Category Archives: Spiritual Discipline

Gratitude Power

No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. 1 Thess. 5:18 (NLT)

In the New Testament, gratitude and appreciation expressed in thanksgiving, has three primary associations.  The first, thanks is given at the communion service (Eucharist) for the broken body and blood of Jesus (Matt. 26; Lk 22; 1 Cor. 11); the second time, thanks is given for the blessings that come through Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 2:14; 9:15) and finally, thanks is given for those who come to know Christ and who bring joy to the Apostle Paul (Col. 1:3; Eph. 1:16).

In his letters to the early church and ministry, the Apostle Paul lavishly expressed gratitude to those he wrote to for their role in both receiving the Gospel and in extending God’s “hope of salvation” to others within their immediate sphere of influence.  Paul was well acquainted with the power of gratitude (Ep. 1:15-19; Phil. 1:3-4).

Because gratitude is critical to not only individuals but also to the health of society in general, new focus is being placed on how to increase its occurrence.  Recent studies in the area of psychology confirm that we can intentionally cultivate gratitude with the consequence being increased well-being, joy and happiness.

In addition, gratefulness, especially expression of it to others, is associated with increased energy, optimism, and empathy.  The positive psychology movement has embraced these studies and in an effort to increase overall well-being, has begun to make an effort to incorporate exercises to increase gratitude into the movement.[1]

It is God’s will that in everything, we give thanks.  It is not God’s will that we express gratitude for “gratitude’s sake only” but because with the giving of thanks, His power can be released into our life in ways never before seen.  This includes the formation of incredible joy, unshakeable hope, and unbroken peace (1 Pet. 1:2-4).  The outward expression of appreciation to God and others, works to bring new power and access that, under other circumstances, would be unattainable.

As we examine our walk of faith, we must ask ourselves, “Am I harnessing the full power of gratitude?”  “Am I receiving the benefits of gratitude that are now available to me?”  According to the Greek writer and philosopher, Cicero, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of the virtues but the parent of all others.” Maybe it’s time for you to begin engaging in gratitude power.

[1] Wikipedia, “Gratitude”.

The Language of Gratitude

Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?  Luke 17:17 (NRS)

How is “grateful” language developed?   Gratitude, as we defined it is an expression of thankfulness for benefits or goodness.  God is our Eternal Benefactor providing us both good and perfect gifts (Ps. 103:1-6).  While it is understandable that believers should desire to express our gratitude to Him for all His many benefits, we must exercise greater intentionality in displaying our gratitude to the world.  We must develop the language of gratitude.

Interestingly, the concept of thankfulness is noticeably absent in the early writings of the Old Testament.  Instead language that was ordinarily translated as “praise”, such as yadah and todah, was used to convey the concept of thankfulness for God’s works and character (Ps. 118).  It would be later in the wisdom literature that God’s people would be encouraged to express purposeful gratitude for God’s provision and protection (Ps. 107:21-22; Eccl. 5:8-6:9).

In the New Testament the vocabulary for thanksgiving and gratitude expanded with the use of “thanks” (eucharisteo) and other terms such as “grace” (charis).   Jesus thanked God for hearing His prayers (Matt. 11:25) and for raising Lazarus (John 11:41).   The Gospels and the Epistles later developed the concept that gratitude for God’s deliverance in Christ characterizes the language of gratitude (Col. 1:12-14).   As God revealed Himself through His various dispensations, thankfulness and gratitude became a key response by creature man.  This was true in the case of the one leper healed by Jesus in today’s text.

As Jesus passed through the region between Samaria and Galilee, ten lepers entreated Him to have “mercy on them”.  They recognized the possibility of receiving beneficence from Jesus—He would help them in their affliction.  Jesus “saw them”—He recognized their need in this dire circumstance—and then “sent them” to the priest to verify their healing.  As they went, they were made clean.  But one of them saw that he was healed and turned back to Jesus, praising (doxazo) God.  He prostrated himself at Jesus feet and thanked (eucharisteo) Him.   The one leper showed the proper response to Jesus’ act of grace (charis) but what about the other nine?  Were they not grateful?  Why were they not also praising God and thanking Jesus for their healing?

As you read the narrative of the Ten Lepers (Luke 17:11-19), who do you most identify with—the one leper who returned to thank Jesus or the other nine lepers?  What stands in the way of your expressing gratitude to God?  Do you attribute your accomplishments to your efforts and yours alone (pride)?  Do you compare your current life circumstances with that of others and feel “cheated” of your rightful blessings (envy/covertness)?   Are you dissatisfied and discontented with life desiring more than is currently yours (greed/thankless)?  Let your expressions of gratitude mirror those of the one leper who could do nothing less than praise, worship, and thank God for all His goodness.  Begin today practicing the language of gratitude so that when you enter heaven, your gratefulness will explode into joyful praise (yadah and todah) as you stand before our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the One who made eternity possible for you (Rev. 19:1-6).

Gratitude

“In everything give thanks.” 1 Thess. 5:18

What is gratitude?  It is an emotion expressing appreciation and thankfulness for what one has.  Regrettably, believers often miss the mark in articulating their gratitude.  We more than any need to be more intentional and thoughtful in our expressions of gratitude to God.

“Gratitude is also getting a great deal of attention as a facet of positive psychology: Studies show that we can deliberately cultivate gratitude by counting our blessings and writing letters of thanks, for example. This proactive acknowledgement can increase our well-being, health, and happiness. Being grateful—and especially the expression of it—is also associated with increased energy, optimism, and empathy.”[1]

Gratitude can be practiced by both believers and nonbelievers. People, in general, are slow in offering gratitude.  They will sometimes express gratitude when prayers are answered or catastrophes are avoided.  However, even in those special circumstances, individuals are more likely to attribute their good fortune to luck than to God’s benevolence.   Gratitude is the “proper response” beneficence or to the generosity and kindness from a benefactor.

In the busyness of living, people take for granted those things God provides through His grace to all mankind:  the sun and the moon (Deut. 33:14), the regularity with which the seasons change (Gen. 8:22), and the marvels of created life (Rom. 1:20).  They fail to recognize their blessings and therefore fail to express gratitude.  However, those who are in Christ are obligated to express gratitude to God for all things especially His work of salvation.

With salvation, believers experience a multitude of blessings, both now and in the future.  First and foremost is our deliverance from the power and penalty of sin (Rom. 6:9).  This release from our sin nature provides instant access to God the Father (Rom. 5:2).   We are given a new identity in Christ, both as children of God and joint heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:16-17).  As new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), we are gifted with the presence of the Holy Spirit who empowering us with the same dunamis power that raised Christ from the dead (Eph. 1:19).

Eternal life is God’s special gift to believers.  It is a gift that cannot be acquired through works or any other path yet is readily available through belief in Jesus the Christ (John 3:16).  At that moment, the believer can experience eternal life through God’s presence, peace, and provision.  As heirs of God, believers await their final inheritance reserved for them in heaven, when they return to their true home (1 Pet. 1:3-4).

How is gratitude reflected in your daily faith walk?  Do you practice “gratitude” as a spiritual discipline or do you think of it only as Thanksgiving approaches?   As believers, gratitude should be engrafted in our spiritual DNA as we daily experience the blessings and promises of God.  As we express our gratitude, we share with others our appreciation for what God has done, is doing, and will do in our lives.    That’s why in everything, we give thanks.

                [1]   Psychology Today, “The Benefits of Gratitude”.

The Fear of the Lord, Part 2

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Proverbs 9:10 (NKJ)

In Search of Wisdom

Man has always searched for the best method to assist him in making good decisions, right judgments and sound pronouncements.  In primitive times, groups would cast lots and dices, leaving the outcome to the proverbial “fates” (Lev. 16:8; Joshua 18:8).  In Israel’s early formation, decisions were informed by the High Priest who consulted the Urim and Thummin (Exo. 28:30).  As the nation grew Israel deferred key moral and political decisions to God’s chosen representatives—judges and kings who were often counseled by wise prophets and priests.  While the fear of the Lord offered motivation to seek “God’s face” (Num. 6:25-26), it was the knowledge of the Holy One that established the critical link to God—the source of all knowledge and wisdom.

Knowledge of the Holy One

The true source of wisdom is identified in the parallel statements found in Proverbs 9:10—the  fear of the LORD  and knowledge of the Holy One.  In general, knowledge (da’ath, DAH-ath) provides insight and discernment based on personal experiences.  It involves the process by which one can recognize, classify, and organize information gained from varied experiences and use them to develop an appropriate response.  This “process of knowing” is illustrated in the story of Moses.

Moses’ early knowledge of God came vicariously through others he knew in Pharaoh’s court.  Moses knew little about God therefore God had no part in his thinking or planning.  Forty years later, Moses experienced God personally at the burning bush (Exod. 3:2).  In seeing that the fire did not consume the bush, Moses recognized God’s power and holiness.  Moses’ response to knowing God was awe and reverence (Exod. 3:5).

After witnessing the ten (10) plagues against Pharaoh and Egypt, Moses’ knowledge was exponentially expanded.  As Moses observed (classified) the different ways God dealt with Pharaoh’s resistance, he knew that God was more powerful than any god worshiped in Egypt and that He was “more than able” to deliver His people (Exod. 3:6-8).  Moses’ response to knowing God was obedience.

Moses’ knowledge of God through his various experiences resulted in the organized deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt.  Their collective response to God was worship and praise (Exodus 15: 1, 11).   Pharaoh’s disregard of what he knew of God, on the other hand, led to the destruction of his army (Ex. 14:18).  Pharaoh refused to factor in his knowledge of the Holy One.

Knowledge of the Holy One is the revelation of God (Ep. 1: 17-18).  It shapes our reality so that we conform to the will of God and respond appropriately to the events of life.  This knowledge reminds us whose we are (our relationship with God), who we are (our position in Christ), and how we are to live (in obedience and service to God).  It is gained through our personal experiences with Him, through His revealed Word, and through the Holy Spirit.  Knowledge of the Holy One is foundational for all wisdom and righteousness (Prov. 1:7).

SELAH:   What shapes key decisions and choices you make with regard to your family, profession, and relationships—your personal experiences or your knowledge of the Holy One?   Are you a Moses or a Pharaoh?

The Fear of the Lord, Part 1

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” Proverbs 9:10 (NKJ)

Jerry Bridges in his book, The Joy of Fearing God, notes “there was a time when committed Christians were known as God-fearing people.  This was a badge of honor.”  So what does “God-fearing” look like in a postmodern age?  Unfortunately the shifting values and norms of the 21st century see little value in fearing God.  This fear, which is biblically connected to wisdom, is unfortunately viewed as obsolete and irrelevant.

The Fear of the Lord

Fear is a complex quality, swirling with emotions and pointing to both real and imagined terrors.  Fear is also a source of human motivation.  It can include fear of other’s opinions or anticipation of what might happen.  For example, there were many who wanted to follow Jesus but feared rejection and persecution by the Jews (John 7:12-13).

The definition of fear is further complicated in Scripture by its use as an attitude toward God.  Fear (yir’ah–YIR-AW’) as found in today’s Proverb generally means to respect and reverence.  No single English word conveys every aspect of the word “fear” in this phrase. The meaning includes worshipful submission, reverential awe, and obedient respect to the covenant-keeping God of Israel.  It has even been defined as “hyper-respect based on a realization of how awesome God is and how insignificant we are in comparison.”

We as believers fear the Lord because of who He is AND in acknowledgement that we live continually in the reality of His power, His purpose, and His presence.

God’s power is expressed in both His goodness and His greatness.  God is omnipotent. He is righteous and holy.  He alone is worthy to reign and rule over mankind (Exo. 15:11; Rev. 5:11-14).

 God’s purpose is demonstrated in His sovereignty and His directive providence.  “According to His good pleasure” God orchestrates the affairs of men and nations, time and eternity, and there is no one or nothing that can “hold back” His hand (Job 38-41).

God’s presence is realized in the fact that He sees and He knows everything we do.  He is omniscient and omnipresent.   We are never out of His presence and His protective reach.  He alone can claim, “I am with you always even to the end of the world (Matt. 28:20).

Connecting fear and wisdom

Wisdom (chokmah—KHOK-MAW’) speaks to prudent and ethical behavior.  In Paul’s citing of spiritual blessings in Christ, he acknowledges God’s provision of “abundance wisdom and prudence” for those who accept His offer of salvation (Ep. 1:8).

Simply put, wisdom is seeing life from God’s perspective and responding accordingly.  To fear God means that, as believers, we acknowledge God’s power and authority in our lives.  Those who fear God adopt a godly lifestyle out of respect for Him and make moral choices that reflect the character of God.  We live with the knowledge that the God of Creation is ultimately involved in our every move and every decision we make.   Based on His power and authority we make choices that reflect His wisdom.

 Our Response

Our fear of God is not much different than that of others who initially experienced Him—the Old Testament Patriarchs, the Prophets, and those in the first Church.  Their opening response may have been emotional fear but it quickly changed to admiration and awe.  Ultimately their fear of God gave way to worship and devotion.    Let us daily draw near to God, not out of fear of punishment but to elicit His eternal wisdom.  May our fear of God give way to greater love, deeper faith, and tireless service.

SELAH:  What motivates your behavior?  Fear of God or fear of the world?

“Will the real wisdom please stand up?”

But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.  James 3:17 (NKJ)

Have you ever watched To Tell the Truth?  It is a television game show where three people who claim to be someone are questioned by a panel of celebrities. One of them is the real person while the other two are impostors. The panelists take turns questioning the people about their subject and then try to guess which of the three people the “truth teller” is.  The program concludes with the contest moderator asking the question, “Will the real ***** please stand up?”    While this is a harmless game of deception, James finds no humor in doing the same as we search for the true meaning of wisdom.

James methodically unmasks the wisdom impostor by clearly delineating what is wisdom and what wisdom is not”.

One doesn’t normally think of James as a book of wisdom.  While generally grouped in General Epistles, James has, however, been called the Proverbs of the New Testament because it is written in the terse, moralistic style of wisdom literature—Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Solomon.

Today’s scripture is found in the overall context of how inner faith is demonstrated outwardly by the believer.  In this case, godly wisdom should be an extension of the believer’s faith walk.  James challenges believers who would claim to be wise to, “SHOW IT!”

If you are wise and understand God’s ways, live a life of steady goodness so that only good deeds will pour forth. And if you don’t brag about the good you do, then you will be truly wise!  (James 3:13, NLT)

James shares how wisdom can either result in that which is divine or that which is demonic.  He does this by contrasting seven characteristics of human wisdom with seven qualities of divine wisdom.

  • Human wisdom is described as earthly, unspiritual (sensual), and demonic. Such wisdom spawns jealousy, selfish ambition, disorder, and every kind of evil (James 3:16).  It originates from a heart that is “sin-bent” (Gen. 6:5; Jer. 17:9), flawed with personal bias, and focused on self-gratification.  Such wisdom is also subject to fierce temptation by the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16).
  • Divine or godly wisdom is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere (James 3:17). This type of wisdom (sophia) acknowledges the holy influence of God upon the actions and thoughts of believers.  With God as its source (Deut. 4:5-6; James 1:5), wisdom is framed by those attributes demonstrated in His character within His moral qualities of purity, integrity, and love.

We began our series defining godly wisdom as a way of thinking and conduct that is orderly, socially sensitive, and morally upright.  It is a way of viewing and approaching life that results in purposeful, God-honoring living (1 Pet. 1:13, 14).  Unfortunately, as we look around our city, our nation, and our world, godly wisdom seems to have been abandoned as men and nations do what is “right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25; Prov. 3:7).   It is therefore incumbent upon us as believers to demonstrate outwardly the godly wisdom being placed within us as we obediently follow the teachings of God and the leading of His Holy Spirit.  Let James’ words become your wisdom battle cry:

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. (James 3:13, NIV)

Also read:  God’s Moral Qualities

SELAH:  Click on the “God’s Moral Qualities” link above and review the attributes of God’s goodness.  Meditate on how each quality shapes “godly wisdom”—a way of thinking and conduct that is orderly, socially sensitive, and morally upright.  Share your thoughts with us.