Friday, September 11, 2015

10 Steps To Thankful & Thriving: Elements of God's Best

Allow me to introduce you to Mrs. Crabby McCrabberson. She is one of my two alter-egos prominent enough to have names. My family has learned to NEVER use theose names in the presence of the alter-egos so as not to press an imaginary, flashing red, “instant eruption” button.  (No one enjoys that!)  

I remember a specific day that came at the end of a trying week. I was at my wits end, consumed by stress, frustrated with nearly everyone around me and grumpy as all get out.  I’d prayed and spent time in the Word. I’d asked the Lord to help me snap out of it, but Mrs. Crabby McCrabberson, who'd partnered with me for nearly a full week, wouldn’t pack her bags. 

The Lord did answer my prayers that day, but not in the way I expected. I’d hoped He would simply change my attitude. Maybe He’d bring me such a tremendous blessing, I’d reconnect with my joy. God rarely works in such ways. He makes us work for transformation - always there to help us along the way, but without giving us an easy out. 

How I wish it were different sometimes. In moments when I feel buried by life and emotions, I’d give nearly anything for instant deliverance. But when the battle has passed and after following the Lord’s lead, I realize I’m better for having gone through the journey.  Isaiah 43:2 reminds us that God is with as we go through the waters, through the rivers and through the fire.  By His protection, we will not be overwhelmed or scorched, but we are to go through the trials - not around them. Scripture makes that clear.

On that particular day in the midst of that particular battle, I believe I had an inspired thought. The prompting had to have been Lord-directed and I’m ever so glad I paid attention.

Months earlier, a friend presented me with a lovely spiral-bound journal.  I’d not yet used it, but it silently beckoned me from the bookshelf.  I took it down, pen in hand and began to write a list of things for which I was thankful. I didn’t write many, in fact my listed stopped at an even dozen. But as I turned my attention from what was wrong and focused on the gifts the Lord had provided, an amazing thing happened. Mrs. Crabby McCrabberson left the building. 

Grateful for Gratitude

Without question, gratitude is an element of God’s best. My Thankfulness Journal continues to grow and as I look back over the blessings the Lord has given, I see its obvious benefits: 

Thankfulness holds our focus on the Lord and all that He provides.

It improves our attitudes and helps us relate with more kindness toward others.

It reduces our complaining toward life, toward perceived lack, 
toward our spouse, our kids, and others.

It improves our relationships. 

With a heart of gratitude, we become more relaxed and less stressed
- surely a health benefit!

We’re less envious of others.

We express joy rather than misery.  
(Which would you rather be around?)

And so much more!

How do we begin?

Tilling the soil to cultivate a thankful heart isn’t difficult, but it does take intentional effort.  Where do we begin? Below are 10 practices to help us thrive through thankfulness.  May I encourage you to choose one or two and get started today? Please don’t let a week go by before you evict your own Mrs. Crabby McCrabberson!

  1. Make thankfulness a part of your prayer life.  In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus acknowledged the Lord’s provision for daily bread. How do we acknowledge the Lord for what He’s given? How do we show our appreciation for answered prayer? We give thanks.
  2. Practice it.  Just like learning to play the piano or taking on an exercise program, thankfulness becomes easier when we practice.  It might be necessary to remind yourself to express thankfulness to God. Don’t feel embarrassed if you need carefully placed sticky notes or electronic calendar reminders until you develop a habit of gratitude.
  3. Begin a Thankfulness Journal or a Gratitude Jar.  Consider the things for which you're thankful, then write them down in a journal or on a slips of paper that collect in a mason jar (a LARGE mason jar - you’ll need the room as you get better at this).
  4. Set a goal to send 3 or more thank you notes each week to people who showed kindness to you in some way.  Using the U.S. Postal Service for this is great, but notes can also be shared via email or text message. Consider notes of encouragement to your pastors, church elders, Bible study teachers, and other spiritual leaders. You’ll bless them, believe me
  5. Give a hearty “Thank you!” to those who serve you: wait staff at restaurants, retail clerks, hair stylists, salon staff, and others. 
  6. Memorize Scriptures about thankfulness.  Here are a few references to get you started:  Psalm 105:1; Psalm 107:1; Ephesians 5:20; Philippians 4:6; Colossians 3:15; 1 Thessalonians 5:18.  There are hundreds more!  Do a little digging in your concordance and receive the blessing of God’s Word.
  7. Say Thank You to those in your home often.  Very often.  Go ahead and hit this one out of the park!
  8. Thank a First Responder.  Police, Sheriff's Deputies, Firemen and Paramedics do a lot for us that we may never see. Stop to say thank you and let them know their sacrifice is noticed and appreciated. 
  9. Take a long walk with no music or talk radio.  Look around and appreciate God’s creation, then express thanks to Him for all He’s provided.
  10. Teach your children strong habits of gratitude and pass it on to the next generation. 

Thankfulness helps us thrive in all that God has for us. By discovering the richness of what God has already given us, it equips us to step forward into His will with bold confidence. We can say, “I know that the Lord provides and will provide for me now! He will give me all I need to serve and live as He directs.”

With hearts of gratitude, we shine for Christ and radiate the riches of His glory by displaying a heart of contentment and joy. Recognize and embrace this tremendous element of God’s best!  

Your Turn:

When has your attitude improved by way of a thankful heart?

What would you add to my list of 10 practices to help us thrive through thankfulness?

Continue the conversation by leaving a comment below or posting on Facebook or Twitter!

Be Strengthened Today, By His Word,
Psalm 119:28


Thursday, September 3, 2015

Shielded From Shame: Elements of God's Best

Shame is a familiar, albeit unwanted, companion. During one of the most gripping and paralyzing battles of my life, the Lord helped me identify it’s foundational cause: shame that took root in my life with events that happened years earlier.  

I believe that every one of us carries a measure of shame - often from sin or happenings that we choose to keep hidden. For me, it wasn’t abuse or abandonment, addiction or abortion, or any number of things we see in the news each day.  It’s origin is not significant. Whether or not our particular source of shame appears on a list, most of us feel it to some degree.

“Shame is a secret. We don’t talk about our feelings of disgrace, or what caused us to feel shame in the first place. We carry it with us secretly.  It is different from guilt, which says, ‘I made a mistake.’ Shame says, ‘I am a mistake.’  It affects every part of our lives, ultimately resulting in depression, problematic relationships, sleep disorders, addictive behavior and tendencies, destructive behavior, loss of confidence, anxiety attacks, guilt, remorse, sexual dysfunction, and much more.” 1  

When we carry such a heavy burden, we aren’t free to walk in the best that God has for us. We’re too bound up in captivity. 

We're not alone

Satan makes us feel as if we carry our burden of shame alone, as if we are the only one with such an ugly past. We’re made to believe that if we share the truth and try to overcome the disgrace, we’ll face scorn and ridicule. But Satan is a liar. Let me say that again: Satan is a liar. 

As I wrote Finding Joy in the Journey: Savoring the Fruit of the Spirit, I researched a few statistics.  As of 2012, approximately 25% of polled women admitted to at least one extramarital sexual act. If we bring those figures to our local church, this type of sexual sin affects one in four of the women we gather with each Sunday.

At the time of my research, there were 1.5 million abortions performed annually, resulting in over 53,000,000 recorded deaths since the legalization of abortion. That number continues to climb. An estimated 1 in 3 women - including those in our very own churches - have at least one, if not multiple abortions in their past.

The experiences are common, but many women carry their burdens alone.

With the recent publicity of videos reporting Planned Parenthood’s illegal harvest and sale of fetal tissue, my heart breaks for those who still struggle with past decisions involving abortion:

For men and women who encouraged a partner or daughter to have an abortion…
For the women who experienced the procedure by their own choice or otherwise …
For those who tried but were unable to influence another to reconsider an abortion...
For those who didn't try and regret it.

This news must feel like gasoline poured on embers of self-condemnation. It hurts my heart. I can’t imagine how it is piercing the hearts of those who’ve lived it.  

Millions were deceived and now carry a tremendous burden of shame. Abortion providers often deceitfully explain to pregnant women that fetal tissue is “just a mass of cells.” However, the collection and sale of intact body parts, which reportedly has been a common practice for decades, clearly contradicts that claim. 

Recognizing the Truth

The Apostle Paul explained that deception results in captivity (Colossians 2:8).  Scripture teaches that Satan prowls about with his lies, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 1:5).  We must remember that captivity from shame is a spiritual battle against the forces of evil.  (Ephesians 6:12). 

The TRUTH is, there is now NO condemnation in Christ Jesus.  It’s time to break free from shame and Christ has made a way.  God condemned sin in the flesh by sending His own Son as a sin offering.  Jesus willingly died on the cross to pay the penalty of our transgressions and to reconcile us to God the Father.  (See Romans 8:1-3)

The TRUTH is, we are WASHED by the blood of Christ. Because the debt is paid, we are holy, blameless, and righteous in His sight. He sees us not for what we have done, but as how we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ. (Isaiah 61:10) Praise His Holy Name! 

Choosing Wisely

Ladies, we choose to carry our shame - we choose to remain captive to it - when we hide the truth of our sin so completely that keep it from everyone, including our Savior.

Confessing our past to Christ  (He’s already intimately familiar with our pasts anyway), sharing our heartfelt sorrow and regret through our ever-deepening relationship with Him helps us accept His forgiveness, His healing, and welcomes His light to cast out all darkness within us.  (King David models this for us beautifully in Psalm 51.)

Recognizing, acknowledging and praying through our shame can bring a flood of freedom and relief. God is our Redeemer.  He is our Shield, and our Strength.  Let’s allow Him to carry our burden for us.  Let's put on those robes of righteousness and walk with our heads lifted!

My dear sister, will you accept freedom and forgiveness? Will you allow Jesus to shield you from your shame, no matter its source? The work is already accomplished.  If you are ready to move beyond your shame and receive the Lord’s protection from it, share your heart with Him in prayer.  Embrace what He offers to you as His beloved child.

There is a ready supply of ministry help available as well. Pastors, Elders, Deacons, and women’s ministry leaders in your church home are ready and willing to help. If they don’t have the expertise you need, ask that they help you find God-honoring, Bible-based support groups. Many pregnancy centers across the nation offer help and healing for both men and women who carry the pain of past decisions. 

No matter our source of shame, we need our Christian sisters for support, healing, and encouragement in Christ.  Speak to a trusted sister in Christ who will not gossip or judge: Perhaps a trusted mentor, a Bible study teacher, or a women’s ministry leader.  Women are a valuable tool to one another to help loose the foothold of the devil and break the chains that hold us captive.  May we, according to Galatians 6:1-5, restore others in a spirit of gentleness, look to ourselves, bear one another’s burdens and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. 

Identifying our shame and overcoming it by the freedom of Jesus Christ brings glorious victory and is an element of God’s best.  When we recognize and embrace the forgiveness that He provides, we can leave our pasts where they belong:  in the past.  We’re shielded from shame and can move through our present and future as O V E R C O M E R S - ready to do the Lord’s will. 

“Fear not, for you will not be put to shame; 
Neither feel humiliated, for you will not be disgraced; 
But you will forget the shame of your youth…”  
Isaiah 54:4

Your Turn:

When have you witnessed the Lord trading beauty for ashes, oil of joy for mourning, and a garment of praise for a spirit of heaviness (Isaiah 61:2-3).  

When have you witnessed the Lord’s restoration of years that the locust have eaten (Joel 2:26b)?

Your stories will surely encourage others!  Continue the conversation by leaving a comment below or participating on Facebook or Twitter!

Be Strengthened Today, By His Word,
Psalm 119:28


1 Cathy McIntosh, Finding Joy in the Journey: Savoring the Fruit of the Spirit (SW Publishing, 2012), 116