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

A Fit Faith

Dumbbell B&W

“Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” Matthew 22:37-38 New International Version (NIV)

Flipping a 150 pound tractor tire fifty times in a workout was never a line item on my bucket list. Surprisingly, however, this feat hijacked the list, and I crossed it off with pride on my fiftieth birthday. Ha, who knew?! This girl does have strength, coordination, and endurance.

A year ago, I considered myself a fairly physically fit person, but certainly not someone people recognized from the gym. Thirty minutes on the elliptical and I was good to go. I was not concerned about my biceps or my core, and I had no idea what a TRX or a burpee was.

After a great deal of salesmanship, my husband convinced me that strength training would be good for me to try. Strength training exercises use resistance from things like dumbbells, rubber exercise tubing, and even your own body weight to cause muscles to contract. Physical benefits include improved muscle strength, tone, mass, and endurance. Starting slow, I worked with a trainer to learn proper technique and combine new exercises.

Gradually, I noticed changes in strength, and other, more unexpected things too. I finally understood how to properly lift heavy objects with my legs, and not my back. More conscious of my posture, I found myself keeping my shoulders back and down. Flipping a huge tire fifty times became a possibility. My body continues learning to speak this challenging new language every week. Stronger and wiser, my muscles thank me for it by surprising me with what they can do.

In much the same way, I never considered writing a blog about applying Scripture to life. A far cry from a biblical scholar, I attended church randomly most of my life. A good person equals a “fairly fit” Christian, right? I was not concerned about my spiritual biceps or strengthening my core beliefs, and Bible study classes intimidated me.

When a health crisis hit our family, I found myself desperately wishing my muscles of faith were stronger. I longed for courage, for answers to serious questions, and for peace of mind. I scrutinized how fit my faith was. I could not honestly say I was dedicated to loving God with all my heart, soul, and mind.

Perhaps striving to love God that completely would guide me towards a more “fit faith”? Gradually, I am discovering and adding new spiritual exercises into the routines of my life. Some ideas to power up faith:

Learn about prayer and make it a daily practice. Max Lucado’s book, The Power of a Simple Prayer is a great resource for anyone wanting to learn more about how to talk to God. Prayer does not have to be a formal, scheduled event; it can take place throughout your day like other conversations.

Express gratitude every day. Just becoming aware of the many things to be thankful for can help us think more positively and ease worry. Use a notebook, an app, or an online journal to record blessings each day.

Seek to understand Scripture. Start understanding and applying Scripture by reading devotions, a life-application Bible, or Christian teaching books. Focus on one verse a day and see what you can learn from it.

Join a supportive network of people who also seek a stronger faith. Support can come in many ways such as attending church, discussing a faith inspired book together, using creative talents, or working on a team project for the community.

Be still. Carving out time to simply sit with a quiet mind can be a very difficult task. Taking this break, however, can rejuvenate us for the challenges we face. Solitude eases worries, brings clarity, and reveals inner strength through the Holy Spirit.

As I see it, improving faith fitness is very similar to improving physical fitness. Exercises should be tailored to an individual’s unique needs. A variety of exercises work best to challenge the mind, body, and spirit. Consistent practice is important for long term benefits. And, the results can inspire others.

Like training in the gym, stretching our faith helps us grow stronger and wiser in new ways. Asking God for help no longer seems like an insurmountable task. Blessings become more apparent than ever before, and we feel grateful to see them. Recognizing the needs of others and showing compassion takes precedence over fulfilling our own needs. And, seeking answers to common faith questions is no longer scary and isolating.

Developing a “fit faith” continues to be a work in progress for me. I do not have a formula to follow for success. What I can say with certainty, though, is that I am in better shape now to handle the next downturn in life.

Prayer for this Week:

Lord, thank you for being my patient trainer as I seek a “fit faith”. Guide me in conversation with you and help me understand how to apply your teachings to my life. Fill my heart with gratitude as I count my blessings each day. Remind me to be still in your holy presence and listen for your direction. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Scriptures to Apply:

Matthew 22:37, “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.” (NIV)

Ephesians 3:16-17, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” (NIV)

Romans 4:20, “Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God,” (NIV)

Questions to Help Make Sense of Life:

How fit is my faith? Are my spiritual muscles getting the workouts they need to sustain me through the ups and downs of life? What can I change in my faith routine to strengthen my love for God?

God Doesn’t Do Rush Hour

The Open Road

“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12 New International Version (NIV)

It’s Monday, another week, and another 168 hours to get something done. Hearing these words can conjure up images of to-do lists, tighten chests with anxiety, and tie stomachs in knots. The weeks of our lifetimes seem to cruise by with increasing speed the older we become.

Catching our breath, we notice conversations littered with common phrases such as “so busy”, “don’t know where the time goes”, and “gotta run”. We read books on developing more efficient habits, watch programs on time management, and hire services to help organize our lives. Clearly, the quest for using time wisely is important to us.

We can learn how to eliminate nonessential tasks and how to prioritize the remaining items. But, what if, even after cutting back, our list still leaves us with a feeling of dread? Maybe, it’s not only the number of things to do, but also the approach in doing them that needs tending.

In Garth Stein’s wise and witty book called The Art of Racing in the Rain, he writes: “In racing, they say that your car goes where your eyes go. The driver who cannot tear his eyes away from the wall as he spins out of control will meet that wall; the driver who looks down the track as he feels his tires break free will regain control of his vehicle” (83).

Applying this, if we regularly set our sights on busyness, we have no direction or control when a wall shows up. However, if we look ahead and visualize driving through life’s crazy course of events with diligence, then we can continually regain traction. Our distracted society makes it easy to go with the flow of never getting enough done. Living in busyness, without a focal point, is like driving in rush hour; we get nowhere. God calls us to vigilantly search the horizon for worthy purposes and focus attention in that direction. A welcome sense of peace comes when we live our lives focusing on a purpose, instead of distractions.

Turning attention away from upcoming walls requires slowing down and noticing our surroundings. Last week, while shopping at Target, a preschool age girl with sparkly silver shoes darted in front of my cart to get a better look at a display of the newest toys adapted from the Disney movie Frozen. “Oh my goodness, oh my goodness…would you look at this?!” she squealed exuberantly. Her father, I noticed with amusement, seemed unfazed as she rattled on. His focus was ahead, towards bath necessities and groceries.

Perhaps, the little girl’s unbridled enthusiasm is a daily pattern of life for this father. Maybe, that particular day, it was a notable distraction from the direction his “eyes”, and thus his “car” really needed to go. Understandable. I wonder, though, if like the rest of us at times, he needs reminders to slow down and become more aware of the gifts in front of him? Allowing for moments of mindful appreciation help us remain present and grateful for God’s direction in our lives. These breaks in our day give us space to breathe and to think about where we are headed.

Clarity regarding how our time is spent comes easier when we focus, slow down, and remember to involve God in our decisions. We often forget to ask him for direction when we are rushing about. He gave us free will to make choices, but he never intended for us to feel alone in making them.

His directions are the gut feelings we get about whether something is right or not. It’s what drives people to do great, big things like put a man on the moon, end a war, and research cancer cures. It’s what drives people to do smaller scale, kind acts like visiting an elderly neighbor, helping a struggling child learn to read, or sending a care package to a Syrian refugee.

All of these acts matter. None are considered insignificant. God places a different call in each one of our lives; spending time with him is how we figure out what that call is for us. If we slow down long enough to identify what we are aiming for and ask God for direction, our time here will be more fulfilling.

Invite God along for the ride. Listen for his quiet instructions to set your gaze down the track. And, remember he prefers the scenic route.

Prayer for this Week:

Lord, thank you for the blessing of the hours in this week. Help me remember to include you in the process of making my plans and to ask for guidance in prioritizing my tasks. Show me how I can better serve others for you. Keep my focus on finding and following your directions for my life. Bring my attention back to your goodness through moments of pause. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Scriptures to Apply:

Psalm 90:12, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (NIV)

Galatians 6:9, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (NIV)

Proverbs 20:5, “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.” (NIV)

Questions to Help Make Sense of Life:

How often am I overwhelmed by my own busyness? Can I prioritize my to-do list so that I move at a steady pace, focusing on my task while still appreciating the gifts that surround me? Can I remember to ask God to help me figure out what he is calling me to do and listen for his direction in my day?