And now, here’s part two….
AFTERNOON SESSION: JOY, THANKFULNESS & THOUGHTS FOR GOING FORWARD
So, why should we practice intentional thankfulness? Because life is awful, otherwise. Let’s be honest. If I can’t find anything to be thankful for, even in the midst of hard and trying times, Satan has won. We have an enemy who longs to steal our joy and break our hearts. He wants nothing more than for us to continue to live a life that is on a cycle of ‘lather, rinse, repeat’ without ever being free or moving forward.
Friends, the Christian life is exactly what it is. LIFE. Once we embrace and accept fully the grace we’ve been given for the here and now, we can LIVE. Life no longer is a pattern of trying to do better and trying to look for the silver lining or positives. It just happens. I know it sounds crazy, but it has been the truth in my own life.
“Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” (Hebrews 13:15 NASB)
WHY BE THANKFUL? HOW DO WE DO IT?
So, how do we do this? Friends, I don’t have a checklist for you. I’m sorry to disappoint. Like I said at the beginning of our day together, you don’t need me to tell you how to be thankful. But I would recommend this: take some time when you can be quiet and can listen and ask God how He sees you. Who He’s created you to be. I promise you, He will answer. He will show up. And then? As radical and crazy as this may sound, believe Him. Live your life as though you count. Because you do. And the idea of living a life of thankfulness? Will just happen. You won’t have to try.
Once we understand who we really are in Christ, our default has changed. Instead of our natural inclination being that of negativity, sin, insecurity, doubt, etc., we have a pure, righteous and holy heart. We are truly a new creation. This means we naturally have a spirit and attitude of thankfulness! When faced with a challenging situation, we can either react out of our old selves (flesh), or we can stop and ask God, “What is true here?” “Who am I?” and respond from that truth.
Purposefully choose to live your days from the knowledge that you are a righteous and holy woman. Every day. No matter what. Even when you mess up, and let’s face it, we all mess up, God says, “You are still my beloved. My holy one.” We need to stop embracing the lies Satan throws in our path and allow the Lord to show us how He sees us. Ask Him. I guarantee He will tell you.
DREAM STORY (girls reading this now on the blog, if you want to know the dream, let me know and I’ll write a separate post about that)
Another way I have found to practice thankfulness in my life is to surround myself with friendships and relationships that are life-giving. As women, we are relational to the very core of our spirits. Generally speaking, we need people. And not just people, we need friends. Good, honest friends. My friends build up my soul and Jesus uses to pour into my heart as a balm and in ways that my husband and others cannot. This includes older women (and trust me, I know that I am old these days, so I don’t mean this as an insult) who mentor me and point me back to Christ when I need guidance. These women are like-minded (but not exactly-minded, however) and have shown me more about living a life of grace and thankfulness than I ever imagined possible.
These are the friends that I can have over for coffee or a play date and not care that there are a multitude of dirty dishes in my sink or that I haven’t showered and am still in yoga pants. These are the friends who will drop everything if I need them and cry with me when I hurt. They also challenge and encourage me to live out the calling God has placed on my life. Spending time with them is calming to my spirit in the midst of the hub-bub of life and helps me look at my world through a lens of joy and thankfulness.
Proverbs 27:6 says that “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”
Sometimes, we need to hear truth that can sting a little. So much better if it comes from a friend, than false words from an enemy that are easier to swallow. Do you have a godly friend who will tell you truth at any cost?
If we can begin to look at our surroundings and the people in our lives for what they are and they mean to us, we will go a long way in being thankful. And it will be genuine and natural. Because we will be living a thankful life out of the grace and truth Jesus has given.
One area that has been a continual struggle for me is when I begin to look to what I do for my validation as a person. Meaning that I look at how I’m performing as a wife, mother, homemaker, friend, etc. for validation. So, life becomes a pendulum at times. Oh, I’m doing really awesome at being a momma? Chalk one point up in the ‘good’ column. But wait, the kids threw massive tantrums at the store, minus five points. The expectations I place on myself are not only ridiculously high, they are unrealistic AND unbiblical.
If perfection is God’s standard, I fall miserably short every single time. No matter how hard I try, no matter how many changes I make, I cannot meet His standard for righteousness and holy living. So then I get depressed. But did you notice how many times I said “I”? When we aren’t living a life of thankfulness, we are horribly focused inward and on what we can achieve through our own efforts and merit. That is NOT why Christ came! He came because there was no earthly way for us to ever measure up to God’s standard of holiness/righteousness. He had to die because He knew that on our own, we would never be “good enough.” So guess what? We never have to be or try to be “good enough” again. Does this mean we suddenly stop doing what God asks us? No. Absolutely not. But our motives radically change. I’m not thankful because it’s what I should be, but because it’s who I am. Because it’s what I want to do. We do good because we understand that He is good and He made us good. Because we understand that outside of Him we can do nothing. Remember in John 15?
“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (verses 4-5, emphasis mine)
God promises us that He will never leave nor forsake us. So how can we possibly do otherwise but remain in Him? Life doesn’t automatically become easy or without trials, but man alive, does it make it so much easier to bear. So much easier to truly say, “thank you, Lord, for your mercy and grace.”
I promise you that there is so much joy to be found in living out of the freedom Christ offers us. And it isn’t just forgiveness for the past and a promise of someday in heaven. It’s a promise for today. For right now. For each and every day. Allow yourself to rest in His grace. He won’t let you fall.
Coming back to my heart verse, Galatians 5:1, I was honored to participate in the IF:Gathering several weeks ago that I know several of you here also participated in. One of the first speakers, Chris Caine, put it this way:
“Why settle for deliverance when you can have freedom?”
When I heard that, it was like a punch to the stomach. I never once thought of the difference between deliverance and freedom. But it made me realize there were several areas in my life that I was settling for deliverance and God was just waiting for me to walk through to freedom. He’d already unlocked the shackles and the cell door, and was holding it open, but I’d refused to walk through! Unknowingly, I just accepted that where I was was as good as it got.
Have you settled for deliverance when you could be walking in freedom? Have you accepted that “Well, this is just how life is and it will never be better?” If you truly believe that Jesus came to die for you and that He loves you, and I believe that you do, you do not have to stay in the wilderness of deliverance any longer! We CAN step out into the freedom that Christ achieved for us. Isn’t that something to be thankful for?
Colossians 3:15-17 says this:
“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Wow, right? You could look at this passage and think, “Man, there is a lot of stuff in there I’m supposed to be doing that I’m not,” but please don’t look at it through that lens. Did you hear? “Whatever you do”. Whatever. Not in just this and this and this. When you’re doing the dishes. When you’re doing the laundry. When you’re at your job. When you’re having coffee with a friend. Do it in the name of Jesus and give thanks!
The point is, ladies, is that we are admonished to dwell with Christ so that whatever we do, in all things, we do it in His name and that is praise and thankfulness.
And how piercing is that instruction to let the word of Christ dwell richly in us (I love that word, richly, don’t you?) as we teach and admonish? I immediately thought of my children and how often I parent out of my own strength and knowledge and fall flat on my face.
I want to be perfectly honest with you. I do not have this all figured out. I do not have everything together. I have a realllllyyyy bad temper. My heritage is half-German, one-quarter Irish and something else in there, I don’t know, but German AND Irish? I was doomed to a feisty temperament before I could walk! I frequently feel as though I am not enough in every area of my life. I’m not pretty enough. Thin enough. Smart enough. A good enough wife, mother, friend, etc. That I’m not enough for the Lord and that there is no way He could use me. I yell at my kids more than I care to admit. I shut down and give Matt and my friends the cold shoulder when I need to reach out for help. Sometimes, God is the farthest thing from my mind.
But none of those things define me, and though I struggle with them, I am learning that they are not the real me. They are not the Erin who has been set free and is now co-heir with Christ. Accepting grace means I can’t hold myself up to measuring sticks anymore, and it means that I need to begin living out of that new identity, no matter how many times I screw up. And I do. Frequently.
Here’s the good news, though. I am finding that there is real, tangible joy and thankfulness in my days when I rely on God for every single thing I set my mind to do. I am quicker to smile, quicker to show mercy and grace to those in my life and quicker to offer thanks for the multitude of blessings bestowed upon me. There is an infinite grace and elegance to moments when I do everything as to the Lord….
I see little moments between my kids (Seth and Ellie holding hands, Clara busting a gut at Levi, Levi being a “man” because of hair on his arms and singing a song or dancing). I look at my husband as the prince and warrior of my heart that he is and the beauty of who he is. I see Jesus in my friends, my neighbor who leaves bags of toys on our doorstep without fanfare for my kids. I can see the blessing of the perpetual crumbs on the floor because it means we have enough food to eat for today. My life is not grand, and I don’t expect that you will see my name in lights or me on a big stage any time soon, but because I am learning to view the world around me with Jesus’ eyes, it is beautiful.