The Impact of a Grateful Heart

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”  Colossians 3:17

If I asked my readers by a show of hands, “How many of you are feeling beaten down, depressed and discouraged?”  I would be willing to bet that a vast majority would raise their hands.

This world can be a tough place, right?  Master marketers (or what I refer to as “cultural engineers”) sell us this illusion of how we could be truly living if we just had this or that.  Just like the carrot on the stick, we can see what we “need” but that elusive contentment is always just out of reach.  “If I just had a spouse….if I just had a different house….a different car….a dog….kids….job….”  The list noting the roots of our discontent can be a long one….

Today is my birthday.  Always a good day to take stock.  I tend to look at “macro” goals and dreams on my birthday.  The big picture.  Where are we heading?  How am I leading my family?  Am I allowing Jesus and His Spirit to make me more like Him and the person He needs me to be in this world?

As I sit here at Black Rock Coffee in Medford, Oregon reading all of the texts, emails, Facebook posts and listening to the voice mail messages, I find myself extremely grateful and content.  Some of the messages brought tears to my eyes (but don’t tell anyone….) as those close to me, reflect what they see in me with voices of affirmation.  I pause and think, maybe I’m on the right track here….and there is great satisfaction in that.

I am so grateful for the blessing of these relationships, coming from all aspects of my life.  Family, friends, fitness, ministry, music, travel, church, work…. This is my circle.  These are the people God has put in my path, to share chapters of life’s journey with and I am grateful for each soul.  Somehow God takes a flawed, broken and imperfect “ragamuffin” (to borrow a term from one of my favorite writers, Brennan Manning) like me and then uses me to encourage others and hopefully reflect His light and love to those around me.  What an honor!  If I pause long enough to really think about it, I’m actually floored….and it fills my heart with joy.  Over the course of this journey, I’ve had to learn to let go of a lot of what I thought was important in order to pursue what He has for me.  Call it “spiritual minimalism” in a way.  There is freedom in that…. in not “trying” so hard.  Goal oriented?  Yes, absolutely!  But the fruit of those goals being different than what the world is selling.  Pursuing contentment in God, His provision and often the simplicity of His blessings,… but we still need to take the time to see and take them in.  If we rush or are blinded by “busyness”, we’ll miss them.

To those that have blessed me by their words, laughter and presence, thank you so much!  YOU are a gift and for each of you, I am truly grateful.

As we all move forward, let’s continue to recognize and count our blessings.  Let’s encourage others, wherever they are.  Don’t be afraid to come alongside and ask others the tough questions, if that helps them get over the hump.  Keep pointing people towards Christ, the only One that lasting freedom and joy can be found in.  And pray.  Pray for yourselves, your family and the others God puts on your heart.  Lift them up, even when they don’t know you’re doing it!  Pray that the purpose of the enemy in their lives would be crushed and that God would break through the shadows that can easily blur our perspective.  Every day there is a war raging around us for the souls of humankind.  I believe that in the fight, one of the things the enemy can’t stand is the power of a grateful heart.  Move forward in that truth!

God bless, my friends.  Carpe diem!

Loose the Lion

“The greatest tragedy in life is the prayers that go unanswered because they go unasked.”  Mark Batterson

I want you to go back with me.  Back to a Christmas morning when you were maybe six to ten years old.  The magic of the holiday was still real.  You wake up early and run downstairs and what do you see?  Beautiful packages and gifts of all sizes under the tree!  The shiny wrapping reflects the twinkling lights.  You pause for a second in order to take it in.  Santa came….and thankfully he must have overlooked his naughty list….  Now what do we do next (after we wait for our parents to stumble out of bed, of course)?  We go for it!  We tear into those boxes, excited to see what we’ve been given!

Let me pause here and imagine something different.

Instead, imagine proceeding cautiously to the stack of beautiful gifts that have your name on them.  You pick the smallest gift and carefully take the paper apart and…..white socks….you feign some sort of gratefulness and move to the next small gift….a new Hotwheels car….a bit better than white socks but still.  You gently tear open an envelope….a subscription to “Highlights” magazine.  Cool…kind of.  Then you stop.  Your parents encourage you to keep going.  “Look at all of these gifts for you!” they say.  “C’mon, we’re so excited for you to open this one!” they say as they point to the big box in the corner.  “Open this one next!”

But something inside you makes you stop.  Instead you get up and head into the other room….

I have to wonder if this is how things look from God’s perspective, in regards to what we ask Him for.  He has all of these gifts for us….all of these blessings waiting to be “opened”.  Yet we stop with the small things.  Our prayer life is small….meaning we pray small prayers.  Wouldn’t it make sense that “small” faith yields “small” results.  Maybe there is a part of us that feels that we don’t deserve anything more than the “white socks” of God’s blessings in our lives.  Actually if we’re using our own merit as a measuring stick, we don’t even deserve the white socks….but as a child of the King, we are heirs by His grace and what if He wantsand desires to lavish great blessings on us?

Lately, I believe that I am being prompted by God to up the ante in my prayer game.  I can almost hear things like ‘You’ve been in the minor leagues long enough kid….time to step up!  I know what I’ve put in you and the purpose I have for you!’

You know, sometimes I think we can easily mask a lack of faith as humility.  We might think things like “God knows what I need.  He’ll provide it in His time”.  But could it be that we might not have the level of faith to believe that He’ll actually give us more, if we ask for it?  Let’s hear the words of Jesus Himself….

“You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask of the Father in my name, He may give it to you.”  John 15:16

To be clear, I am not writing a “name it and claim it” message or “health and wealth” gospel.  Many have hijacked that verse and turned it into exactly that and this is not my intention.  You will have suffering, grief and painful experiences in this spiritually war-torn world.  That is like the “x” in algebra.  It’s a constant….a given.  But does that mean we shrink down from the throne of the Mighty One?  No!  But keep in mind that just as important as taking the faith step of praying a “God sized” prayer, of equal importance is the “why” and the “how” behind our request.

“When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”  James 4:3

If you just want an easy life and more toys….then that is the first issue (I think most of us start here).  God sees through your request to the heart and character behind it.  If there are cracks in your character, you may not be ready for the blessing that He would make you a steward of.

“When someone has been given much, much will be required in return….” Luke 12:48(a)

So let’s begin by asking God to change our hearts, minds and lives to align with His.  Let’s ask and challenge ourselves with this…. how we can be a blessing to others with our time, treasure, passion and talents?  He has made us with a “Kingdom” purpose.  You were chosen by Him to live where you live, in such a time as this.  Are you living that purpose to the fullest or do you settle for a mediocre level of “going along to get along”?  You were meant for so much MORE than that, my friend!  How often to we keep God on a chain?  “God, You can go here but not here…don’t rock the boat please….life is just fine as it is.”  How often would we (maybe even unconsciously) prefer the “Lion of Judah” to be in a petting zoo rather than being the dominant alpha of our lives (spiritual and otherwise)?

I would encourage you to let the Lion off of the chain!  Invite Him to take back the territory that you have surrendered over the years.  Bring those “big dream”, God sized requests to His feet.  Maybe you want to support a ministry in a persecuted country, or start a foundation that helps kids with special needs, or people battling eating disorders, or give more to your church so that they can do more in the community….or write a book….or tour the world as a musician so God can fulfill your passions but also use you to encourage others.  It is okay to pray for a “better” life and opportunity for you and your family.  You can ask God boldly (but with humility) for that.  Remember though…you aren’t negotiating with God or manipulating an outcome.  “Lord give me that $200K salary and I’ll give 15% to the church…”  Again, it’s all about the heart and motives behind with which you ask.  Try starting by asking Him to shore up your character first so that your motives would be lasting and good….but please don’t stop there.  Set a goal of building a lasting legacy with the plans He has for you.  Expect faith steps and testing and be ready….

“If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones.  But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.”  Luke 16:10

Examine your heart and mind.  Dream big….but pray bigger!  I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to see what He has in store!  Let’s gooooo!