Gratitude

Gratitude by Donna Betts

Psalm 118:28-29
You are my God, and I will praise you;
You are my God, and I will exalt you.
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
His love endures forever.

Thou hast given so much to me,
Give one thing more, – a grateful heart;
Not thankful when it pleaseth me,
As if Thy blessings had spare days,
But such a heart whose pulse may be Thy praise.
~George Herbert

What does the Lord require of followers? The Lord requires gratitude. And for those of us in the Christian tradition, Jesus wants our gratitude to increase more and more until, like a holy flame, it burns within us and we burst into songs and deeds of thankfulness to God and neighbor. To express genuine gratitude to God, our deeds must demonstrate our love, trust, and service.
– Beauty Maenzanise

When you sit down to eat, pray. When you eat bread, do so thanking God for being so generous to you. If you drink wine (or coffee), be mindful of God who has given it to you for your pleasure and as a relief in sickness. When you dress, thank God for His kindness in providing you with clothes. When you look at the sky and the beauty of the stars, throw yourself at God’s feet and adore Him who ordered things this way. When the sun goes down and when it rises, when you are asleep or awake, give thanks to God, who created and arranged all things for your benefit, to have you know, love and praise their Creator. – Basil the Great

Resentment indicates we are still trying to fill the emptiness with something we think we deserve. Gratitude is the sign that God has filled the hole; indeed, that God has become the Whole in Whom we live, move, and have our being. – Steve Harper

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. -John F. Kennedy

It is literally true, as the thankless say, that they have nothing to be thankful for. He who sits by the fire, thankless for the fire, is just as if he had no fire. Nothing is possessed save in appreciation, of which thankfulness is the indispensable ingredient.
~W.J. Cameron

Jesus calls us to gratitude. He calls us to recognize that gladness and sadness are never separate, that joy and sorrow really belong together, and that mourning and dancing are part of the same movement. That is why Jesus calls us to be grateful for every moment that we have lived and to claim our unique journey as God’s way to mold our hearts to greater conformity with God’s own. The cross is the main symbol of our faith, and it invites us to find hope where we see pain and to reaffirm the resurrection where we see death. The call to be grateful is a call to trust that every moment of our life can be claimed as the way of the cross that leads us to new life.
– Henri J. M. Nouwen, A Spirituality of Living

Gratitude is a quality similar to electricity: it must be produced and discharged and used up in order to exist at all. ~William Faulkner

Grateful living: an alchemic operation of converting “disgraceful” things into grateful events. ~ Raimundo Panikkar

How to practice gratitude? Research shows that those who keep a simple gratitude journal felt happier, more optimistic, and even slept better at night. Renowned psychologist Dr. Martin Seligman guarantees that if you (a) write a 300-word letter to someone who changed your life for the better, (b) hand-deliver it to the recipient, (c) read it out loud to them, then “You will be happier and less depressed one month from now.” – reposted from Daily Good

In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give,
and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich. – Deitrich Bonhoeffer

Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.
~Marcus Tullius Cicero

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Be sure to check out Nadia Bolz Weber’s sermon, Thank You (a sermon), on the classic gratitude text, Luke 17:11-19, Jesus healing ten lepers.

Parable of the Talents: Fearless or Fearful? (Matthew 25.14-30)

Parable of the Talents: Matthew 25:14-30

John of the Cross wrote that “In the evening of life we will be judged on love alone.” The two servants, probably more experienced in loving, fearlessly invest their portions of love. Heedless of sheer foolhardiness, they risk ego, rejection, derision, even death, adventurously increasing the master’s wealth of love in the world. The last servant misses the point, and like sinning against the Holy Spirit (Mt. 12:32) the poor clueless man finds himself in the outer darkness for clinging to the supposed safety of burying his love in the ground. John Wesley comments, “So mere harmlessness, on which many build their hope of salvation, was the cause of his damnation.”
– Suzanne Guthrie, The Edge of the Enclosure

The Lord challenges us to suffer persecutions and to confess him. He wants those who belong to him to be brave and fearless. He himself shows how weakness of the flesh is overcome by courage of the Spirit. This is the testimony of the apostles and in particular of the representative, administrating Spirit. A Christian is fearless. –Tertullian

Cowards die many times before their deaths,
The valiant never taste of death but once.
– William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar (II, ii, 32-37)

Only those who risk going too far will ever know how far they can go.
– T.S. Eliot

Whatever you do you need courage. Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising that tempt you into believing your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires some of the same courage that a soldier needs. Peace has its victories but it takes brave men and women to win them. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Moving ahead requires us to face the present with its hardships and afflictions, knowing that these, too, are part of the way. To do this requires a measure of courage, that word formed from the Latin cor, or heart. In such circumstances, the challenge before us is not simply to avoid losing our heart. Rather, it is that of finding our heart, of living “heartfully.” – Mark S. Burrows and John H. Ohlson, Love is a Direction from Weavings, Aug/Sept/Oct 2012

Click here and here and here for three thoughtful reflections on this passage by Steve Garnaas Holmes

Zephaniah 1:12
At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the people who rest complacently on their dregs, those who say in their hearts, “The Lord will not do good, nor will he do harm.”

Philippians 4:13 (NRSV)
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Dear God,
I am so afraid to open my clenched fists!
Who will I be when I have nothing left to hold on to?
Who will I be when I stand before you with empty hands?
Please help me to gradually open my hands
… and to discover that I am not what I own,
but what you want to give me.
And what you want to give me is love,
unconditional, everlasting love. Amen.
– Henri Nouwen

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For more information on the use of the scripture translation, art and this resource in other settings, please leave a message in the comments.

Prayer of a Minor Prophet by AW Tozer

will of god aw tozerFrom A Passion For God: The Spiritual Journey of A. W. Tozer by Lyle Dorsett (Chicago, IL; Moody, 2008), pp. 65-68.

This is the prayer of a man called to be a witness to the nations. This is what he said to his Lord on the day of his ordination. After the elders and ministers had prayed and laid their hands on him he withdrew to meet his Savior in the secret place and in the silence, farther in than his well-meaning brethren could take him. And he said:

O Lord, I have heard Thy voice and was afraid. Thou hast called me to an awesome task in a grave and perilous hour. Thou are about to shake all nations and the earth and also heaven, that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. O Lord, our Lord, Thou has stopped to honor me to be Thy servant. No man takes this honor upon himself save he that is called of God as was Aaron. Thou has ordained me Thy messenger to them that are stubborn of heart and hard of hearing. They have rejected Thee, the Master, and it is not to be expected that they will receive me, the servant.

My God, I shall not waste time deploring my weakness nor my unfittedness for the work. The responsibility is not mine but Thine. Thou hast said, “I knew thee—I ordained thee—I sanctified thee,” and Thou has also said, “Thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak.” Who am I to argue with Thee or to call into question Thy sovereign choice? The decision is not mine but Thine. So be it, Lord. Thy will, not mine, be done.

Well do I know, Thou God of the prophets and the apostles, that as long as I honor Thee Thou wilt honor me. Help me therefore to take this solemn vow to honor Thee in all my future life and labors, whether by gain or by loss, by life or by death, and then to keep that vow unbroken while I live.

It is time, O God, for Thee to work, for the enemy has entered into Thy pastures and the sheep are torn and scattered. And false shepherds abound who deny the danger and laugh at the perils which surround Thy flock. The sheep are deceived by these hirelings and follow them with touching loyalty while the wolf closes in to kill and destroy. I beseech Thee, give me sharp eyes to detect the presence of the enemy; give me understanding to distinguish the false friend from the true. Give me vision to see and courage to report what I see faithfully. Make my voice so like Thine own that even the sick sheep will recognize it and follow Thee.

Lord Jesus, I come to Thee for spiritual preparation. Lay Thy hand upon me. Anoint me with the oil of the New Testament prophet. Forbid that I should become a religious scribe and thus lose my prophetic calling. Save me from the curse that lies dark across the face of the modern clergy, the curse of compromise, of imitation, of professionalism. Save me from the error of judging a church by its size, its popularity or the amount of its yearly offering. Help me to remember that I am a prophet; not a promoter, not a religious manager—but a prophet. Let me never become a slave to crowds. Heal my soul of carnal ambitions and deliver me from the itch for publicity. Save me from the bondage to things. Let me not waste my days puttering around the house. Lay Thy terror upon me, O God, and drive me to the place of prayer where I may wrestle with principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world. Deliver me from overeating and late sleeping. Teach me self-discipline that I may be a good soldier of Jesus Christ.

I accept hard work and small rewards in this life. I ask for no easy place. I shall try to be blind to the little ways that I could make my life easier. If others seek the smoother path I shall try to take the hard way without judging them too harshly. I shall expect opposition and try to take it quietly when it comes. Or if, as sometimes it falleth out to Thy servants, I shall have grateful gifts pressed upon me by Thy kindly people, stand by me then and save me from the blight that often follows. Teach me to use whatever I receive in such manner that it will not injure my soul nor diminish my spiritual power. And if in Thy permissive providence honor should come to me from Thy church, let me not forget in that hour that I am unworthy of the least of Thy mercies, and that if men knew me as intimately as I know myself they would withhold their honors or bestow them upon others more worthy to receive them.

And now, O Lord of heaven and earth, I consecrate my remaining days to Thee; let them be many or few, as Thou wilt. Let me stand before the great or minister to the poor and lowly; that choice is not mine, and I would not influence it if I could. I am Thy servant to do Thy will, and that will is sweeter to me than position or riches or fame and I choose it above all things on earth or in heaven. Though I am chosen of Thee and honored by a high and holy calling, let me never forget that I am but a man of dust and ashes, a man with all the natural faults and passions that plague the race of men. I pray Thee therefore, my Lord and Redeemer, save me from myself and from all the injuries I may do myself while trying to be a blessing to others. Fill me with thy power by the Holy Spirit, and I will go in Thy strength and tell of Thy righteousness, even Thine only. I will spread abroad the message of redeeming love while my normal powers endure.

Then, dear Lord, when I am old and weary and too tired to go on, have a place ready for me above, and make me to be numbered with Thy saints in glory everlasting. Amen.

Church as Healer and Redeemer

Healing Touch by Frank Ordaz

The church taught me that though racism steals, kills and destroys,
the church can partner with God to restore, resurrect and heal.
Christena Cleveland, Everything I Know About Reconciliation I Learned in the Church

At the time, I had nothing going for me. Well, I had killer abs, but that really was about it. I was an angry, hostile, but ultimately just kind of injured young woman. But for some reason, Suzanne Lynch saw more in me – something no one else (most especially myself) could see. She dared to think I was something more than the mess I was in the moment. She believed that I was not irredeemable – that I was more than the sum total of my mistakes. And in the end, that whole Suzanne taking in Nadia thing was like, I don’t know… emotional venture capitalism on her part.
Nadia Bolz-Weber, A Eulogy of Sorts…

I think Christians have yet to learn the pattern of redemption. It is evil undone much more than evil ever perfectly avoided. It is disorder reconfigured in our hearts and minds— much more than demanding any perfect order to our universe. Much of the Christian religion has largely become “holding on” instead of letting go. But God, it seems to me, does the holding on (to us!), and we must learn the letting go (of everything else).
– Richard Rohr

It’s worth any sacrifice
however great or costly,
to see eyes that were listless,
light up again;
to see someone smile
who seemed to have forgotten
how to smile;
to see trust reborn
in someone
who no longer believed
in anything
or Anyone.
-Dom Helder Camara

Matthew 10:1
Then Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to cure every disease and every sickness. … These twelve he sent out….

Apostle by Steve Garnaas Holmes
The word apostle means “sent.”

We are not given a mandate to judge
or an obligation to convert.
We are not required to argue religion.
We are given power to heal.

We need not muster up the strength.
We are given authority.
Christ is in us to heal.

May I be a healer today;
may I set free those who are bound
by spirits that diminish life.
May I cast out fear with love,
cast out greed with wisdom,
cast out anxiety with calm,
cast out anger and bitterness with deep listening,
cast out hate with forgiveness.

May I bear your spirit of peace,
the authority of blessing,
the power of love.
May I be a healer today.

Two Reflections on Betrayal, Denial, and Forgiveness

peter judas betray deny

Extended Quote from Destination: Known, Readings for Holy Week in the Upper Room Disciplines (2012) by Thomas R. Steagald
Sometimes our familiarity and haste we bypass verses of scripture. Because we already know the story of who “betrayed” Jesus, our attention in this passage [John 13:21-32] jumps quickly ahead to the conversation between Jesus and Simon Peter, the piece of bread, and Judas’s leaving the meal to meet with the religious officials.

But what of verse 22: “The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking?” …

Could it be that each of the disciples is humble enough, uncertain enough, to know that given the right set of circumstances or stressors, any one of them has it within him to do what Judas would in fact do?…

For only those who love Jesus can betray him. His enemies might hate him; others might disregard or ignore him; but only those who sit at the table can get up and leave, and only those close enough to kiss him can give the kiss of death. That Judas is the one who guided the soldiers to Gethsemane on fresh-washed feet, his breath smelling of sacrament, is a particular instance of what is possible for all disciples.

It is unfortunate that we so quickly rush to blame Judas, so quickly leave him and this verse of scripture behind; for indeed, this Holy Week calls us to examine ourselves, to hear Jesus’ prediction, uncertain of whom else he might be speaking.

Forgive me, Lord, when I turn away from you and your purposes. Amen.

Matthew 26:21-35
Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.” And they began to say to him one after another, “Surely not I, Lord?” … Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night.” Peter said to him, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples.

The Seat of Greatest Grace by Steve Garnaas Holmes
Jesus, my Friend,
my Beloved, my Person,
I love you, and I will falter.
I will deny you. I will betray you.
Three times ten thousand times
I will deny you.
The silver pieces lie in my pocket.
I have the nails.
And you, knowing, invite me to your table,
to the place of honor even,
this seat of greatest grace,
beside you,
to share your bread with me,
and lay down your body for me.
I can hardly look into the sun
of such forgiveness,
love’s empty tomb
that defeats me,
re-makes me.

I confess. I return.
Knowing, I follow,
drawn in your grace,
this burden that is light.

Be sure to also check out Denial, by Steve Garnaas Holmes

Two Reflections on Jesus Praying in Gethsemane

christ-in-gethsemane-pExtended quote from Max Lucado, The Upper Room Disciplines 2010
It is a stark scene. Jesus praying in Gethsemane, saying, “My heart is ready to break with grief. …” Does this look like the picture of a saintly Jesus resting in the palm of God? Hardly. We see an agonizing, straining, and struggling Jesus. We see a “man of sorrows.” We see a man struggling with fear, wrestling with commitments, and yearning for relief.

We see Jesus in the fog of a broken heart.

My, what a portrait! Jesus is in pain. Jesus is on the stage of fear. Jesus is cloaked, not in sainthood, but in humanity.

The next time the fog finds you, remember Jesus in the garden. The next time you think no one understands, reread the fourteenth chapter of Mark. The next time your self-pity convinces you that no one cares, pay a visit to Gethsemane. And the next time you wonder if God really perceives the pain that prevails on this dusty planet, listen to the pleading among the twisted trees.

Seeing God like this does wonders for our own suffering. God was never more human than at this hour. God was never nearer to us than when God hurt. The Incarnation was never so fulfilled as in the garden.

Jesus, may I watch with you in your pain and so come to understand that you watch me in mine. Amen.

Matthew 26:40-41
Could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.

We must have faith during the period of our grief. We think that our afflictions will be greater than we can bear, but we do not know the strength of our own hearts, nor the power of God. – François Fenelon

Stay Awake by Steve Garnaas Holmes
I slip into sleep,
a deadness I seek,
a trance of avoidance,
distraction’s pleasant coma.
I am numb to your world, O Christ,
to your suffering, your love,
unconscious of you here.

Awaken me.
Breathe yourself into me
and rouse me
from my fearful distance.

Let even pain keep me awake,
attentive to your pain
in all who hurt,
your love keep me alert
to love in all your forms.

Grant me this simple gift,
all you ask:
that I may stay awake,
trusting I am not orphaned,
and pray with you,
so earnestly praying for me
and all the world.
just stay awake my little time
and pray with you.

Let all my waking hours
be wakeful hours.

Scriptures for Life on the War of Words Battlefield

power-of-wordsWe live on the battlefield of the war of words. Let us recognize their power to create and to destroy, choosing, by the grace of God, to use their power for healing, peacemaking, truth telling, and inspiring the common good. – Lisa Degrenia

From the Book of Proverbs
Lying lips conceal hatred, and whoever utters slander is a fool.
When words are many, transgression is not lacking,
But the prudent are restrained in speech.
The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the mind of the wicked is of little worth.
The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense. (Proverbs 10:18-21)

Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment.
Deceit is in the mind of those who plan evil,
But those who counsel peace have joy. (Proverbs 12:18-20)

From the fruit of their words good persons eat good things,
But the desire of the treacherous is for wrongdoing.
Those who guard their mouths preserve their lives;
Those who open wide their lips come to ruin. (Proverbs 13:2-3)

A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
The tongue of the wise dispenses knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.
A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit. (Proverbs 15:1-2, 4)

From the fruit of the mouth one’s stomach is satisfied;
The yield of the lips brings satisfaction.
Death and life are in the power of the tongue,
And those who love it will eat its fruits. (Proverbs 18:20-21)

It can sway men to violence, or it can move them to the noblest actions. It can instruct the ignorant, encourage the dejected, comfort the sorrowing, and soothe the dying. Or it can crush the human spirit, destroy reputations, spread distrust and hate, and bring nations to the brink of war.
– Curtis Vaughan in James, a study guide 

From the Book of Psalms
Help, O Lord, for there is no longer anyone who is godly;
The faithful have disappeared from humankind.
They utter lies to each other; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.
May the Lord cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that makes great boasts,
Those who say, “With our tongues we will prevail;
Our lips are our own — who is our master?” (Psalm 12:1-4)

Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Which of you desires life, and covets many days to enjoy good?
Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it. (Psalm 34:11-14)

Why do you boast, O mighty one, of mischief done against the godly?
All day long you are plotting destruction.
Your tongue is like a sharp razor, you worker of treachery.
You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking the truth.
You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue. (Psalm 52:1-4)

My companion laid hands on a friend and violated a covenant with me
With speech smoother than butter, but with a heart set on war;
With words that were softer than oil, but in fact were drawn swords.
(Psalm 55:20-21)

Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked,
From the scheming of evildoers, who whet their tongues like swords,
Who aim bitter words like arrows, shooting from ambush at the blameless;
They shoot suddenly and without fear.
They hold fast to their evil purpose;
They talk of laying snares secretly, thinking, “Who can see us?
Who can search out our crimes? We have thought out a cunningly conceived plot.”
For the human heart and mind are deep.
But God will shoot his arrow at them; they will be wounded suddenly.
Because of their tongue he will bring them to ruin;
All who see them will shake with horror. (Psalm 64:2-8)

Deliver me, O Lord, from evildoers;
Protect me from those who are violent,
Who plan evil things in their minds and stir up wars continually.
They make their tongue sharp as a snake’s,
And under their lips is the venom of vipers. (Psalm 140:1-3)

Every idle word we utter betrays our lack of respect for our neighbor, and shows that we place ourselves on a pinnacle above him and value our own lives higher than his. The angry word is a blow struck at our brother, a stab at his heart; it seeks to hit, to hurt and to destroy. A deliberate insult is even worse, for we are then openly disgracing our brother in the eyes of the world, and causing others to despise him. With our hearts burning with hatred, we seek to annihilate his moral and material existence. We are passing judgment on him, and that is murder. And the murderer himself will be judged. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer in The Cost of Discipleship

All five chapters in the book of James refer to the power of words.
Chapter 1
You must understand this, my beloved:let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger (1:19)
If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. (1:26)

Chapter 2
So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. (2:12)

Chapter 3
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs.

So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell.

For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue— a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh. (3:1-12)

Chapter 4
Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor?(4:11-12)

Chapter 5
Above all, my beloved, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “Yes” be yes and your “No” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation. (5:12)