Give Thanks In Everything

“Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

The last couple weeks we’ve taken a brief look at verse 16,  “Rejoice always,” and then verse 17, “Pray Constantly”.  Today we peer in to our third and final directive found in verse 18, “give thanks in everything”. It seems a bit cliché to write about thankfulness during the week of Thanksgiving, but it fits. This series on 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 is all about posturing our heart towards the Savior, and I know no better way than a heart full of gratitude.

The concept of gratitude is everywhere, signs adorn the walls of our homes and journals have been specially crafted in order to focus on the idea. Along with tangible reminders surrounding us, hundreds of studies have been done on thankfulness and gratitude. According to one article, thankfulness has the ability to improve our physical and psychological health, reduce aggression, enhance empathy, improve our sleep and self-esteem.[i] These are just a few of the benefits a heart of thankfulness can offer.

It turns out these studies have uncovered what I believe to be part of God’s original design for our heart, soul, mind, and strength – thankfulness. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 tells us that it is God’s will for us to rejoice, pray, and give thanks – at all times. While these three directives do not exhaust the will of God, they impact our obedience in fulfilling other aspects of God’s will. If a heart is not postured with thanks 365 days a year, I fear it will be incrementally more challenging to fulfill the individual details of God’s will as they are presented.

The story of Jonah comes to mind. He didn’t exactly tell God “thanks” for sending him to Nineveh. Rather than taking a posture of ‘thank you for using me’ he initially goes the opposite direction. This is a complex story in the Old Testament involving pride and hypocrisy, there is much more than a lack of gratitude involved. Yet I believe it may also serve as an example to us in the context we’re focusing on today. God’s will for the Ninevites to repent came to pass, yet Jonah’s experience in joining God in that will was nothing short of a challenge for him.

Giving thanks for everything cultivates an active and growing spiritual life, while fostering relationship with our Creator and others. Gratitude invites abundance. Through aggravations of this earth, impossible situations, and deep heartache, thankfulness has a way of lifting our eyes to the One who is higher and completely sovereign. Practicing gratitude provides contentedness, it holds an element of humility, ushers in peace, and provides space to experience God’s victory!

I’m not going to provide a list of various ideas to practice more gratitude, because it starts with simply and authentically stating, “thank you”. Tell God! Tell your spouse, parents, kids, pastor, friends, grocery clerk – everyone. Can I challenge you to make it personal, direct, and specific? Reflect back to God what your thankful for throughout the day.

Would you mind sharing your experiences here? Leave a comment! Let’s encourage and inspire one another with how God is using this in your life right now!

It’s my prayer these verses, along with our verse in 1 Thessalonians 5, would be used to posture our hearts this season by giving thanks and rejoicing in and for our Savior.

I’m so thankful to God for you,

Amy

 

A psalm of thanksgiving.

“Let the whole earth shout triumphantly to God!

Serve the LORD with gladness;

Come before him with joyful songs.

Acknowledge that the LORD is God.

He made us, and we are his –

His people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving

and his courts with praise.

Give thanks to him and bless his name.

For the LORD is good, and his faithful love endures forever;

his faithfulness, through all generations.”

Psalm 100 (CSB)

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“Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. 
Give thanks to him and bless his name.” Psalm 100:4 Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[i] https://www.forbes.com/sites/amymorin/2014/11/23/7-scientifically-proven-benefits-of-gratitude-that-will-motivate-you-to-give-thanks-year-round/#2c2fdcc0183c

 

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Favorite Sides

We’re doing a double portion on the blog this week. The regular Thursday post is coming your way, but I couldn’t resist sharing one of our family’s favorite side dishes. It came out of a magazine when I was a girl, and has become a staple on the table when the leaves turn every fall. So, as you plan your meal for Thursday (or another day this week) consider adding this to the menu. We think it’s spot on!

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Shameless plug for our farm and honey…which we are out of until next season.

Butternut Squash with Cranberries

  • 1/4 cup honey (I used less)
  • 1/4 cup frozen apple or OJ concentrate (I used juice or whatever is on hand)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup cranberries (fresh)
  • 1/4-1/2 cup apples or pears (I use a whole fruit, whatever you have)
  • 1 whole butternut squash, peeled and cubed

Mix ingredients together, bake uncovered for about an hour at 350*, until tender.

Honestly, it’s hard to mess it up. I never measure anything when making this dish – dump and bake. FYI, the leftovers are even better!

Have a wonderful celebration this week, wherever you find yourself, full and thanks and God’s never ending love.

With gratitude,

Amy

Rejoice Always

It seems fitting that the season outside my window reflects the season in my heart. As the leaves turn color and trees go dormant, the rest until spring begins. The world rests, and waits. It’s an active rest, roots still take up moisture and move nutrients. Slowly. I too find myself in a season of active rest and waiting. Life would seem so much easier if I just knew what the next step looked like. But I don’t. No matter how hard we desire skip winter and move in to spring, it’s necessary. And rather than push ahead, we can choose to enjoy the season, and wait.

Waiting is hard. It’s uncomfortable.

Oh, I could take a step. But would it be in-line with the direction where God is working, where he wants me to join him? Would it be God’s will? Who knows. But I do know, if your lost it’s best to not go wandering off. That’s a good time to stop, get your bearings, and perhaps wait for help to arrive.

When I stumbled upon 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 last week, it felt like receiving actionable steps for the waiting. “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in everything; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (CSB)

When the specific will of God seems to be foggy, this much is clear – rejoice, pray, and give thanks. Always, constantly, and in everything.

For me, it’s hard to picture what always rejoicing might look like, especially if your personality tends to be calm and quiet. Now some of my friends – they walk around with outward rejoicing all the time! Me, it just comes out different. Typically, I imagine rejoicing to be boisterous, outward exultation with a lot of seen emotion attached. But how can I possibly rejoice always? The truth is, rejoicing comes out differently in all of us, and in various situations.

Rejoice always – chairō pantŏtĕ in Greek. I so appreciate the Greek definition because it seems feasible to me. Rejoice, chairō, is to be calmly happy; be well, be glad, rejoice.[i] I also appreciate Eugene Peterson’s translation in The Message translation, “Be cheerful no matter what.”[ii] Joy and cheer always, in all circumstances. It’s not a joy that goes where the winds blow, it’s eternal.

As a way to posture our hearts and attune our spiritual focus, let’s work on always rejoicing these next few days. And if the “calmly” thing isn’t your style, by all means let that exultation bubble over! Maybe you’ll splash that rejoicing on me or the person next to you. Wouldn’t that be fun?!

Next week we’ll look at the second part of those three directives in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 – pray constantly.

Would you mind sharing your experience of rejoicing always here? I’d love to know how you are experiencing God through rejoicing.

With love and gratitude,

Amy

 

Rejoice always

 

[i] A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible (Vol. 1, p. 77). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[ii]  Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language (1 Th 5:16). Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

Light Focused

Where is your focus today? Is it on circumstances? Someone else’s perfect Instagram post? Perhaps your focus is held captive to worry? This question has been on repeat, continuing to surface in seemingly random places. What am I focusing on?

Our focus and our thoughts are connected, much like driving, and our thoughts produce actions. Wherever my eyes focus, that’s where the car tends to go. If I focus left I’m inching over into the lane next to me; looking right, and I’m hitting rumble strips.

During some time in scripture today, Psalm 36:11, became my focus. “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.” (ESV)

So often I ask God for eyes to see. But after that prayer, if I’m focused on the dark (those circumstances, unattainable social media posts, worry, etc.) even opened eyes wouldn’t be able to see in their surroundings. It is in His light, where we see light. This may sound a bit silly to you. Obviously, we can’t see clearly in the dark. Have you ever been deep inside a cave when they purposefully turn the lights off? It’s black. Eyes wide open and you can’t see your own hand in front of your face!

In His light, we see light. So today, can I challenge you (along with myself) to ask for eyes to see and a focus on heavenly things? Pay attention, where is your focus? Let’s allow a purposed focus towards light to direct our actions.

Praying for you, friend! God is so good, and in Him there is no darkness.

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“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” 1 John 5:5-7, ESV Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

 

 

Postured for Surrender

Do you ever go through seasons, when God seems weave a theme into your circumstances? A certain topic or idea continues to present itself, in multiple arenas and seemingly unrelated places. Lately, that theme for me has been ‘posture’.

Body language speaks loudly. It lets us know when someone is anxious, closed off, wide open and ready, uncomfortable. When my daughter’s arms are crossed in defiance, I know where her heart and thoughts are – and it’s not in agreement with me.

We should pay extra attention to those themes. As “posture” kept making an appearance in my day-to-day life, my spirit perked up and got curious, anticipating that God was doing a work in me. What is my posture before the Lord? What is being reflected in my heart that needs some refining?

That curiosity was stirred even more as I walked away from a meeting recently. I had walked in full of excitement and anticipation, in a posture of confidence. But I walked out, feeling deflated and defeated. Why?

After some quietness, prayer, and a visit with a dear sister in Christ, it started to become clear. Perhaps all this posture-before-God business is related to surrender. So often as a mom, professional, or leader it’s easy to slip into a posture of control. I walked into that meeting with the expectation of getting what I wanted done so that I could be in control of what I was responsible for. There was part of my heart that had not postured myself surrendered to God and what He wanted done. I had picked up my own, self-made cross of control as I marched into that building, and when my expectations weren’t met, I crumbled.

How often is our posture one of defiance? When we’re rigid, we aren’t able to be open and pliable in His hands, carrying the cross He’s called us to bear. I want to urge you to be open to the themes God is making clear to you in this season of your life and to reflect on your posture before the Lord. Is your heart postured to be in control, defiant, rigid? Or is your heart inclined and soft, surrendered and open to where God is taking you?

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“Yet Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our Potter; we all are the work of your hands.” Isaiah 64:8 (ESV) Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

This devotional first appeared in Journey, March 2018, LifeWay Press.

Bearing Fruit and Growing

Everyone likes to bear fruit, and be the recipient of fruit produced in season. There’s nothing better than a fresh picked peach in the height of summer or crisp apple when the cool fall arrives. Our berry farm is meant to bear fruit throughout the heat of summer. And just like fruit born in appropriate seasons, our lives are meant to do the same. That being said, it can be hard to not strive to produce the whole fruit bowl at once.

Spiritually speaking, we are told that we will bear fruit and we are called to do so. I believe there’s more to simply being focused on bearing fruit. Take a look at Paul’s words in Colossians. “…so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God…” Colossians 1:10 (ESV, emphasis mine)

Paul was specifically talking to the church in Colossae about the gospel’s effect in their lives, and his words are easily applicable to us today. Walk in a manner pleasing to the Lord, bearing fruit and growing. I appreciate the order in which Paul presents these things, bear fruit and continue in growth. We can have a tendency to want to bear fruit, but perhaps forget to continue growing once fruit has been born. In order to continue bearing fruit, there must be continued growth. We aren’t called to be corn plants, growing rapidly to produce a crop for harvest and then die. I believe that as eternal beings, we are called to continue bearing fruit for harvest and grow – a perpetual process.

Familiarity with the Word may bring to mind what kind of fruit we are to limitlessly produce. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV)

How then shall we grow it? According to our verse in Colossians, we are to grow in the knowledge of God. The Greek word being used here for knowledge is ĕpignōsis, it denotes the idea of recognition, acknowledgment, full discernment, and to become fully acquainted with.[i] We aren’t being asked to become know-it-alls, knowing everything the Creator of heaven and earth knows, but rather to fully know Him. Recognize Him, acknowledge His ways, movements, and characteristics.

One of the most powerful and active ways we can grow in knowledge of the Lord is having an active encounter with His living Word on daily basis. God begins revealing His character in the first line of scripture, and he doesn’t let up until the last.

We have the free will to choose a relationship with God through His Word. Those Spirit-inspired words can be the water, fertilizer, and Son-shine the seed of the gospel message needs to grow in our heart and mind. We are called to both bear fruit and grow. If we are stunted spiritually, after a while the fruit will no longer come forth.

Let’s have some dialogue on how God is revealing his character, so that together we may grow in knowledge and understanding of Him. What characteristic of God has been most real to you this week?

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Photo by Katherine Chase on Unsplash

[i] Strong, J. (2009). A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible (Vol. 1, p. 31). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Let’s Bake Cookies!

We sat in a booth at Panera, catching up, sharing life and what our kids were up to. My sweet friend had been to an amazing workshop, both of us a women’s event. Conversation circled around what we had been learning and what God was up to in our lives. As we talked about the excitement of studying God’s Word, my friend made a statement in reference to her time with God being like, “Let’s bake cookies!” That statement struck me. It spoke to the anticipation and inclusion we have getting to help mom or dad in the kitchen. We’re given the opportunity to get in to the ingredients, see what they do, how they fit together, and discover how they taste and feel. She spoke about digging into God’s Word being an event to look forward to, “God, let’s bake cookies!” .

It’s not often I stop to watch videos on social media but recently one particular video caught my eye. (Watch it here) I was intrigued with this sweet two-year-old girl’s cooking show as she baked a cake with her momma. I watched this video in context of that conversation with my friend and her comment, “God, let’s bake cookies!”  Two things came to mind. One, her mother has the patience of a saint. Two, what a joy it must be for the Father, our Creator, to bake and create “cookies” (or cake) with His children.

The little baker’s sweet disposition was evident in her kind words and gestures as she dumped ingredients together. She was excited and took pride in her work. She wasn’t concerned with perfection but rather in being present, engaged and giving her all to the task at hand. This young lady wasn’t afraid to ask for help, or make a mess. Her attitude and heart were so precious.

It’s all in the journey, the experience, the relationship – not the product or end result. As a teacher, I get to ‘bake cookies with God’ and then share the batch, a Sunday school lesson, with my class. It’s never perfect, and much like my cooking, lessons rarely ‘taste’ the same. I’ve made some messes too.

One of the sweetest parts of this young bakers’ video came when she enjoyed it. She took a bite of that cake, piled with sprinkles, and truly marveled at the end result. It wasn’t perfect by some standards, but she thought it was. Some days we may not “bake cookies with God,” but rather sit and enjoy them. Soak in His goodness and revel in His complexities, savoring every bite of His word.

How do you approach your day with God? Your quiet time? Is it a box to be checked, something you have to do? Or is it based on relationship with God, something you get to do? Are you holding back in regards to what He may be asking of you for fear of making messes or coming short of perfection?

What would it be like to approach Him with a willing heart, faith like a child, and step into the “kitchen” each morning and expectantly request, “God, let’s bake cookies!” I have a feeling He would look at our floured faces, vanilla dripping forearms, globs of batter strewn about, and with a smile say, “It’s perfect.”

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Photo by Calum Lewis on Unsplash

Hide or Go Seek

Last week I wrote about our scraggly oak tree in the backyard. It is once again the inspiration for today’s writing, and you’ll find a picture below. It’s good to put a face with a name.

About a year ago, I snapped a photo of my daughter as she doodled and sang up in the branches of our now handsome oak tree. The scene immediately reminded me of the tax collector, Zacchaeus, in Luke 19. Zacchaeus climbed up the branches of a tree so that he might just catch a glimpse of Jesus as he passed through Jericho. Those 10 verses in Luke 19 provide a glimpse into both the situation and Zacchaeus’ heart. Take a look at the first portion of verse three; I find the ESV translation intriguing.

“And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not…” (emphasis mine)

“Seeking to see”. Can we do a quick lesson on a couple of Greek words being used?

The Greek word being translated to ‘seeking’ is zēteō, it means to seek, to worship, endeavor, seek after.[i]

And our Greek word being translated ‘see’ is eidō, which means to see, behold, look (on), understand, perceive.[ii]

Zacchaeus was endeavoring or seeking after Jesus, so that he might behold and understand him. I feel there is so much richness in this story, but I dare not go there today for fear of going down a rabbit trail. Rather, I ask that you would take some time to go there yourself over the coming days.

For the sake of staying on target, let’s look at another story in scripture that I read just this morning. It’s the story in Genesis 3, Adam and Eve have eaten from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Take a look at Genesis 3:8.

“Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees in the garden.” (CSB)

Adam and Eve may have not gone tree climbing, but they were hiding among them. In these portions of scripture among the trees in Luke 19 and Genesis 3, we have two stark approaches to our relationship with the Lord.

Are you hiding in the trees, or climbing up branches and seeking to see?

In both stories our tree hiders and seeker are called out. Jesus says, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” (Luke 19:5, ESV) And the LORD God calls in Genesis 3:9, “Where are you?” (CSB).

Both stories are full-bodied examples of Jesus’ promise-filled words in John 10:3. “The sheep hear my voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and he leads them out.” (ESV)

Oh, how my heart breaks as Adam and Eve were led out of the garden. But that heartache pales to the joy of knowing that God faithfully seeks us out; always has and always will. Not only does He seek you out, but calls you by name, and should you be willing to follow, He will lead you.

So, are you hiding or are you seeking?

Are you endeavoring to worship and really know Jesus? I’m pointing these questions back at myself too – let’s be brave and honest in our answering.

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“And he was seeking to see who Jesus was…” Luke 19:3

 

[i] Strong, J. (2009). A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible (Vol. 1, p. 34). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[ii] Strong, J. (2009). A Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Greek Testament and The Hebrew Bible (Vol. 1, p. 25). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Juxtaposition

Juxtaposition is not just a position. In fact, it’s like having multiple positions all at one time but in their polarity, everything fits together.

Merriam-Webster defines juxtaposition asthe act or an instance of placing two or more things side by side often to compare or contrast or to create an interesting effect[i]

During my Jesus time one morning, I read Acts 9:31 where two opposite emotions of comfort and fear were held together – creating the effect of growth in the church. “And walking in the fear of the Lord and comfort of the Holy Spirit, it (the church) multiplied.” (Acts 9:31b, ESV, emphasis mine)

Fear of the Lord and comfort from the Holy Spirit, two emotions held together, allowed the church to grow and multiply. The contrast between the two is quite possibly where stretching and growth occur, and probably not without a bit of discomfort. I’m certain the early churches’ fear of the Lord was a healthy fear, established from experiencing God’s overwhelming authority in love.

Just like that early church, we can hold a healthy fear in the Lord and comfort from the Holy Spirit in the same open hand. In that juxtaposed and safe space, our faith can experience a healthy growth in the Lord. Our Creator is about growth and expansion; we are a reflection of Him, thus meant for growth and expansion. Based on Matthew 17:14-21 with Jesus’ words of “faith like a grain of mustard seed” – I’m convinced that faith is meant to grow!

I’ve often found my faith grows most when I’m stretched between the comfort of standing on the promises and steadfast character of God, and stepping out into the unknown. How about you?

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“And walking in the fear of the Lord and comfort of the Holy Spirit, it (the church) multiplied.” (Acts 9:31b, ESV, emphasis mine)  Photo by Luis Tosta on Unsplash

[i] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/juxtaposition

Mint & Stongholds

Mint. I have a love-hate relationship with it. Spearmint – I love the smell, taste, texture, and hardiness; and, I hate its aggressive hardiness. Thus, my conundrum.

I enjoy doing some personal gardening as a part-time job. Arriving on the job one morning, I began in the front yard. After pulling weeds, digging up unwanted iris, pruning and fertilizing, I moved around to the shaded cutting garden around back. My friend had added some new plants to the area, so I walked about checking things out before getting started. Roudning the last corner of the raised bed, my eyes bugged out. Mint. Without thinking, and without regard for the planter, I reacted and yanked the entire thing out. “Nooooooooo!”

A split second of regret popped into my heart; I had clearly undone what someone else had planted with care. My regret didn’t last long. You see, mint has a way of completely taking over a garden space. We had diligently been working to create a space for a cutting and vegetable garden. Mint would have taken over and undone all of our hard work over the past couple of years. Had the mint stayed and taken root, the only thing stopping it would be concrete or multiple applications of herbicide.

As my mind had the opportunity to process my feelings about this plant, yes I have feelings about plants, I began to equate mint to strongholds. One of Merriam-Webster’s definitions of stronghold describes a stronghold as a place dominated by a particular group or marked by a particular characteristic.[i] I tend to think of strongholds with a negative connotation, like an addiction or challenge in one’s life. A stronghold may be something I struggle with in life and find it hard to experience freedom from, such as unforgiveness, anger, insecurities, food, believing lies you tell yourself, a physical activity, etc.

Strongholds can be hard to root out. (Thus, our mint analogy.) Why don’t I react to personal strongholds the way I treated that mint, ripping it out without thought or question? Because it’s hard. It requires a deep, honest heart and mind work. It requires me to be really uncomfortable and intentionally practice self-control. Often, it’s hard to just acknowledge the stronghold, let alone root it out. Like the mint, we may have a love-hate relationship with it.

Personally, I feel that God has been revealing strongholds in my heart. They aren’t huge, obvious ones. But they are strongholds none-the-less. While taking complete responsibility, Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians are a good reminder in the process of doing some hard work.

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…” 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 (ESV)

MintCan I encourage you to join me in asking the Lord to reveal the strongholds in our hearts? Our strongholds may not be “big,” but they can make deep roots – they are still strongholds. To me, this can be a scary prayer. But with a willing heart, we can do all things through Christ because He strengthens us. (Philippians 4:13) Let’s suite up with the armor of God – we’ve got this.

How can I pray for you?

 

[i] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/stronghold