Monday, November 14, 2011

Thanking God for Purple Coats

by Shelly Esser

A number of years ago I needed a winter dress coat, but didn’t feel I could afford it. I whispered a little prayer to the Lord telling Him of my need and didn’t think about it again. A couple of weeks later, I visited a friend.

Before I left, she called me into her bedroom and asked me if I would like to have a brand-new, wool purple dress coat. I couldn’t believe it. I hurriedly tried it on. It was a perfect fit!

Every time I wear that coat, I am reminded of God’s gracious gift. It has become a visual reminder to me of just how lavish and extravagant God’s love is. To think that God is concerned with the little things in our lives to that detail never ceases to amaze me. I can’t help but wonder if He does so to continually give us opportunities to turn our hearts heavenward.

Psalm 103:2 says, “Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits.” My heart isn’t always overflowing with thanks to God for all of the ways He makes His presence known in my life. Because it’s so easy to get bogged down with the mundane tasks of living, we can often forget.

Perhaps that’s why God in His love and grace for us interrupts our lives with His gifts. Is He trying to get our attention? Trying to tell us how much He loves us? I think He is. But He also desires that we learn to be thankful so we won’t forget.

Gratitude is really a response to a gift. The more we become aware of the depth of our greatest gift – salvation – the more thankful we become because gratitude enlarges our hearts towards God. In a mysterious way, it links us to the divine.

It’s been said that God has two dwellings: one in heaven, and the other in a meek and thankful heart. Gratitude will help us keep our focus on God, the giver of all good and perfect gifts.

Here are some ways that have helped me make gratitude a more integral part of my life:

Be thankful for little things. If you’re looking, every day holds a host of things you can be grateful for ─ the sunshine, a kindness from a friend, an encouraging phone call, a Scripture verse. Look for the purple coats in your life. Last week, I was having some back problems.

When I went to my room, I found a beautiful homemade card on my bedstand that my daughter, Anna, had made, telling me she loved me and was praying I’d get well. My heart was not only uplifted, it was filled with gratitude. In a difficult moment, there was something to be thankful for.

Be thankful for creation. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but I find myself so much more awed by nature than I used to be. The breathtaking sunset, the ducklings swimming in the pond, the deer on the walking trail.

I’ll never forget the year I was going through an especially dark time when life seemed hopeless. As I pulled onto the freeway, a huge rainbow filled the sky. It was like God had dropped it there just for me ─ to remind me of His presence and promises. I am so thankful for His creative touches in my life that display His love.

Be thankful for the good around you. Too many times we only hear about the bad things going on in the world. I have determined to find the good, the inspiring story of someone’s encounter with God, a kind deed done by a stranger, a person helping another person. By concentrating on finding the good in every situation, you will discover your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude.

Be thankful with words. Practice saying thank you for both the happy and challenging experiences in your life, and to the family, friends, and other people God places there. As we express our gratitude to others, including God, we are blessed.

I like what G. K. Chesterton said, “You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, and swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing, and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.” Gratitude is to be a way of life – we are to cherish what we’ve been given in every single context of our lives and use our words to convey it. Thankfulness is best when it’s expressed.

Focus on what you have. A number of years ago, I was watching a Good Morning America show at Thanksgiving time. The God Squad – a Jewish rabbi and a Catholic priest – interviewed numerous homeless people about what they had to be thankful for. I was in tears by the end of the segment as person after person, having nothing, could say with a smile that they were thankful to simply just be alive! And they were thankful to God for another day. Sobering!

In comparison, I have so much more and yet my heart doesn’t always gravitate towards gratitude like that. It is a wise person who doesn’t grieve for the things she doesn’t have, but rejoices for the things she has. We need to choose not to focus on what’s missing from our lives, but be grateful for the abundance that is present.

What are the purple coats you need to be thankful for in your life? In what areas have you forgotten to thank God? Don’t miss out on the wonderful opportunity to connect with God because of ingratitude. Nothing is more pleasing to God than a thankful heart. “…in everything give thanks” (Phil. 4:6).

Shelly Esser is editor of Just Between Us magazine. She and her husband, John, have four daughters.

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