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Entries in Gratitude (12)

Wednesday
Nov222017

Be Thankful—God Loves Ewe!

In this Spiritual Growth UPGRADE, Pam Farrel encourages us to upgrade our lives with a little help from the Good Shepherd.

Our Good Shepherd pursues us to give his faithful love and all things beautiful and beneficial,” Pam says.

I (Dawn) have watched Pam in ministry. She knows a little about shepherds and sheep—the kind that go "baaa," and the human "sheep" who struggle and cry out to their Shepherd.

Pam continues . . .

I am a true Bo Peep. I grew up on a Suffolk sheep farm in Idaho.

I was a fourth generation shepherd. If there is something I am familiar with, it is sheep!

So when I read Psalms 23, one of the most familiar of all Psalms, it is very personal, encouraging and comforting.

You may also need comfort or encouragement in your own life right now. There are a few qualities of your Good Shepherd that might encourage you, especially if you are feeling like you are traveling through the “valley of the shadow of death”.

1. The Shepherd is Personal

For example, the Psalmist’s opening line, “The Lord is my shepherd,” became more precious when I became a shepherdess. The relationship between a lamb and a shepherd can be a very close, caring and even sometimes, affectionate relationship.

For example, my first 4-H lamb was a “bummer,” meaning the mother had rejected or abandoned her own offspring.

These kinds of lambs need extra attention, so I fed my little lambie with a bottle twice a day, holding her in my arms like a baby.

I carded her wool, I hand fed her grain, I walked her, and yes, I talked to her.

On cold nights, I tucked her into a warm pen, and if I heard howling wild dogs or coyotes, I got up to go out to check on her.

I also named her, “Bunny” because when she wasn’t in my arms, she would delight herself jumping from rock to rock in our pasture. Ours was an “everywhere that Pammy went her lamb was sure to go” kind of relationship.

2. The Shepherd is a Protector

It is really a picture of my grandfather, father and brother, and their vigilance that I carry in my mind as to what a truly protective good shepherd is like.

Ravenous coyotes, wolves and wild dogs roamed the vast expanse of high desert in the area our family farm was located. These savage dogs would attack and kills whole flocks of sheep in a single night.

To help us keep our sheep safe, we place collars with bells on them. If they we heard an occasional gentle chime we knew our sheep were simply grazing calmly, but if we heard a cacophony of loud jingling, we knew the wild dogs were near by threatening an attack

To protect the sheep, the men in my family would post themselves in the pasture with the sheep. They would wrap themselves in a down sleeping bag with their “rod and staff” within arm’s reach. It was a cold, uncomfortable, thankless job, but it saved the lives of all our entire flock of sheep and their lambs.

To this day, when I picture my God as my Good Shepherd, I see Him as my strong, powerful and attentive protector.

3. The Shepherd is a Provider

When I read, “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul" (vv. 2-3), that is exactly the experience of my upbringing.

  • I would often walk barefoot through the deep, lush, green grass of the pasture, as the sheep serenely grazed.
  • I would take a blanket and a Bible, and lie down and spend quiet hours communing with God.
  • I might walk over to the creek, and sit on the simple wooden plank that created a bridge, and sit and rest quietly dipping my toes into the cool stream.

This was my place of solace and restoration, far away from the chaos my alcoholic, raging, earthly father might be creating in our small farm house. 

To this day, resting in an open meadow, or the sound of gently tinkling chimes, remind me of the restorative rest the Good Shepherd can create even in the midst of chaos.  

4. The Shepherd Is a Pursuer

As I have followed my Good Shepherd, I have seen how “goodness and mercy“ has surely followed me the days of my life. 

One could phrase the meaning of “goodness and mercy” as “certainly what is good, pleasant, agreeable, beneficial, desirable, beautiful and best, as well as God’s faithful, loyal, lovingkindness will pursue you.

Wow!

Our Good Shepherd pursues us to give His faithful love and all things beautiful and beneficial.

A recent example in my own life is the writing of this blog. It is an adaptation out of my newest book, Discovering Hope in the Psalms. I was going through one of my most challenging years of my entire life when my friend Jean asked me to edit, then co-author, this study with her.

See... my Shepherd sent goodness and mercy to pursue me, because He knew I was going to need to dwell in the green pastures of His Hope-filled Word to survive my own valley.

With the Shepherd, we can walk THROUGH the darkest valley and not tremble, because the Good Shepherd sees His sheep, knows His sheep and cares for each and every one of His sheep—including you!

What attribute of the Shepherd do you need, to hold on to hope?

Find a wool blanket, spread it in a green pasture near some still water, open your Bible and let the Shepherd send some goodness and mercy your way.

 Pam Farrel is still a shepherdess at heart. However, instead of living on her family farm, she now travels the world shepherding people’s hearts and relationships by speaking and teaching God’s goodness and mercy through the ministry she and her husband run: Love-Wise. She is the author of 45 books. Her newest is Discovering Hope in the Psalms: A Creative Bible Study Experience.

Thursday
Jan192017

Have You Been Skimpy with Gratitude?

Dianne Barker is a super-practical woman of God who cares about relationships. In this Marriage UPGRADE, she offers practical wisdom for better spousal interaction (but the basic premise of expressing gratitude is true for all relationships).

"Marriage can bring out the worst in us," Dianne says.

I (Dawn) don't think anyone will dispute that. While marriage has the potential to grow and bless us, it certainly does point out all the rough spots in our character. Dianne's post today is a good way to deal with some of those "worst in us" days.

Dianne continues . . . 

In younger days, when things didn’t go my way, I’d “have it out” with my husband—in my thoughts. I didn’t dare put my annoyance into words, but in my mind I gave him a hearty tongue-lashing. He had no idea.

And then I’d silently settle my ruffled feelings and sulk a while.

One day the Lord caught me sulking over a disappointed expectation and interrupted my pity party.

You could be praying about bigger things.

I’ve heard the stories.

  • Husband leaves a devoted wife for someone else.
  • Another wife struggles to stay with a husband addicted to pornography.
  • Huge challenges overwhelm the grieving widow.

Yes. I could be praying about bigger things.

I wasted a lot of life pouting over small irritations—wishing I could change this husband of mine. The Lord has a way of putting things in perspective.

Instead of letting marriage bring out the worst in me, I decided to let it bring out the best.

Two choices changed me from the inside out: prayer and praise. I learned to pray about what my husband isn’t, and praise him for what he is.

Grumbling about everything he does wrong isn’t beneficial. Praying—taking concerns to my Father—is a positive use of emotional energy wasted on anger and pouting, which never bring change.

I looked for reasons to praise my husband, express appreciation, and compliment him. I wasn’t sure he noticed until I overheard him say to a friend, “My wife has a gift of encouragement. She brags about everything I do!”

Why not thank him for carrying out the garbage, mowing the lawn, filling my gas tank, and changing the oil?

A heart overflowing with praise and gratitude to the Lord can’t help expressing gratefulness in other relationships.

Listen to this.

“Just as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so go on living in him—in simple faith. Yes, be rooted in him and founded upon him, continually strengthened by the faith as you were taught it and your lives will overflow with joy and thankfulness” (Colossians 2:6-7, Phillips).

Marriage needs constant nourishment. Does your relationship suffer the tatters of neglect?

Like a soothing ointment on a raw wound, gratitude promotes healing.

Begin here:

  • List seven qualities about your spouse to praise God for daily (character qualities, talents, good deeds, spiritual commitment, love for the children, sacrificial work, financial contribution to the family).
  • Pray, thanking the Lord daily for each of those qualities.
  • Verbalize to your spouse at least one genuine compliment every day. “Honey, I really appreciate…” (a deed performed, wisdom shown, patience extended).
  • Express affection every day through words and touch. Say “I love you” and hug each morning before leaving for work. Say “I missed you” and hug each evening after work.
  • Find time to cuddle. If you’ve been ignoring each other, this may feel awkward. Do it anyway. God intended for us to enjoy marriage, not merely endure it.

Going overboard with gratitude will bring out the best in you!

Have you been skimpy with gratitude? If you're married, why not try these five steps to "overboard gratitude" today?

Dianne Barker is a speaker, radio host and author of 11 books, including the best-selling Twice Pardoned and award-winning I Don’t Chase the Garbage TruckDown the Street in My Bathrobe Anymore! Organizing for the Maximum Life. She’s a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association, Christian Authors Network, and Christian Women in Media. (Post adapted from Help! I’m Stuck and I Can’t Get Out! The Maximum Marriage Maintenance and Repair Kit, available soon at www.diannebarker.com.)

Graphic adapted, courtesy of Ben White, Morguefile.

Wednesday
Nov232016

I Can (Thanks to Jesus!)

In this Thanksgiving UPGRADE, Dawn Wilson invites us to be thankful for all the things we can do ... in Christ.

I was one of those bratty kids who stomped her feet and pouted with an obstinate, "I CAN'T!"

Mom would hear none of it. She promptly showed me how quickly I could, with a little "backside encouragement," do what she asked.

Old habits die hard. I still tend to say, "I can't," whenever the Lord asks me to do something.

God says, "Invite that woman to church."

"I can't. I'm afraid."

Or, "Teach that class."

"I can't. I'm not as smart as so-and-so."

Sometimes my "can't" really is a stubborn "won't," but most of the time it's because I think I'm not enough.

Not good enough, smart enough, young enough, connected enough. So many excuses.

You'd think I would have learned by now that God is my sufficiency in all things—especially those things HE calls me to do.

It's not that we are necessarily qualified to do anything on our own, but our competence and sufficiency come from the Lord—"It is God who makes us able to do all that we do" (2 Corinthians 3:4-5).

It's amazing how scripture can cut through all the "I can't-because-I'm-not-enough" excuses.

Here is another verse that is often quoted (and seldom fully embraced):

"I can do all things," it says in Phillipians 4:3, "through Christ who strengthens me."

All things.

Through Christ.

Believing that truth frees me to choose wisely, grow strong and be faithful to all God calls me to do.

I've learned that:

1. In Christ, I can DO it.

I can do the hard things. The things I've avoided, made excuses about or feared.

I can even do the thing the enemy keeps throwing up to me as "impossible," because "with God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26).

2. In Christ, I can FACE it.

I can face my ugly past—and we all have one, from God's perspective. I can do this because God has forgiven me and made me righteous in Christ and right with God (1 John 1:9; Ephesians 1:7; 2 Corinthians 5:21).

I can face tough circumstances now because the Spirit of the Lord is with me (Psalm 118:6; 23:4; Matthew 28:20b).

I can face an uncertain future with hope and confidence too! (Psalm 23:6; 2 Corinthians 5:6, 8; Romans 8:28). 

3. In Christ, I can OVERCOME it.

I can take heart because Jesus, who has already overcome the world (John 16:33), can help me overcome my sins and addictions. God is faithful to help me, and when I am weak, He is strong (1 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Corinthians 12:10).

By faith, I can overcome, because Jesus in me is greater than the enemy Satan and his hoard of demons (1 John 4:4; 5:4). I can CHOOSE not to be overcome by evil, but instead CHOOSE to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21).

I am an overcomer, because I am no longer a slave to sin. God's light has shined into my darkness and changed my heart (John 1:5; Romans 6:6, 6:18; Galatians 4:7).

Why did I make this "I Can" post my Thanksgiving praise today?

I praise the Lord for all the BLESSINGS that have come into my life because of this great truth: I CAN ... in Christ! 

When have you said, "I can't"? What is God telling you today?

Dawn Wilson, founder and President of Heart Choices Today, is a speaker and author, and the creator of three blogs: Heart Choices Today, LOL with God (with Pam Farrel), and Upgrade with Dawn. She is a contracted researcher/reviewer for Revive Our Hearts and a writer at Crosswalk.com. She and her husband Bob live in Southern California and have two grown, married sons, three granddaughters and a rascally maltipoo, Roscoe.

Tuesday
Nov222016

Count on God and Count Your Blessings

Sharon Paavola is one of those trophies of God's grace; I've seen the Lord work powerfully in her life and in the lives of those she loves. In this special Thanksgiving UPGRACEwhich is also a spiritual UPLIFTshe encourages us to be joyful on "two counts."

"My husband accepted Christ later in life," Sharon says.

I (Dawn) think it's always special when people receive the Lord, but there can be challenges when that choice comes later rather than sooner. But Sharon experienced an unexpected blessing in a lesson from the Lord after her husband came to Christ.

Sharon continues . . .

My husband accepted Christ later in life seven years after we married. 

He had not grown up in a Christian home and attended church seldom as a child. His first prayers were precious and at mealtimes he thanked God for simple things like our home, our dogs and for always having abundant food to eat.

Most of his prayers ended and still do with thankfulness for Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross for our sins and the gift of eternal life. 

I grew up in a pastor’s home where mealtime thanks could become routine, but not rote.

Eric’s petitions were fresh. They were not tainted by years of hearing the same words.

I realized I had accepted a pattern of praying.

Listening to Eric brought me up short. I realized how rarely before eating I truly thanked God with my heart. 

Now our pre-meal petitions contain random praise for all kinds of daily mercy and blessings. As a result of this practice, I have incorporated thankfulness into my communication to God in new ways. Throughout my day, I find small and large situations and events to be grateful to God. 

I have also learned that:

  • Thanking Him before He has answered my prayers for how He will work brings hope and expectation, releasing the worry or anxiousness of the need.
  • Praising Him for glorifying His name leads to more faith. What joy comes then when He does answer even if it is not what I had anticipated. 

During the years I taught a Bible Study at my church, I told my leaders when a "mountain" came against us, "God knew this was going to happen. He is not surprised. He has already gone ahead of us to work out the details, smooth the path, and solve this situation. We only need to thank Him.”

I saw their shoulders drop and heard big sighs.

God remains faithful! We can count on him as Psalm 40:5 says:

“O Lord my God, you have performed many wonders for us. Your plans for us are too numerous to list. You have no equal. If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds, I would never come to the end of them.”

I have often sung the hymn, "Count Your Blessings" at Thanksgiving time. It is quite appropriate in our spiritual lives daily and at mealtimes to count our blessings.

Thank the Lord even for the heartaches, the losses and the unexpectedanticipating how He will work.

We can thank God for many ways He has blessed us.

In my life today:

  • I thank God for my contacts and my glasses that allow me to see as well as I do. I started wearing glasses for nearsightedness at age ten. Now I am considered legally blind and have glaucoma and cataracts. I also need glasses for reading. I want God to know how grateful I feel to see as well as I do. I sometimes whine about my eyesight, but as I put my contacts away at bedtime, I realize what an amazing invention they are for me and am grateful again.
  • I thank Him for a comfortable bed to sleep in every night, for a mind that thinks as well as it does, and for the gift of my sweet puppy dogs.
  • I thank the Lord for my darling 10-month-old grandson. He is a miracle! Years of tears went before him, and through in vitro fertilization he was born to my daughter and her husband. That is a big thank you!
  • We thank God every night at dinner for our salvation and eternal life through Jesus Christ's sacrifice.

In summary:

  1. Thank God for all things—and always for His salvation plan.
  2. Daily run a constant praise to Him for what He has done throughout those twenty-four hours.
  3. Give Him gratefulness for how He will answer our prayers, no matter how difficult or impossible.
  4. Appreciate the unexpected and how God paves the way before we even knew it would happen.

Are you joyful on two counts? Are you counting on God today? How will you count your blessings? (Can you name them one by one?)

Sharon Paavola writes a blog on book reviews and her thoughts for assisting women to find peace and healing from depression, pain and loss. She loves being a new grandmother, has been married for twenty-three years, and has three grown children. When not reading books, she sews, walks, and gardens. She helps lead a post abortion recovery Bible Study and assists at her Precepts study at her church. Learn more about Sharon on her blog.

Tuesday
Nov082016

A Thankful Heart Produces a Blessed Life

I've observed Julie Watson go through a severe testing of "waiting," and then the blessings God poured into her heart and life. In this special UPLIFT, she shares one of the things the Lord taught her during the long wait: Thankfulness.

“Whoever said ‘Cleanliness is next to godliness’ must have been one difficult Mother-In-Law to impress!" Julie says. "I believe a more accurate description is ‘Thankfulness is next to godliness.’”  

The two thoughts that came to my (Dawn's ) mind when I read Julie's post today were: I think any child would want a mom like Julie; and I want to be a more thankful person!

Julie continues…

Thankfulness, gratefulness, heartfelt appreciation for all that God has blessed me with is something I think about almost every day. It’s an attribute of Christ I wish to instill in the hearts of my children. *

The words “thank you” are said in my home at least 20 times a day, or at worst, a gentle reminder to do so is given to an otherwise distracted and forgetful child.

But, let’s be honest. Having a thankful heart is hard to have on difficult days, especially when you find yourself in the midst of an unexpected life storm!

We recently finalized the adoption of our three beautiful children just a few months agoPRAISE JESUS! It was such a blessing for our family to finally be official

What a difficult, nearly two-year journey it had been. There were many days I was thankful during that time:

  • Thankful when my oldest, who was filled with anger, stopped chasing his sister around trying to rip her hair out. 
  • Thankful when my youngest son stopped hiding behind furniture when he didn’t want to talk, or more accurately, “grunt” at us for something he wanted. 
  • Thankful when my daughter, in tear-filled panicked cries, stopped screaming for me not to leave her, as her bio mom had done so many times before.

I slowly learned to be thankful for every small step in the process. In fact, it is still what keeps me in check today! 

Ultimately, seeing the huge progress my kids have made in the relatively short time we’ve had them has given me such a sense of joy and contentment.  I feel blessed!  It helps me stay focused on the good stuff and not so much on the obstacles in front of us.

However, it wasn’t always this way (and at times, I still struggle).

Between the temper tantrums, power struggles, constant lying (still working on this one), destruction of our property, issues in school with stealing and cheating, and days where I just felt completely alone with three little "monsters" ready to drive me into an early grave—I seriously have WAY more gray hair than I ever expected at this age—I can honestly say, I was NOT thankful.

Many tears were shed during my quiet times with God, begging Him to reconsider this path He had placed me on.

This Ministry of Motherhood He had bestowed upon me after waiting 17 years was NOT all it was cracked up to be! 

I remember telling Him quite clearly that He “had picked the wrong mom for this job.” And, “You’re crazy, God, if you think I can do this!” 

Looking back, I’m sure He just sat up on His heavenly throne saying, “Wait... just wait, child. What I am doing through you will be more amazing than you could ever imagine!”

That is truly where the thankfulness begins. 

Trusting in God as you wait upon Him during those hard days...  those life storms! Being grateful for each small victory and not focusing on the mountain still before you. 

Every day after that it’s simply a choice.

You have to CHOOSE to be thankful in all things. You have to PRACTICE it

You have to rely on the goodness and faithfulness of our loving Father who has something so amazing, you won’t believe it—until you do. 

A thankful heart produces a deeper, more intimate walk with Christ and a blessed life.

Here are some verses to encourage a thankful heart:

  • "O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!" (1 Chronicles 16:34, also Psalm 106:1)
  • "Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
  • "And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Colossians 3:17).
  • "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God" (Philippians 4:6).
  • "For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected it it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer" (1 Timothy 4:4-5).

Are you struggling with being thankful? Do you have a hard time trusting God to complete a good work in the midst of a life storm? Remember He cares for you and will speak to your heart if you open His Word and simply listen. Start thanking Him for some small victories today!

Julie Watson worked in women’s and children’s ministries for 10 years and as an Executive Director and Grant writer before becoming a stay-at-home mom to three beautiful children. She and her husband, Shawn know these children were hand-picked by God to be their own, and officially adopted them in the spring of 2016.  God is good!

* Note from Dawn: I had never actually thought about thankfulness being an attribute of Jesus, but it is! We see Him giving thanks in John 6:11, and in many other places in scripture He offered private and public appreciation for the good deeds people showed—He thanked the Father and He gave credit on earth where it was due—a wonderful example for us.

Graphic, adapted, courtesty of HotBlack, Morguefile.