Cultivating Gratitude

I channel my inner type-A personality even in my relationship with the Lord.

For example, this whole sanctification thing frustrates me to no end. Being more like Christ is a lifelong process? Nah, I just want to check the box marked “perfect” and move on.

Cultivating gratitude, like I wrote about last week, is a part of the lifelong pursuit of being more like Christ.

Cultivate is a verb. It requires action to make it happen. Gratitude isn’t going to somehow happen all on it’s own. To cultivate means to develop, which takes time and intentionality.

There are plenty of books, sermons, articles, podcasts, tweets and blog posts about how to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Some of them are very idealogical, though. Here, I want things to be simple and practical.

I hope this helps.

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Just stop. Look.

Stop

When you catch yourself complaining (outwardly or inwardly) or feeling discontent, just stop. Don’t let yourself continue until you have a self-evaluation session. Ask yourself about your own expectations. How do I want things to be different? Do I have a right to feel this way? Am I in need of an attitude change? Find perspective and refocus.

Seek

Just like anything in life, if we want results then we have to be intentional about our pursuit. Start by seeking help from the one who asks you to be grateful in the first place. God is faithful to be present and active when we go to him in prayer. Ask for direction in how to be more grateful, and for what to thank him. Then, when he speaks to you through the Spirit and in his Word, LISTEN (1 Thess. 5:19).

This lifestyle of gratitude is anything but a footnote in Scripture. The phrase “give thanks” is in the Bible 73 times, “thanksgiving” 42 times, and about 50 other word/phrases involving “thank.” We are not lacking in examples of how to be grateful, or direction in what to be grateful for. It’s one of the things about which God is incredibly straightforward.

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Part of my stockpile from the last 6 years.

Stockpile 

There are going to be times when a feeling of thankfulness is overwhelming, and then there are going to be times when life feels like a desert. When we’re in the desert, we need a sip of water, something to keep us going until the next oasis. In those times of plenty, stock up. Journal about what God is doing in your life, keep an ongoing list of things you’re grateful for, write blessings on slips of paper and keep them in a jar, or all of the above!

Recently I have struggled with finding satisfaction in Christ. I have been discontent with where I am, what I am doing, and who I am. I’ve been in a desert. But I looked back over some of my old journals, I remembered God’s faithfulness during times when I learned to find fulfillment in him alone. Write it down. Remember.

“And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.” Col. 2:6-7 (NLT)

Unfortunately, I can’t check the “always grateful” box on my list. Developing a relationship with God is labor intensive. Growth starts at the roots. It’s ugly down there in the dirt. But as it is fed and cared for, the plant fights through the grime and breaks into sunlight. And slowly, everyday, the plant becomes more and more like the flower it was meant to be.

And we get the beautiful experience of cultivating the growth of gratitude in our own lives.

Addiction Problem

There are times when I just disgust myself. I find some new warped thought in the midst of my mind and I am appalled that I could have possibly come up with it. I see some pattern of behavior in my life and I dig deep into my heart to find the root cause, and I find something moldy and rotten. Self-examination is truly a cringe worthy process.

It took a long philosophical conversation with a friend to bring me to one of those self-examinations a year ago this summer. My friend and I were discussing the idea that things other than alcohol and narcotics can be abused to help people try and numb the pain of their life. A few of the things we came up with were happy emotions, movies, music, TV shows, food and books. None of those things are wrong in and of themselves. The key word here is abused.

I do not think that any of us (no matter how sunny our life is) can deny that sometimes we just want to forget the pain we experience. We have, or will have, that time in our life when we really want to hit that imaginary fast-forward button and close our eyes so we don’t have to see or feel any of it. But, we know we can’t, so we endure as best we can. Along the painful way, however, we enjoy a few experiences of pleasure in the form of entertainment, and we find that during that time of pleasure our real lives seem to fade into the background. Again, nothing is wrong here…yet. But the moment we put on another movie or pick up another book for the sole purpose of forgetting, we have crossed the line into addiction, and we are engaging in “pleasure abuse.”

So there I was, talking with my friend, thinking that overall, I didn’t have too many problems. Then I found out that I was an addict. It’s actually a little embarrassing, me? Addicted to entertainment and pleasure? Yes. Swallow the pride—confess, repent and ask for the Father’s forgiveness.

I’d like to think that I am “over it,” but I’m not. I’d like to think that “fixing it” was as easy as 1, 2, 3, but it isn’t. Each day is a step in my continual sanctification. Every time I feel the temptation to try and drown my troubles in something other than Jesus I have to make a choice.

Here is the good news folks, while this kind of problem is still dangerous and wrong, the “substance” itself isn’t bad. It comes down to some examination of your heart in light of the Word, and a lot of prayer and discernment through the Holy Spirit as to what life choices you need to make.

So…do you have an addiction problem?