Sunday in his sermon on prayer Gary shared the acronym A.C.T.S., which stands for “Adoration-Confession-Thanksgiving-Supplication.” While discussing the confession portion of the message Gary addressed the very real issue of our being overly vague in our confession. Often we don’t find freedom through confession because we use some general confession along the lines of “Forgive me of all my many sins.” but we never really name what those sins are.
As Gary shared this I wanted to cheer; I also immediately connected the thought to thanksgiving and joy. I suspect that a large reason that we often fail to live the joyful lives we are called to live is because we fail to be specific in our prayers of thanksgiving. Much like confession, when praying prayers of thanksgiving we can have a tendency to pray things like “Thank You God for all Your many blessings.”
A while back I was challenged by something I read in Hidden in Christ, by James Bryan Smith. He discussed being at a speaking engagement and ending up in a small group with a woman who described having a “Gratitude Journal.” Smith explains that a few weeks later he decided to begin this spiritual practice as well. At the end of the chapter Smith issues this challenge:
“Today, or this week, begin keeping a gratitude journal. Try to write down five things that happened to you each day that were a blessing to you. Do not feel a need to make everything ‘spiritual’; if you enjoyed a delicious slice of pizza or a funny movie, simply write it down. The cumulative effect of these small moments of pleasure will, over time, amount to a large amount of gratitude and thanksgiving.” (Page 165)
I can tell you from my experience this has been helpful, though I have struggled to be consistent in practicing it. You see, I too fall into the habit of thanking God for “His many blessings” even thanking Him for “His grace and love.” While both statements are true they don’t really cultivate an attitude of thankfulness and joy. In my gratitude journal I will write things like, “Thanks for kids who show the love and grace of God in their willingness to forgive me for being short with them.” Or even God’s grace for that specific sin. The specificity does something in the heart and mind to intensify the joy and thankfulness.
As I flip back through my gratitude journal I am reminded that this journal fueled my intercessory prayer, as I thanked God for those answered prayers, it would fuel more prayer.
Here is my encouragement/challenge: begin your own gratitude journal. Strive everyday to think of five things for which you are thankful, whether big and “spiritual” or as “worldly” as a nice cup of coffee. Try this for a month and see if it hasn’t increased your joy.
May we be ever faithful to the command to, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 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 3:15-17
There is a phrase in the Old Testament that sets a negative tone for what is to follow. 2 Samuel 11 begins, “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle…David remained at Jerusalem.” There is something about this statement that tells us all is not well.
Every time I read this I am reminded of the first day of football practice every year in high school. The athletic handbook, we were told, could be summarized “Be where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there.”
The reality is David wasn't where he was supposed to be when he was supposed be there, and we know that great sin and heartache were the result.
This is easy to see with David and his big public sin, but it can be harder to see in ourselves and the not so public disobediences? Where do you see the fallout of not being where you were supposed to be when you were supposed to be there? It is very possible that you haven’t missed a formal appointment to be somewhere, but you have had an inner prompting (Holy Spirit) and haven’t followed that prompting.
I have been chewing on this verse about David and these words from high school because of conviction I have felt lately. Like many (as Gary mentioned in his sermon Sunday), I have spent a large amount of time watching T.V. and browsing Facebook. However, I have been convicted for a while that this time needs to be spent in a more productive manner.
I haven’t been where I was supposed to be when I was supposed to be there, because I haven’t been completely faithful to follow the conviction of the Holy Spirit in me. The less than public nature of these convictions and the consequences of ignoring them make them easier to ignore than David’s. But if I am honest the consequences are very real; a weakened relationship with God from wasting time that could have been spent communing with Him and from resisting the work of His Spirit within me. The consequences are also physical as time that could have and should have been spent sleeping is spent consuming mindless nonsense. Like David, these consequences also affect our relationships with others. We like to segment and isolate the various areas of our lives, but the reality is that we are wholistic. This wholistic nature means that when our spiritual relationship suffers it spills over and our interpersonal relationships suffer.
Much like David our lack of obedience has consequences far greater than we could ever imagine. Because of his sin David’s spiritual, emotional, physical, and relational life suffered.
Where has God been calling you?
Is there something in your life God is calling you away from temporarily? Permanently?
Personally, these thoughts over the past couple weeks have prompted me to step away from T.V. And social media for a period of time. I have sensed God calling me to deeper communion with Him, this cannot be done if I am not where I’m supposed to be, when I’m suppose to be there.
Do you see where your spiritual health might be suffering from not being where you’re supposed to be?
What about your physical life? How has this affected your relationship?
Do you care enough to change?
Are you willing to make the changes necessary to be where God is calling you to be, when He is calling you to be there?
When Uriah started talking about wanting to get baptized Lindsay and I decided to get him a gift to commemorate the occasion. It didn’t take long for me to decide that we would get him a pocket knife. I also wanted to get it engraved with a passage that could be especially significant given the decision he was going to make. To our excitement he made this decision sooner than we expected and told us on December 22, that he was ready and wanted to get baptized and make a commitment to be a disciple of Jesus. I had the amazing privilege of baptizing him on Christmas Eve.
When his knife came in the next week, Uriah and I went for a drive. I explained to him that we wanted to get him something special for his decision and decided to get him a knife. I told him that there were people who probably wouldn’t approve of this gift. He knew why, because it can be dangerous. However, he also knew that there were benefits to having a knife, one can protect themselves, get food, and help people to name a few that he mentioned.
Affirming that he was correct, knives are great tools that have unending uses, they also carry a level of danger which requires responsibility. It didn’t take long for him to explain to me numerous ways that people could get hurt by his knife if he was careless with it. Because of these dangers I explained that he had to be responsible to make sure that he wasn’t careless with his knife, whether it be leaving it lay where his sisters could get it or using it in a way that was potentially harmful. I went on to explain that it was his knife, therefore he is the one responsible for what happens with it at all times.
You may be wondering why I am recounting this conversation with you, this is why—our spiritual life is like this knife. We have been given an incredible gift (far better than any knife). This gift gives us not only the ability but the obligation to help people (Matthew 28:18-20). How much more can we protect somebody than with the gift of grace from God and eternity with the Father, Son, & Spirit?
However, like the knife people are often hurt by Christians who are careless with their lives. Maybe you leave your “spiritual life” laying at the church building when you leave. Brennan Manning comments, “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyles, that is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” The biggest reason people reject Christ is Christians who leave their “spiritual life” at the church building. The apostle Paul addresses this in Romans 1:18-2:24. Other Christians cause damage when they are careless with how they use their faith, think Westboro Baptist and people like them.
As a result of the way a knife illustrates the Christian life. And since the decision to accept Jesus, get baptized, and commit to a life of discipleship is the beginning of becoming a man (in the spiritual sense), we had the knife engraved with “1 Kings 2:1-4.”
My prayer is that from reading this you may never look at a knife the same way. I pray that every time you see a knife it would be a reminder to you of the power and responsibility it carries. It is my prayer that this reminder would change the way we live. May we be people who are helpful, life giving, and responsible with our faith. May we live in such a way that people are drawn closer to God, not pushed away from Him.
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