Sunday, October 26, 2008

Counting Your Blessings

The Irving Berlin song "Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)" (made famous by Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney in the movie "White Christmas") tells us,

When I'm worried and I can't sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings
When my bankroll is getting small
I think of when I had none at all
And I fall asleep counting my blessings.

There must be something to this "count your blessings" thing. I've heard the advice given more times than I can remember, and I've even put it into practice in my own life. When you feel discouraged or let down, make a list of things that you are thankful for. Next thing you know, you're spirits are lifted. Maybe not in a "now I can take on the world" way, but you at least feel better about yourself and your situation. There's a word for this phenomenon, and that word is

G R A T I T U D E.

Gratitude. Thankfulness. When we think of these feelings we often associate them with events and situations where we have received a gift or a favor from someone else. Most of us can think of several awesome things we have received over our the course of our lives -- birthday and Christmas gifts, being taken to lunch when we didn't expect it, someone helping you financially when you really needed it. And when we express our gratitude it is right to express it to the person who gave the gift in the first place, whether it is a friend, family member, the waiter who kept our water glass full, and especially to God, who gives us everything to begin with.

The Bible tells us, "it is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). With that in mind, perhaps we should see gratitude not as a by-product of receiving something, but an opportunity to give to others. Our gratitude should compel us to extend that feeling to someone else, to "pay it forward," if you will. Taking advantage of "grateful giving" opportunities often involves a desire to do good for others financially. But for you whose "bankroll is getting small" it does not necessarily mean having to give something tangible (see my post on "Being Useful"). It simply has to be from the heart. Often a word of encouragement or a gentle touch can be worth far more than any "thing" bought in any store, and the feeling of gratitude felt by the recipient can last a lifetime.

The typical question in a post about gratitude is "What are you grateful for?" I'll close with a twist on that typical question and ask,

"Outside of your normal circle of influence, who has shown gratitude to you this week, and why?"

Comment me, and let me know

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Dealing With Discouragement

Discouragement is nothing new to mankind. In fact it is something we all wish we didn't have to deal with. It happens when our plans don't turn out as well as we expected, and we get frustrated that we don't see a way to fix the problem. Sometimes we want to just walk away and quit.

But more often than not, quitting is not an option to discouragement, especially when it comes to raising kids or making it to another day. So how do we keep on going when we want to abandon our plans?

One suggestion might be to re-examine the plan. Whose plan is it anyway?

In Jeremiah 29:11, God tells us "For I know the plans
I have for you."

It is important to plan our lives with God's will in mind. We ask God to be part of our plans. We may even petition Him with something like, "God, help me to gt this job so I can afford to take my family on a vacation next summer." Now, there's nothing wrong with wanting to take your family on a nice summer vacation. But let's take a closer look. The prayer that was lifted up amounts to this: "God, this is what I want (the vacation), this is the way I want it to happen (make money on this job), and I want You to arrange it." No wonder we're discouraged when it doesn't happen -- we just put ourselves in charge of God!

Perhaps a better approach would be for us to present our requests to God, laying them at the foot of the cross. We should surrender our plans to Him, and thankfully and humbly receive our place in His divine plan for us.

Will that mean that we will never experience discouragement? The apostle Paul went through some pretty discouraging times in his ministry (see 2Corinthians 11:23-29). Jesus himself must have felt discouragement when his own followers didn't understand (John 6:60-67 comes to mind). So, yes, we will have periods when we are doing the work that God has called us to do and not see it bear fruit. But we can take encouragement from the words that Paul wrote to the church at Philippi:

"Be confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus."

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The masks we wear

Halloween will be here in just a couple of weeks. Most kids I know will be dressing up, hide behind a mask and pretend to be something that they're not, if only for a little while.

I think all of us hide behind a mask in our daily lives in one way or another. How many times has someone asked you how you are, or how your day has gone, and you answer "Fine," when really you're drowning in job and family obligations, wondering if you'll have what it takes to make it another week. What's so "fine" about that?

This week I taught a lesson for the Jr/Sr high school youth at my church on the topic of prayer. In part of the lesson, we studied The Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:1-13) in the
NIV and Message translations. The passage talks about how the Pharisees would be very public and showy with their prayers, but God is turned off by that kind of arrogance. Sometimes you can get a clarification of what is being said by reading more than one translation. I know that I did when I gave the lesson.

Matthew 6:6 in
The Message, tells us to remove our mask and be honest before God in our prayers:

"Here's what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won't be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace."

God doesn't want us to come to him, pretending to have it all together when we're really coming undone at the seams. He wants us to come to him honestly repentant, taking off the mask of sin that hides us, and be real before him. God clothed Adam and Eve after they came out from hiding in the garden, and he will do the same for us. For if we confess our sins and stand with our heart and soul naked before God, he can always be trusted to forgive us and take our sins away, and clothe us in his righteousness.

Jesus calls us his friends. Removing the mask you wear and being real with Jesus is one way you can deepen your relationship with him. Try it ... you'll like it!