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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Gratitude

"Let's have an attitude of gratitude, and fill our hearts with praise,
'Thank you Lord!' we'll say to whatever comes our way
and with our attitude of gratitude, our lives will tell our friends,
That something special happens
When Jesus lives within!"

This is part of a song from a kids tape I used to listen to (by Joni and Friends - if you want to reflect on gratitude just take a look at her life and be amazed!).
We try to teach kids manners - please and thank you - but it's an entirely different thing to cultivate gratefulness. We can say 'thank you' and not mean it, but since God knows our hearts there's no point in thanking him unless we deeply sense a debt of gratitude towards Him.
As the song above says, 'something special happens when Jesus lives within.' Does something special happen when Jesus lives within? What is that special 'something'? It could be many things, one of the most important being gratitude. Are you grateful?

A few years ago I got sick frequently, and one case in particular stands out in my mind. I had a bad cold, sniffly nose, headaches, sleeplessness... we all know how miserable it is to be sick. But this went on and on! I'd get better for a day or two, then be sick again for a week or two. It lasted about 3 months, and I began to sulk. I was depressed and wondering why God was allowing me to go through it. With everyday illnesses we often just look to the physical and think we'll get over it in a few days. Because of the idea of being a 'Job's friend' we've completely disconnected any notion of sin from the idea of sickness (i.e. thinking God is judging because of some bout of illness!) (By the way, there is a good reason for this thinking, since Jesus healed the blind man and set the record straight that his blindness had not come from any person's sin but to show His own glory). But I don't think we always need to make that separation. In my case, as I began to sulk I began to wonder if God was trying to tell me something.

As I continued to sniffle, I got more and more desperate. I saw the Dr. a number of times, only to hear the most discouraging news ever: 'it's a virus, so drink lots of water and get some rest.' (blah blah blah etc etc etc... - in other words: 'sorry, we can't help you'). I prayed, 'Lord, please PLEASE help me to get better - NOW!' When He didn't instantly heal me, I began to pity myself.

Self-pity is the opposite of gratitude. There is ingratitude - the absence of gratefulness, and there is self-pity which is even more of the antithesis to gratitude - much further down the line! Many of you must be amused that I could, that I WOULD pity myself over a mere cold! While others face huge burdens and trials in life, I sulked over being tired and uncomfortable. Can you imagine?! I think the lowest point was when I lost all sense of taste and smell - for over 5 days! I'd never experienced this before - the texture of food without its taste is, simply put, unappetizing. So I went to the internet to look for information on my 'condition.' (This, while the Lord sits patiently by, waiting for me to discover Him...) I was even more discouraged by what I found there. Did you know that a bad cold can permanently damage your sense of smell and taste?! How horrible! This knowledge made me hit rock-bottom. (I love food - the enjoyment of it colours my world - the thought of never tasting again horrified me!)

I say all this in relation to gratitude because it demonstrates how living without it can be a detriment to true happiness.

Just at that time I got an email about a tragic attack on a girl in South Africa. The gun shot her somewhere in the neck and she was in recovery - with great difficulty eating, swallowing or tasting. She was patiently, joyfully enduring this trial, while I in my comfy life was sulking. This email began to alert me to the fact that maybe my sickness was more than physical. Maybe God was trying to tell me something. But He needed to speak even more loudly...

One evening as I lay in bed, miserable and depressed, having no desire to read, eat or do anything of value, I flipped on the radio. It was a program on Moody radio of instrumental music. I immediately recognized the tune of one of the song being played, "He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater, He sendeth more strength when the labours increase...for out of His infinite riches in Jesus, He giveth and giveth and giveth again..." As the words played out in my mind, a lone tear escaped my eye - and was soon joined with many others as the words of the 2nd verse played on...

"When we have exhausted our stores of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we've reached the end of our hoarded resources,
Our Father's full giving has only begun.

His love has no limit, His strength has no measure,
His power has no boundary known unto men,
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus,
He giveth and giveth and giveth again."

Here I was sulking, and God still met me in my need! He could have left me to wallow, but He lovingly, gently lifted me out of my sorrows and encouraged me despite my unwholesome attitude.

With this encouragement, and many tears of remorse, that evening I was able to smell and taste for the first time! In some sense this was a work of God, but I'm never one to ignore the physical either. I realized that the tears I was shedding were doing a work of unclogging everything and washing out the gunk that was making me so miserable. And yet I, for one, cannot manufacture tears. God had to work in my heart to bring a healing physical response! A wonderful woman I know once told me that the tears we shed from chopping onions contain different body chemicals than the ones we shed in grief - and that the genuine grief tears actually remove unhealthy components from us! (Thanks, Carol Eldon :) )

Within minutes of confessing my sinful attitude of ungratefulness to the Lord, I began to smell things - oh how wonderful it was! I ran to the kitchen and opened the spice cupboard, just to be sure!

I realized how blessed I was - even if I forever couldn't taste or smell, there are many who can't see, walk, think or hear. There are so many with broken families, heartaches, financial burdens, job stress. I have SO much to be thankful for.

Complaining, self-pity and ingratitude have no place in the life of a Christian. At least they have no place in the life of a truly happy Christian. (Yes, someday I'll write a blog on redeeming the word happy which seems to have fallen on hard times!) Are you happy? Are you grateful? Why not list all the things for which you are grateful and thank God for each one? Often as I drive I'll see a lovely sunset, a row of pretty trees, geese flying in a row. I thank Him spontaneously for these beautiful sights - and relish the thought that maybe He put them in my path just so I'd enjoy them. And after my sickness episode, I now (often daily) thank the Lord for each night of rest without coughing, for each meal I can fully enjoy, for each day that my sinuses are clear and for each breath I can take with uncluttered lungs. Living with this daily 'attitude of gratitude' has helped lift my spirits and given me an overall joy and contentment as I go through life.

What can you thank Him for today?

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