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The Power of Giving Thanks

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Sometimes gratitude hurts.

Life isn’t always kind, and when we find ourselves struggling over circumstances we wouldn’t choose, we don’t naturally feel grateful. In fact, we tend to get angry. Even bitter.

Yet our opening scripture suggests that God desires for us to give thanks in all circumstances. Every one. That includes the good and the bad.

This is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you, beloved. Gratitude.

 Why would gratitude be so important to God? Perhaps verse 19 offers some insight.

Do not quench the Spirit.

Ingratitude stops the flow of the Spirit, hindering God’s work in our midst. Praise and thanksgiving, on the other hand, release God’s Spirit to move.

You see, thanksgiving carries us into His presence.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! Psalm 100:4

 I don’t know your present circumstances, dear one, but I do know a God who desires to reveal Himself in the midst of them. And sometimes—when life seems hardest and the view seems darkest—offering a sacrifice of praise may be the very thing that ushers God’s presence into your mess and changes things.

How do I know? It happened to Paul.

In one of his darkest moments, wrongfully imprisoned and chained in stocks, Paul offered God a sacrifice of praise.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. Acts 16:25-26

Beloved, perhaps God’s ready to release you—and even those around you—from whatever oppressive prison has been holding you.

Depression. Bitterness. Illness. Fear.

Thanksgiving may be the key that unlocks your miracle.

Tomorrow we celebrate a day of Thanksgiving. Don’t let the holiday pass without fixing your thoughts on the One from whom all blessings flow. Whatever you’re going through, offer Him praise.

And if praise feels like a sacrifice, beloved, offer it anyway. Because when circumstances suggest that God has abandoned you yet your lips offer praise and thanksgiving, hell trembles.

And heaven releases power-packed grace.

Enter His Courts with Praise!

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! Psalm 100:4 ESV

Most of us long to experience God’s presence and power. We just don’t usually choose the path required to get there.

What is that path?

Psalm 100:4 reveals it plainly. We enter His gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. If we want close proximity to God, we need gratitude. Sincere thanksgiving and praise for His provision must regularly erupt from our hearts and echo from our lips.

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. Colossians 2:6-7 NIV

Our lives are supposed to overflow with thanksgiving. Not once a year, but every day. Beloved, gratitude marks a life rooted in Christ. Built in Him. Strengthened in Him. Lived in Him.

What we choose to offer Him, however, usually resembles grumbling. Not gratitude.

Let’s face it. We aren’t naturally grateful people.

We have to teach our children to say, “Thank you.” They come out of the womb believing they have a right to everything. You’ll hear one word rising above a scuffle of angry toddlers. “Mine.”

If it isn’t theirs, they think it ought to be.

Yes, dear one. Appreciation must be taught. And some of us still struggle to learn it.

We’re self-centered, after all. And that inclination fixes our eyes firmly on blessings we desire instead of praising God for the ones He’s already provided.

Then we end up feeling like Job.

“Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” Job 7:11

We give voice to our discontent. We think on it continuously. Our hearts become hard.

Beloved, grumbling and complaining emerge from a bitter soul. And bitterness occurs when we believe God should do things differently.

Yet we love to indulge our bitterness. We believe we have a right to it, after all. But Hebrews 12:15 reveals a great danger in clinging to it.

See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.

Bitterness defiles many. I’d hate to think that my own bitterness would defile my family. My husband. My children.

But that verse reveals another frightening effect. Bitterness keeps us from God’s grace. We fall short of it. And grace, dear one, is what we’re desperate for.

You see, grace merges the favor of God with life’s circumstances.

 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16

Beloved, we find power in Christ’s presence. Help for our needs. In His throne room, we find grace.

But we must approach His throne with the right heart.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! Psalm 100:4

A grateful heart opens the gate to the courts of the God of grace. It draws us into the presence of the Giver because it sees what He provides. And it’s grateful.

What do you need to thank God for, beloved? Do you bless Him continually for His provision? Or do you more often focus on your lack?

Bitterness robs you of grace, dear one. Don’t let the enemy steal one more blessing God longs to give. Let’s enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Let’s invite Him to fill our hearts with gratitude for all that He is and all that He gives.

When we choose gratitude, beloved, we choose grace.

The Power of Ingratitude

“By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.”  Exodus 13:21

Did you ever notice how God becomes just what we need from Him in any given moment?

Perhaps you haven’t noticed. Maybe, like the Israelites, you reap the benefit of His presence without ever giving it much thought. They were often so preoccupied by what they lacked, they didn’t appreciate what they were given. Instead of thanking God for His rich provision, they grumbled.

In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” Exodus 16:2-3

Really? They spent their time in Egypt sitting around pots of meat? Isn’t it amazing how quickly the human mind forgets and distorts. Perhaps you’d like to see what caused God to send Moses to get them out of Egypt in the first place.

The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them. Exodus 2:23-25

God added these words when He called Moses from the burning bush.

The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering . . . I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them.” Exodus 3:7,9

The memory of their groaning in backbreaking slavery quickly faded to illusions of grand feasts. Why? They were hungry. A desire of their flesh rose up and wasn’t satisfied, and that one thing became the entire focus of their thoughts. They forgot the extent of their suffering, as well as God’s miraculous displays of power on their behalf. And their momentary hunger made them twist His intentions. They threw God’s plan to rescue them back in His face, claiming He meant them harm.

Ever been there? That’s the nature of the unredeemed heart, dear one. It deceives. No wonder Jeremiah 17:9 states,

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

And that deceitful heart left unchecked brings bitterness to the soul.

Perhaps this is why scripture continually points the people of God toward gratitude. Gratitude shifts our gaze and changes the direction of our thinking. Instead of emptying the soul by dwelling on what we lack, it fills it by celebrating what we possess.

Sadly, few consistently choose the path of gratitude. Our own hunger for things we desire clouds our view and overshadows our many blessings. And that’s dangerous. Scripture teaches that refusing to acknowledge God with thanksgiving leads to futile thinking and a hard, dark heart.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools. Romans 1:21-22

Ingratitude made the Israelites fools—fools that desired to run right back to the oppressive captivity they had cried out for deliverance from. Amazing.

Before we start casting stones at the house of Israel, it might be wise to shift our gaze to the nearest mirror. Is your heart content in the journey God has you on, dear one? Do your lips offer praise for the Light that marks your path, or are you preoccupied with an area that remains in shadow? Are you hungering for something so ferociously that all that God has already poured into your life feels empty?

God wants to see your heart at peace, beloved. He longs to satisfy your soul with a contentedness only He can bring. You see, dear one, only God Himself can satisfy.

Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. Psalm 90:14

Do you want a little joy and gladness that carries you all your days? It comes as the result of a choice. Choose to look at what God has done, not what He has yet to do. Offer Him praise and gratitude. You may just find that you encounter God Himself.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. Psalm 100:4-5

Praise and gratitude usher us into the presence and power of God. Thanksgiving allows us to enter His gates. Praise carries us into His court. And when we encounter Him, we discover just what we needed. Emptiness fades. Our hearts fill with His very presence.

And we are satisfied.

Encountering Jesus

“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” John 17:3

On Sunday we celebrated Jesus’ resurrection. A throng of people filled our sanctuary, many dressed in pristine Easter finery. Ushers scurried to find seats, busily lining folding chairs along the walls and aisles to accommodate the overflow. It was no ordinary Sunday.

How it must have delighted God’s heart to see the crowds uniting in praise of His Son. Voices rose together in worship, a beautiful melody lifting before the throne of the King. I felt my heart swell with love and gratitude in response to what my Savior chose to suffer for me. My hands rose heavenward involuntarily.

It was a good day.

Today, sadness pricks at the edges of my heart.

You see, I wonder how many of the faithful Easter attendees flooding our churches really know the Savior they came to worship. How many went out of duty for a distant God they hoped to appease by their annual presence on resurrection day? How many others rifle into church each week from that same sense of duty, with no thought of encountering the Living God?

Please hear my heart, dear one. I don’t say this in judgment. I say it because for 26 years I was one of them. I say it because I know the emptiness of being a church attendee who had no fellowship with Jesus. I say it because I want desperately for everyone to experience the transforming power of His unfailing love.

Beloved, do you know Him?

I remember the day I finally met Him.

I wasn’t looking for it when it happened. I was simply trying to finish my homework and get my blanks filled in before our home group met the next time for Bible study.

But my relentless, loving God had plans for this lost and wandering sheep. Four words stared back at me from the page in my workbook, seeking my response: Do you love Jesus?

The question was an easy one, and I lifted my hand to answer “yes” without even thinking. I knew the right answer.

But my hand began to tremble as a fresh revelation dawned. Conviction fell over me as the Spirit of Truth invaded my thoughts and allowed me to see what He saw.

I didn’t love Him.

I had thought I did. I’m sure I’d said it a hundred times in my twenty-six years. After all, I’d grown up in church. And I wasn’t just an Easter worshiper; I worshiped every week. I could quote Scripture and tell you all about Jesus’ life.

But knowing stuff about Jesus isn’t the same as knowing Him.

And that day, the Spirit lifted the veil so I could see the truth about myself. I realized I had been a pretender, living a lie. I couldn’t love Jesus because I didn’t even know Him. But I realized something else that day that was even more important: I wanted to. And so, undone by the Holy Spirit in my living room, I confessed my sin, exited the kingdom of darkness, and gave my life to Jesus.

I have never been the same.

Have you had your encounter with Jesus, dear one? Does your Christianity bear the marks of religious chains, or a transforming work of grace?

If you’re not certain, ask the Lord of Glory to reveal Himself to you. He will never withhold Himself from a seeking heart. In fact, He’s the One stirring you to seek Him. And when you do, He promises,

“I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity.” Jeremiah 29:14

He will lift the veil for you to see, piercing darkness with glory and disclosing your truth. And then, you have a choice to make. Will you step into the light and head toward Jesus? Or do you prefer the comfortable familiarity of the darkness?

Choose life, beloved. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and you will never see heaven without Him (John 14:6). To spend eternity with Him there, you must know and trust Him here.

He beckons you to life with the same invitation He gave the Twelve, “Follow Me.”

Will you follow?

 “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” John 17:3