Taking a thankfulness walk

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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

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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…

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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

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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.

Cultivating a thankful heart

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Be honest. Does your heart brim over with thankfulness on a daily basis? No? Me neither. Not every … single … day. But that’s what Paul says it should do, whatever you are facing: ‘Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you’ (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Ouch. It’s the ‘will of God’ for us to be thankful for, and in, everything. That’s quite a tough one isn’t it? Well in this new blog series on thankfulness we are going to take a look at some ideas that will challenge our hearts and minds, and start to cultivate an attitude of thankfulness within us.

Insecurity, frustration and anxiety, despair and hopelessness are rife amongst people of all ages, classes and races today. The anecdote? Learning to be thankful changes our perspective, and helps us become aware of possibilities around us. You will find that as you choose to cultivate a thankful heart, your spirit and body will become transformed. Indeed research has shown that being thankful boosts our feelings of well-being and our immune systems, makes our hearts function well and helps us to sleep better – so there are health benefits too!

Take time to thank God for five things today…

Encouraging each other

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‘Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on.’ (The Message)

Reflections based on Hebrews 10:19–39.

This is the final blog in our series on encouragement, so let’s remind ourselves that God calls us to journey together in order to encourage each other in our walk with God – to keep going even when it gets tough. The examples in this passage are pretty extreme aren’t they – friends being thrown in prison and enemies seizing belongings – and yet the believers all stuck together through the hard times as well as the easier ones.

I love the way that The Message version of this passage of Hebrews does some encouraging of its own in the language used: ‘let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out’. It just speaks to me of God’s creativity – that there are so many new and inventive ways we can find to be encouraging to one another. That’s the challenge I’d like to leave you with, along with the prayer found in 2 Thessalonians 2: 16–17: ‘May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.’

I do pray that you will have gained encouragement from this series on encouragement, and have experienced in an even deeper way how God strengthens us through the work of his Son and the Holy Spirit, in order that we may be strong in our faith and reach out to those around us. Let us be those that, like David and Paul, continue to find our encouragement in God and champion those he has brought into our lives, helping them to do the same.

Prayer: Thank You Lord that You are the Source of all encouragement. Help me to draw on You even more deeply. You also set us in families and churches so that we can build one another up – help me to champion those around me.

Choose to speak and act positively

 

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‘For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit … Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.’

Reflections based on Romans 14:1–23.

When you act and speak, you make a series of (often subconscious) choices. This passage encourages us not to make ourselves a stumbling block to those who think differently to us (or are perhaps ‘weaker’ in their faith). Paul was referencing some of the inevitable disputes that occurred in the Early Church. Some believers, for example, felt free to eat anything whereas others did not want to unknowingly sin so ate only vegetables. They were possibly worried that they could unknowingly eat meat sacrificed to idols, as often the sacrifices were only partially burned and the rest of the meat was sent to market to be sold. While some believers knew idols were worthless and unreal anyway so were free from any sense of guilt, others (possibly those who had previously been idol worshippers) found it unhelpful. What I think we can learn from this is not to be judgemental or critical but rather to be aware that what we do and say affects those around us, and we should seek always to build people up.

Church is also the last place this should happen, but it can also be full of comparison. Try and keep a check on any subtle criticisms you may engage in as they are so unhelpful.

Of course we need to be honest – life is full of problems and as Christians we aren’t immune to them. And yet, if we aren’t careful, all we see are the problems. Even when we think we are empathising with someone, we can have a tendency to join in with negativity rather than lifting the conversation to more positive words of hope and encouragement. Proverbs 10:11 reminds us that ‘the mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life’, so let’s use ours in that way.

Prayer: Lord help me not to be a stumbling block to anyone around me, but to be one that encourages and builds up. Teach me to keep a check on the words I say and the actions I take.

Developing a positive thought life

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‘Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.’

Reflections based on Philippians 4:4–9.

This passage is such a helpful key to living our lives well. In it we are told how important it is to have an attitude of rejoicing (and this from a man in prison!). He also says we should not worry but bring everything to God and that it is this process that will allow our minds and hearts to be full of his peace.

It is vital that we develop a positive thought life. We’ve already seen in this blog series how David did this. Immerse yourself in the Word and pray regularly. But it is of course a process, not an instant result. Just think what a minefield our minds can be, and often it is what we mull over that causes us to become discouraged. Romans 12:2 combats this, telling us that we should ‘be transformed by the renewing of your mind’. How do we do that? Well in 2 Corinthians 10:5 we are told to ‘take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ’. It is a very active thing; we need to fight for our mind and boot out the thoughts that aren’t helpful. The start of that verse says: We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God’ – these are all things that can come against you in your mind.

I think the last few verses in our Philippians passage can be truly life-changing. I’d encourage you to write them out and post them where you will see the passage regularly. They are a great plumb line to use to stop and think every so often throughout your day about what you’ve allowed your thoughts to linger on. You’ll probably be shocked by some of things your mind entertains without you really noticing. I was when I tried it.

Prayer: Lord I am sorry that so often I can just allow any thought to linger in my mind. Help me to be proactive about throwing out the unhelpful thoughts, and replacing them with ones that do me good.