Don’t forget!

Thankfulness is a really important theme in the Bible. Many of the Psalms are simply prayers of thanksgiving.

The trouble for us is – we often have a problem with our perspective. We act as though our lives are the Big story and God’s story fits into ours. We all do it. It’s part of our humanity. We get obsessed with the details of our own lives and our focus gradually turns from God and onto ourselves.

We begin to try to make things happen for ourselves, trying to do stuff instead of receiving from God. Or  we are so focussed on our problems or circumstances or business that we miss what God is doing in our lives.virtual-reality-1541316_1280

We need help to keep looking to God. Thankfulness is a simple and helpful practice which really helps. It is not a new method or the latest idea but it is something the Bible has taught over centuries and many christians have made it a daily practice. Instead of reciting our list of requests we begin with thanks.

In Psalm 103 King David speaks to his soul, “forget not all his benefits”, many hymns take up this theme too. Why do we need reminding not to forget all that God has done for us? Isn’t it so incredible that we couldn’t possibly forget? Well Yes – and No. It is incredible but we do tend to lose sight of all the blessings we have in the light of other things that are going on for us. This is why it is so helpful for us to be reminded. What are those benefits that King David remembered?

  • that  God forgives all our iniquity
  • he heals all our diseases
  • he redeems our lives from the pit
  • he crowns us with steadfast love and mercy
  • he satisfies us with good
  • our youth is renewed like the eagle’s
  • He works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed etc

It’s all about God’s goodness towards us. It’s great to read it through thinking about how each of these phrases is true for us individually.
In Lamentations there are some  very familiar verses:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;

his mercies never come to an end;

they are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness. (Lam.3:22)

Ask yourself what are those mercies that are new every morning? They can be as simple as I have breath in my lungs, food on the table, a roof over my head etc – things that we can take for granted.  Since having had breast cancer I am so thankful to be healthy, to be alive, that I have lived to see my son marry. I am thankful for friends who love me and support me. But of course there is so much more than that. Every day we wake up loved by God. What a mercy that is! We should remind ourselves of this and all that God has done for us everyday.

The Bible encourages us to be thankful not just because God deserves our thanks but because thankfulness changes us too. It changes our focus. It  is a great way to help get our eyes off of ourselves and our circumstances. We need help don’t we? When we are bogged down in the everyday mundane things of life, when we experience pain and hardship, when we are really joyful and happy. Emotions overwhelm us at times and our gaze turns inward.holzfigur-980802_1280 There is a reason why the Bible so often encourages us to lift up our heads. It’s because we need to. It helps us gain a different perspective. To relocate our lives into His big picture, to be dependent on Him.

Thankfulness is also a good start if we are struggling to pray or don’t know how to pray – because we always have something to thank God for.

Psalm 104  tells us I will Enter His Gates with Thanksgiving in my heart, I will enter His courts with praise. In the ancient world the courts were  the way into the Palace, where the King lives. Where He is. Thankfulness helps us to come into the presence of God. As we begin to thank Him, Praise for him begins to rise in our hearts.

Some practical ideas

Do you love lists? I do. Why not make lists of things you are thankful for. You can write a new list each day, each week or month. Whenever you do it, it is a great discipline to reflect on our lives and remember the things we are grateful for. How about starting a Gratitude Journal? bullet-2428875_1920You can do this in all sorts of ways to suit you. You don’t need to write paragraphs. You can write a list for every day. At the end of the day just spend a few minutes reflecting on your day and noticing the things you are thankful for.

You might want to use some prompts:

Today I am thankful for  ………………

I felt joyful today when  ……………

My favourite part of the day was …………….

You might want to take Psalm 36 as a template – take your list of things to be thankful for and after every line insert “for His love endures forever”.

Remember though, the point of the exercise is to use the list to help you give thanks to God. Don’t just make the list – use it to fuel your prayers.

Secular studies show that people are happier and healthier if they are thankful even if they don’t know who they are addressing their thanks to*. For us as Christians thankfulness holds so much more meaning and it is powerful. Being thankful reminds us that there is One to be thanked, whose love and goodness are always directed towards us whatever our circumstances might be and that He is worthy of all our praise and honour.

Photo Credits:
Don’t forget – created using wordswag
Other images: Pixabay
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God wants you to flourish Part 2

What if I don’t feel that I’m flourishing?

In last week’s blog (here) I said that God wants us flourish. But what if  you don’t feel that you  are flourishing. Why is that?

Seasons

For some of us we need to understand the season we are in. If we think of a tree in winter it is bare, no fruit or leaves are evident. It looks almost dead BUT how it looks is not an accurate gauge  of what is going on inside. It is still flourishing as it is storing up energy for the growth of fruit in later seasons. In the Spring there is new growth but it is not yet established and strong, it can be a time of vulnerability but those new shoots will grow into mature growth in time. In the Summer there is obvious mature growth with flowering and fruit. Then comes the Autumn and the leaves fall, the season has passed and with it their usefulness; there will need to be new leaves for a new season. In all of these seasons the tree is still flourishing but it is expressed differently in each of them. We need to know which season we are in.

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Circumstances

Or it may be that you are not happy with how things are for you. Many of us live our lives with a perceived need. We are always wanting something we feel we must have in order to be happy which makes us feel discontented and unhappy.

Sometimes we look at our circumstances and compare them with others’.  We may think that they have a better life, nicer house, better job, children, are able to take holidays, have more friends than we do etc  We can questions ourselvesIMG_2121

“ What is wrong with me that God doesn’t bless me? Or question God “Is He really good?  

When our boys were young, Rob, my husband, was out of work for 18 months. We happened to live in an affluent area but had bought quite a rundown Edwardian terraced house. I saw other people decorating  their homes with Laura Ashley wallpaper (the fashion at the time) and restoring original features. I didn’t compare myself with other people but I did compare our home to theirs. I felt ashamed of our threadbare carpets and woodchip wallpaper and didn’t want people to come into our house. I needed to remind myself that God had enabled us to buy this house. We lived hand to mouth for some time but were also supported by friends from our church in many different ways. Groceries would be left on our doorstep, some friends put money into our bank account every month so that we could pay our mortgage and gifts of money were regularly posted through our letterbox. This was a time when we really learned to live by faith, to trust God for our finances and to learn to give to others in need. If we had not gone through that experience we would never have learned these valuable lessons. We were flourishing but not in the way we expected it to happen.

 Sometimes we may be facing particularly challenging circumstances You could ask me how that could possible be described as  flourishing.  I believe that God wants us to flourish in and through suffering, that is why He is with us when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death (Ps. 23)

I have written about my own experience of having breast cancer (here) when God truly sustained me and helped me to understand that he is always good to me whatever my circumstances. I wasn’t miraculously healed of cancer, I still had surgery etc but my Father was with me in it.

Flourishing does not equate to being happy all of the time. There will be a day when we will truly flourish when Jesus comes again. Until then we live in a world tainted by sin, we live in the tension of the now and the not yet but in and through it all God continues to provide for us. He gives us everything we need for life and godliness whatever season we are in and no matter how difficult or disappointing life is. We have all we need to flourish.

At the most difficult point in his life when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane anticipating his own crucifixion, He cried out to his father, “Abba” and was able to entrust himself to God “not my will but yours be done”. That prayer led to his ultimate triumph over sin and death. Sometimes we need to stop fighting our circumstances, cry out to Abba, our Father and trust Him.

It is not easy to walk a path through pain and difficulty but it is in those times that we find God to be faithful and we are able to draw closer to Him. That has certainly been my experience. My life has not been all plain-sailing but in and through it all God has been faithful and I have flourished.

 

 

 

 

          

God Wants You to Flourish – Part 1

I have been reading about the Hebrew and Greek words which are all translated into English as the word blessed. There is a wealth of meaning in these words – happiness, completeness, maturity, peace, prospering, contentment …. But they can be summed up by the word flourishing. When I first read that my immediate reaction was “YES” – what a wonderful description of the impact of the gospel on our lives.

God promised Abraham “ in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 26:4). We can see that it has always been God’s intention to bless those who put their trust in Abraham’s offspring, Jesus.

Jesus spoke of himself in this way: “I am the door, if anyone enters by me, he will be saved and go in and out and find pasture.” (John 10:9) Jesus is the doorway to blessing.

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To be blessed means to be in a state of flourishing. God’s plan for mankind has always been that we should all flourish. He created us to be objects of his love, children, not slaves. It is not that we come to Jesus, breathe a sigh of relief and then just exist, endure, get by, or plod along waiting for the day when everything will be made new when Jesus comes again. God wants us to flourish now.

What does that mean? Definitions of flourishing include: grow, prosper, bloom, blossom, develop, do well, expand, multiply, succeed, thrive, amplify, arrive, augment, burgeon, increase, score, be on top of the heap, bear fruit, come along, get ahead, get on, go great, hit it big.

This is what it looks like when we are flourishing

It’s not static. It’s not something we have to strive for either. It’s the result of living in God’s kingdom.

What are the key essentials for flourishing? Some very basic things have to be in place. We need security – God has adopted us into his family never to be forsaken again, food – He has given us his word to nourish and sustain us, water – Jesus said that anyone who comes to Him will never thirst again, purpose – God has prepared works for us to do and relationships – he has put us into the family of God.

When we look through Scripture we see this theme of flourishing repeated over and over again. In Psalm 23 we are cared for by a Shepherd, who leads us to pastures where we can feed, by still waters where we can rest and be refreshed, he leads me the right way and when I walk through the valley He is with me, in the presence of my enemies he prepares a table and goodness and mercy are following me all the days of my life.

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In Psalm 1 we see a picture of someone who is flourishing. He is planted (intentionally not merely carried by the wind) by streams which feed his roots, he is fruitful and his leaves do not wither, in all he does he prospers.

In Prov 31 we have picture of a woman who is flourishing in whatever she lays her hand to, whether it is making clothes for her household, buying a field and planting a vineyard or caring for the poor.

God is extravagant in his love for us. He has given us everything we need for LIFE and GODLINESS. That is why we can flourish – because He has given us everything we need.

Since we have come into relationship with God, all that He is is available to us and causes us to flourish. All of His love, all of his goodness, all of His mercy, all of His provision, all of His power – the list goes on.

We can think of ourselves as seeds that have been planted in the best soil conditions for our growth, where we get all the nutrients and warmth that we need to produce growth, flowers, fruit. What would that look like in your life?

Or you can think of beautiful calligraphy where every letter instead of being a boring plain type face has a beautiful flourish. They are different for every letter. We can each flourish individually and it will look different for each of us.

We can flourish and see growth and development in every area of our lives. In our workplaces , in our serving, in our relationships, in our parenting, in our ministry, in our relationship with God, in our creativity.

Jesus came that we “might have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10)

Flourishing means realizing all the potential that God has placed within us. It means being the truest expression of humanity as God intended.

 

Part 2 – This doesn’t feel like flourishing – coming soon

 

Some visual flourishing for you to enjoy!

Photo credits
Shepherd – Unsplash
Others – pixabay