Encourage and Build Each Other Up

Tucked away in an alcove of pine in Door County, Wisconsin, there is what many consider a treasure. Towers of precariously stacked stones populate this short stretch of shoreline at Lake Michigan’s Cave Point County Park.

Some towers are short and dainty looking, assembled quickly by someone passing through. Other structures clearly showcase much time, effort, and of course, patience. They are miracles of height and structure, balancing at six feet or more.

I visited this shoreline on a cold and windy autumn day. There were no builders in sight, just this evidence that many had been here and worked with their hands. Carefully, I made my way around the towers and down the shore. I wondered what inspires the visitors here to stack stones? What do they gain from building? Could this process of stacking represent anything similar in our own lives? Consider this verse:

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 NIV 

Therefore encourage one another…

In this passage of Scripture “encourage” translates to mean comfort. The apostle Paul wrote this verse in a letter to the Thessalonians who were persecuted for their new Christian faith. Their loved ones were punished and killed daily for their beliefs. In his letter, Paul reminds them to comfort one another and to live knowing their future is secure with those they have lost.

Our problems may not be as dire as the Thessalonians, but we still understand hardship. Everyone has problems, even the people who visited this rocky beach. Perhaps they walked next to the water like I did and tried skipping stones. Maybe seeing the towers around them calmed their spirits or inspired them to build too.

Whatever issues we face, knowing we are not alone helps us cope. Our faith comforts us and helps us comfort others. As companions in faith, our presence can encourage (comfort) others through hardship with compassion, hope, and thoughtfulness.  

and build each other up,…

Throughout his letter, Paul likens the members of the church to the parts of a body. Each person or part contributes to the welfare of the whole. His request to “build each other up” means to edify or improve each other intellectually, morally, and spiritually.

Our faith is always growing and in need of tending. We build each other up by praying together, discussing the Bible, and sharing how God touches our lives.

When we work with others, whether it is on faith…or stacking rocks, we soon learn people think and do things differently than we do. Comparing ourselves to others or judging them limits the learning and growth we can gain from them.

In the relaxed setting of these open waters, I imagine strangers building towers side by side. They learn from each other, share balancing tips, laugh, and cheer each other on as yet another huge rock remains in place.

It is not our job to fix or change people, but to build each other up (edify) as a community growing in a faith which benefits us all.     

just as in fact you are doing.

In this last part of the Scripture, Paul recognizes the Thessalonians for their supportive efforts. He gives them praise for holding on tightly to faith in the midst of tragic and challenging circumstances.

In today’s stressful and troubled world, confidence in our faith and purpose can become wobbly as well. We question if we are doing the right things for God and struggle to keep our balance.

Taking time to slow down and giving ourselves space to think about how we show up to love others brings meaning and purpose to our lives. For some understanding may come while on a walk, studying the Bible, or looking at the stars. For others, it may come stacking stones on a desolate shore. Paul’s words travel to all those places and more, imploring us to go a little higher.

Stacking Stones
by Jamie Trunnel

Wandering souls sometimes stack stones.
Marks of patience,
Balance,
And time free from phones.

Expressing their bliss
With careful luck.
Escaping from problems,
Or calamities which have struck.

What if each placed rock
Represented a problem someone had?
And, the stacking process made him feel…
Not so bad.

Standing back and taking a look
Put things in perspective;
Told him he had what it took.

Life could be organized
And balanced as such.
See all these other souls
Who thought just as much?

We all have problems.
We all struggle.
If we saw others’ towers,
Maybe ours would not crumble.

Standing vulnerably tall
With our problems on display,
Maybe we could all find
Peace,
Hope,
And a little less judgement along the way.

Stacking Stones is a poem from my new book Simple Wishes which releases in early September. Be sure to join my email subscriber list to receive upcoming sneak peeks of the book and other special offers!

Related Posts:

Love on Ordinary Days

A New Kind of Resolution

Judged Instead of Loved

Some Clowns Showed Me How to “BE” the Church

And Just a Note: Some outdoor enthusiasts consider rock stacks like these an unwelcome reminder of humanity. There are concerns about the natural erosion process and the habitat of insects or mammals which burrow under the rocks. This blog post is not intended to support or discourage rock stacking. 🙂

Bucket lists, God’s Plans, and the Redwood Forest

For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11 New Living Translation (NLT)

When is the last time you checked something BIG off your bucket list? This month, after years of dreaming about walking through the redwood forest in California, I finally did it. It was awesome.

Did you know California’s North Coast redwoods are THE tallest trees in the world? They are also some of the very oldest living things — some species are over 3,000 years old! Just let that sink in a minute…

The forest I visited was part of California’s Redwood National and State Parks. Wandering through this forest of towering green giants certainly provides a real life perspective on our small size in this big world.

On my trip, I learned some interesting facts about redwoods to share with you. These facts helped me think about God’s plans, not only for these redwoods, but for each of us. Come along, walk with me.

For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. 

Coastal redwoods are hardy trees. They can grow just about anywhere. But, they only grow into their massive potential along the California coastline. Why? In California, the cool, wet, and foggy conditions allow the tree’s needles to draw in necessary nutrients from the air’s moisture which nurtures the tree to grow up, up, up. In other climates, these redwoods can only get nourishment through their roots. Tree circulation systems cannot pump high enough to sustain a huge coastal redwood elsewhere. Nutrients must also come from the environment to grow that tall.

Like the redwoods, God also places us in conditions for ideal growth. If we think back upon the events of our life, we can see how relationships, opportunities, and challenges occurred to strengthen us. We are different from trees because we can choose whether we soak up the nourishment around us — whether we look for and pursue God’s direction in our days. God provides the climate for us to grow into the tallest plans he has for us. He puts us in places that can help us reach our true potential. 

They are plans for good and not for disaster

With bark up to a foot thick on some trees, the coastal redwood is strong and tough. The denseness of its bark is just one trait among many which make this tree so unusual. When exposed to fire, the outer layer chars into a barrier or heat shield, protecting the tree from destruction. Pests, like ants and termites, find redwoods unappealing or poisonous, so they do not harm it. Even damaging floodwaters and creek beds are no match for this wood’s survival. Redwood resists water-related rotting; wood that is thousands of years old is found underwater by well drillers in sturdy shape.

California’s redwoods face enemies of fire, pests, and water, but they thrive regardless. Their natural composition allows them to survive and grow into the world’s tallest trees. Similarly, our lives are full of difficult conditions. But our God, the God who equips the redwoods for their good destiny, equips us to withstand this world’s trouble as well.

God does not wish disasters upon us. In this world we will have trouble (John 16:33). But, we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). God created us out of love and for a relationship with him. The strength of this relationship comes from faith in him. Faith gives us sure hope and prods us to seek God’s good through everything that happens to us.

To give you a future and a hope. 

Okay, so here’s the clincher: when a live coast redwood tree (Sequoia Sempervirens species) falls in the forest it can regenerate itself into new life. The fallen tree can keep growing through its limbs or branches. The upright limbs eventually turn into a new row of trees. Similarly, circular groups of new trees can grow out of redwood stumps. The genetic information in the cells of a new tree is identical to each of the others, and to the tree they sprang from. The fallen tree truly has everlasting life.

If God’s plans for the redwoods are good and full of hope, how could they be anything less for us? He has plans for our future, and he is never unsure about how to get us there. We can trust him.

As we grow in faith, the care and guidance he provides become more clear. He stays beside us when we muddle along, when we celebrate, when we endure, and when we mourn. God delivers hope through all conditions and ultimately, through Jesus’ sacrifice, he promises us an eternal life.

Do you think maybe the things we write on our bucket lists arise from inside us for reasons greater than we can imagine? I went to the redwood forest to see the tall, beautiful trees. I left inspired to think about God’s plans and the way he cares for us. He delivers messages in the most amazing ways.

I think God must smile big when we check something off our bucket list. Like he is checking something off too. Perhaps he planned it that way? He is so good. Press on in faith, my friends!

Dear God,

Thank you for the plans you have for us and for the many blessings you give. You place us in the best conditions for maximum growth. The people, events, and opportunities you place in our path encourage us to keep moving ahead. Help us stand tall, strong, and steady as we grow in relationship with you. Give us the courage to do what we need to and the patience to hope in your ways. Grant us wisdom to see how you are always working good, even through hard things. May we live our days here full of your peace, and forevermore in the glory of your presence. In Jesus’ Name, Amen 

Note:

I would love to hear about something on your bucket list. If you have checked something off recently, were there ways you felt God was there with you? Write me a note in the comments or on my “Contact Me” page.

Related Posts:

Embracing God’s Plan

Psalm 23: A Shepherd’s Meanings and Motivations

Where Joy Flows From

Inspiring Resources:

treesofmystery.net

Psalm 23: A Shepherd’s Meanings and Motivations

Around four years ago, long before I recited a single Bible verse from memory, I pulled into a parallel parking space downtown for an appointment. While lining myself up with the car in front of me, I noticed its personalized license plate read PSALM23.

Being a Scripture newbie, I did not know the words of Psalm 23 off the top of my head. I wondered why this person thought it was significant. What would inspire someone to take the steps necessary to display it on their license plate? I don’t see too many Bible verses on license plates. Do you? My curiosity piqued, and I pledged to look the verse up later.

Upon reading the Psalm’s first line, I instantly recognized its familiar words. I have since learned that it is one of the most popular and reassuring pieces of Scripture found in the Bible. It is often repeated by Christians in hospital rooms, in song lyrics, at funeral homes, and during prayers. These poetic words written by David, soothe and comfort the hearts of those in need:

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.     (Psalm 23, New King James Version*)

I know these words ring familiar with many of you. Perhaps, some of you know them by heart. I am working on that, but what intrigues me right now is learning the deeper meaning behind them. Let’s take a closer look:

The Lord is my shepherd

The very first line is a powerful statement about who can guide us through life. The author, David, a former shepherd himself, likens his trust in following God to that of the sheep who follow their shepherd. If we spend our lives worshiping lesser gods such as wealth, success, addictions, relationships, or vanity we end up carrying heavy burdens. If we work too hard at controlling life, then we become disappointed when it doesn’t follow our plan. We need God to carry our burdens and to guide us like a shepherd in this world we cannot control.

I shall not want 

All the stuff we buy cannot go with us when we die, and it does not define who we are in God’s eyes. We easily find ourselves getting caught up in acquiring the latest and greatest things. Practicing gratitude is one way we can help ourselves feel more content and worry less about what others think of us. By living a life under God’s care, we know our needs will be met.

He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters

Did you know that sheep have trouble falling asleep? I find this ironic since many of us count sheep when we cannot sleep. But, it’s true, and David refers to it here. The sheep rely on the shepherd for the right conditions to rest. He prepares their pasture, eases stress in the flock, and wards off predators.

Sheep trust their shepherd to lead and help them. They don’t look too far ahead; their only concern is the next step. Like sheep, our worries make us restless. When God is our shepherd, we trust him to handle worries, direct each step, and lead us to peace and rest.

He restores my soul

From time to time, sheep lose track of their shepherd. They find themselves confused, stranded, hurt, or scared. We can easily relate to the hopelessness of the lost sheep. Tensions escalate within us when we make mistakes or when life gets hard.

When shepherds hear a lost sheep cry out, they come to its aid. Upon seeing the shepherd, the sheep’s fear decreases as it senses a return to safety and security. Although not yet safe, the lost one feels better in the presence of the shepherd. No longer alone in trouble, the sheep knows it can rely on the shepherd. The same is true of us. When we are in a mess and uncertain if more trouble lies ahead, traveling with the One who knows the way gives us hope. God restores the soul.

He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake

 What is righteousness? The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines it as acting in accord with divine or moral law; free from guilt or sin. Can we call ourselves righteous? No, none of us can. Jesus was the only human who did not sin. Yet, he chose to die as a sinner to cover our debt with God. By doing so, those who believe in him are made righteous (free of sin) and given eternal life. Striving for a righteous life leads us to confess, ask forgiveness, and continually turn away from sin. The righteous path teaches humility and love; it helps us find our honorable purpose for God.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me

The shepherd comforts, steers, and adjusts the path his sheep follow using his tools – the rod and the staff. The sheep trust him and look to him first when they need help. Can we say the same about our Shepherd?

Like the shepherd with his sheep, God travels with us through the hardships of life and death. Tools like fellowship, worship, prayer, and his Word can comfort and lead us through dark days. Difficult seasons strengthen our relationship with him. Whatever valley we are in, he has a plan to deliver us from its evil. His love is always for good. David’s words reassure us we are never alone in trouble, grief, or death.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over

Shepherds in David’s day moved their flocks through the valleys and countryside to reach greener grass. Upon arriving at a selected location, the shepherd cleared a suitable pasture or “table” for his sheep. He removed thorny brush and poisonous plants. And, he looked for predators and dangerous snakes that could harm his sheep.

Placing an oil repellent on the heads of the sheep helped the shepherd keep insects and snakes away. Also used during mating season, the oil caused the horns of dueling rams to slide off each other’s bodies thus preventing injuries. If sheep were wounded by a bite, a horn, or pasture thorns, the oil served as a healing balm. Now, that sounds like an “essential oil”, right?!   

As our Shepherd, God prepares a place for us at his table. He invites us into a relationship with him. He does this in the presence of the world’s evil and in spite of sin. He loves us, forgives us, and keeps calling us back when we wander away. Anointing our heads with oil is symbolic of his loving protection and peace. Through prayer and relationship, we see how he soothes wounds, heals hurts, and offers understanding. The cup of our lives runs over with God’s blessings, goodness, and grace.    

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever 

David ends Psalm 23 with a sure and firm statement of belief in God’s promises. His goodness (loving nature) meets our needs. His mercy forgives our sins. He pursues us with these offerings our entire lives. Our free will allows us to decide whether we pursue him. In his care, God guides, provides, protects, and comforts us our whole life through. Ultimately, he brings us home to live with him forever.     

The meanings found in Psalm 23 offer comfort in knowing that God is always with us and always working for our good. There are happenings in this life that yank hard on our heartstrings. Illnesses, addictions, deaths, financial struggles, relationship issues, and the ongoing terror attacks can make us stumble unexpectedly or leave us lost. When these problems go on indefinitely or happen repeatedly, we question when and if we will recover.

Psalm 23 is a lifeline in those troubling times. Keep it close beside you. Write it on a notecard, memorize it, or save it in your phone. When trouble comes, you will be prepared. Pull out Psalm 23’s reassurances and pray them often. Let David’s words of wisdom encourage your heart to further strengthen your relationship with God. Always keep an eye open for license plates presenting Scripture. You never know what you might learn. Press on in faith my friends.

 

Prayer for the Week:

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Forever.  (Psalm 23, NKJV)

Related Posts:

Resources:

  • Lucado, Max. Traveling Light. Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2001. Print.
  • Images courtesy of Pixabay.com

* Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Trusting God along the Eagle Trail: Isaiah 40:31

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“How hard could it be?” my husband and I joked, downplaying the warning of hiking difficulty at the head of the Eagle Trail. We were morning fresh, caffeinated, and ready to explore the beauty of Door County, Wisconsin.

A park ranger had suggested a half mile loop, starting high on a hill and winding along the scenic Green Bay shoreline. We started down a set of perfectly laid stone steps, expressing our approval for the gradual descent and nicely paved path.

Just a few side notes worth mentioning here before we continue. One, never mock a difficult trail sign. Two, no matter what amount of distance you estimate hiking, an empty hand should always carry a water bottle. And, three, for me, if an eagle is involved there is usually a reason. 

It did not take long for us to realize that those easy, well-kept steps were simply a deceiving welcome mat of sorts. After our descent, we crossed a threshold. Our man-made steps ended and we entered a home in disarray – a beautiful mess of a home called the forest. As the new definition of “difficult trail” dawned on us, a favorite Scripture verse replayed in my mind. I smiled, knowing God had just opened up his classroom door for us.

But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31 New Living Translation (NLT)

But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.

Life is a lot like this Eagle Trail, I think, as I gingerly maneuver through piles of moss-covered rocks, climb over fallen trees, and stumble over a network of roots. Like this trail, life presents an obstacle course, and we have to figure out how to maneuver through it.

We naturally lean towards cutting our own path because we think we can control the outcome that way. But, a lot of the time we end up more lost, tired, and confused. Often, it is then, at the end of our own resources, we look up and see God’s signage marking a trail.

Trusting God to supply new strength requires studying his Word, conversing with him through prayer, and patiently watching for his direction. We cannot expect results overnight; sincere relationships take time, practice, and awareness. God waits. He waits for us to make the choice to diligently seek him, and when we do, he provides us with new strength to follow his lead on life’s difficult trails.

In the Bible, the eagle often symbolizes God’s renewal of strength. It is uncertain how many distinct species of eagles there were in Biblical times, but at least four types exist in Israel today.* Eagles, in general, are some of the largest and most powerful birds of prey. Eagles are also unique from other birds in that they molt or shed their feathers in old age, thus appearing to renew their youth. In Biblical times, the commonality of eagles, coupled with their notable characteristics most likely yielded the comparison of God’s strength to the eagle.

They will soar high on wings like eagles.

Following the trail toward the water, I imagine what it would be like to soar like an eagle. Certainly, God would love for us to feel that free. Trusting God with our worries and fears, allows us to soar above trouble and freely discover the purposes he has planned for us. 

The eagle uses a lot of energy when it flaps its long wings, so catching wind currents and gliding are very important for conserving strength. Eagles patiently wait for warm updrafts of air before lift off. Using their powerful wings, they climb 10,000 to 15,000 feet high then soar for hours with minimal effort. The eagle trusts the wind to carry him; this Scripture reminds us to trust God to carry us. 

Eaglets learn to fly by hopping around in their nest and then taking short flights to neighboring branches. Some eagle parents force their babies to fly by messing up the nest until they tumble out. Opinions vary on whether the eagle parent sometimes swoops below and catches the fluttering eaglet on the platform of their long wings. Whether or not this happens, the eaglet continues returning to the nest to try again until it learns to soar. The nests of our lives certainly get messed up sometimes. Maybe God allows this so he can teach us how to fly as well?

 

They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.

Reaching the rocky shoreline, we marvel for a moment at the strength of the waves and listen to them crash mightily at our feet. Our best guess tells us we have accidentally strayed at least a mile past the park ranger’s half mile loop suggestion. Our morning freshness and caffeine have worn off. We wonder if we will come across a porta potty in this forest.

Continuing on, we occasionally meet other humans navigating their way on the trail. To my chagrin, most carry water bottles and walking sticks. “Did you come from the parking lot?” we feebly ask. “How long did it take you to get to this point?” “Does the path get any easier?” Looking at the cliffs above, we expect a steep climb up to the parking lot. What seemed like a hill starting out now appears to be a mountain!

We laugh at ourselves, and with the other hikers at our predicament. We know we will eventually reach our destination, find a bathroom, and drive to town for a slice of Door County’s famous cherry pie. There are times in life, however, when the length and the outcome of suffering is not so certain.

There are times when the only thing we can do is pray hard for strength to continue through each day. Strength to run and not grow weary. Courage to walk and not be faint. When we experience difficult days, we pray God will send us a trail sign or hope to cling to. On this Eagle Trail, I think about how in my life, when I needed strength and reassurance, God sent me to the Scripture verse Isaiah 40:31.

I love birds, especially eagles, so maybe that is why this Scripture captured my attention when my daughter became very sick with Crohn’s disease. Repeating it in my mind when I felt at a loss for how to help her pulled me through some tough days. Once, after visiting her at college and having to leave her there seriously ill, I merged onto the interstate and my eyes flooded with tears. I repeated Isaiah 40:31 under my breath, then happened to look up and see an eagle flying overhead. My tears stopped as my mind worked on comprehending this. I felt reassured that I could handle the drive home and whatever else I needed to do that day.

Eagles continued making appearances in my life during the worst of my daughter’s illness and since then. Last spring we moved into a town home with a walking trail behind it. One of the first evenings my husband and I went for a walk, a new neighbor pointed out an eagle’s nest high in a tree behind our house. “Be sure to watch for them,” he said. “Their babies will be hatching soon.” Coincidence or God’s reassurance for me?

The way I see it, a relationship with God helps lift us above this obstacle course we face on earth. He helps us learn to soar without worry. He is the wind that carries us so we do not tire. He asks us to trust his keen eyesight which sees miles ahead, foreseeing danger and assuring our good. If we have faith, we will always be strong enough to find our way along the Eagle Trail.

 

P.S. The day after our hike on the Eagle Trail, we received a troubling phone call from someone in need of our help. I was on the phone as we drove down an empty stretch of winding Wisconsin highway. My husband tapped my leg and pointed to the sky. An eagle, wings stretched out strong and wide, drew soaring circles in our sky. 

A Prayer for Your Week:

Dear God,

Thank you for your reassurances when life gets hard and messy. Your Word speaks to my heart and brings me strength to continue. Help me to remember that you see what is ahead, and that your plans always work for my good. Plant your hope firmly in my heart and lift me up when I am tired. Show me how to soar above concern and find joy through knowing it is all under your control. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

A Few Other Scriptures Referencing Eagles

  • “He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!” Psalm 103:5 New Living Translation (NLT)
  • “..like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them aloft.” Deuteronomy 32:11 New International Version (NIV)
  • “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” Exodus 19:4 NLT
  • “How beloved and gracious were Saul and Jonathan! They were together in life and in death. They were swifter than eagles, stronger than lions.” 2 Samuel 1:23 NLT
  • “Does the eagle soar at your command and build its nest on high? It dwells on a cliff and stays there at night; a rocky crag is its stronghold. From there it looks for food; its eyes detect it from afar.” Job 39:27-29 NIV

Inspiring Eagle Resources 

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service eagle facts here 

Bald eagle frequently asked questions and answers here

Are eaglets really carried on their parents’ wings when learning to fly? Some say yes, some say no. More here

Commentaries on the Bible verse Isaiah 40:31 here

*Species of Eagles in the Bible here

Related Posts on Trusting God for Strength:

Prayer Walking in the Wilderness

Where is God when Life Hurts

Learning to Pray

Riding on God’s Back

Three Ways Gratitude Boosts Faith

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Yesterday, I caught myself smiling because I felt grateful for grasshoppers. Yes, strangely enough, grasshoppers. These hopping creatures have taken over my walking trail recently. Randomly popping up out of the long grasses, they bounce high across the sidewalk – in front of me, beside me, behind me, and sometimes even ON me!

Not long ago, I would have merely found them an annoyance and kind of creepy looking. But, as I walked with them yesterday, I saw them differently. Studying one that sat still, I photographed it and admired its construction. Remembering that I saw them last year, I wondered if they are a sign of the seasons changing. I considered how happy and free they seem, in spite of their relatively short life span.  In my mind, I compared them to guests at a surprise party, eagerly waiting to jump up and yell, “Surprise!” As I was thinking these things, I did not think about anything else. The grasshoppers held me captive in the present moment – no worries, no hurries, no deadlines, no cares. So, yes I am quite grateful for grasshoppers.

Upon returning home, I scribbled down one simple word in my gratitude journal – grasshoppers. In October 2012, almost four years ago, I started a numbered list of things I am thankful for in a gratitude journal. It began as an experiment after I read a book by Ann Voskamp called One Thousand Gifts. In her poetically written book, Ann describes how jotting down simple blessings or gifts noticed throughout her day (like grasshoppers) enhances her faith. She challenges herself to reach one thousand gifts, thus her aptly named book.

After reading Ann’s book in 2012, I aimed to record my own one thousand gifts. I bought a journal and started recording: 1. Bright fall colors, 2. Leaves falling down, and 3. Dinner together. Each day, my goal was to record at least three to five gifts in my journal. I missed some days. And, sometimes I found it hard to come up with three things. Other days, a tidal wave of gifts would sweep over me. Each day I tried to think of brand new gifts, but I did not make it a requirement. There were many days I repeated writing the same gift such as gratefulness for my family. I decided there was nothing wrong with that. As far as I know, there are no rules or boundaries with gratitude.

When I began this practice, I didn’t know if I would stick with it. I tried an online thankfulness journal in the past and stopped. I tried naming blessings before getting out of bed in the morning, but too often my to-do list would take over my thoughts. I liked how I could easily open this journal and focus on quickly writing something down. Later, paging back over my gifts reminded me of prayers I had at that time as well. Slowly, over the next four years, I noticed a boost in my faith.

Here are three ways gratitude boosts faith:

1. Gratitude teaches us to enjoy “present” moments

This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24 New Living Translation (NLT)

The word “present” means a few things when discussing gratitude. First, living in the present refers to enjoying the period of time occurring right now. Second, being present is an attitude, meaning we pay attention to our life; we are aware of our surroundings. And third, a present is a gift or something given to someone free of charge. All of these meanings come into play as we relate gratitude to faith through the Scripture above.

Practicing gratitude boosts faith by reminding us God gave us life for today – in this moment (period of time). Making gratitude a habit teaches us to intentionally look for and be aware of reasons to rejoice, even on days when we don’t feel like it (attitude). Faith grows as we see and appreciate all the loving offerings our God provides (gifts). Because of gratitude, I was present enough to notice the grasshoppers, look for reasons to appreciate them, and consider them as a gift for my day.

2. Gratitude delivers peace when combined with prayer

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7 (NLT)

A daily practice combining gratitude and prayer helps us gradually experience God’s peace. We start by turning our worries into prayers. And, we work on accepting that we cannot control or fix some of the problems in our lives. Instead of letting issues rule our emotions, we tell God about them and keep gathering strength to move ahead through gratitude.

Practicing gratitude brings gifts or blessings to our attention which encourages us. Thanking God for these gifts we see, in spite of our trouble, fills us with hope. Peace or faith in God’s care increases as we become more aware of all he does for us each day.

3. Gratitude brings enough.  

And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19 (NLT)

It is hard to feel grateful and lacking at the same time.

As we get better at noticing God’s blessings in our lives, desires for more material possessions wane. We learn that having the latest and greatest stuff does not keep us satisfied for very long. We evaluate wants versus needs more than before. Often after consideration, gratitude brings us to the conclusion that we are content; we have enough.

In a similar way, gratitude also teaches us that we are enough. The world constantly messages us that we should be better looking, more successful, and always upbeat. But, gratitude says, “Hey, we are doing okay.” Becoming more thankful for how God made us unique teaches us to care less about being judged by the world. Our motivation changes. We stop living to please others, and we start living to please God. Filling up our hearts with gratitude inspires good and healthy action.

Boosting faith through gratitude takes time. The three boosts to faith of living in the present moment, finding God’s peace, and having/being enough certainly do not show up the first day we practice gratitude. Like any good habit, gratitude requires routine commitment. If writing in a journal each day doesn’t work, brainstorm for something that might. Everyone can practice gratitude each day in some way. For example, gifts from the day can be shared over a meal with family or friends, photographed during a walk, thought about at soccer practice, or whispered before sleep at night.

This week, as I wrote grasshoppers down in my gratitude journal, I passed a mile marker of three thousand gifts. This astounds me. Four years ago, when I wrote down my first few blessings, I had a hunch gratitude might improve my life. I had no idea it would become one of my lifelines over the next several years as our family coped with health challenges. Of course, God knew then my faith would need a boost. He brought me to gratitude. Thank you God.

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The Grasshopper Gift by Jamie Trunnel 

Grasshoppers, you both scare and delight with a greeting so hearty;
Jumping out like eager guests waiting for a surprise party.

A quiet walk turns into a celebration every few steps,
As you pop across the pavement giving my gait greater pep.

Keep me on my toes, my eyes aware to see
Brief miracles of life around, hopping free.

You remind me within each day lies a gift.
Even an abundance of insects can give spirits a lift.  

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Other Resources:

For more on materialism read the previous post Kick Materialism to the Curb

For more on blessings read the previous post Defining Grace

For more on finding joy read the previous post Joy > Happiness

Find Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts on Amazon right here

Note: The grasshopper photos shown in this post are courtesy of Pixabay.com