Practice Makes Perfect

Learning to do anything well takes practice.  Riding a bicycle, baking bread, drawing, playing an instrument and so on.  Practicing something means we give it time and attention and focus on being better at it.   

The same is true when it comes to the practice of being thankful in all circumstances.

Most of the time, we think that our struggles are unique to just us.  But there are many stressors that we all have in common.

  • Stress at work
  • Not having work stress (jobless)
  • Family struggles
  • Financial woes
  • Vehicle issues
  • A To Do List that’s too long
  • Arguments with our children (adult ones or small ones)
  • Disagreements with our spouse
  • Spiritual battles
  • Emotional health
  • Not enough sleep/rest
  • Physical health concerns
  • Aging parents

And so on.  I think it is safe to say that each of us can relate with at least one of the above, or more.  The reality is that those are “normal life” issues.  We will all experience most of those things at one time or another in our life.  Probably more than once.

So, what can we do about it?  Well, each struggle requires a different set of “tools” to handle it well.  But there is one thing we can do, regardless of which of the above struggles we are facing.  Give thanks!

Last week we talked about being thankful and expressing gratitude. I want to circle back around to that and put some feet on it, if you will.

Lines from movies tend to stick with me.  I enjoy bringing them into conversation often!  But as I watched the following movie clip, and placed myself and God in the conversation, it was funny and sad at the same time!

I don’t want my prayer life to resemble this guy, from the movie “What About Bob”

We need to practice thankfulness in addition to petition. As we talked about last week, we are all guilty of asking God for “things” or for help more often than we remember to thank Him for all He has already done.  The habit of practicing thankfulness is an important element of our spiritual lives. 

My handsome hubs and I have known some tough times during our life together.  We have experienced the pain of miscarriage.  We have experienced job loss.  We have been through some tough ministry changes together.  We have parented four teenagers through their difficult years.  We have experienced the heartache involved in watching our grown children stray from the Lord.   And we have seen some of our precious grandchildren go through some difficult health issues.  

In those times, we have developed a practice that we fall back to when times are tough.  As we sit together, one of us will say to the other “Okay, what is something good right now?”  And we start listing all the things that we still can find thankfulness in, despite our current situation.  Generally, we start with the big things, our home, our jobs, our adorable grandchildren.  But as we keep going back and forth, and adding to the list, we find that there is even more to be thankful for.  The silver lining as it were. 

For instance, as our grandchildren dealt with health issues, we could be thankful that they had good parents who were loving and supportive.  That modern medicine exists, and can help to bring them through their health crisis.  We could be thankful for the people in their parent’s lives, who came alongside them to help where they could and gave of their time. 

With regard to ministry changes, we were thankful for God’s provision toward our finances, even though it wasn’t easy.  Thankful that friends were there to support us emotionally, and in other ways.  Thankful that God was working His plan for us through that loss.  And we were thankful for the contacts and friends we made during our time in that ministry, and how many of those are still friends today. 

The habit of practicing thankfulness is not some kind of superpower.  It doesn’t just belong to extra spiritual people.  And it isn’t a platitude to throw out flippantly.   It is something that each of us can and should be practicing. 

Embracing the practice of thankfulness changes our heart.  It can take us from despair and discouragement to a heart of hope and praise.

Philippians 4:6-7 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

The key phrases in this scripture are “in every situation” and “by prayer and petition, WITH thanksgiving”.  The fact that this scripture addresses every situation implies or recognizes that we will experience things that are difficult.  God knows that this will happen to us.  He is instructing us, through the Apostle Paul, to pray and to petition (or ask) And to be thankful.    

When we recognize and praise God for what He has already done in our lives, we worship through thanksgiving.  Giving thanks is a form of worship.  And if you and I choose to worship through a storm, we will win.  We win against depression and discouragement.  And we win against the enemy who tries to keep us focused on our struggles. 

Psalm 121:1 says “I lift up my eyes to the mountains, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”  If we can lift up our eyes to focus them on Jesus, and remember to thank him for what He has done already, we will more readily see His hand of provision over us and His deep love for us in everything!  We won’t stop having struggles or needs.  He desires that we come to Him with those too, but with thanksgiving, we shift our focus onto Him.   We switch from worry to worship.

Let’s worship through thanksgiving!

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Don’t forget

I enjoy walking and hiking.  I go often!  I typically enjoy listening to music in one ear as I walk when I’m alone. It helps me to keep a quick pace, and helps to distract my thoughts from my cares, and also from how tired my legs are getting as I go!  As I started out yesterday, I had a sense that I needed to hold off on the music, and pray.  It seems these days, that there is so much to pray about.  Covid 19, unrest in our country, personal needs of family, health needs of family, as well as friends, ministry opportunities, work, and the list goes on. 

As I started my walk, almost immediately, it came to me that I needed to first spend some time praising God and being thankful for what He has already provided, instead of jumping right into prayers of petition, or asking.  I recalled the story in Luke chapter 17, where Jesus heals ten lepers of their horrible skin disease.  They all run away ecstatic over their fresh skin, rejoicing in the newness of it!  But only one returns to thank Jesus for the gift of healing.  Scripture says that he threw himself at Jesus feet and thanked Him.  And Jesus responded, “rise and go, your faith has made you well.”  Powerful words. The story of this account is here as a lesson for us.  God desires our thankfulness

I have been guilty at times, of asking God to help me, or fix something, before I stop to praise Him and be thankful for what He has already done in my life.  Have you ever been guilty of that?   I think most of us have.  So how do we address that struggle?

Let’s talk about cultivating a thankful heart, a heart that is grateful, a heart that recognizes all God does.

Near home

Psalm 118:29 “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.”

If you were to take some time and do a search for scriptures that address being thankful and thankfulness, you would find an enormous list.  And because scripture addresses thankfulness so much, it is safe to say that it is something important that we should look at.

2 Thessalonians 5:18 “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 

Many things happen when we are thankful.

First, being thankful helps me to remember all that God has already done, and all that I already have.  Essentially, expressing thanfulness takes my eyes off of myself long enough to be appreciative of God’s provision, and the gifts that He has already graciously provided to me. 

Another thing that occurs when I express thankfulness, is that it helps me to sense God’s presence in my life.  As I am thankful, I remember that God is the giver of all good things.  1 Chronicles 16:11-12 “Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of heavenly lights…”.   It isn’t just me, pulling myself up by my bootstraps.  It’s God, gifting me with good things, like a good father does for his children.  When I realize all the goodness in my life, and I remember where those things came from, I have an overwhelming sense of God’s presence. 

Being thankful also halts my grumbling.  When I spend time being thankful and expressing it to the Lord, I realize that I have more to be glad about, than I do to complain over.  Thankfulness and negative thoughts can’t occupy the same space in my heart.  There’s only room for one at a time.  My pastor says this “Are you humbly grateful, or grumbly hateful?”  Gratitude gives us peace.

My yard

Have you heard of The Law of Diminishing Return?  I don’t know if it’s a real law of nature or not, but I do know it’s a real thing in the human condition.  Basically, this law says that the more we get, the more we want.  I’m sure you can recall a time when you wanted something newer, nicer, bigger, or better for yourself or your family.  You may have saved, waited, ordered, and stalked the UPS man until “it” arrived!  It’s so exciting to finally receive something that you have been anxiously anticipating!  But generally, it isn’t long after “it” arrives, that we start dreaming of the next thing.  The next order. The next shipment. The next newer, nicer, bigger, better.  It’s human nature, it’s how we just are.  We have to really fight to be content. 

Being thankful can also bring contentment.  Hebrews 13:5 “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  If we aren’t thankful for what He has already given us, getting more won’t satisfy us either.  When I am thankful, I am more apt to realize and appreciate the things (material and situational) that are already mine.  It is good for me to remember all that I already have.

Being thankful can deepen our faith.  The practice of thankfulness gives me a fresh perspective on all the times that God has come through for me in the past.  When I am able to look back, and recall His faithfulness to me in the past, I rest easier, trusting that He will provide for me (physically and situationally) in the present as well.  This practice can also help me guard against feelings of envy toward others, when I feel that they have things or circumstances that are nicer, newer, bigger and better than what I have.

As I continued my walk that day, what I thought might be a brief time of expressing gratitude to God, turned out to be a much longer amount of time than I thought.  Before I realized it, I had walked about 30 minutes just thanking Him for the many blessings in my life.  I have much to be thankful for.  While there are still many things in my life that I desire God to move on and change (for myself and others) I enjoyed the time of just thanking him.  It was good for my soul! 

I encourage you to do the same.  Maybe even write out those things that you are thankful for.  Those things that God has blessed you with.  Seeing a long list of things that we have not intentionally attributed to God, and thanking Him for them, is very encouraging! It’s like the difference between walking through an overcast gray day, where the sky is full of the soft gray clouds that won’t let the sunlight in.  It’s not dark, but it is dreary.  Then, suddenly, the sunlight pierces through the clouds and shines down on your path!  You are able to see the color in the flowers, and the beauty of your surroundings.  The beauty was there before, but the gray day cast a dull shadow over everything.  Now that the sunlight has made it’s way to you, you are better able to see better what has been there the whole time!

Philippians 4:6-7 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

In the world we live in, it is much easier to complain than it is to be thankful. It’s almost second nature. But as believers, we are called to be different.  By intentionally looking for things to be thankful for, and then in turn, expressing that thankfulness to the Lord, we are choosing to see beyond ourselves.  We are choosing a posture of gratitude.   One way for us to fully experience the presence of God in our lives is to live with a spirit of thankfulness! 

That’s something we can easily shift to and strive for!

Also my yard