3 Ways To Be More Thankful

When you were young did you ever receive a present that you didn’t necessarily like or want? Is a particularly ugly outfit coming to mind? Maybe you asked for a certain toy but got something completely different? And the only thing that made this gift worse was looking over to your parent and seeing them mouth the words to you, “Be. Thankful.” 

Honestly, I’ve actually had moments where this is the kind of response I’ve given God. 

“Really – this is what you’ve giving me right now? But what I really wanted was this…” I’ve thought my circumstances should be a certain way, when they were another. I’ve thought I deserved something better (at least, better in my mind) than what I had.

I wrestle with a thankfulness problem. We all do. God is always good. He always knows what He’s doing, even when I don’t necessarily get what He’s doing (Isaiah 55:8-9). So how do we combat our own lack of thankfulness? Here’s three ways to be more thankful…

1. Ask God to give you a thankful heart.

You and I cannot will ourselves to be more thankful people. We need a heart change and God is always in the business of changing hearts (Psalm139:23-24). Prayer is simply talking to God. So, talk. Ask Him for a thankful heart.

2. Read the Psalms.

The Psalms are full of beautiful poetry and songs that give us greater view of God, what He’s like, and how He works in our lives. Often in the Psalms we see the writer both calling out for God’s help and yet expressing thankfulness to God for who He is, even in the midst of troubling circumstances. This is a good model for us as we grow in thankfulness.

3. Sing. And no – I’m not kidding.

Listen, even people who can’t carry a note find themselves singing along to their favorite kinds of songs. Some folks like cheesy, country tunes about drinking ice tea while fishing with their high school sweetheart. Some of you are ready to sing Christmas music as soon as the temperature outside is under 50 degrees. 

The Bible encourages us to sing about God and be thankful! So, today – find a song that helps you be thankful to God… and sing! Both I and your hairbrush microphone know you can do it.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.Colossians 3:16-17

Integrating Faith And Work

Whether in the marketplace or in the church, there are often times when it can be difficult to find a greater sense of meaning and purpose to our labor. But how might we see our work as more than just… work?

In a 2018 report, Barna Research Group partnered with Abilene Christian University to study Christians At Work. In their research they defined a group of people they call Integrators, employees who enthusiastically connect their faith and work, seeing their labor as purposeful and as a good fit. 

But what are the markers of these Integrators? In a survey, Barna Research noted 5 trends and attitudes that characterize their approach to work:

1. They Regard Work As Spiritual

Integrators acknowledge God as having a role in the work they do… and 89% agree strongly that God has given them talents to use for His glory.

“For every job included in the survey – from entertainment executives to school janitors – they are more likely to see its potential as a calling or a chance to contribute to the common good.”

2. They Set The Bar High

Holding high standards of professional integrity, Integrators “require more of themselves – as workers and as people of faith.” In fact, they feel a deep sense responsibility for contributing to the culture of their workplace. They build friendships with non-Christian colleagues and want to be an “instrument of common grace for the common good.”

3. They’ve Never Truly “Made It”

Most people who integrate their faith and work well never feel as they are done growing. “Ninety-one percent — compared to 61 percent of all Christians – agree that they are always looking for ways to improve.” They are willing to embrace both life-long learning and different kinds of possibilities.

4. They Embrace Curiosity & Risk

Most Integrators are curious about the world. Curiosity has been linked to a number of positive effects on person’s ability to improve the workplace and society: resiliency in relationships, handling conflict well, less political polarization, and others. 

Integrators are less fearful of taking leaps of faith than the average Christian, and aren’t afraid to put themselves out there in both the workplace and in life goals and projects. Perhaps this is because they are more likely to regard faith as the foundation of their identity.

5. They Don’t “Bury Their Talents”

Those who integrate their faith and work well want to use their giftedness for the good of others. This may reflect “their strong belief that these talents are given by God to use for His glory.” 

This generosity extends to their finances as well, as they serve God with their money. They are also more likely (than the average Christian) to express their generosity through serving and volunteering.

For more information on the Barna report, Christians at Work, click here.

The Religion Of Self-Will

You see it on t-shirts and instagram. You hear it on podcasts. And you definitely read it in a lot of popular books. It’s the religion of self-will. It’s proponents would never call it a religion but, make no mistake, it’s a set of beliefs by which people orient their lives.

This religion is often preached by a cluster of tweetable quotes propped up by the same basic premise: “If I just believe in myself and my efforts enough then I will find the life, peace, and rest I’ve been searching for.”

However, when measured up against the Gospel, I’ve found this premise with its coffee-mug-imprinted-sizzle seems to, well… fizzle.

Here are three examples of how the Gospel debunks the religion of self-will…

1. The religion of self-will says: “You are enough”

The Gospel says: “No — I’m not enough by my own merit and because of my sin I can’t earn the approval I’m looking for. If I was, and if I could… then Jesus wouldn’t have had to die. But he did, for me, because I’m that valuable to him. I have God’s approval because of who He is and what He has done for me.” cf. Romans 5:1-11

2. The religion of self-will says: “Just work hard enough and you’ll have the life you want”

The Gospel says: “I can’t manipulate my future and I don’t have to. Jesus holds my future, both here and in eternity. Until then, I can set aside personal idols that fade for Kingdom treasures that will last forever.” cf. Matthew 6:25-34

3. The religion of self-will says: “Just pull yourself up by your bootstraps”

The Gospel says: “Even youths grow tired and weary. But my living Savior’s feet (and hands) have holes that tell me he was plenty strong enough to carry my burden of sin to the grave and he’s plenty strong enough to carry me to glory. When I’m tired, discouraged, or without all the answers I am never without hope or security, because my hope and security are found in Christ.” cf. I Peter 1:3-9

In conclusion: The religion of self-will tells me to exhaust myself by trying harder to be better. The Gospel tells me I’m free to place my confidence in who Jesus is and what He’s accomplished on my behalf.

I choose the Gospel.

When It’s Tough To Pray

Ever experienced a time when it was difficut to pray? I have.

Maybe you had so much on your heart and mind, that you weren’t sure where to start? Been there.

Or maybe you’ve found yourself struggling to block out all the noise and settle your mind to pray? I can relate. We live in a noisy time, don’t we?

Even when our minds aren’t settled, our hearts are heavy, or God doesn’t feel especially close… He is present. He is ready to hear. He is often ready to speak. 

Here are four tools I’ve learned help me when it’s difficult to pray. I hope one or some might help you.

1. Not sure where to start? Start with what Jesus taught.

Maybe lost in all the tradition and repetition of “The Lord’s Prayer” (Matthew 6:9-13) is the fact that this is how Jesus taught His followers how to pray.

It’s a prayer that is both simple and rich. Jesus is able to pack worship, mission, repentance, and requests for both physical and spiritual needs into this short prayer. #JesusIsAGenius

Suggestion: What if you tried praying this prayer in your own words?

2. A lot on your mind? Grab a pen and paper.

I’ve found that when I have a lot on my mind that it is helpful to begin writing my prayers down. Doing this helps me organize my thoughts as I pray. This practice also ends up provding a kind of prayer journal. Keep that journal so that you can look back and see how God answered your prayers.

Spoiler Alert: If you do this, you will experience awe as you look back how God worked in your life.

3. Ask someone to pray with and for you.

Yes — this means in person. As we become more connected technologically and less connected personally, this is becoming harder to do. But we’ve got to pray with and for eachother. I’m so thankul for friends who have been willing to pray with and for me, especially during times of dissapointment and difficulty.

Consider: Who is someone in your life that you could ask to pray with and for you?

4. Be quiet.

Sometimes (ok — a lot of the time) we talk too much when we pray. Prayer is not a one-way talking exercise. When God created the heavens and the earth, what did He do? He spoke. When Jesus proclaimed that His saving work on the cross was finished, He spoke. I would contend that there is nothing more powerful than when God speaks. So wouldn’t it make sense to be still, be quiet, and listen?

Be still, and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10

It’s Best To Rest

Resting does not come naturally to me. Sure, I enjoy leisure: kicking back, eating some delicious Peanut M&M’s, and watching Netflix with my favorite brunette in the world.

But I do find it difficult to rest. It does not come naturally for me to be still, be quiet, and be content with the limits of my efforts and labors. But if I believe what the Bible says, then it’s truly best to rest. Here are two reasons why:

1. When we rest, we worship. When we rest we are recognizing that God is God, and that we are not. He does not grow weary. We do. He is not limited in His understanding. We are. We rest because we trust Him, His promises, and that He will keep His promises (more on this below).

When we rest we profess that our security is not a result of our work, but of God’s. When the activity (and inactivity) of our lives match the truths we profess about God, we worship Him.

2. When we rest, we are strengthened. In Isaiah 40, God promises that He will increase the strength of those who rest and wait on Him. As we worship God with both our labor and our rest, He is faithful to give us strength that can only come from Him.

It’s a beautiful paradox. We work so hard to gain so much. Yet, in all our labor we cannot earn what God offers freely. He simply invites us to rest in Him and who He is.

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:28-31

The Age of Heroes

Everybody loves a hero. Our theaters, tv screens, and social media feeds are filled with stories about heroes: people who are committed to the greater good of others.

You know who really loves heroes? Kids! Visit your local Target or Walmart and you’ll see that the toy section is full of fun items promoting (you guessed it) heroes!

The reality is that our kids really don’t need to be entertained by Spider-Man or Captain Marvel, but they do need real heroes. Kids under the age of 18 make up 23% of the total US population… that’s about 74 million kids! Many of them will head back to school this fall. Every one of them (and their families) will face unique challenges.

None of us can be a hero to every kid or family. But all of us can be a hero to one or some. What if we did that? What if every one of us chose to be a hero in some way to the next generation this fall?

  • What if you served as a small group leader for kids or students at your church?
  • What if you tutored a student at your local middle school?
  • What if you asked your friends or neighbors with kids how you could help or serve their family?

Real heroes aren’t content with “What if?” They ask, “Where am I needed?” So find the need, grab your cape, and be a hero to a kid (and their family) this fall.

Disclaimer: Don’t wear an actual cape. That would be weird.

“…Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” 1 John 3:18 

Aged Faces

Over the past few days my social media feeds have been littered with a lot of aged faces that weren’t there before. Can you relate? And listen – it’s not because I started following all of my friends’ grandparents on Twitter. FaceApp has taken over the posting world this week. 

While it’s been quite entertaining to see what many of us might look like a few decades into the future, this social media trend doesn’t only offer a few chuckles, but a good reminder as well.

James 4:14 says, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”

Time comes and goes quickly. But don’t be saddened or discouraged by this fact. God has given you these days – so take courage and make them count. They are a gift given to you for His purposes. Enjoy them and steward them well!

Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12

3 Things About Stranger Things (Spoiler Free!)

I finally got around to watching the third season of Stranger Things on Netflix. As I watched there were 3 themes this season that stood out to me:

1. Friends Matter.
Yes – Stranger Things is full of crazy, dramatic elements: scary monsters, another dimension, government conspiracies, and so on. But at the heart of the show are the friendships. I think one of the drawing factors of the show is that all of us desire true friends who will faithfully stand by our side, through thick and thin, as though they are family. It reminds us that who we surround ourselves with matters.

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. Proverbs 17:17

2. Parents Matter
I don’t want to give away anything, other than to say this: parents matter. This season of Stranger Things reminds us that the presence and practice of parents (and parental figures) has far-reaching impact in our lives. 

Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. Colossians 3:21

3. What Matters Now May Not Matter Later
The main players in Stranger Things are growing up. As they come of age they are realizing that what mattered to them in their youth just doesn’t matter as much now.

What really matters to you right now? In light of the future (i.e. eternity) should it matter as much as it does? Should other things matter more in your life?

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. Colossians 3:2