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gratitude-rock

Gratitude: Giving Thanks Activites

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” – 1 Thessalonians 5: 17-18

Last week we talked about how hard praying without ceasing might seem… especially when we are tied to a particular form of prayer. This week, we are looking at gratitude… being grateful in all things. That might be just as hard as praying without ceasing, right? And yet, we know that gratitude is not only good for us spiritually but it also has scientifically proven health benefits. Gratitude helps us sleep better, suffer less from depression and generally improves our overall health… just to name a few.

So why is it so hard?

Gratitude isn’t a character trait we are born with. We have to flex our spiritual muscles and work at it!  Here are a few simple things you can try at home:

As an individual:

Try keeping a gratitude journal each day. Simply jot down the little blessings in your or day that might go unnoticed. At the end of the day take time to thank God for each thing on your list… it doesn’t need to be complicated and simple thanks to God will work.

When you are having trouble feeling grateful:

Take some time and remember times in your life that you were keenly aware of God’s presence and provision. Perhaps there were times that you felt special care from other people. Try making a list of all of the God moments and grace filled moments you have experienced in your life. Ponder how much of those things you actually earned? Allow yourself to be filled with gratitude to God. Try thinking of a way to express that gratitude in some measurable way. Notice how that makes you feel and how it strengthens your love and appreciation for God.

As a family:

Try having a thank-you morning around the table. Encourage your kids to find as many things as they can to be thankful for. Let it be fun! When one person shares something they are thankful for, the rest of the family responds with three “thank you’s.” It might go like this: For Saturday cartoons, thank you, thank you, thank you… for sleeping in, thank you, thank you, thank you. For pancakes and chocolate milk, thank you, thank you.

Birthday Bonus:

As my children turned 13, we came up with a birthday ritual to mark that special transition into their teenage years. At their special birthday dinner, the family would go around the table and name something they were grateful for about them. What started out to be a little challenging for my children turned out to be a rich time of blessing and affirmation as we each expressed our gratitude for the special person God had created them to be. Try it for any occasion. You may be surprised by the power and depth of meaning that happens when we express gratitude and affirmation for another!

 

tuning-in

Prayer: Tuning In Activities

Sunday we talked about the many ways to pray. Often, we are very good at talking, or making requests, but not so good at listening.Here are some ways to practice tuning in to God:

As a family:

Take a walk, a hike or just find a comfortable place to sit outdoors with the idea of tuning in to God. Give your children the task of finding something outside that reminds them of God. At the end of the time, take some time to dialog as a family around the table. Let each person share what they noticed and why. Ponder together what God might have been saying to them as they “tuned in”. Offer a short prayer of thanks for each story and what God taught you during that time.

As an individual:

Try making a routine activity in your day into a time of listening and tuning into God like mowing the grass, folding the laundry, or preparing a meal. Be creative!  Make a note of the things that you notice, or thoughts that seemed significant, or things that grabbed your attention that reminded you of God. At the end of your day, spend time thanking God for the little revelations you received. Ask God to show you if there is more God would like to teach you through these things.

Centering Prayer:

Does your mind drift when you try to pray or listen to God? Try this simple way of praying. Find a comfortable place to sit and prayerfully dwell in God’s presence with an open heart. Make sure that you set aside some time where you will not be interrupted. Turn off noise makers. Now pick a word to focus on that symbolizes your desire to tune into God’s presence; like light, love, shepherd, rock, Jesus… just to name a few. As you sit quietly with your eyes closed, focus on that one word… as thoughts, worries or anxiety arises; gently turn your thoughts back to your sacred word. Allow the Spirit of God to draw you into a place of deeper communion.

sacrificeshoes2003

It takes a little practice…

“Practicing the Presence” can sometimes seem like an elusive thing. Often, that is because we have certain expectations about the outcome… what the divine will look like in our lives. Other times, it is because there is no real formula for success. It is more about practice than perfection. For some of us that is a challenging thought… especially if we want to measure results.

Practicing the presence is more about desire, inquisitiveness and grace. We practice certain spiritual rituals such as prayer, dwelling in scripture, and contemplation because we believe that God is present and we long to notice and experience the grace of the moment when our longing is unexpectedly filled by God’s love.

As I ponder the very peculiar story of Moses and the burning bush, I am struck with three important practices: Read more

Playing with God

Just before I fell asleep last night, I told God that I was looking forward to our visit together the next day. I love to wake up early in the morning, drink coffee, read, and spend quality time in centering prayer. Perhaps it was this genuine enthusiasm that prevented me from finally falling to sleep at a respectable hour.  Or perhaps it was a sense that God was already stirring something in my spirit. Either way, this anticipation kept me awake long enough for me to recheck my alarm clock that faithfully told me that my alarm would ring 5 hours and 39 minutes from then. It would be hard to wake up at 5:30 the next day.

Sure enough, the startling sound of my cell phone awakened me exactly 5 hours and 39 minutes from the time I had checked it last night and amazingly, I jumped out of the bed before I had even turned it off. I put on my favorite bathrobe, brewed a cup of coffee for myself and made my way to my favorite couch. I read, pondered and then spent some time in centering prayer.

This time of prayer left me with the most unusual vision which I fully intended to blog about today… but as I began to put it into words, it came out as two poems:

Part 1
hopping, skipping, cartwheeling
across the beach
in my bridal gown
with the Groom
the earth is a trampoline
the sand under our feet
is as playful as the first snow
and yet
the sea is so calm and big
it soothes my soul
we fall into the sand
laughing
we make snow angels together
we look up into the heavens
and I wonder
before I ask, the Groom says
enjoy this thing
I am doing
this thing your heart has been longing for
we resume
our cartwheels, skipping, hopping
jumping
but the sea catches my eye
and I stop
to ponder its vastness
what am I to do?
I ask
He says in a gentle but probing voice,
play with me…
play with me

Part 2
It has been so long since I last played
I think I forgot how
there is a lifting in my soul
a memory flickers
of innocent times
sitting in the grass
and I remember
a place in me
of carefree rest
wonder
enchantment
play…
play with me, He says

It’s Monday

It’s Monday… the festivities of Easter have come and gone… we remembered together the significance of Christ’s resurrection… we sang Hallelujah’s and feasted our eyes upon majestic colors and easter flowers… our ears are still ringing with resurrection songs… but what difference will it make today?

This was the topic of the yesterday’s sermon… what does the resurrection really mean and how does it change the way I will live?

A Prayer for Easter Monday

let life spring forth
into busy tomorrow
bringing resurrection fragrance
to stacks of papers
books
technology
piled too high
on my desk

that waits
to lure me
into
pre-ordered tasks
of calculated
productivity

let the empty tomb
surprise
my waking
with mystery
on the first day
of my weekly
agenda
already chocked full

let spaciousness
and freedom
inspire
prayers
like the chubby bird
perched on a branch
bursting
with vibrant green buds
singing

worshiping a God who engages all of our senses…

As I read in Exodus this morning, I was struck with the details that God gave Moses on Mount Sinai for constructing the Tent of Meeting. He included a variety of woods, jewels, gold, purple yarns and colored fabrics … worship was to be a sensory feast.

There were to be spices and oils to engage the sense of smell, bells to awaken the ears, fabrics to touch and images that would tell the eyes something of the Holy of Holies. I was especially struck by the details in the Ark of the Covenant. The box was to be constructed of Acadia wood and then covered with gold. At each end, would be a Cherub with their wings pointing upwards toward the sky.

As I read the words and imagined these cherub pointing upward, I began to think of God and the heavenly realms. I marveled at God’s purposefulness in engaging the senses that he has given us. These senses, though very useful to us throughout the day, served another purpose. They are also to be doorways into God’s presence.

We have all smelled a familiar perfume that reminded us of a favorite person or felt delight when we slid into clean sheets of a freshly made bed and felt cared for. All of these can lead us to a prayerful place… all of these can awaken us to God’s presence and care.

As I write this, I hear the birds chirping outside of my window. I am reminded that God has given me another day… I am also reminded that spring is here because the birds sing louder as the weather grows warmer. My heart is warmed and  I am suddenly filled with hopefulness and gratitude. I have been awakened to God’s presence and invited to linger…

O to be fully awakened
into the now
with the rush
of a pregnant moment;
God coming near

to take it in
like the red breasted bird
that has momentarily left its perch
and flown down into the meadow

to be near
the passing of the holy one
to drink it in
the way spring grass
welcomes the morning dew
absorbing it
into the deep parts
to be swayed
by the wind of God’s passing
the way strong trees
circum
to the breeze

Listen for the whisper

There are some of us that worry… I happen to be one of those. It is not a trait that I am proud of especially since Jesus seems to say over and over to his disciples, “Do not worry”. Sometimes, my mind is so busy working through the possible outcomes of each day and each situation that it presents, that I find it very difficult to be still and centered.

It was that way for me this morning as I found myself hurrying through scripture with my mind filled with all kinds of questions… at one point I even found myself composing a letter in my head that I needed to write later on today. Ridiculous I know, definitely not very holy… but hey, I am being vulnerable here.

Thank goodness for Grace that is able to interrupt my many thoughts and feeble attempts… all of the sudden I arrived at Matthew 10:26-27. It reined in everything I was thinking and feeling and poignantly spoke life into my spirit. Jesus is giving his disciples instructions on how to go out and minister to persons:

“So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs.”

The “do not be afraid” grabbed my attention, but it was “what I tell you in the dark” and “what I whisper in your ear” that really spoke to me. I can worry myself to death weighing all of the possible outcomes, calculate and recalculate life decisions, programs, worship services, sermons and outreach… but the most effective work I can do is listen to the quiet whisper in the dark… that is how Jesus will guide me.

This is not an invitation that I learned growing up… I was taught to fill my mind with scriptures and studies… to seek more and more information, understanding and to master the word. There is nothing innately wrong with that… but, this quiet invitation to hear the whisper is something very different.

My Old Testament reading this morning was also about Moses going up to Mount Sinai to hear from the Lord… another model of God speaking to Moses directly and giving him instructions on how to give guidance to his people.

The invitation to the disciples as well as to Moses was to withdraw to a place that was dark… I would call that a quiet, non stimulating, and still place. In other words, we are to give ourselves a really good chance to hear the whisper. We are invited to trust that the Savior is indeed whispering in our ears, and as we recognize his whisper, we can learn to trust in His guidance.

Perhaps the words of an old hymn, “Be still my soul” offer a prayer towards this quiet place of holy encounters:

Be Still My Soul

Be still my soul
The Lord is on thy side
Bear patiently the cross
Of grief or pain
Leave to thy God
To order and provide
In every change
He faithful will remain
Be still my soul
Thy best thy heavenly Friend
Thro’ thorny ways
Leads to a joyful end

Be still my soul
Thy God doth undertake
To guide the future
As He has the past
Thy hope thy confidence
Let nothing shake
All now mysterious
Shall be bright at last
Be still my soul
The waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them
While He dwelt below

When the going gets tough

I think that we as Christians skip over the immense pain and suffering that Jesus experienced the week leading up to his death. Though there are many stories in between, we tend to move from the shouting Hosannas in church on Palm Sunday to the Hallelujahs of his resurrection on Easter Sunday. Yes, many of us do have a Maundy Thursday meal and even a Good Friday service… but we rarely live with the Gethsemane experience for any length of time.

Immediately following his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, with the crowds cheering and blessing him, Jesus enters into a very dark week. He goes into the temple only to be heart broken and angered by the disrespect and corruption of his father’s house… it should be a place of prayer but instead, it had become a place of deceit, bribery and corruption. Humanity truly needed a savior and he was fully aware of what the price would be.

The following day he was harassed by the chief priests and teachers of the law. They questioned his motives behind his actions. They wondered who gave Jesus the authority to behave the way he did. They threatened him and ridiculed him with poignant hatred, “Who do you think you are?”

The next day, one of his closest friends agreed to betray him and hand him over to the authorities for 30 pieces of silver… the common price of a slave. Perhaps Jesus could have anticipated this from someone else, but one of his own?

The heaviness of what was to come must have been heavy on his heart as he celebrated his last passover meal with the persons he had lived with, taught and loved intensely for the past several years, his disciples.

It was in this immense, dark place that Jesus found himself struggling to pursue God in the garden.

We may never have a week like that of Jesus, but many of us do enter into dark and difficult times. We all experience deep disappointment, despair, loneliness, dread, heart brokenness, depression, anxiety… you can fill in the blanks. The question is, what will we do in that dark place?

Jesus pursues God even when he doesn’t want to do what is being asked of him. He surrounds himself with persons who will help him, he prays and waits for God’s assistance, and he relinquishes his desire and control over the situation.

When we find ourselves in difficult times or in a dark night experience we can learn from our Savior who has walked through the darkest of nights. We can share our struggle with one or two close friends, we can sit and pray our laments honestly in God’s presence, and we can relinquish our brokenness and darkness before God knowing that only God can deliver us.

It is comforting to know from the Gospel of Luke that angels of light came to Jesus’ after he prayed. God didn’t take the cup away from Jesus. He would still drink from the cup of death and suffering, but God did come to his aid in the dark night.

What then are we to do? Try to muster up enough strength to take a few baby steps toward others and God and then wait for him to find us.

making it through the storm

As Harry preached this past Sunday on Jesus walking on the water, I was deeply moved as I realized that recently  I had been weathering my own storm… it is hard to know where these storms originate and why. Sometimes they arrive as quickly and as unexpectedly as they subside… like a squall on a lake… unpredictable and  unforseen but powerful enough to take you down.

The question is, what do we do in these unpredictable and uncontrollable times in our lives when we can quickly become overwhelmed? In Matthew 14, Jesus invites Peter to join him as he walks above the water in the storm… Peter joins him but as we know, he quickly begins to sink when he removes his gaze from Jesus and fixes himself on the trouble at hand.

This practice of gazing at Jesus, fixing our eyes on him, can be elusive at best. When we find ourselves caught unexpectedly in a squall, panic sets in and we can quickly become harried. Slowing down, listening and waiting seem nearly impossible, especially noticing where Jesus is in all of that. Everything in us wants to do the opposite. Read more

Practicing the Sabbath… yielding for God’s provision

Practicing the Sabbath continues to be a life-giving practice for Harry and I. Admittedly, we have had to make some adjustments along the way. For several weeks now, we needed to change the day of the week due to previously scheduled events on Saturdays. So, we decided to make our Sabbath during this time from Thursday evening at sundown until Friday evening at sundown.

This week was especially difficult for me as I had tasks, sermons, rehearsals and extra services pile up and leave me feeling breathless. Read more