Cultivating thankfulness

My daughter took this picture to help me celebrate!

In honour of Thanksgiving, I have decided to blog about thankfulness. For those of you who have followed my blog for a while, you will know that I did a series on thankfulness a while ago so I was going to choose my favourite post from that. However, I have just been writing about new ways to connect with God for a piece in January’s Premier Christianity magazine, and I have talked about cultivating thankfulness in that – so have decided to take my own advice! In that article,  one of my suggestions is to list things to be thankful to God for each day, so here are mine (actually for the month of November, as Thanksgiving falls towards the end of it). I am thankful for:

The ongoing health and wellbeing of my beautiful family – they are such fun to be around.

The chance to do a job I love but still be around most of the time for my children.

Completing my first month in a new role at Premier Christianity – the first that has lured me back into an office for over 18 years!

Not just one but two books published this month! I know I’ve spoken rather a lot about Taking Off the Mask, but the new one, Cover to Cover: 1, 2 & 3 John: Walking in the truth can be purchased here.

An incredible set of friends, many of whom celebrated with me at my first official book launch.

A wonderful, supportive church family, who responded so well to Steve and I sharing from the heart this month.

An amazing first musical evening at my daughter’s new secondary school – the talent was incredible.

 

Publication day!

I was quiet during the whole #MeToo viral campaign – mainly because I had just started a new job and life was incredibly busy. But I was really struck by something that Reese Witherspoon said about things needing to come out into the open in order to be healed.

That, I think, is so true – and can be related to our spiritual walk too. It wasn’t until I had been completely exposed and the big issues in my marriage and in my own walk with God had been dealt with, that I could begin to take those first steps of walking as a leader with real integrity and honesty.

I really feel God redeemed my worst mistakes and has actually turned the fruit into my main ministry – being vulnerable and open in order to encourage others to be too.

My book, Taking Off the Mask, is out today. In it, I am incredibly honest about my somewhat shameful past – although it holds no shame for me today. He allowed me to be exposed, brought everything out into the light, in order to bring His healing. I know God has forgiven me and has also called me to share my own journey and what I have learned along the way in order to encourage and challenge others.

I do hope that that is what my book does for those of you who read it. It is a straightforward, honest book. It does contain questions in order for you to dig deeper, to look at how you respond to some of the issues I’ve faced and raise in the book.

If you would like to buy it from me, those of you in the UK can do so here at the reduced price of £8.99 (with free postage).

Thanks for your continued support – and if you are on Facebook do come to my Facebook live event at 7.30pm GMT.

A malignant motivator

I am delighted to welcome Lucy Mills onto my blog today. Her book, Undivided Heart, was published last week and I received my copy today – I’m so looking forward to reading it! As part of her blog tour, she has provided a guest post that really resonates with me, because it covers a subject I include in my own book, Taking Off the Mask, which is out on Friday!

Our culture is obsessed with looking a certain way – whether this is physical appearance, or appearing to be successful. But this obsession also strays into the spiritual. We can get enamoured with ideas of not just being but looking like a ‘good Christian’ (whatever that is), or coming across ‘right’ in the way we live. When life throws up inconvenient challenges, as it inevitably does, we hiccup. Sometimes we go on the defence, entrenching ourselves. Other times we go on the attack, criticising others for the ‘specks’ in their eyes while ignoring the planks in our own. Neither reaction helps us. We end up missing out on a deeper encounter with the divine because we’re so busy with trying to look good.

This need for approval – this desire to be liked – can become a malignant motivator in our lives. Our sense of worth becomes so contingent upon it that we work to live in a way that gets us liked. We bury how we really feel in the attempt to put on a show of ‘likeableness’.

She waits to see
if you will like her
She needs to know
that you will like her
She cannot bear it
if you don’t like her

We may not even be conscious of it; the motive has become so pervasive in us that we act on almost automatically. And isn’t it easy, in an age where ‘likes’ can be counted?

But something inside us worries, because we know that this façade is not who we are. We may ignore this niggle. As well as hiding from others, we can hide from ourselves. But we can’t hide from God.

All our strutting, all our dabbing on of Christian-coloured concealer, all that sucking in of our spiritual tummies – it doesn’t fool God one jot.

And it doesn’t address the issue that what we think of as being a ‘good Christian’ or saying/doing the ‘right things’ may not be in tune with God’s priorities anyway. Have we made small things into huge issues and then dismissed the important stuff amid nit-picking at the unimportant? Instead of gracious, we come across as judgemental. Instead of loving, we come across as arrogant and proud.

God uses the weak. The messy. The people not wearing make-up.

God uses you – and God uses me – in our weakness and our frailty, in our foolishness and vulnerability.

God sees us and God loves us. That is our great motivator, as we blossom in the assurance of what has been done for us, realising how much value is given to us as children of God.

Undivided Heart: Finding Meaning and Motivation in Christ explores the things that shape us, drive us and define us, asking where our true identity lies and how this is reflected in our lives.  Find out more (including where to buy) at www.lucy-mills.com/undivided-heart

 

Thanking God for ALL experiences

gratefulpic

A reflection and response…

As we looked at previously, 1 Thessalonians 5:18 talks about the fact that we need to learn to ‘give thanks in all circumstances’. Certainly the apostle Paul was a great example of this, praising God even while in chains. However, when we think about thanksgiving we don’t often turn to those situations that we find difficult or painful. And yet that is precisely the place God wants us to get to – being able to love and thank Him whatever is going on around (and to) us.

I find the hymn I’ve put below interesting because it does just that. Rather than only focusing on thanking God for the good times the writer has juxtaposed the positive with the negative: pleasant weather – and life experiences – with stormy, comfort with pain, roses with thorns.

Think back: how often have you thanked God for the difficulties in your life, as well as the easy times?

Read through this hymn, really reflecting on the individual images it contains. Try and place yourself in the hymn, and make yourself the protagonist. For example, what memories do you want to bring up and remember? What tears that you thought were now forgotten have brimmed up again? What storms have you weathered? When did you feel His comfort amongst the despair? What requests are you glad He denied? In what ways have you felt His hope?

Thanks to God for my Redeemer,

Thanks for all Thou dost provide!

Thanks for times now but a memory,

Thanks for Jesus by my side!

Thanks for pleasant, balmy springtime,

Thanks for dark and stormy fall!

Thanks for tears by now forgotten,

Thanks for peace within my soul!

Thanks for prayers that Thou hast answered,

Thanks for what Thou dost deny!

Thanks for storms that I have weathered,

Thanks for all Thou dost supply!

Thanks for pain, and thanks for pleasure,

Thanks for comfort in despair!

Thanks for grace that none can measure,

Thanks for love beyond compare!

Thanks for roses by the wayside,

Thanks for thorns their stems contain!

Thanks for home and thanks for fireside,

Thanks for hope, that sweet refrain!

Thanks for joy and thanks for sorrow,

Thanks for heav’nly peace with Thee!

Thanks for hope in the tomorrow,

Thanks through all eternity!

(Written in 1891 by August Ludvig Storm, of the Swedish Salvation Army. Translated in 1931 by Carl E. Backstrom and set to music by Swedish composer Johannes Alfred Hultman.)

Take some time to ask God to reveal to you experiences that are still locked away that you’ve never thanked Him for precisely because they were difficult. Ask for His revelation about them, so that you can see them through His eyes. Wait, seek His wisdom and then speak out a prayer of thanks, acknowledging the part they have played in shaping you. If there is pain or hurt that needs dealing with sit before your Father and ask Him to pour His healing balm on you, opening yourself up to His love and care.

You might like to try writing or drawing a juxtaposing poem or image yourself, picking up on both the good and not so easy things you want to thank God for. Keep whatever you create near you for the rest of the week so that you can use it as a starting point for reflective prayer.

Taking a thankfulness walk

womanwalking

As we get back to our series on thankfulness, I encourage you to get outside into the fresh air…

I once wrote about one of the first walks my oldest child did as a toddler. I was incredibly frustrated because she was so slow – and so easily distracted. Every little thing held huge interest: a crack in the pavement, a spider crawling along a wall, a lamppost. As I tried to chivvy her along I felt God tell me to get down to her level and simply enjoy the walk through her eyes. The experience taught me a great deal…

So might I suggest you take some time out today (or some time this week) to go for a walk. You may have a park or open space nearby – if not, you can do this activity in your local streets or you may prefer to go for a drive into the country so that you can then walk in the midst of the countryside.

Start by breathing in the air around you, thanking God for the air that sustains not only you but also all the living things nearby.

Ask God to help you see things afresh, from a new, and grateful, perspective.

Begin walking, paying careful attention to all the little details around you. It may be a ladybird on a leaf (or pavement slab) or a bird that flies past… Each time you notice something stop walking, pause for a moment and then thank God for that particular thing. (It could even be a house you particularly like or an ambulance whizzing past – you could thank God for human creativity or the ability to help one another…)

Walk for as long as you are able and then, as you are bringing your walk to an end, thank God for the experience and the joy of being surrounded by His creation.

Hearing God

Tania Harris - cream - author preferred - large jpgI am delighted that Tania Harris has agreed to guest blog on my site. A pastor, speaker and author she is also the founder of God Conversations, a global ministry that equips people to recognise and respond to God’s voice. She has recently released a book that is also called God ConversationsTania is an ordained minister with the Australian Christian Churches and Hillsong is her church home in Sydney, Australia.

 

 

Waiting for God to speak out loud? Think again…

I’ve always wanted to hear the audible voice of God. I imagined it booming forth, sending tremors through my body and swallowing me up in a mystical cloud, leaving me with no doubt where it came from. In fact, when I first started learning to hear God’s voice, this is what I expected. But sadly the booming voice never came. Yes, I’ve heard the voice of God many times, but it has never come out loud.

Perhaps you’ve had the same expectation – and perhaps the same outcome. Part of the reason we expect God to speak out loud is due to the assumptions we make when reading the Bible. We read; ‘And God said…’ and we liken it to a friend talking with us across the table. But a closer look at Scripture reveals this to be a misplaced understanding. Hearing God’s voice should be understood more as a spiritual experience than a physical one.

 A spiritual voice

When Jesus preached his sermons, he often closed with the line; ‘Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear’ (eg. Mark 4:9,23, Luke 8:8). The reason Jesus spoke in parables was to differentiate between those who had open hearts and those who didn’t. This shows us that hearing God’s message wasn’t primarily a physical experience – after all, His audiences heard His words, yet many still wandered away. As Jesus said, ‘Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand’ (Matthew 13:13, see also Ezekiel 12:2). Unlike these, we are exhorted to see with the ‘eyes of our hearts’ (Ephesians 1:18) – the emphasis is on our spiritual eyes and ears, not our natural ones.

This was probably one of the more surprising discoveries for me in my early days of hearing God’s voice. One of the first times I heard Him speak was while walking through a park near my home. In the middle of a song, the words: ‘Give all your money away’ came into my head. Though it came as a thought just like any thought, I knew the thought wasn’t mine (largely because it wasn’t something I would say!) The voice was quiet and gentle yet firm; instinctively I knew it was God. It was also consistent with what God had been doing in my life and later when I heeded it, brought about incredible miracles.

The audible voice

While I’ve never heard the audible voice of God, a number of those I interviewed recently for my doctoral research say they have. For most of them, the audible voice came at an urgent moment (like when they were about to walk into the path of an oncoming car) or at some other pivotal time of their lives. Yet even on those occasions, God’s voice was not experienced through the ‘outer ear’. When asked if someone else would have heard it if they’d been with them, the vast majority said no. While the voice had been strikingly loud to the person, it had still been heard from ‘inside’ of themselves.

Though it’s hard to know for sure, the Apostle Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus seems to have been similar (if only we could interview him!) Luke, the writer of Acts, reports the story of how Jesus appeared to Saul and speaks to him in a vision (Acts 9:1–7). While there were others with Paul, Luke says they didn’t share the experience, since, ‘they heard the sound’, but ‘they did not see anyone’. Later when Paul recounts the scene for himself, he says his companions ‘saw the light’, but didn’t ‘understand the voice’ (Acts 22:9). Even a powerful experience such as Paul’s conversion seems to be a largely subjective one, only fully received by the audience it was intended.

 The mind as spiritual receiver

Theologian Gregory Boyd writes about the nature of God’s voice in his book, Seeing is Believing. He suggests that the experience of hearing God takes place primarily in the mind or the imagination, and that this is consistent with what Scriptures describes. For example, when Daniel recounts his visions, he notes them as ‘visions that passed through’ his mind (Daniel 7:1,15). They are subjective and internal experiences that no one else can participate in. Hence those who were with Daniel didn’t see his visions (Daniel 10:7). It is also significant that the Hebrew words commonly used for ‘vision’ indicate a unique kind of seeing, something that is distinct from ordinary physical seeing.

It’s important to understand that the experience of hearing God’s voice internally in no way denies its authenticity. Boyd highlights the fact that while modern Western people identify the imagination with make-believe, ancient people and particularly those in biblical times did not. In fact, hearing God’s voice in our minds should not be surprising given that while the Holy Spirit cannot be seen in physical form, we know He abides with us wherever we go (Acts 2:16,17).

On a practical level, this understanding of God’s voice is essential. If we are waiting for an external objective voice, we may be missing out on the still small voice of Elijah’s experience (1 Kings 19:9–13). Instead of waiting for an audible voice, we need to be inviting the Spirit to enter our thinking and our imagination, to inspire our hearts and stir our thoughts, so that we can be like the people Jesus exhorted us to be; having ears to hear what the Spirit is saying.

9781780781884To read more of Tania’s journey with hearing God’s voice and the impact it has had on her own life, I would heartily recommend her book God Conversations. Do also check out her website

 

Thankful for the cross

crossandsky

Today we are going to focus specifically on thanking God for the cross. You might find it helpful to get hold of either a picture of a cross or a small physical cross that you can place in front of you to concentrate your thoughts.

Meditation: Start by simply looking at the cross and then think about what Jesus dying on that cross has done for you, for your life, for your everyday ‘going about’. Speak out a few of your thoughts slowly, mulling over the words and truly allowing them to sink in and impact you.

Here are some thoughts you may like to utilise (and personalise) during your meditation:

Whether good, bad, enemies or friends, we each deserved to die as we cannot stand before God in our own righteousness.

And yet, through Christ’s death we are transformed – given a new identity and new standing before God.

We are dressed in Christ’s royal robes rather than our filthy rags.

And we are now free! Free from the clutches of sin and death, free from our enemy’s hold on us.

We can now choose to walk in that close relationship with our loving heavenly Father each moment of every day.

Finish your time of meditation by turning some of the thoughts you had into prayers of thanks to God.

Showing thankfulness to others

First off, let me say Happy National Writing Day to those of you in the UK! When I heard it was today, I decided I absolutely had to get round to posting my next blog in the thankfulness series. It has taken me until late afternoon, but I have been writing during the rest of the day too! (And sorry these posts haven’t been as regular as usual – work on my books has been filling my time – more writing! 😉 )

This post encourages you to do some writing of your own…

light-sign-typography-lighting

1 Thessalonians 5:11 tells us to ‘encourage one another and build each other up’. A great way of doing this is looking out for ways to show someone else how thankful you are that they are in your life. Perhaps you could cook them a meal, buy them a small gift or, what I’m suggesting here, find a way to tell them exactly what they mean to you. This will do wonders for their inner spirit – and you’ll also find you are uplifted through doing it.

I would suggest keeping a steady supply of nice notelets or paper and then write notes of thankfulness for the people in your life every so often. Today, pick those closest to you and spend some time pondering what you could say in a note to them. Using pen and paper rather than a computer forces you to slow down, giving you the chance to really stop and think about the person you are going to be writing to.

If you have a partner, or a flat mate, leave them a card letting them know why you thank God for them and why it is wonderful to share your home with them. If you have children, make it a priority to write them a little note and hide it somewhere for them to find later. I have a little tradition with my kids– I write a note each morning and put it in their lunchbox. I know that both of them, since being in full-time school, have found lunch times difficult as it reminds them they are away from home all day. I make a point of telling them how much they are loved. And on days I know they have a test or are worried about something in particular, I write a Bible verse or a little prayer that addresses that. I also try to write notes to them every so often pointing out particular characteristics in them that I really appreciate too…

Of course, you could extend this out to people you don’t know well. Saying, or writing, a quick phrase that lets them know you’ve noticed them, and how they make your day better, will be such a blessing to them. For example, do you have milk delivered? Leave your milkman/woman a note simply saying ‘I thank God for you every time I see fresh milk on my doorstep’ – and then say a prayer of thanks whenever you bring in the milk.

Encouraging thankfulness

pexels-photo-101063

We were made to be thankful, to bow before our God in grateful worship. But sometimes it can be really difficult to do that. So we are now going to look at some of the ways in which the apostle who told us we need to be thankful (Paul!) encouraged thankfulness in others. He wrote many epistles to the early churches and often at the start of them gave greetings of grace and peace – and sometimes thanks. Let’s take a look at a few examples and see what they can teach us:

Read Colossians 1:3–8.

This letter to the church in Colossae reveals four things that Paul is thankful for. He begins by reminding them of who they should all be thankful to, centring the letter at the start on the source of everything: ‘We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’.

He moves on to being thankful for the faith that the members of the church had in God, and praising them for their genuine love of others: ‘we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people’. He then goes on to being thankful for the power of the gospel and the fact that it bears fruit if people believe. Finally, he thanks God for Epaphras in verse 7, a faithful minister who Paul refers to as ‘our dear fellow servant’ and who was looking after the people of Colossae.

This short passage in Colossians is packed full of the things we need to be thankful for. Of course, ultimately, it is praise to God that our hearts should be brimming over with, but we should also be thankful for other believers and those who are committed to teaching and caring for us week in week out.

Why not pause for a moment and thank God for those who lead your church?

Now read Ephesians 1:3–22.

Here Paul starts by praising God for all the blessings He has lavished upon us, including choosing us from the beginning of time: ‘In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will’ (v.11).

Then, in a similar vein to Colossians, Paul thanks God for those he is writing to: ‘For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.’ (v.15–16).

Take another moment to read the first half of this passage and allow your heart to praise God for the amazing truth it contains about how God has chosen you and sealed you with the Holy Spirit.

You might also like to take some time to thank Him for those that reveal His love to you through the way they look after you and encourage you.

A thankfulness psalm

give thanks to the Lord

This series on thankfulness is going to be a little different to the other blog series I have written, as I’ve prepared some creative ideas for us to utilise. Today’s focus is on spending time drawing out meaning from a range of scriptures that talk about showing thanksgiving towards God. I’ve put some scriptures below to get you started, but do take the opportunity to search the Bible for other verses you may like to use too. Try to become aware of your own personal response to the words as you read them, writing down how you feel and what bubbles up inside you as you read.

Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! Psalm 95:2

Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever.
Psalm 136:3

Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:20

For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving. 1 Timothy 4:4

Give thanks to the LORD, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples,
 proclaim that his name is exalted. Isaiah 12:4

But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 
1 Corinthians 15:57

I often find that writing my own ‘thankfulness psalm’ or song after I have been reading scripture really helps me to express my own personal response to God. If you want to, why not trying writing your own today? You could start from scratch, or put all the response sentences that you’ve written together to create it.