Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The How: The Simple Disciplines of Gratitude & Praise (Growing in Faith Series)

A couple of weeks ago, I started a series and this continues the thread.  This is the How of the Who, What, When, Where, Why of faith.  I like that is happens to fall in Thanksgiving Week.  It fits.  (In the first post, I covered the What, you can read that here.)

I'm a personal believer in the power of gratitude, especially as commanded in Scripture.*  But as I grow in faith, I've discovered something remarkable.  Gratitude is the root of the fruit of the Spirit we think of as Joy.  Have you ever met a sour-faced joyful person?  No way!  Grateful people are smiling.  They freely sing, dance, give, serve, study and all those other things we should do as Christians.  Freely being the keyword here.

In fact, the people you know who have the deepest well of joy have learned, through literal trial and much error, to be thankful in all situations.  Giving thanks and praising God has set them free from the weight of sin, from death.  They know these two simple practices have immense power, and are perhaps our greatest weaponry on the spiritual battlefield.**

It might seem a bit shallow to say gratitude and praise are the biggest guns in our arsenal.  We've been taught to go deep in study, prayer, service, giving.  We feel we must start an orphanage across the globe.  These are all very good things, and I wish we all did more of them.  But there is a fundamental problem - we often don't have the purest intentions when we do them.  They tend to be about us and what we do for God, rather than freely (again that word) giving without expectation of anything in return.

That issue hits home in a a book I'm writing called The Jesus Rule, based on Christ's answer to the question: what is the greatest commandment?  He answers pretty simply, quoting Deuteronomy 6 and tacking on Leviticus 19, to create the be-all-end-all commandment to please the Lord.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.

Christ says that 3 times in 3 Gospels: Matthew 22:37-39, Mark 12:28-31 and Luke 10:25-28.  You know if God repeats something three times, we better listen.  Those red-letter words support my point: Jesus was never about what we do for God.  He was about experiencing God by letting He Who is love transform you and those around you.  I submit to you now: the shortest distance between God's love and experiencing it is gratitude and praise.

That's why I call them disciplines because they should be practiced daily, if not hourly.  That looks like saying "Thank You, Lord;" like saying grace before a meal, but not only then.  We should be saying grace over everything.  We should be declaring (out loud) Who God is and What He has done/is doing/will do.  Stormie Omartian, in The Prayer That Changes Everything, writes these wros on the very first page of the introduction,

If prayer is communicating with God, then the purest form of prayer is worship and praise.  That's because it focuses our minds and hearts entirely away from ourselves and onto Him.

If praise is our vertical beam of the Cross, then gratitude is our horizontal.  Gratitude is how we demonstrate His power and work in our lives.  They are two halves of the whole.  In them, we meet the Lord, coming to a greater, fuller understanding of Who He is.  Our love for Him will grow wildly as a result.

Trust me when I tell you this because I've been practicing it for awhile: When you truly praise God; when you are truly thankful for Him - you will find what you've been missing in your faith walk.  If you are struggling to get closer to God, to feel His Presence more, these two active truths are the keys to opening the door of your heart to Him.  Maybe you are struggling with sin, with a diagnosis, with money problems, with your kids (whatever).....it is time to bust out your big guns of thanksgiving and worship.

Jesus told the Samaritan Woman at the Well in John 4, there will come a day when the place we worship doesn't matter, but instead the position of our hearts.  We will worship in spirit AND in truth.

For it’s not where we worship that counts, but how we worship—is our worship spiritual and real? Do we have the Holy Spirit’s help? For God is Spirit, and we must have his help to worship as we should. The Father wants this kind of worship from us. (v. 22-23, TLB)

The fastest way to have the kind of relationship the Father wants is to praise and thank His Son through His Spirit.  
Quote from Watchman Nee
This are very simple practices, truly.  No theology degrees required.  Yet, when we practice them, they will become our greatest witness to the world of the love and power of Christ: to save, heal, deliver, provide and set free.  They usher in the Kingdom of God right in our own hearts, right here at our desks or where we are on our phones.  Gratitude and Praise bring the Kingdom of Heaven to Earth: in your house, car, workplace, school, neighborhood, gym and especially in your church.

We have such a tendency to be what the Bible calls "double-minded."  We think about God on one half of our brain, but the other half is all about ourselves: what we are feeling; what we think is right; what others are doing/have done to us; what we will eat next; what we will wear next, etc.  The Lord wants us to be singularly focused on Him, which is why The Jesus Rule makes sense.  Jesus always started with God, so we must start there. 

A.W. Tozer called Psalm 103 "God's Pitch Pipe."***  If you know anything about music, a pitch pipe is used to get a choir in tune.  Psalm 103 is a great place to start, but you can just keep going through Psalm 109 (or just go through most of the Psalms, if not all).  Worship and Thanksgiving will not only build your faith, in them you will get eyes and ears to experience the Lord in real-time. There is no better easier week in America, no more acceptable time in our calendar year, to be grateful for the vast blessings we have.  

Take Thanksgiving Week one more step further.  Call it Thanks & Praise Week.  Be grateful and praise God for it.  Let Him get your spirit in tune with His.  Let this holiday season be different because it is marked by what really pleases the Lord: Not good works, not giving, not getting along with your relatives, but gratitude and praise of His name.

*For your study, here are some references to commands from Scripture to be grateful: Psalm 50:14; Psalm 100:4; Psalm 107:22; Psalm 116:17; Isaiah 51:3; Mark 8:6; Luke 22:17; Romans 1:21; 1 Corinthians 15:57; 1 Thessalonians 5:18; Philippians 4:4,6,8-9; Revelation 7:12

**So you know, the enemy can't get to you when you are thankful and full of praise.  It expels him from the area because you are submitting to the Lord.  He has to flee.  So, if you are experience some spiritual warfare, break out your shofar (that's a reference to a horn the Hebrews often used going into battle and it's purpose is to praise God).  You've got one, right there in your throat.  Shout your praise to God - thank Him with all your might.  Then you will see the very atmosphere of the room change.  I know this for a fact too.

***Thank you to my precious, dearest friend and mentor, Janice Heffer Wright, for telling me A.W. Tozer's comment during a sermon she heard him preach (in person!) so long ago.  I have never forgotten it!

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