Designed for Prayer: the pause of a praying mantis

 

The first time I found him he was lying upside down on my front porch. His long, spindly legs bicycled through the open air in a concerted effort to turn over.

“Hello, my friend, what a predicament you are in,” I said to him. “Let’s see if together we can make things better.” Grasping him gently around the middle, I turned him right side up and carried him off the porch. I set him carefully back down on the earth. He did not scurry away. Cocking his triangular head to the side and looking at me with bulging eyes, he paused in our stillness as if to say, “thank you and God bless.”

Several days later, he climbed back on the porch, remaining upright this time. My husband and I crouched low for a good look. Upon hearing our voices, he boldly turned and studied us while holding his forearms in a prayerful pose.

Long a symbol of peace, contemplation, and prayer, the word “mantis” in Greek literally means prophet or seer. Although it appears the praying mantis prays, in reality the pose helps him capture prey. Equipped with sharp spikes, his specialized front legs quickly extend and squeeze flies, bees, lizards, frogs, and even birds to eat. The prayers of the praying mantis are actually part of an intricately designed plan for their survival.

In thinking about how God designed the praying mantis to pray, it occurred to me that he designed us in a similar way. Not with spiky arms and an odd diet, of course, but with an appetite for prayer. Like the praying mantis, our prayers feed us. They nourish us with faith, hope, and love. Spiritually, optimal human functioning comes through a relationship with God. Consider this quote from C.S. Lewis:

God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. -C.S. Lewis

Many of us would agree prayer has benefits, but few pause long enough to reap them. My new friend, the praying mantis, held a prayerful pose for what seemed like an eternity to me this week. In fact, he was still praying as I walked away. What if we paused, prayed, and waited with such intense patience? What nourishment might our spirits gain?

How Prayer Feeds our Spirits:

Prayer opens the door to a relationship with God.

 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:11-13 NIV

Faith assures us we can be confident in God’s plans for us even when we feel uncertain of what lies ahead. Because we have hope in those plans, our hearts urge us to reach out to him in prayer. Like any other relationship, a close relationship with God requires consistent time and effort. As we draw closer to God through prayer, the meanings and instructions his promises speak to us become clearer.   

Prayer keeps us humble and reminds us who is in control.

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. James 4:10 NIV

Humility helps us remember we cannot control everything in our lives. While we may boldly ask for what we want, we remember God decides what is best. We may not like what is happening now, but we cannot predict the ways God may use it to impact our life or the lives of others in the future. Even as we pray to exit a difficult season, God gives us strength and equips us to endure through it. He sends people and circumstances which help us. He lights our path and can show us how to find purpose in our pain. Humbly yielding to God’s will opens windows of wisdom in our hearts and minds.   

Prayer puts plans in motion.

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20 NIV

In this Scripture, Jesus encourages deeper faith in the disciples who doubt their given authority to heal. Jesus tells them even the tiniest amount of faith in tandem with God’s power can move mountains. As believers trusting in God’s abilities, we too, can move mountains with prayers.

God certainly can get things done without us, but in some situations he calls for prayer. He chooses to use our prayers; he makes them a part of the plan to accomplish his will. Prayer can put God’s plans in motion. He uses prayer to help us believe in his power instead of merely our own abilities. 

 

Prayer battles darkness.

The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 2 Corninthians 10:4 NIV

As believers we have an arsenal of spiritual weapons at the ready. God arms us with weapons like his Word, the Holy Spirit, faith, hope, love, and prayer. With these, we are equipped well beyond the confines of mere physical strength and human intelligence. Prayers help battle the world’s darkness by calling upon God’s power to work within us — shining light on our spiritual gifts and inspiring us to serve him and others. The loving actions which flow from our prayers in dark times strengthen the bonds of faith between believers and ignite faith in those who lack it.   

Prayer grants peace.

Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. Psalm 107:28-29 NIV

Once we have done what we can in our trouble, prayers allow us to rest and trust the work of God’s hands. Because we know God, we know he will help us. He will help us think through our problems and alert us when we need to move. He will prod us to seek forgiveness, fill us with faith, and restore what is broken in our lives. As we seek him in our struggles, we learn about his lovingkindness and mature in our faith. Prayer grants peace by asking God to take the lead in situations we cannot change.  

 

 

Our prayers do not have to be fancy, or long, or even full of requests. Sometimes prayers simply tell God how much we love and appreciate him. When harder days come and life unexpectedly flips us upside down, fear will not overcome us. Because we know we have a trusted friend who rescues us time and time again. He gently turns us right side up and places our feet back down on solid ground. As creatures designed to pray, our faith encourages us to pause and to thank him. Press on in faith, my friends!

 

 

He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along. Psalm 40:2 NLT

 

Related Posts:

 

Serenity Prayer
by Reinhold Neibuhr

 

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.
Amen.


 

This is the Day the Lord Made

An outdoor breakfast in the middle of an Iowa summer is one of the best ways to start the day. The fogginess of sleep lifts as two blue jays perching on the deck railing chirp and bob their bodies up and down, as if dancing to their own song. Sunlight shimmers in the trees as the wind waves with leaves of green. The flowers, blooming so bright, easily capture and hold the attention span of anyone not yet buzzing with caffeine.

Sometimes, if I sit very still and quiet, an additional morning companion joins me. A chubby squirrel, eager for a belly full of peanuts, scales the side of my house and squeezes underneath the deck railing. Warily glancing at me, he pursues his breakfast quest. Stretching and reaching, even turning himself upside down at times, he retrieves peanut after peanut from the feeder. We study each other between our morning mouthfuls. Does he pray and ponder the day ahead as I do? Unlikely. But, seeing him up to his whiskers in peanuts while holding his furry paws in a prayerful pose, I like imagining that he does.

This new day’s beauty brings the familiar words of Psalm 118:24 to mind: “This is the day the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.” I consider these words, and I wonder what else the Bible has to say about mornings. How does Scripture invite us to start the day?

Begin with Gratitude

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

Truly, there are some days when we do not feel like rejoicing. Life gets crazy, our moods fluctuate, and problems overwhelm us. In reading through the Psalms of the Bible, it is clear the writers understood how hard life is. They are not simply proponents of putting on a “happy face”. They openly tell God about their trouble, and then proclaim reasons to rejoice in spite of suffering. This Scripture reminds us we have been given this day TO LIVE. Through our trust and hope in God’s goodness, we can find joy in the blessings we do have. Beginning the day with thankfulness helps us appreciate everything God provides.

Accept Forgiveness

 

The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. Lamentations 3:22-23 NLT

Some days it is hard to get started because we feel so weighed down by past mistakes. God’s unconditional love for us, however, never ends. Each day is a new beginning — a fresh start with forgiveness. If we offer up our sadness, struggles, and sin to him, he promises to restore us. He hurts when we hurt. Using all of our experiences, he faithfully teaches us and crafts our pain into something good. Remembering God forgives our past mistakes allows us to pursue each day looking for new opportunities to love him and others.

Pursue Direction

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life. Psalm 143:8 New International Version (NIV)
In the morning, when our minds have fewer distractions, we gain deeper insights than at busier times during the day. Reading Scripture and praying in the morning helps us grasp new meaning in his promises and find fresh guidance for our journeys. Like other relationships, our connection with God grows stronger as we devote more time and energy to it. Starting the day with God develops a strong relationship, which ultimately makes us more attentive to his direction throughout the day.

Make Requests

Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord. Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly. Psalm 5:3 NLT

Laying our requests out before God, first thing in the morning, helps us release our own inclination to worry and control situations. Trusting God to do what is best allows our minds to work on the things we can do something about. Wisdom is learning to discern what we cannot control, letting go, and watching expectantly for God’s good in our requests.

Demonstrate Worship

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Mark 1:35 (NIV)

Jesus modeled reverence or deep respect for God through morning prayer. For him, prayer was more than just a time to let God know his feelings and make requests. It was also a time to worship and strengthen a trusting relationship. So even in the midst of chaos, Jesus prioritized time for praising and listening to God. His devotion to prayer showed the relationship with his Father came before anything else. A regular practice of morning worship demonstrates an all encompassing love for God — a love poured out of the heart, soul, and mind.

 

It’s interesting, isn’t it, how just a handful of Scriptures can lay a solid foundation for the day? The Bible seems to work best that way for me. We can always get something out of it, even if we don’t read it cover to cover. We can pick something we are curious about, like morning, and look it up.

In a way, exploring the Bible for new discoveries is similar to the mornings I spend on my deck. I see a lot of the same things. Many characters make return visits. But, if I am alert and aware, I also notice something different than the morning before. It could be the ants marching in line to the hummingbird feeder, a different birdsong in the woods, or just the fact that my windows need a good cleaning. Whatever it is, it makes me smile as I realize this practice of searching for something new brings me joy. No matter how chaotic the world becomes, this day is ours TO LIVE. This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it. Press on in faith my friends!


Answered Prayer

By Jamie Trunnel

When I am lost
And I don’t understand,
I ask God

To take my hand.

I say to him
Tell me what to do,
To make things better

And to pull me through.

God says take a moment.
Enjoy my grace.
Everything has a season.

Every emotion, a place.

Remove the blinders,
And break the locks.
Hurt can heal

When light is not blocked.

Look for me.
I am everywhere.
The world I created

Answers your prayer.

References:

There are more Scriptures that reference mornings and how to start our days. They can all be found using the concordance (a list of alphabetical important words) in the back of your Bible.

Related Posts:

Getting to Know God Better

We only know — what we know — when we know.

A split-second explosion came from the direction of our garage. After checking and finding nothing peculiar, my son and I shrugged it off as odd.

Later that evening, my husband and I find glass across the garage floor. We examine windows and vehicle mirrors for cracks, but see nothing broken. Suddenly recalling earlier events, I mention the noise. Puzzled, we look around and then up. There, high above, we see the remaining jagged edges of the garage door opener’s light bulb.

At our house — maybe yours too — despite an extensive collection of light bulbs, we never seem to have the right replacement. So, while shopping online for a bulb to match the broken one, my husband discovers light bulbs specifically made for garage door openers. These bulbs resist shattering due to constant vibrations, and they interfere less with radio frequencies from opener devices. Huh. This is good to know.

After nearly twenty-seven years of marriage in six different homes, one expects to know this information, yet we are genuinely surprised. We only know — what we know — when we know. Right?! Now garage door opener light bulbs belong in our collection.

I keep thinking about the ordinary bulb, and how we did not know any better. It seemed to work fine. Why would we change it? Improvements are usually sought when things stop operating properly or when someone shares learning from their own experience with us. 

Faith seems to operate in a similar way, doesn’t it? It seems good enough, until it’s not. Illness, addiction, grief, divorce, financial problems…crises force us to examine our faith. We are comfortable with what we believe, when we pray, and how we worship until life shatters in some way. Sometimes we may look for sources of the “noise” and attempt to fix things without God. Or, maybe we avoid and dismiss the issue. But, our problems, they tend to boomerang, don’t they? Breakage begs to be noticed; it keeps showing up under our feet.

While picking up the pieces of brokenness, we question the comfort and complacency of a status quo faith. Maybe we need to know more? Investigating leads to new discoveries like light bulbs…and deeper faith. Surprised, we realize, in spite of our years and experience, there is a lot we do not know. A lot we wish we had known sooner.

Our God is not surprised by our lack of knowledge, shortcomings, or regrets. He loves us right where we are, and right as we are. He wants to be known by us. When we know we need to know God better, he rejoices. 

A new drive to learn and deepen our knowledge about faith can overwhelm us. Where do we begin? How do we learn more?

Learn about Jesus

Jesus answered, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. John 14:6 NIV

Jesus is the center of Christianity, yet many Christians avoid talking about him. Maybe Jesus makes people uncomfortable because the Trinity concept (Father, Son, Holy Ghost) can be difficult to understand. Or, perhaps the world’s different views about the purpose of Jesus’ life here (Savior or Prophet) make belief difficult. When we lack a comfortable level of knowledge about something, we tend to avoid it.

The Bible, however, tells us we cannot sidestep Jesus and still get to heaven. The only way to God is through Jesus. The first step in getting to know God better is understanding who Jesus is and what his sacrifice means.

Study Scripture

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword,it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Hebrews 4:12 NIV

Many say the Bible is God’s love letter to us. As such, its contents reveal his power, promises, and will. The Word is alive and active in that it changes us as our faith grows. The Bible is not a book to be read once, understood and finished. Scripture meanings deepen and offer different interpretations throughout our life journey.

The Scripture above likens God’s Word to a sword. Cutting through our spiritual life, the Word lays out before us our own light and darkness. It guides and reassures as needed. Studying the Bible requires more than reading its stories, and understanding its characters and lessons. Scriptures help us make daily decisions and walk God’s path for our life.

Pray

The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. Psalm 145:18 NIV

Prayer is a conversation we have with God. Telling him our hopes, dreams, concerns, and fears brings him closer and welcomes his wisdom into our lives.

Prayer provides space for confession and redirection. It provides more confidence and peace. As we spend time in prayer, we begin seeing more and more of the ways God is working on our behalf. Prayer builds trust in God’s character, anticipation for his blessings, and thankfulness.

Be led by the Holy Spirit

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23 NLT

Being led by the Holy Spirit requires embracing the concept of surrender. Recognizing there are circumstances out of our control, we seek God’s help and direction. God works inside of us through the Holy Spirit, producing results or “fruit” in our lives. For example, the Holy Spirit provides patience in difficult situations, peace in trouble, motivation for God’s work, and prayers when we can’t find words.

Throughout our lives, the Holy Spirit plays many roles such as conscience, counselor, and protector. The Holy Spirit even teaches us how to share God with others. As we grow closer to God, we naturally follow the Holy Spirit’s guidance more and more.  Jesus referred to Holy Spirit as a helper who guides us through life (John 14:26). Human desires can be selfish and idolizing, but the Spirit’s inclinations are never sinful and always line up with what we learn from Scripture.

Fellowship

As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend. Proverbs 27:17 NLT

Spending time with others growing in faith sharpens knowledge and broadens experience. Worshipping at church services is important, but our complicated lives are too much for a Sunday sermon to handle alone. Sermons teach us about God; fellowship helps us apply our learning.

Our faith naturally deepens when we exchange experiences and learning with others. Supportive friendships are built which foster unique ideas and opportunities to serve. In Scripture, God calls us to work together and sharpen each other’s knowledge and talent. Using our various gifts to support each other we can find ways to model Jesus’ life and to spread the Good News (John 3:16). Fellowship brings us close to people who nourish our faith through the giving and receiving of God’s love. 

Now, please excuse me. The new light bulbs for our garage door opener have arrived. Discovering the protection this “light” provides, over all our comings and goings, has taught me nothing less will do. When we know — what we need to know — we know. Press on in faith my friends.

Dear God,

Thank you for opening my eyes to the things I do not see. When life moves along comfortably, I think the faith I have is all I need. But, you graciously teach me to never stop striving in my quest to know you better. You patiently wait for me to discover the pieces at my feet and unlock new learning. You show me ways we operate stronger together. Help me seek more time to learn about your Son and to study your Word. Remind me to pray throughout my day. May the Holy Spirit’s guidance within me overshadow the inclinations of this world. And, may the people I surround myself with encourage my faith to grow deeper still. In Jesus’ Name, Amen 

Other Posts About Growing in Faith:

Living Unashamed of Faith

A Fit Faith 

Living Like a Superhero

Making Pie with the Holy Spirit

A Few Recommended Resources:

Lucado, Max. He Chose The Nails / What God Did To Claim Your Heart. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishing, 2000. Print.

Strobel, Lee. Case for christ. Place of publication not identified: Zondervan, 2016. Print.

The Gospel of Mark, John 18-21

Devotional books such as: Jesus CallingBedside Blessings, Earth Psalms, Draw the Circle, or Closer to God Each Day

Online Bible study groups such as: faithgateway, Proverbs31 Ministries for Women, He Reads Truth for Men 

Got Questions Website

Photos courtesy of Pixabay, except the last.

Where Joy Flows From

For me, the trickiest part of kayaking is just getting in the boat. Stepping off the dock one foot at a time into a rocking, unsteady object is a bit unnerving. Will it lurch suddenly in the wrong direction when my unbalanced weight makes contact? Can my other leg join the effort quickly and precisely enough to thwart disaster? Or, will my typically clumsy nature land me in the lake?

Fortunately, I am blessed with a husband who understands my worries and is familiar with my lack of grace. As I step from the dock to the kayak, he steadies me with his hand and offers lighthearted reassurances that I will not get wet.

Once I am in the boat, my anxious perspective makes a dramatic shift. As I push out from the dock’s wooden planks, I find myself immersed in blue. Blue skies and blue water for as far as my eyes can see. I breathe it in. My body relaxes and my mind becomes calm. Troubles seem removed…distant. I feel like nothing can disturb my peace. I think this must be what joy feels like.

If you’ve been in a kayak, you know balanced paddle strokes keep you moving ahead. Strokes pull through the water front-to-back on one side and then the other in rotation. Staying on course amidst waves requires holding the paddle straight, strong, and steady on the side you want to turn towards.

Much like waves hitting a kayak, we meet challenges in life which rock and impede the course we travel. Often, a mindset of joy is difficult to maintain. Where does joy flow from in the Christian faith? What actions support keeping it?

Seven Steps to Joyful…

1. Mindful 

Be still, and know that I am God! Psalm 46:10 New Living Translation (NLT)

The word mindful means to be attentive and insightful. From a Biblical perspective, being mindful is devoting our attention to God through prayer, Bible study, or reflection. This invites the Holy Spirit to help us let go of trouble and set our minds on peace.

Taking time to avoid distractions wakes us up to the various ways God speaks to us. Our issues become more apparent and decisions get confirmed. We may notice the same message coming at us in different ways and from different sources. Being mindful tunes us into the many ways God works to reach us, reassure us, and help us.

2. Thankful 

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Psalm 107:1 New International Version (NIV)

Becoming mindful naturally leads us to become more thankful. When we take note of God’s messages of love and guidance around us, we recognize how blessed we are. Soon our habit of thankfulness begins to outweigh our desire to worry and complain. As we appreciate more of what God does for us, our relationship with him becomes closer. We feel encouraged in both trouble and opportunity. Thankfulness leads us to appreciate what we have, teaches us to learn from problems, and helps us discover the ways God is working for our good. 

3. Prayerful

Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart. Colossians 4:2 (NLT)

Powerful prayers begin by relying on our thankful habits. Praising God for his love and forgiveness helps us frame our requests to him.

God is not picky about where or how we pray. He simply wants to hear about our challenges and the requests we have for ourselves and others. The load we carry becomes lighter when we tell him our fears, confess our sins, and ask for his help. Spending time in prayer eases our burdens and brings clarity to the dreams God has placed in our hearts.  

4. Truth Full

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:13 (NIV)

Along with prayer, a knowledge of God’s promises or truths found in the Bible brings us closer to him. Seeking him means discovering who he is and what he wants for us. Spending time learning about God’s love and wisdom fills us with his truth. It makes us truth full. Scripture teaches us about hope, strength, and how to live our lives. When we feel lost, the Bible provides a place to go for help and direction. Becoming full of God’s truth builds confidence in faith and leads us to carry out his plans.

5. Dutiful

 Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” Luke 9:23 (NLT)

Dutiful means conscientiously or obediently fulfilling one’s duty. Becoming mindful, thankful, prayerful, and truth full helps us work on understanding the actions God wants us to take to live joyfully. Sometimes obedience to God feels uncomfortable and goes against the ways of this world. Being a disciple often requires denial of self-centered desires in order to serve God’s purposes. Dutiful followers willingly make sacrifices and take action to bring glory to God’s name instead of their own. 

6. Peaceful 

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! Isaiah 26:3 (NLT)

Peace comes from a deep knowing that we have done all we can to follow God’s instructions. Continually looping back to being mindful, thankful, prayerful, truth full, and dutiful helps us reach the point of peace. As a fruit of the Holy Spirit, the calm stability of peace can be delivered even in times of chaos. Although life will not always go the way we would like, our work through these steps teaches us to rely on God’s help. Peace requires letting go of control and trusting God’s love to work for our good.

7. Joyful

Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 1 Peter 1:8

Biblically speaking, our joy does not depend on whether things are going well or not. Many consider happiness and joy to mean the same thing. Biblical scholars, however, distinguish between the two in relation to Christian life. Happiness is defined as a feeling that is dependent on circumstances, and it is fleeting in nature. Joy, however, like peace, is a gift from the Holy Spirit. It can remain regardless of trouble, and it may even increase.

Once we find peace within ourselves, it becomes easier to observe and not get immersed in the swells of emotion that enter our lives. We still feel sadness, fear and other difficult emotions, but they don’t overtake us. With practice, our focus on God heightens our sense of well-being. We feel more even keel in the midst of trials. A calm satisfaction flows from the peace of trusting God with our circumstances – this is joy.

Experiencing joy through faith is a process. One that takes consistent time, preparation, and courage. Taking steps to become mindful, thankful, prayerful, truth full, dutiful, and peaceful teaches us about our God who loves us and is always with us. When waves come and rock our boat, we practice using these steps to get better at keeping our peace – maintaining a straight, strong, and steady course. We discover joy in the midst of it all.

Ready to do some work for joy? Step off the dock into the boat. Push off strong. Paddle left, paddle right. Keep paddling. Look ahead. I see blue. Do you?

Prayer for the Week:

Dear God,

Thank you for giving me the tools I need to steady myself in this world and discover your joy. Help me grow more mindful of your presence and blessings that fill my life each day. Draw closer to me as I develop an attitude of thankfulness for those blessings, and as I look for your good in anything that comes my way. Guide me as I work on taking my life to you in prayer. Fill me with your truths and teach me how to dutifully apply them. Bring peace to my heart as I surrender control and trust in your care. May the joy from your Holy Spirit flow through me always. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Other Resources:

For more on peace, read Seeking 3 Kinds of Peace

For more on other gifts from the Holy Spirit, read Making Pie with the Holy Spirit

For more on thankfulness, read Three Ways Gratitude Boosts Faith

Note Photo Credit: Photos 1, 2, and 5 in this blog are from Pixabay.com. The rest are my own.

Three Ways Gratitude Boosts Faith

grasshopper-1081009_960_720

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