The Power Of A Thankful Heart

thanks

Gratitude

One of the most pressing issues in our modern world is energy. We need it for our homes, industry and transportation. We have become extremely energy dependent and without it, our industrialized lifestyle will grind to a halt.

So every discovery of new energy sources and methods of conservation has potential for great value to us. And who wouldn’t like to have a Beverly Hillbillies Jedd Clampett moment, to accidentally find oil and strike it rich?

Today, if the news of a newly discovered energy source were to break, how long would it take for investors to jump in the market? If we knew it was in our back yard, how long would it take us to grab a shovel and start slinging dirt?

If you answered, “Not very long at all.” I’m sure you are right. But of course I’m not really talking about oil or other energy sources. I’m using an allegory to look at something else.

There is a long forgotten source of power that has laid dormant in many of our lives. This is the breaking news about it and hopefully the reader will have the wisdom to invest and desire to unearth it for themselves.

What is this special source of power? As modest and menial as it may seem, it is Thanksgiving. And no, we’re not talking about a special day for turkey and football.

Most of us know we could be more thankful. But there are many things in life that would distract us or even motivate us in an opposite direction.

Our perception of these things is more important than we often realize. So there is more to understand about the thankful heart.

Thanksgiving isn’t something we do, it is given from a heart that sees beyond the distractions and relies on a motivation far greater than any evil that may come against us.

Businesses recognize the value of a “Thank you!” But when it is scripted and forced, saying “Thank You!” has no more impact than saying, “Would you like some fries with your order?”

Often when a business shows us gratitude, it has financial value. And that does impact us in some measure, but it isn’t very personal and we almost feel entitled to special favors for being a good customer. In the end, we usually just accept it as an advertising ploy meant to increase sales.

We teach our children to say, “Thank you.” when they have received some kind courtesy, and that is good manners. Learning this at an early age can be very productive in developing a thankful heart.

But if it never goes beyond scripted words, it has all the warmth of an automated telephone call. “Press 1 for English.” Press 1 and… “Thank you.”.

If we have allowed ourselves to settle into complacency, our true gratitude will never be expressed. Just injecting a “Thank you.” at the appropriate time isn’t real. A thankful heart is a spark for ignition that sets a power filled life in motion!

The Power Of The Dark Side

Thanksgiving may not seem very significant at first. So before we look at some of the important aspects of gratitude, let’s see how its opposite effects us.

Generally speaking, we’re looking at a comparison of positive and negative attitudes. But this generalization is a bit deceptive. In the end, it is far more important to recognize the sources of these attitudes than it is to focus on the attitudes themselves.

If the expression of our attitude is the tip of an iceberg, there is much more beneath the surface. So let’s dive in and see what lies underneath.

Complaining is the opposite of Thanksgiving. Of itself it is the fruit of something deeper, but it also bears fruit of its own. Born of things like our disappointment and anger and driven by a critical, judgmental spirit, complaining creates misery in the heart.

Our misery increases our disappointment and anger which generates more complaints. We become even more miserable, more disappointed and angry and without realizing it, we become trapped in a viscous cycle that spirals our hearts downward into despair.

The impacts of complaining are like a poison that instead of healing over time, grows more and more powerful. And often it isn’t just the individual complaining that suffers.

Their complaints carry the same venom they suffer from. It is contagious and poisons others and if it isn’t contained, it will become an epidemic with ruinous results and enduring consequences.

During Israel’s Exodus from Egypt God provided them with food. It was bread from heaven and they called it mana. After a while eating nothing but mana, the people grew dissatisfied with it and began to complain.

Now when the people complained, it displeased the LORD; for the LORD heard it, and His anger was aroused. So the fire of the LORD burned among them, and consumed some in the outskirts of the camp. Numbers 11:1

Why would God do such a thing? Was He just acting in anger? Do we really believe that the Master of the universe could be goaded into a knee-jerk emotional response by our ignorant behavior? Or could it be that He was protecting the people by controlling a contagious spirit?

Yes, the complaining displeased Him, but what does that really mean? The original Hebrew uses two words to say displease. The first is rah’ meaning bad, evil and of particular interest, malignant. The second word is ‘ozen which means subjectively to uncover the ear and receive revelation.

So when Israel complained, it revealed a malignant evil that required an immediate response. Some would judge God for His response, but who are we to do that?

God’s plans are for our good, not our harm. So what ever method He may use, we must realize that He is justly bringing about His desired end to prosper us and give us hope and a bright future.

The fact that God took such drastic measures against complaining, should give us a clue that it will not bring us to a prosperous end with a bright and hopeful future.

Why is this hard for us to see? Typically its because of our expectations. We expect prosperity with a bright and hopeful future, but the real problem is in our expectations of how this will come to pass.

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28

All things are not necessarily good. And this is usually where we get hung up. When an event or circumstance doesn’t meet our expectations of good, our response can range from mild discontent to heart rending pain. That triggers our anger.

From this point we may take any number of actions in anger. But the one action that is pretty much universal is to complain in some way about the event or circumstance that failed to meet our expectations.

Add to this several events or circumstances that of themselves aren’t good and the complaints grow louder. With that, our maddening cycle of self destruction begins. If we leave it unchecked, no small intervention will help.

Most of us don’t get so wrapped up with our complaints that it becomes a nightmarish psychosis. We have certain coping mechanisms that keep us from going into overload with it.

We have our ways of rolling with the punches. Some are simple distractions while others can be destructive behaviors like drug and alcohol abuse.

Another coping mechanism is to shift expectations so that one is not disappointed when bad things happen. There may be many different avenues we use to cope, but they all have one thing in common. They distract from and deny the real issue.

Our coping mechanisms don’t do anything about the malignancy that broods under the surface. And the end result falls somewhere between two extremes.

We may not be caught in an out of control snowballing plummet to self destruction, but neither are we living a truly healthy and vibrant life. We’re not hot and we’re not cold, we’re just somewhere tastelessly in between.

The most common term for this ‘fire-less hell’ is depression. And while this is not intended to be medical advice, it is a medically proven fact that depression causes painful physical illness. Beyond that, it is virtually impossible to eliminate the role depression plays in suicide.

It is estimated that over 25% of the population suffers from clearly defined clinically diagnosable depression. If one in four people has obvious, major symptoms of depression, how many more have less severe symptoms that they keep hidden away? If the truth were known, the magnitude of this pandemic would likely eclipse any other in history.

Pharmaceutical sales have eclipsed the trillion dollar mark and growing. Psychotropic and anti-depressants drug sales make up the greatest percentage of that figure.

It would be silly to suggest that complaining is the sole culprit behind it all. But it would be equally silly not to recognize the extensive destructive force that the behavior is capable of producing in our lives.

Medical treatments can be invaluable in some cases, and I would never suggest that one discontinue a prescribed treatment plan. If symptoms are severe, one would be wise to seek help.

We need to realize that there is another way. Treating symptoms can be helpful, but it doesn’t cure the issue. We need something that will get to the heart of the matter.

The Power Of The Light Side

Our look at complaining does not paint a pretty picture. But rather than dwell on it, we should realize that there is another side to the coin.

Thanksgiving is the opposite of Complaining. Of itself it is the fruit of something deeper, but it also bears fruit of its own. Thanksgiving is born in the fulfillment of an expectation or need and is freely given without the conditions of judgment or criticism. And our gratitude is rewarded with the fruit of joy in our hearts.

Our joy increases our appreciation of the fulfillment which adds to our happiness and in turn fuels even greater joy. And just like complaining, the joy of gratitude is contagious.

As complaining poisons our hearts, joy has an opposite effect. It has a healing and stabilizing effect on us and it has the potential to do the same for those around us.

Unlike the misery of complaining, our natural joy lacks the virulent potential to quickly turn the hearts of those around us. The poison of our negativity is very strong and its effects are quite enduring.

So the positive impact our joy may have on others is often only functional when they are under the direct influence of it. And if one desires a change, the best thing to do is enter into and remain in a positive environment that allows the joy of others to infect them and overcome the effects of their misery.

What really happens? There are many things we experience that cause our bodies to react in certain ways. These experiences like fear, anger, sorrow, joy and happiness can cause us to release endorphins into our bloodstream.

The effects of these endorphins generally feels good. It has a numbing effect on pain and leaves one in some measure of euphoria. So the trauma cycle of complaining and the rejuvenating cycle of thanksgiving both have the potential to trigger an endorphin release. Either can actually become addicting and act as a reinforcement for the behavior.

As we mentioned before, both thanksgiving and complaining are rooted in our general attitude. While one with a positive attitude may complain from time to time, it isn’t their way of coping with disappointment. And the opposite is true for those with a negative attitude.

So the real issue begins with the polarity of our attitudes. This isn’t something most people change easily. It requires a fundamental paradigm shift, not happy pills and a shrink.

Over the last half century, there has been a resurgence in the Positive Mental Attitude philosophies. These ideologies are a bit too broad based to give an endorsement to, but there is great truth in the basic core of their understanding.

If we are looking for negative things, we will only see negative things. If we only see negative things, then even the good things in life are received with negative expectations and this is not a healthy way of life.

If we shift the paradigm and begin looking only at the positive things, even the negative things that happen are received with positive expectations that something good can be made from it.

So up to this point, anyone can experience the benefits of a positive perspective change and know the joy of counting their blessings. But if this is to be a truly holistic change, it needs to run deeper, still.

True Expectations

Until now, we’ve been talking about thanksgiving, complaining and our attitudes based largely on events and circumstances. But the rudder that steers it all is another step deeper.

Complainers will find something to complain about even in the best of circumstances. A thankful heart will find something to be grateful for even in the worst of circumstances. And the source of this is whatever it is driving our attitudes.

The connection is made in our expectations. We can define our expectations as the substance of what we hope for and the evidence of things we have not seen yet. Does that sound familiar? Our expectations are our faith!

We can experience the holistic, life changing power that brings us out of misery and into joy. But if our paradigm shift does not reach into and securely establish our faith , it will only be a superficial change. Like painting an old barn, it may look nice on the outside, but it won’t get the rats out from the inside.

So a truly thankful heart is entirely dependent on faith. It is one thing to be truly grateful for a single event or circumstance. But true, well placed faith allows us to be grateful without regard for events and circumstances.

If we believe that all things work together for our good, then we have a higher quality of faith. But if that expectation must be met by our own ingenuity, there will always be potential for failure. At some point, we still have to face the disappointment of our own imperfections.

This changes when we elevate our faith to something that cannot fail us. Hebrews 6:18 tells us that God has given both His oath and His promise to fulfill His Word and He cannot lie. He made a covenant with us, sealed by the blood of His Son, and it is immutable.

We must turn away from our expectations founded in the weak and imperfect performance of men who are at the mercy of happenstance. We must turn our expectations to the only One who has ever truly loved us and gave Himself for us.

With our faith firmly established in Him, we can know that all things will work together for our good. We may need to call on Him to bring us through our circumstances, but we can endure them joyfully because our gratitude remains unshaken through the storms of life.

Why? Because our gratitude comes from the fulfillment of our expectations. And it isn’t truly an event or circumstance that fulfills those expectations. It is God, Himself. Wow…selah!

Keeping It Real

There must always be a practical application. Theories are nice, but if they can’t wear combat boots, they won’t help win the war.

Developing a grateful heart is no different. It doesn’t just fall from the sky one day and fix everything. It must be nurtured as do many of the virtues God blesses us with when we become a new creation in Him.

Under the Law of Moses there was only one sacrifice that was not compulsory. It was called the Peace Offering. Of course the entire Law was fulfilled by Christ, including the Peace Offering. By doing this, Jesus opened the way for man to be at peace with God and have fellowship with him. Once we understand the true value of this offering, we may better know how to develop our gratitude.

The Peace Offering was never required. Why? Because it was an offering of Thanksgiving. A mandated gratitude has no value. But beyond an offering of gratitude, it was also called the Fellowship or Communion Offering. It is through our gratitude that we draw into a closer fellowship or communion with God.

Enter His gates with thanksgiving; go into His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him and praise His name. Psalm 100:4

The Psalmist is talking about a progression through the temple. We can enter into His gates, progress to His inner courts and ultimately meet with and worship God in the Holy of Holies.

It all begins with Thanksgiving at the gates. This is important because Nehemiah 8:10 tells us that the joy of the Lord is our strength, and we’re about to need incredible strength.

But first, let’s look at the source of joy. Nehemiah’s story began with Israel’s return from captivity in Babylon. Jerusalem had been sacked and the walls were destroyed. Before the city could be safely inhabited, the walls had to be rebuilt.

Through a series of miraculous provisions and protection, the walls were finally finished with no light duress. It was time to celebrate. But rather than celebrate their own accomplishments, Israel declared a formal day to give thanks to God for His mercy and provision.

Nehemiah 12 goes into elaborate detail about this day of celebration. On the surface, it isn’t exciting reading until we reach verse 43. “Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and the children also rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard afar off. ”

Did you see that? Because of their thanksgiving, God filled them with incredible joy!

So as we progress into the temple and begin with our thanksgiving, God can cause us to rejoice with great joy. Remembering that the joy of the Lord is our strength, we can take the next step into his courts.

This is where our praises are lifted up. Psalm 22:3 tells us the God is enthroned on the praises of His people. This is why our measure of joyful strength is so important. The more the strength of our joy, the greater the weight of His throne we can bear.

Our fellowship and communion with Him becomes rich and fulfilling. The focus of our worship changes from who we believe God to be to who He truly is.

The Lord allowed me to see this in a most unusual way. Many years ago as I was just beginning to understand life in the Spirit, my family and I entered a new level of warfare.

We were finishing a week of revival meetings and had enjoyed the presence of God through the week. As the warfare was beginning, my heart seemed drawn to thank God for the awesome things He was doing in our lives and suddenly, all hell broke loose.

I entered the hallway between our bedroom and our childrens’ bedrooms and found myself face to face with a powerful demonic entity. It seemed angered that it could not pass, but began to try nonetheless.

The air in the hallway instantly chilled and I felt the cold begin to grip my body. It started at my feet and began working its way up. But this was more than just a cold sensation. It was a living fear that was so intense I felt if it reached my heart, I would surely die.

I would like to say that I was brave under fire. But the truth was, I just didn’t have any fear. I was frozen in time and couldn’t speak or even think of anything to say or do. I stood there helplessly as the fear worked its way up.

When the fear rose above my belt around my lower belly, something happened that blew my mind. I began to laugh. Not just any laugh though, it was the laughter of a little child. It was as if the Holy Spirit had tickled me and I just couldn’t help but giggle and snicker in the demon’s face.

The entity vanished and I eventually stopped laughing. But it puzzled me, I had no clue what had just happened. Later when things had calmed down and I was resting, I heard the words, ‘The joy of the Lord is my strength’. And with that came the realization that I had struck greater fear in the demon than it had struck in me.

As the Lord brought to remembrance the events, He showed me the incredible importance of the time spent in gratitude. Certainly there are many more examples, but the main idea is, there is power in our simple gratitude for what God is doing in our lives.

So we pray that your Thanksgiving holiday is well spent, enjoying time with family and friends. May you know the provision, comfort, peace and joy of the Lord. And may you take advantage of this season, if you have not before and tap into the abundant and bountiful source of power that comes from the thankful heart.

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