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

Hot from Life’s Kitchen – Platefuls of Transition

Short Order Cook

Life’s kitchen serves up some surprising dishes, don’t you think? Sometimes we get something completely different than what we ordered, and there’s no sending it back. Sometimes it’s what we ordered, but man, it’s just so disappointing. Fortunately, at times, we are also unexpectedly delighted by what we receive.

Whatever the case may be, we are loyal patrons. We like the people, the ambiance, and the adventure of dining here. We show up and try to ready ourselves for whatever we get; we know Life’s “specials” often bring difficult transitions.

Lately, I’ve been working my way through a large special order. This fall I became an empty nester. Then, a few months later, without a lot of planning, my husband and I purchased a townhome. Suddenly, it was Christmas and I was getting ready to sell our home. We will be moving soon, and the layout of the new place has required us to get rid of many possessions and replace a few others.

This past weekend we decided to sell our kitchen table. It was a surprisingly difficult transaction for me. “It’s just a table,” you might be thinking.

Well, yeah, but it’s so much more than that. My husband and I scraped together the cash to buy it when our first baby was barely a year old. She was graduating from a high chair into a toddler seat, and the prospect of future family dinners and conversations was exciting. We envisioned our future together at this table, and it delivered.

The table became a hub of all life’s activity for our family. My kids grew up leaning on it – eating, doing homework, laughing and making crafty messes. They used it while conquering each other in Monopoly, piecing together puzzles, blowing out birthday candles, and applying to colleges.

As a family we circled around it to make difficult decisions about jobs, finances, moving across the country, and seeking medical help. A solid platform for whatever came its way, day in and day out, the table supported it’s share of celebration and heartache.

So, yes it’s just a table, but you see how it represents so much more? Believe me, as I thought about this, I was tempted to be sad.

But, then it occurred to me letting go of this table had just as much significance as purchasing it.

Our family is not only moving houses, but moving into a new phase of life. My kids are young adults, with fresh beginnings of their own. A different table not only fits our space better, but represents the next phase in our family’s life.

While you may not be facing the same circumstances I am, there’s a good chance you are in the midst of your own transition. All sorts of “specials” come out of the kitchen in a lifetime – getting a driver’s license, going to college, heartbreak, living on your own, getting married, buying a home, moving, having kids, letting kids go, getting a job, changing jobs, retirement, aging, losses…

Thinking about these transitions made me realize that most of them require us to let go of something or someone, and that can be hard. I have been through a lot of transitions, but this week was the first time I researched what the Bible had to say about them. Here are few Scriptures to help make sense of transitions and letting go:

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43:18-19 New International Version (NIV)

Change tempts us to look back on what is familiar with longing. The life we knew offers security. We learned to predict our problems, and we knew how to go about solving them. A transition leads to unexpected issues which may require us to reach out to different people, learn new skills, and live a different way. That scares us! But, this Scripture tells us to focus on the new things God is doing in our lives and to stop dwelling on the past. If we set our sights on the new, we will come to see he is making a path for us where we could not see one before. He will make a way. 

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 (NIV)

Often when we are in the midst of a difficult transition we are blind to any possible good that can come of it. God did not promise happiness every day, but he did promise to work every day for the good of those who love him. Our short term satisfaction is not nearly as important to him as the long term learning taking place in ourselves and those around us. Living in this world shatters our hearts at times, but faith in God’s purposes and his ultimate promise can carry us through. His ways are good. 

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope. Psalm 130:5 (NIV)

Have you noticed how transitions rarely proceed according to plan? We think everything is under control, and then it all starts unraveling before our eyes. Worry pounds on the door, and sometimes our doubting hearts throw it open, welcoming the visit. We can choose to bolt the door shut on worry, and visit with God instead.

Remember that he has a plan, but he needs our patient trust to complete it. He knows fear and doubt will come. Rather than succumbing to these emotions, we can use them to build a better relationship with him. He is not afraid of our honest ranting – he welcomes the closeness it brings. If we search for answers grounded in his Word, the result will be hope, not despair. His Word is our patient guide. 

C’mon, pull up a chair at Life’s table. Don’t worry about what you see on your plate. Don’t think about how much better yesterday’s serving looked, or what kind of “special” your neighbor has. Have a little faith in the dining experience.

No worries. If that first bite gives you the willies, then chew it slowly. Smiling your sly smile, look around the table. Because God will never let you dine alone. He’s already there. “ORDER UP!”

Prayer for the Week

Dear Lord,

Thank you for this great experience called life – for it’s easy moments and it’s hard times. While I may wish for an easier path at times, I am grateful for the good you are working in and through me. Lead me into what’s new with confidence by placing skills and people in my path that can help me. Then, show me how to use my transition experiences to help others in similar situations. When I get sad and frustrated, let your Word remind me that you are sitting right beside me. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Inspiring Resources:

“Change is the only constant in life.” – Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher

The powerful song “Already There” by Casting Crowns right here.

 

Kick Materialism to the Curb

1931, 135th St

Storing away the Christmas decorations so eagerly placed around the house such a short time ago makes me sigh for two reasons. One, the season comes and goes so fast each year that I wonder if I did all I could to enjoy it. And two, repacking the decor with a caring, organized attitude is almost always a challenge.

After placing the items back in their designated corner of storage, I stand back and take a visual inventory of the stuff in my life. This leads to another sigh. How can one family’s life lead to so much accumulation? After some serious reflection, a firm mindset for change overcomes me.

I start digging through storage containers, and making piles for donation, sale, and trash. Toys, exercise equipment, furniture, dishes, clothes, craft supplies, sport trophies, house decor, technology – YUCK! I pause, considering the mess in front of me. Maybe, too much material desire is churning in my life? Do you see it in your life too?

How smoothly we slip into thinking that some “thing” will help us live better, look better, feel better. But, our satisfaction with these material things never lasts. There is always something different, something better, and it’s surely “coming soon”! Without deliberate care, we easily fall into the traps of materialism, experiencing emotions like greed, anxiety, and envy.

Wouldn’t it be great to cram all that materialism in a box, tape it shut, and kick it to the curb? I think so. Looking for answers this week in Scripture, I have learned a few things. Here are the highlights:

  • “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.” 1 Timothy 6:7 New International Version (NIV)

This Scripture reminds us that we come into this life empty-handed and we leave the same way. Any satisfaction gained from earthly possessions is temporary. Teachings in the Bible point to faith, however, as being something eternal. A strong relationship with God is something we can build to last. Although, we cannot see it or touch it, we can do the work to know it exists, just as we are certain hope and love exist.

  • “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” 2 Corinthians 9:7 (NIV)

All the busyness created by our quest for things may cause us to overlook the heart’s desire to serve others. Sometimes we quickly write a check or toss a service project in here and there, and call that doing our part. Being a cheerful giver, however, requires more thought and emotion. If we are always dutifully consuming, when do we have time to donate belongings, think about what service activities we enjoy, or how much money we feel good about giving? How much greater might our gifts be if we blessed others wholeheartedly, instead of simply as an afterthought?

  • “Then he said to them, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.'” Luke 12:15 (NIV)

Jesus tells us in this Scripture that a good, successful life is not a result of how much we own. Every day society pressures us to believe differently. The advertising which floods our psyche promises greater happiness with each new purchase.

Not buying into these promises requires us to think about earthly possessions from a Godly point of view. Certainly, God cares about comfort and wants us to prosper. But, he also requests us to make wise, gracious decisions with our resources. Guarding against greed requires us to keep resetting our minds on his ways, not the world’s ways.

When we set our minds on God’s ways, purchasing becomes less spontaneous. We are not so easily swayed into buying when the next “greatest thing” comes along. We evaluate needs versus wants more carefully. The needs of others also become more apparent, and we offer help in ways that did not occur to us before.

Putting all that materialism in a box (or boxes!) requires a long, hard look around the storage rooms in your house, and maybe even in your heart. What are you hanging onto and why? Could it be, that sometimes you buy things in an effort to fill your heart, rather than your house?

God wants to fill your heart with his wisdom, love, and unending grace. Make room for him to move in. Give him space to store his things – good, everlasting things.

Press down hard when you place materialism in that box, then seal it shut, and kick it to the curb.

Prayer for the Week:

Dear God,

Blessed be your name above all earthly things. Grant me honest perspective on the things I store in my life. Help me accumulate more faith and fewer possessions. Guide me to best serve you in areas where I enjoy giving. Journey beside me as I continue to box up materialism, and make more room for you. In Jesus’ Name, Amen