Only fear the Lord, and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you.
1 Samuel 12:24 (NKJV)
Our spiritual lives cannot be totally complete if all that is included are the disciplines of prayer, Scripture reading, witnessing, service, and worship. Each of those is critically important in being a disciple of Jesus Christ. You cannot mature in the faith unless they are regularly incorporated into your spiritual journey. However, they have to be connected to a commitment to exercise an additional discipline, and that discipline is gratitude.
“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues but the parent of all others,” wisely stated Marcus Cicero. Henry Ward Beecher paints a powerful image of gratitude when he says, “Gratitude is the fairest blossom which springs from the human soul.”
Gratitude provides an alternative view of things. It compels you to resist letting hurt, pain, confusion, and the slow pace of change dominate your thinking or destroy your emotions. It brings contrary thoughts and emotions into subjection.
Without the spiritual discipline of gratitude, the hypercritical dominance of thought and speech that is pervasive in our culture these days can drown you in a sea of negative musings. When you wake up in the morning feeling sorry for yourself, you go throughout the day in perpetual negativity, looking for the worst rather than the best, feeling that life has taken so much and given so little.
Gratitude reins all that in and says, “Hey, child of God, before you get on that pessimistic train, take another look. Look at all that God is doing. Look at all the positive that is coming out of this. He is working it together for your good. Think about how much you have not lost and how much you still have left.”
German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer captures this idea when he says, “In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.”
How rich is your life today? It depends on your level of gratitude.
The Reason Why
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
1 Peter 4:12-13 (NIV)
Every one of us, at times, asks the questions: Can I trust God’s plans when His plans have put me in these deeply painful periods in life? Can I trust God’s plans when it has cost me so much emotionally? Can I trust God when He has decided that the best way to grow me is to let my heart be broken?
Part of the reason you’re going through what you’re going through is because God is doing a work inside of you. He will let you stand in the middle ground between pain and the desire for relief because He wants you to decide what you are going to lean on in order to deal with the pain. Will you lean on people? Will you lean on substances? Will you lean on doubt? Will you lean on cynicism? Or will you lean on your faith and trust that He will show up?
You can’t manage life in Christ any other way but in faith. The Lord won’t let it happen. He won’t let you move through life without having to manage where your faith is, where it’s being pushed, where it’s being matured, where it’s being challenged, where it’s being stretched.
Could things have happened differently in your life? Could you have gone through some things with less pain? Could they have resolved much earlier? Could they not have happened at all? To all of these questions, the emphatic response is yes. But to deepen your faith, to keep you engaged, to help you see better for your future, the pain was necessary.
Whatever that particular pain is in your life, it is permitted to push you past too much confidence in your own capacity or your own stability. It’s to push you into the sphere of faith, where you can develop spiritual confidence and trust in the Lord.
It’s All About Your Neighbor
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Luke 10:36-37 (NIV)
Your treatment of your neighbor is critical in measuring your heart towards God.
How you treat others, regardless of their race, ethnicity, economic status, appearance, sexual persuasion, sinful tendencies, etc., reveals your motivations to chase holiness. It reveals your service to the Lord. It reveals your desire for eternal life.
Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan who helped a man in need when the clergy of the day wouldn’t. He did this in answer to a Jewish lawyer’s question, “Who is my neighbor?”
After telling this poignant story, Jesus turned the question back on the lawyer: Of the three men in the story—the priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan—which one was a neighbor to the man who was wounded and robbed?
Because of the deep cultural divide between Jew and Samaritan, the Jewish lawyer couldn’t frame his mouth to say, “the Samaritan.” Instead, he simply answered, “the one who showed mercy.” That answer was enough because Jesus had already made His point.
Spiritual maturity is measured by the love and compassion people have toward others—and particularly toward those who are needy. It’s about how you treat not just somebody, but how you treat everybody.
Can God get you to a spiritual place where you can make space in your life for other people? Can you live in a way that it’s not about you, but about your neighbor?
The greatest threat to human progression and authentic spirituality these days is too much focus on self. There is a toxic intoxication with self that is pervading our culture.
Authentic spirituality focuses not on self, but on others.
How will you inject that truth into your thoughts, actions, and lived experiences today?
He Can Turn Your Praise into Power
Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.
Psalm 68:19 (NIV)
Maybe today you are not in the mood. You don't have the energy. Things aren’t right in life. You’re dealing with an enormous amount of stress. You’re dealing with a whole lot of problems. There simply isn’t much praise inside of you.
But if you can give God whatever praise you have, He can turn your praise into power.
Open your mouth today and give Him praise. It doesn’t matter the volume or the pitch or the tenor of your voice. Just give God whatever you have and watch Him place high value on your small offering.
If you are so fatigued that you feel like quitting and you’re about to give up and wave the white flag of surrender, I want to remind you that “those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
That doesn’t mean you will mount up after your times of trouble. It means while you are in times of trouble. If you wait on Him now, He’ll give you strength to fly. He’ll give you power to run. He’ll allow you to walk and not faint.
Toss your head back, open your mouth, and give God whatever you have left to offer. He will turn your praise into power.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and a contrite heart—
These, O God, You will not despise.
Psalm 51:17 (NKJV)
Many people are negatively impacted by their inability to make large offerings in life.
I'm not talking about money. I’m talking about time and attitude and emotionality and effort and behavior and mindset. I’m talking about life’s demands and the expectations that others have placed on them. So many feel that they just aren’t giving enough. Many are demotivated by the fragility of their own effort. They are deflated by their slow pace of progress in the battle that goes on in the mind and in the flesh and in the spirit.
So often we stand before the Lord knowing we have so little to give. “Lord, I wish I had more energy. I wish I had more excitement. I wish I had more optimism. I wish I had more capacity. I wish I had more ability. I intended to give You more effort. I thought I could last longer. I just knew I could hold out far more, and for extended periods of time. I thought I had the stamina. I thought I was at a place where I could do better than I did.”
And yet, when we stand before God with only small offerings—tiny, incremental, progressive steps—I’m here to tell you it’s enough. If all you have to give is miniscule, yet freely given with a contrite heart, Jesus says, “Bring it to Me.” He will not refuse, disregard, or discredit your offering because of its size.
Give what you have to the Lord, and He will bless it.