Seeing The World Aright

A recent trip to the eye doctor caused me to view gratitude in a new way. As the optometrist was doing the various tests to determine my new prescription for glasses, I was once again amazed that with each turn of the machine my vision became progressively sharper. I realized it’s a lot like gratitude: the more we thank, the more we discover what we have to be thankful for. Gratitude is the lens that reveals God’s incredible grace at work.

To be grateful is to see God, the world and ourselves aright—to recognize that all of life is a gracious gift from His hand. I am learning to develop gratitude for everything. If I’m tempted to grumble about all the dishes that need to be washed I now say, “I’m so thankful for all these dirty dishes because it means we have plenty to eat.”

In Corrie ten Boom’s book, The Hiding Place, she recalls thanking God for the fleas in the filthy, jammed barracks at a German concentration camp where she was sent for attempting to rescue Jews from the Nazis during World War II. The fleas kept the guards away, which allowed her and others to study the Bible without interruption.

Perspective is everything. I love a plaque that hangs in my chiropractor’s office. It simply states: There is always, always, ALWAYS, something to be thankful for. It all depends on what we’re looking at.

When my car got a flat tire on a wet road on my way to a doctor’s appointment, I chose to give thanks that I didn’t have an accident instead of grumbling that I had to reschedule. It matters a great deal how we choose to look at things. It’s the difference between gratitude and grumbling.

Pride can keep us from being thankful. I know a pre-teen who refuses to say thank you when she’s given a gift. For as long as I’ve known her, she will not say it—even when prodded by her mother to do so. I believe she thinks that she deserves these things, so why should she have to give thanks for them. Faulty thinking, no matter one’s age, and yet we’ve all probably done it. I know I have.

Speaking two simple but powerful words—thank you—for any bit of kindness keeps the wheels turning in relationships all over the world. Expressing appreciation—in any language—conveys that the person matters.

In a society where everything is available all the time, nothing is special anymore. The impersonality that exists today is evidenced in the way we treat each other. When thankfulness is absent, relationships suffer.

Whenever I’m out shopping or running errands, I hold the door open for anyone else entering the same place. Many times this small act of kindness goes unnoticed without so much as a word of thanks.

Perhaps someone has also ignored an act of kindness you’ve gone out of your way to show. It happened to Jesus at least once that we know of. Jesus healed ten lepers of their dreaded skin disease, and almost before He finished speaking all ten were headed for the city to see the priest. Only one returned to say thank you.

Throughout the Bible people are called to remember what God has done for them. The Old Testament especially is full of admonitions to remember God’s acts of power and graciousness.

If you are thankful for something, say so. Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone. Everyone likes to feel appreciated. Saying thank you is one way we convey that.

Cultivating a thankful heart is possible for anyone. You can:

  • Give thanks for the small, ordinary things. I make a concentrated effort to thank God for the things that most people don’t think twice about—clean water, my bed, even my comfy pajamas! I truly am thankful for these things, and I make it a point to let God know that I am.
  • Give thanks independent of feelings. Our lack of feeling grateful does not change reality—God is good, all the time. When I focus exclusively on my feelings, I find I have very little to be thankful for. True gratitude comes from a heart of love, not from how we feel.
  • Look for the hidden blessings. Sometimes we have to actively keep ourselves alert to the subtle or indirect blessing of God. I’ve noticed that when I’m shopping alone with my four daughters I always find a parking place close to the store’s entrance and near a cart return. Coincidence? I don’t think so. God knows how grateful I am for the extra help on these days.
  • Thank God in the midst of adversity. While in chains in prison, Paul gave thanks for God’s goodness (Phil. 1:3). One night during an excruciating migraine, I was determined to praise God and thank Him for His goodness even in the midst of my pain. It was one of the best times I’ve ever had with the Lord.
  • Put things in perspective. Have you been grumbling because you can’t afford a new table and chairs for the dining room? Go serve in a soup kitchen for the homeless. Find it difficult to be thankful for your job? Spend a few minutes with the people in line at the unemployment office. Do you find yourself complaining about minor aches and pains? Pray for someone with a terminal illness. I find that when I put things in proper perspective my gratitude level soars.
  • Keep a record of God’s faithfulness. As the old song goes, “Count your blessings, name them one by one.” Several years ago I began a “Thank you” journal dedicated exclusively for recording blessings from the Lord. To date, I have many volumes of these journals filled.
  • Set aside daily time to express thanks to God. In ancient Israel, a daily time of thanksgiving was so important to the nation that the Levites were officially appointed to stand in the temple every morning and evening to thank God (see 1 Ch. 23:30). If we don’t make time to specifically express our gratitude to God, we may find ourselves neglecting to do it altogether.
  • Show gratitude to others as well as to God. Stock up on thank you cards and use them generously. Regularly let family and friends know how grateful you are for them. Thank those you cross paths with frequently—the store clerk, the office janitor, the mail carrier. The more we appreciate people, the more we’ll appreciate the One who put them in our lives.
  • Give generously to those in need. Giving is a concrete expression of gratitude to God. Paul told the Corinthians that such generosity “is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God” (2 Cor. 9:12). I love being able to give back to God in this way as it serves as a reminder of all that He’s given me.

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By Tammy Darling

The Ageless Thanksgiving Day

A fledgling nation of pilgrims found themselves in a strange, hostile country. They were far away from home. They felt abandoned. They especially feared the very real threat of extinction.

Religious freedom was their champion cause, for despite the dire circumstances in which they found themselves, nothing was more important to them than their ongoing relationship with God.

When everything looked the bleakest, and their days on earth seemed to be numbered down to single–digits, a miracle happened.

The miracle came from an unexpected source, and instead of slipping from the pages of history—forever forgotten—their unforeseen survival propelled them to become a nation unparalleled in mankind’s continuing saga.

To this very day, a nation of people celebrates this ageless story with a Thanksgiving feast. Traditional foods make their annual appearance and countless pageants re-enact the story so often that even little children know the characters and the outcome by heart.

On this day the needs of the poor among us are more prominently noted—much more so than at other times of the year. These Thanksgiving participants go out of their way to make sure that lesser privileged citizens are lovingly cared for, fed and made a part of the festivities.

On this day a nation pauses to give thanks to God for achieving what they could not do for themselves.

The Pilgrims of Plymouth Rock in 1621?

No. The exiled Israelites in Persia, about 2,500 years ago.

Feast of PurimThe Jewish people have been celebrating their own Thanksgiving Day for centuries, long before the pilgrims experienced their narrow brush with extinction in Massachusetts. The Jewish version is not called Thanksgiving, of course. Instead they call it the Feast of Purim. And for good reason.

To discover why this annual holiday exists, we have to go back to the book of Esther in the Old Testament. Not only is it the one book in the Bible to explain, or even mention, the Feast of Purim, it is the only book of the Bible in which the name of God is not mentioned—although the Lord’s mighty hand is visible throughout.

In the English language, when we take a word and make it plural, we add s or es—to do the same thing in the Hebrew language they added im. So the plural of seraph is seraphim. The plural of cherub is cherubim. Even baal (a false god) becomes baalim (many false gods).

In the thrilling story of Esther, a scoundrel named Haman was plotting to exterminate all of the Jews in the Persian kingdom. Haman was the royal vizier to King Ahasuerus (we know him to be Xerxes I of Persia), and with deceit and trickery that would make Survivor contestants blush, Haman managed to manipulate King Ahasuerus into authorizing a mass extermination.

Haman informs Ahasuerus that the Jews do not obey the king’s laws and that it would be in the kingdom’s best interest to get rid of them. He asks for permission to destroy them, which the king grants. Haman then orders the king’s officials to kill all the Jews.

To win the favor of the gods, Haman casts lots to determine on which date the massacre is to take place. The Hebrew word for lots was pur. Since he had to cast several lots to determine first the month, then the date, they had to cast purim (plural of pur).

So literally, with a few rolls of the dice, the date was set for the extermination of the Jews: the thirteenth day of the twelfth month. All year long every Jew in the kingdom marked off one more day from their calendar until they would be butchered—what a ghastly thought!

Ernest Normand - Esther Denouncing HamanJust imagine knowing that thousands of your countrymen would be killed on, say, December 13. The Israelites were a conquered people. The Persians forced them to serve as slaves—second-class citizens—in enemy territory, where they had no rights, no recourse and no future.

But the story ends happily. God intervened by using Queen Esther (who was Jewish) to intercede between her people and the king. Since the king by law cannot cancel his own signed and sealed decree, he shrewdly issues another: The Jews, on that same date, are allowed to defend themselves by exterminating those enemies who originally sought to kill them. December 13 (or whatever date it was!) becomes a red–letter day for the Jewish people.

The tables are remarkably and miraculously turned. Instead of marking a date that evil intended to bring calamity upon God’s chosen people, they now celebrate victory and joy over their enemies.

The Feast of Purim is a time of feasting and sending portions of food to family and friends. Children as well as adults dress up in costume and reenact the melodrama. Everyone cheers the heroine and hero (Queen Esther and her uncle, Mordecai); and they boo, hiss and stomp their feet whenever the name of Haman is mentioned.

We’ve all had tragedy in our lives. Some worse than others. But we can all learn from everything that’s happened. We can all move on.

Esther’s story is a one of triumph that grew out of tragedy. Ecstasy that came out of agony. Celebration instead of devastation.

Your life can be the same, once you surrender your brokenness to Christ and become a born-again, Spirit-filled believer. Rather than tearing days off
the calendar one at a time—gruesomely moving toward the day of your demise—your fortunes could be turned completely around!

And this Thanksgiving Day—more than any others in my life—I will give thanks to the Lord for His many blessings for me, not the least of which is a new ending to what otherwise would have been a dead end.

God can do for you what you cannot do for yourself. And then you’ll have one more reason to celebrate your Thanksgiving Day, your Purim.

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By Major Frank Duracher

Always

Always ChildAs our two–year–old granddaughter, Madelyn, learns new phrases, she uses them with abandon. Recently she’s added “pease,” “thank you” and “you’re welcome” to her ever-growing vocabulary, but she isn’t quite sure when their use is appropriate. What we’re finding is that her singsong “thank you” pops out in a variety of situations, including a tearful thank you after a traumatic doctor’s visit.

Is Madelyn coming close to one of those biblical directives that seems impossible to live up to? It’s an instruction tucked inside of Ephesians 5:19-20: “Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Does Paul really mean always? In everything? Aren’t there some things we just can’t be thankful for? What about cancer and floods, skunks and mosquitoes? Surely there’s an exception for some things! Yet he makes a similar point in 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

How can we possibly do that?

By trusting that God knows the big picture.

When Corey woke up in a hospital bed after suffering a stroke at age 32, the words “thank you” weren’t the first that escaped from her lips. Yet five years later, she’ll proclaim to anyone who will listen that her stroke was the best thing that ever happened to her. It has connected her with a man who loves her deeply (now her husband). It has enriched her relationship with her family. It has brought her home to faith. Yes, even with the paralysis, the blinding headaches and the limitations on mobility, these words are hers: “Lord, thank you for my stroke.”

But how do we do it?

By following the instructions given in Scripture. We speak it out loud, using words to express our thanks to God. We verbalize the words of the Psalmist: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good. His love endures forever” (Psalm 136:1). When life is tough and we can’t see our way through, we start small, being as thankful as we possibly can in our situation. Not a Pollyanna “glad game” kind of thankful, but with genuine thanks for God’s provision. In a tough family situation, we begin with gratitude for a shared meal or a promise kept. In the midst of illness, we express our thanks for the care of others and the presence of God.

And, as Paul reminds us, be sure to sing. Sing from the Scriptures. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.” Dredge up the songs from the recesses of memory. “Thank you, Lord, for saving my soul.” Belt them out in the shower. “To God be the glory.” Whisper them in the dark. “All I have needed Thy hand hath provided.” Stand in a circle after an evening with friends and sing the doxology together: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”

No matter our circumstances, living with thanks is a choice. M. Craig Barnes helps us in this regard. “Gratitude is a choice to live with a holy joy that cannot be diminished by our failure in ‘engineering.’ We find gratitude by realizing that even the flaws can become channels for the grace of a God who is passionate about us—just the way we are.”

Thank you, Madelyn, for the “thank you” reminder. Indeed, the Psalmist understood what you are teaching me: “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise” (Ps.8:2). When we live a life of thanks, gratitude can be “the pillow upon which we kneel to say our nightly prayers” (Maya Angelou). Thanks be to God!

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By Major Jo Ann Shade