Thursday, November 24, 2011

birthday surprise! It's Andrea.

This is my favorite holiday and because it is, my favorite person in the whole wide world is going to share with you. She is my best friend, my sister from another mother, my prayer warrior, and my gift from God. We have been watching each other since 1998 (inside joke, sorry). Andrea is funny, sweet, gentle, caring and all together lovely. What makes her so special though is her contagious love for Jesus and the Word. From the heart of God to one of the godliest women I know to you and now to you!
Commit to Being Thankful
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.  The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8-9

It was November 1st and I had just finished putting up my new calendar in my classroom.  I placed a picture of a turkey on Thanksgiving and Danny, my charming and lively student who had been watching me through the process exclaimed “It’s turkey day!” joyfully while flapping his arms and jumping up and down. I quickly explained to him “Danny, it’s Thanksgiving!  Yes, we have turkey on that day, but most importantly, we give thanks for all the good things we have.”  He stared at me for a few seconds and said, “like dinosaurs, daddy, and cheeseburgers?” I laughed amused at what he was thankful for and replied “yes Danny, like dinosaurs, daddy, and cheeseburgers.” 

 It was a simple conversation, yet, it was one that I needed more than him.  With so much to do and such little time, I am often one of those who has to-do lists a mile long and is less than patient and more like frazzled during the holiday season, but for that moment God used someone like Danny, a six year old, to make me stop and evaluate the condition of my heart and how I was going to enter this season. And this time around, I refuse to have nothing less but a thankful heart, one that extends past Thanksgiving and becomes the way I approach each day of my life.

You may be asking yourself, “so why should we enter this season with a thankful heart? And why is being thankful so important?” or perhaps, you may be thinking, “It’s been a horrible year, I don’t have anything to be thankful for.” I am here to tell you, that you cannot afford to have anything else but a heart of gratitude, whatever your circumstance may be. 

While in a prison cell in Rome, Paul found himself in less than joyous conditions waiting on Cesar’s decree over his life, and he decided to write a letter to the church of Philippi.  He told the church in chapter 4 of Philippians to rejoice, to pray with thanksgiving, to focus on what was true and noble, and also reminded them that he could do all things through Christ who strengthened him.  Paul was going through hardship and had every reason to choose to be depressed, lonely, and discouraged, yet his attitude only reflected thankfulness, strength, and peace.

So why should we have a thankful heart? Because it is God’s will for your life. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”  Paul didn’t back down from this and he chose to focus his sight on God and not his troubles, and what took place in Paul’s heart was an outpouring of joy. Like Paul, you may find yourself in a prison today, not a literal prison but perhaps one built by bars of emotions, troubles, and fears. You want to break free, and the only way to is to begin to be grateful. Kay Smith explained once in a teaching that we cannot be depressed or bitter at the same time that we are being thankful, so get on the road and start counting your blessings.

You may be reading this and may be thinking, “I cannot think of one thing to be thankful for.  I have lost everything and I don’t feel I have a reason to rejoice. No one loves me and no one cares” and to that I say, that although I cannot understand your individual pain, I know what it is like to endure pain and experience loss.  My great season of depression and pain came when my parents divorced when I was 15, and for a year I committed to utter despair.  My mother, upon seeing my sadness, refused to let me drown in my state of misery. What did she remind me of during that time? Jesus, simply Jesus. I clung to Him and gave thanks to the Lord for the Lord, because He alone could give me the love and hope that I yearned for.  His yoke is easy and His burden is light, so cast your cares upon Him and give thanks for the gift of life.  It was during this time that I experienced a sweet dependence on God, one that would fire my relationship with him for the coming years. If you can’t find one thing to be thankful for, start with rejoicing in Him, because He alone can provide what we need.

It is said that while in that prison in Rome, God used Paul to spread the gospel within Cesar’s palace and to encourage the church in a way that would not have been possible if he had not been incarcerated. The way he accomplished this was not through complaining, doubting, or ingratitude towards God for allowing him to remain there. I cannot imagine what would have happened to Paul if he had begun to only notice all that was wrong with his situation.  In a prison, it is likely he would have only entered severe depression and been riddled with doubt. Instead, he committed to rejoicing, giving thanks, and focusing on God, the giver of life and every good gift, and in turn, Paul was filled with peace and was able to encourage others.

Where is your commitment to thankfulness in your life? Do you wake up each day with your focus on God and what is praiseworthy? Do you yearn for daily strength and peace in every situation? May our hearts say like Paul’s “Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again I will say, rejoice!” in every season of our lives.

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