks.” What I determined during my research is that “thanksgiving” boils down to four things:

 Thanksgiving is gratitude
 Thanksgiving is sacrifice 
 Thanksgiving is relationship
 Thanksgiving is a call to action

     Last blog, I wrote about gratitude as a lifestyle. Read it here. Thanksgiving is also sacrifice. Ouch. Sacrifice? Like… give something up? Like… put someone or something else ahead of my own interests? Like...giving thanks when the world around me is falling apart?
Like… not being #1? Yeah. Like that.
     In the Old Testament, "sacrifice" had a very literal meaning. It typically meant a physical sacrifice of food or animals, offered on an altar to God as a means of showing repentance or gratitude. When Christ came on the scene, the meaning of sacrifice began to change. The apostle Paul tells us that sacrifice is often less about the act and more about the heart. Because what is in our heart will determine the way we act. (Funny how that works, huh?)
     Thanksgiving is sacrifice because it is not always easy. 
     Sometimes we just don't feel like giving thanks!
     We can't see the good in what is happening in our own lives, in the lives of our family or friends, or in the world. We are sad, or hurting, or angry, or confused, and we just don't feel like saying "Thank you, God." We see innocent people murdered, lives cut short by disease, and relationships splintered by hurtful actions.
     So, why should we give thanks? Lots of reasons. First, giving thanks takes the focus off what is troubling us and puts it on God. It keeps us from being paralyzed by fear, anger, or grief. It keeps us from rash actions that may be driven by our fear, anger, or grief. Sacrificial thanks may not change our situation, but it may change us. And if we are changed, we may view our situation differently and be more open to finding solutions to problems or challenges.
     Hear me on this: giving thanks in difficult times doesn’t mean we ignore what is troubling us. It means we thank God in the midst of what is troubling us. It doesn’t mean we ignore the evil in the world- whether it’s our own little world or the world at large. It means we give thanks to God that we are the kind of person who does recognize evil and who is motivated to find ways to change the situation. It doesn’t mean that our heart doesn’t hurt. It means we open our hurting heart to the one source that is able to bring healing.  
     Sometimes, we have to ask God to show us what we can be thankful for. And, when he does… and when we do… there’s one last step. We look for ways to “do good.” In the book of Hebrews, we are told "to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (Hebrews 13:16)
     In my last blog post, I asked you to take inventory of your life and write down what you are truly thankful for. People, community, church, health, possessions, forgiveness, grace, etc.
     Now, I want you to list at least one or two things that you find it difficult, if not impossible, to be thankful for. Then I want you to really think about those things, meditate on them, pray about them. Then write down one or two ways you can still give thanks. Sacrificial thanks. From your heart. Don't feel like giving thanks? Do it anyway... for just this one month. Then... do good. See if it makes a difference in your life. I believe it will. And, I would be thankful to hear from you about that! 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

30 Days of Thanks-It's More than Words

“30 Days of Thanks.” It’s a thing. For the past several years, people have used the entire month of November, not just Thanksgiving Day, as an opportunity to reflect on what they are thankful for in their lives. They post about it on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. They write about the people, things, and opportunities for which they give thanks. That’s a good thing. And, I’ve read that if we do something consistently for 30 days, it becomes a habit. That makes “30 Days of Thanks” an even better thing.
I’ve been encouraging a journey of 30 Days of Thanks since before it was “a thing.” In 2009, I wrote a bible study on the importance of a thankful lifestyle. Here’s what I learned.

Thanksgiving is an act of gratitude
Thanksgiving is an act of sacrifice
Thanksgiving is a call relationship
Thanksgiving is a call to action

     Did you notice that in each of those statements, “thanksgiving” is a noun that requires an action? How about that? Thanksgiving is something we “do” and as such, becomes part of who we are. Thanksgiving is largely about the attitude of the heart. Why is that so important?                       
     The practice of giving thanks is established in both the Old and New Testaments. The act of gratitude, giving thanks first and foremost to God, was a crucial part of not only worship but also of lifestyle because “Every good and perfect gift is from above…” (James 1:17.)  
     Thanksgiving is also an act of gratitude toward others. When someone shows you a kindness, feel grateful instead of entitled. When someone offers to open the door, pick up the tab, or pay you a compliment, accept their courtesy and then tell them how much you appreciate them. Your appreciation will be a boost to their spirit, and to yours! Why?
      Because the act of gratitude takes the focus off "self" and puts it on God and on the people who make our life worth living. It reminds us that we are part of something bigger than our own ego. It reminds us that our life is full not only because of our own effort but because of answers to prayer and acts of love from other people. It prevents us from becoming arrogant and thinking we've gotten to where we are without any help---from "above" and from others. It keeps our heart soft instead of allowing it to become hard. It reminds us of just how much we need God and others in our lives. This attitude of gratitude will spill over to people with whom we meet and interact. Have you ever known anyone who was just-so-joyful because they were just-so-thankful? Not just in the moment but in every moment of every day. They've allowed gratitude to become an attitude.
     How can we show our gratitude to God?

 Talk to him (prayer)
 Read his “letters” to you (bible study)
 Pay it forward (use what he gives to us to bless others)
 Be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world (service)
 Follow the example of Jesus (be kind, giving, forgiving, moral, instructive)

     How can we show our gratitude to others?

Talk to them (spend time talking, not just texting or emailing)
Write a letter of thanks or appreciation to them
Pay it forward (do something nice for no reason at all)
Be the hands & feet of Jesus (don’t wait for someone else to supply a need)
Follow the example of Jesus (be kind, giving, forgiving, moral, instructive)

     One of the first ways we can begin to cultivate a mindset of gratitude, or thankfulness, is to take inventory of our life. Despite the hassles and heartbreaks our life may be sprinkled with, when we take inventory we are often surprised to see just how much we have to be thankful for--- the people in our life, our health, our possessions, our community (church, neighborhood, school, work) spiritual gifts--- ours and others (forgiveness, grace, peace, joy, patience, contentment, etc.)
     I challenge you to take that inventory TODAY. Today, write a list of what and who you have to be thankful for. Take your list and put it somewhere you will see it every day, preferably in the mornings. Put it by the coffeemaker or your toothbrush, or tape it to your bathroom mirror. 
     Read the list every morning and find one way, just one way for that one day, to demonstrate your gratitude to God for the goodness he has shown you, recalling that every good and perfect gift has come from him. They may be outright gifts, or opportunities he puts in your path, or people, or the wisdom and strength to do what you have to do. Find one way, just one way for that one day, to demonstrate your gratitude to others for the blessings they bring to your life. It may be your spouse, or your children, or your parents, or your friends, or the postman, or the lady who checks you out at Publix. It doesn't matter who it is. Give thanks for them and give thanks TO them!
      Oh, and add one more thank-you to the list every single day until the end of the month (regardless of when you begin the list.) As you watch your list grow, see if it makes a difference in your attitude and life. I'm betting it will. I'd love to hear from you about that!

          Next blog: Thanksgiving is an act of sacrifice

PS-I’m thankful for you and that you have taken the time to read this. God bless you in this special month of thanksgiving.