Sunday, November 18, 2012

Cultivating a Thankful Heart

Dear Friends,

I wonder for how many of us Thanksgiving sneaks up without the opportunity for us to take the time to reflect on what the day is all about.  Or maybe we’ve just gotten too busy with all the preparations.  As you start this Thanksgiving week, I encourage you to take some time out to cultivate a thankful heart.  Many years ago we featured an article entitled “Returning Thanks” by author Paul Thigpen that I thought would be a timely piece for us to re-visit again as it provides some help in cultivating a grateful heart, especially when the circumstances in our lives are less than ideal.  Enjoy!
At times, we may find ourselves in wintry spiritual seasons, when a frost settles on our hearts and our sense of gratitude freezes over.  During these times, I’ve learned that gratefulness is a habit to be cultivated, a labor of the soul that seeks God.  As with the other virtues, we can’t employ a mechanical technique to make us thankful.  But we can learn to direct our attention to those things that draw us to God in appreciation for who He is and what He has done.

In that regard, here are some insights I’ve discovered along the way:
  • Give thanks as a holy discipline independent of feelings.  True gratitude involves the heart as well as the lips.  But sometimes when our hearts are cold our words can be sparks that kindle our gratitude.  That’s why the Bible repeatedly commands us to thank Him (Ps. 136, Eph. 5:19-20, Col. 3:17).
  • Give thanks for the small and ordinary things.  With blessings, as with relationships, familiarity often breeds contempt.  We should keep in mind how the world would have seemed to that grateful leper Jesus healed.  Ever after that miracle, he must have given thanks for all 20 fingers and toes, for the power to run and leap again, for the smiles of children who once would have hid in horror.
  • Look for the hidden blessings.  Paul told the Colossians to be “watchful and thankful” (Col. 4:2).  Sometimes we must keep ourselves alert to the graces God gives subtly or indirectly.       Sometimes we grumble that the gifts we have are different from the gifts we would have chosen for ourselves.  For example, we hear people complain about their physical appearance or other natural endowments, wishing they were prettier or stronger or smarter.  Sometimes we fail to realize that not every gift we seek would be to our benefit.     
  • Thank God especially in the midst of adversity.  God doesn’t ask us to be thankful for the sorrows that come our way, but He does want us to demonstrate trust in His care by thanking Him in spite of them.  The Apostle Paul said, “Give thanks in all circumstances,” not for all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18).
  • Turn your attention from your problems to God’s priorities in your life.  We may have to take a step back to see the big picture if we want to be grateful for what God is accomplishing in us.  Jesus gave the Father thanks for His last meal just hours before the horrible death He knew was waiting (Matt. 26:26).  Jesus was grateful because He saw the bigger picture of God’s plan—that “the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God” (Jn. 13:3).
  • Give your attention and care to those whose lives make your particular blessings stand out by comparison.  Have you been grumbling that you can’t afford a new couch for the living room?  Go serve in a soup kitchen for the homeless. Have you found it hard to thank God for your boss?  Talk a few minutes with the folks in the unemployment line. Do you complain about minor aches and pains?  Pray for someone with a terminal illness. Your gratitude to God is sure to grow.
  • Set aside time daily to express thanks to God.  In ancient Israel, a daily habit of thanksgiving was so important to the life of the nation that the Levites were officially appointed to stand in the temple every morning and evening to thank God (1 Chron. 23:30).  In a more private context and a later generation, we find Daniel kneeling to thank God three times a day (n. 6:10).
  • Keep a record of God’s faithfulness to you.  “Count your blessings,” as the old song says.  Try listing them in a regular journal that you review periodically. One family I know keeps a “Thank You Book,” complete with pictures, dedicated exclusively to recording answers to prayer and other blessings from the Lord.
  • Show gratitude toward others as well as God.  Make it a point to tell family and friends how grateful you are for their kindness.  Stock up on thank-you notes and use them generously, even for small favors.  Thank the folks involved in your daily affairs: the bus driver, the office janitor, the grocery store clerk.  The more you appreciate all these people, the more you’ll appreciate the One who put them in your life.

If we cultivate the discipline of gratitude, we can overcome the temptation to turn our backs on the Lord in self-absorption.  Instead, we’ll be sure to run toward the Lord, fall at His feet, and whisper often the words He delights to hear: Thank you.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor
Just Between Us 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Belief Matters!

Dear Friend,

What you believe is all tied up with who you believe!

Years ago I spoke to a young European woman who was into all the Western philosophies. Astrology seemed to be the favorite.

It was just before Christmas and she asked me what I believed and why I believed it.  She confided she was looking for a reason for which to live and to die.  "I want so badly to know what to believe," she said.  She hadn't found the answer.

"It's not what but who," I said.  She looked at me inquiringly.

I reminded her of the Christmas story and how astrologers -- philosophers from Persia -- traveled hundreds of miles to kneel at a crib of a poor baby boy.

"Why would such important religious teachers from another culture bow the knee to a baby born in a stable?" I asked her.  She shook her head.  "Because of who they believed Him to be," I answered.  "When you find out who that baby is, you'll find what to believe and what you are looking for.  He will tell you the true truth.  If He is God, then we can trust and believe what He said."

Then I explained, "That's why I'm a convinced Christian.  What I believe has credibility because of who said it.  If Jesus is God, what He said is truth.  It's trustworthy."

When my youngest son, Pete, was in grade school, he loved words and had a great sense of drama -- even in those days!  I found him in a corner of his room writing hard.

"What are you writing?" I asked.

"A book," he answered without looking up.

"A book?  What about?"

"About God."


"So people will read it and know about Him."

These many years later, Pete has finished his book, Belief Matters!

Pete understands this generation of adults.  Not because he's learned how to talk to them, but because he's one of them.  Pete challenges the myth that it's okay to believe whatever you want to believe if you believe it in sincerity.

As Pete explains, a sincere belief can be sincerely wrong.  Pete says, "Unless we know what is true about God, our distorted beliefs will cripple our experience."

Understanding what you believe is more crucial than ever, especially in these times.  We need to know why we  believe, but more importantly in who because Belief Matters!


Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor
Just Between Us Magazine

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Prayer That Works

Dear Friends,

Stuart was driving me down to the airport in Milwaukee to go to Dallas before he went on to South Africa.  I stuffed some mail and a jar of honey I had been given for some of our grandkids into my carry-on purse and ran into church on the way to the airport to  leave the items on his desk to be picked up.  I left the letters, but forgot to leave the honey.

I had forgotten I had forgotten the honey, so boarded the plane to Dallas unaware of the fact that before I got off the flight, the honey would have left the jar and happily coated everything in my big carry-on purse!  I had taken my computer out of the big computer bag, as it was a small plane, and I wanted to put the larger bag in the hold.  In the pocket of the small computer bag, were three hard copy chapters of a book I was writing on Ecclesiastes that I wanted to edit on the journey.  Unaware of the sticky mess underneath my seat, I gathered my things together as we landed in Dallas and opened my carry-on to get out the information I needed to meet up with the people picking me up.  Ugh!!!

I made a beeline for the ladies room and began furiously washing off what I could and stuffing paper towels in the sticky mess that was left, wondering if the people were still waiting on their guest speaker to turn up.  I did the best I could and ran down the escalator to the baggage claim, not realizing in my haste that I had left the computer on the washbasin!

I didn't discover it until I got to my engagement two hours away!   Fred, my gracious host, looking at my horrified face simply said, "You've come here to talk about 'Prayer That Works' Jill, let's do it!"  Fred then prayed for my lost computer that held so much of my writing, sermons, and work (not all backed up) recorded in its clever little memory.  Thus began three days of ministry punctuated with frantic calls to DFW that proved fruitless and frustrating.  We discovered that lost items from the terminal were sent to another terminal to another 'Lost and Found' -- but not until Friday!  (I had arrived on Sunday.)  They were put in a lock box on the concourse where they were discovered, until Friday rolled around and then transported to another terminal.  I couldn't get a real live person to go and unlock the box and look inside!  I had to go on to another speaking engagement by this time.

Between teachings from Philippians about how to overcome worry, rejoice in trouble, and enjoy the peace that passes understanding, I called every security guard I could get a hold of to no avail.
When we eventually got hold of a real person, we were told the famous 'lock box' that just might  contain my precious computer was on the other side of the airport from the lost and found place we were talking to!  There was no thought of them going back to look for us.

"It's all the way over the other side of the airport," they informed us, with hurt in their voices. "Get the train," I wanted to shout into the phone, "like we passengers do!"  There was nothing to do but continue to preach on patience and forbearance to hundreds of women who seemed to be perfectly patient and forbearing (unlike me), and wait until I had to leave.

Finally on my final morning in Dallas after searching and searching, I tracked down the famous lock box by gate 1 where I had come in and where I was leaving, and gazed hungrily at the padlock.  I only had 20 minutes to catch my plane.  I looked at the gate thinking I'd beg anyone to hold the plane and open the box or find someone else who had been trained to do it (how hard can it be?), and saw that there was no one at the desk.  I looked at the monitor and discovered my flight had been changed from gate 1 to gate 10!  I know had only 15 minutes to catch my flight.

I lumbered down the corridor, like a plane that was too old and too heavy to get off the ground, and then arrived at gate 10.

"You're out of breath," one of the desk people said accusingly!  I spluttered, "Well I lost my computer on Sunday and I have been looking on every wing of this airport.  I didn't have a chance to look in the lock box by the gate I came in at because you changed the gate to number 10...

 "What is your computer like?"asked the other agent.

 "It's a Compaq."

 "Name on it?"

"No," I said, "but there is a file in the pocket with Ecclesiastes on it."  Seeing the blank faces I muttered, "It's a book in the Bible."

"I have your computer," said the agent!  "It's in my personal locker."  I was struck dumb.  "It was brought to me Sunday night," she said.  "I couldn't find a name on it, but I looked in the file in the pocket and said to my friend, 'This person  is writing about God!  This is a important computer. I must find the person.'"

For two days this woman tried to trace me through old Delta tickets she found stuffed in the pocket of the computer from previous flights.  She got a phone number from Delta and tried to phone my home, but the number Delta found for her was not right and she got no reply!

"Why didn't you put it in the lock box?" I asked, clutching my computer.

 "They only pick it up  every Friday," she answered, "and I didn't want to chance leaving it there."

I thanked her, making little appreciative sounds, gushing loving sentiments, and wanting to adopt her .  I got on the plane, finally.  Five minutes later she arrived at my seat and said in a loud voice, "You must understand I would have turned your computer in on Friday.  I just wanted to find you and make sure you got it back."  Then, loudly, "As I said to my friend, 'She's writing about God!'"

Then she left, leaving half the people around me hastily diving behind their newspapers, and the rest gazing at this elderly lady sitting stunned in her seat, clutching my precious work and marveling at such an incredible answer to prayer.

All this to say, that despite my irresponsibility, the Lord continues to take such good care of me. He answers prayers I neither deserve or have earned.  It's all grace!  It also amazes me that God goes to such lengths to turn our failings into blessings for others, and I think of the three chapters of Ecclesiastes read by people who perhaps would never know about the wonderful words of Solomon, who found purpose and meaning not in wealth and riches, but in fearing the living God.

I think, too, of how God hates losing things that are precious to Him and understands when we lose things that are precious to us -- and how He is a seeking and finding God.  I am encouraged by His care for the details of our lives and how He answers the cries of His children.


Jill Briscoe
Executive Editor
Just Between Us