Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Geometry Proof of Gratitude?

I took a break from the series I was writing about gratitude as we prepared our kids for the start of a new school year (Thank you, Lord.), and got settled back into some kids’ and ministry schedules. Yay, for routines. Here I am being grateful in the midst of a blog series about gratitude. Must be a God thing. So here goes, the third of four installments about gratitude, this one about how hope, character and gratitude are connected.

As I have reflected on gratitude, the Holy Spirit has been teaching me, and showing me how many attitudes and character qualities intertwine with one another. More even than character, hope and gratitude that I set out to touch on in this blog.

Hope results from character. When God has developed that character and hope in me, I am truly thankful in blessings my human nature would have me – and maybe you- see as minor. That thankfulness, lest I forget, is connected to faith God has built in me, giving me the courage to be generous to others as I live out my belief that my Maker will take care of me and mine.

Whew! I’m feeling like I’m in a spiritual geometry class trying to prove that when God works gratitude in my heart, he’s already done several other works in me, and the gratitude can then grow and result in other blessings in my life and relationships. All in seven steps.

1 Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. 2 Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.
3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 5 And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love. – Romans 5, NIV, biblegateway.com

Boy, does God ever say what he means better than I say what I mean. Of course, the topics of character and hope are in this passage, but gratitude isn’t specifically mentioned. Still, it speaks of rejoicing, and peace – aren’t those signs of a grateful heart?

I love this next verse, too.
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. Col. 2:6-7 NIV
And see here how faith and thankfulness are connected. I think character is implied where it says “rooted and built up in him.”

So, you’re thinking, ‘Helene, this isn’t spiritual rocket science.'

Nope, you’re right, it’s not.

So then why is it so hard some days to live this? Because, of course, life as a follower of Jesus Christ means more than memorizing Bible verses and checking out the root word meanings in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek or Japanese. Ha. Ha. Had to throw that one in.

Head knowledge about a spiritual topic is much different than practicing it every day when I might be tired, or I might want something different than God does.

Lord, I pray you continually pour out grace and the power of the Holy Spirit on my life, so that I do live a life of character, hope and gratitude.

I can’t prove all these qualities are connected with one convenient Bible verse. I won’t prove it in seven orderly steps. God doesn’t need me to line it all up in a neat geometry proof.

character, hope, gratitude, generosity
peace, joy, love

No scripture connect the dots. No neat mathematical formula. But I see the truth of how He orchestrates these qualities and fruits to work together.

I’m blessed every single day by the reality of how God intertwines what matters most.

Above photo of overflowing Saylorville Lake, central Iowa June 30, 2010 Photo by Helene Bergren 

©Helene Bergren. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Pray it Up

I am interrupting the series covering Gratitude at God's leading to talk about the critical importance of and my heart's and mind's bend toward prayer.

"Have you ever noticed that Jesus launched the Christian church, not while someone was preaching, but while people were praying? In the first two chapters of Acts, the disciples were doing nothing but waiting on God. As they were just sitting there...worshiping, communing with God, letting God shape them and cleanse their spirits and do those heart operations that only the Holy Spirit can do...the church was born. The Holy Spirit was poured out."
What does it say about our churches today that God birthed the church in a prayer meeting, and prayer meetings today are almost extinct.
Jim Cymbala, Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire
I was listening to Pastor Colin Smith ( http://www.unlockingthebible.org/ ) on Praise 940 AM radio while I drove to Ames to work yesterday. His message also covered prayer. Do you think God is speaking to me? I do.

Pastor Smith pointed out that you can tell what you believe about God by what you pray about. Do you pray for friends' and family members' salvation? Then you acknowledge God's power over that. Do you pray for healings? Then you know God's in control over those situations, etc. Our prayers are a measure of our faith. Understand, these are FANTASTIC topics to cover in prayer. Pastor Smith suggested we broaden our prayer requests to the world!

That spurs me on to pray MORE, BIGGER and with more FERVENCE for Mexico, where I know people who live in a squatter's village along the border there. It spurs me on to pray MORE, BIGGER and more FERVENTLY for Guatemala where my sponsor child lives.

It spurs me on to pray MORE, BIGGER and with more passion for HAITI. A friend and I, sneaking in on a youth group event, wept as we held photos of children whose limbs had been amputated, looked at pictures of tent cities, and listened to a nurse who had returned from serving there after the devastating earthquake.

The call to intercede reminds me of the women who stand in miles-long prostitution lines in Kolkata, India, and helps me remember to pray for them, too, their physical rescue and sure salvation in Jesus Christ (as with my other examples), and for the organization that reaches out to the women Freeset, www.freesetglobal.com.

It spurs me to pray for our country. That America would honor God. That He would set godly leaders up in our day. That we would protect the unborn, live as models of fairness, give openly, freely pray about everything, wherever we happen to be at the moment, and experience new life in Christ.

It spurs me to pray for holy fire and faith in my own life. God has been nudging me for awhile in this area, to return to prayer practices I took a break from for a season (journaling, ACTS, following personal prayer lists). Mind you, the season of spontaneity has been good in many ways, and refreshing. But I think He's leading me back, that I would walk even more closely with my Him. Could I walk as closely as Enoch? I desire my Lord so very deeply.

And I desire an impassioned prayer life for my church, Prairie Ridge (www.ridgelife.org). So many people there set wonderful examples, not to please people, but responding to the Spirit in prayer. I want us all to live that way. No stone unturned, hearts set toward God, talking to him continually, praising Him always.

Praise God, as He works in all of us and completes what He set out to do.

©Helene Bergren. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Reading List: Radical Gratitude

I confess, when it comes to my relationship with my Lord and Savior, I’ve been thinking about my manners. Thankfulness, specifically.

How often do I praise and thank my Giver of Life? Did I learn those manners my mom taught me — and do I respond to the Spirit with heartfelt graciousness in my friendship with God?

I need good ideas, reminders and inspiration about that. I want gratitude to be my first response, part of my personality and my integrity. I found a book that helps.

In Radical Gratitude, Ellen Vaughn brings me as the reader into the very stories of all-surpassing gratitude. As I read and re-read them, I feel the Holy Spirit burning in my own heart, sparking thankfulness for my own salvation, life and blessings.

The author shares her thankfulness for deliverance from clinical depression. She shares stories of medical healings, and stories of thankfulness through grief. A story from Russia, and from Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp. Perspectives from the famous, and from God’s Word.

Radical Gratitude relays the experience of Martin Jenco, a priest and director of Catholic Relief Services in Beirut, Lebanon, during the mid-1980s. While in Hezbollah captivity, his only possession was a button — yeah, like for your shirt. He used the button as a meditative reminder during his captivity in 1984 and 1985.

But God spoke to Jenco, and convicted him to cling only to Himself, which meant giving up the button. God wanted to show the priest that He was with him always, even when Jenco was stuffed in the trunk of a car.

God, using Vaughn’s book, awakened me more fully to the deep importance of gratitude, too.

“Cultivating a grateful heart is not just an add-on nicety, a civil tip of the hat to God as we steamroll through our day. A posture of purposeful, perpetual thanks to God is absolutely central to Christian character. It gives glory to Him. It is the key defense against Satan’s temptations to despair, distrust, dysfunction. It protects us from sin and self. It is the hallmark of heaven. It does not exist in hell.”
(See page 51, Radical Gratitude)

Read Vaughn’s book for the good habits of grateful people she teaches. Read it for the Scripture examples she embeds.

Read Radical Gratitude to grasp the equal importance of gratitude for the daily gifts, and for the fireworks displays of God’s power.

Just read it.

Discussion Questions
What are you thankful for today?

What events relayed in the Bible touch your heart and spark gratitude in your life?

Is anything/What is getting in the way of radical gratitude in your life?

Are there other Christian books you’ve read about gratitude that you would recommend?

Above photo of Saylorville Lake in central Iowa. Photo by Helene Bergren

©Helene Bergren. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Gratitude, Please and Thank You

This blog entry kicks-off a four-part series about gratitude.

When it comes to gratitude, I want to be like a horn of plenty with thankfulness spilling out of me. Hmmm. That’s not seasonally appropriate for an August blog entry.

When it comes to gratitude, I want to be like a rainbow, showing multi-colored gratefulness for the varied blessings in my life. Well, that’s corny.

OK. When it comes to gratitude, I want to wear a thankful attitude like my favorite, comfy pair of blue jeans, albeit holey, and patched up with heart appliqu├ęs. That’s a little more me.

I want the gratitude I have for all my blessings to be genuine, and natural. I want it to fit me well.

During a college class, the Ph.D. teaching asked a room full of budding young journalists a question that would prompt us to look at ourselves in a new way. He asked whether or not we realized that we were among the richest in the world because we were sitting where we were, in a university classroom.

He pointed out that worldwide, education, especially college, was for the elite, and we were it. Oh, sure, bring out the global peer measuring stick, why don’t you, prof?

I can’t remember how the topic was germane to our class, but the conversation has remained with me through the years. The instructor was, and is, absolutely right about the privilege of education.

That’s just one example of how God has brought good fortune my way.

I’m not neglected or forgotten. God blesses me every day, through my family, my friends, His Word, the sights and sounds of nature, my health and so much more.

However, I struggle with wanting something different, something newer, prettier, bigger, in some cases something more practical, sometimes something more sparkly or just more of something.

On the intangible side, many days bring me longing for more fulfillment, more excitement, a better or different kind of relationship with so-and-so, more talent, or more brains. Why this struggle, when I know I’m blessed?

It’s not because I don’t enjoy my life, and appreciate it overall. It’s not like I walk around saying or believing, “Woe is me.” And it is not because I lack the peace that comes from a relationship with Jesus.

I could spiritualize, and suggest my feelings stem from really living as a stranger here on Earth. Sure, that factors into discontent. Or maybe it’s spiritual warfare, and Satan’s getting at my weak spot that his minions see. Sure, that can add to it.

But I must have a diva side. (I know. I’m technically too old to be a diva — and my clothes aren’t as shiny.) Essentially, I blame my own ungratefulness. Greed, materialism and selfishness come into play for me.
My own heart needs to grow in gratitude. Does yours?

To battle the side of me that forgets my blessings, I try a variety of activities. Many of these, I practice for a reason beyond the specific goal of becoming more thankful. I do them because I want to.
But here are my Gratitude Growers –
1. Praying for a grateful heart
2. Asking God to realign my priorities
3. Diving into word studies in the Bible related to thankfulness
4. Recording my blessings in a little gratitude notebook
5. Practicing the ACTS form of prayer journaling (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication)
6. Replaying mentally how my life is easier or better today than it was in other timeframes
7. Participating in mission trips
8. Reading about other cultures and social injustices globally
9. Sponsoring a child through Compassion International
10. Avoiding idleness (not to be confused with avoiding rest)
I know there’s no special formula to heart change. I can’t flip a switch and change in my own power. Still, coupled with my own heart’s willingness and genuine effort, the Holy Spirit works the transformation. It’s a journey.
And on this journey I will continue to do (my best at) what this verse shows:
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
His love endures forever.
1 Chronicles 16:34 NIV
In her book, Radical Gratitude, Ellen Vaughn covers the topic of thankfulness thoroughly, and convincingly. In my next blog post, I will spotlight that book, and share how some of her points touched my heart. In the third post, I will touch on gratitude, hope and character. In the fourth and final post, I will share a personal gratitude list, with a mix of the serious and the light-hearted.

©Helene Bergren. All Rights Reserved.

Photo at top is in the public domain.