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Reflections on Christian Living – Special Practices – Gratitude

11 Nov

Reflections on Christian Living – Gratitude – Special Practices

There are several special practices or seasonal disciplines which I undertake to spur on and encourage Christian growth, to become more Christ-like and to change-up my walk a bit in order to keep me from becoming complacent in a daily journey with Jesus.

One of these practices is currently underway. I know some friends who either call it a 30 day gratitude challenge.  Some start on November 1st.  Some start 30 days before Thanksgiving.

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I don’t have a name for what I do, but most of my seasonal practices are actually 40 days long.  I try not to miss a day, but I am not legalistic about it, as is not about that.  These practices are an act of worship.  They are done not instead of my daily practices, but alongside them.

For 40 days before Thanksgiving I begin a gratitude journal.  Often,  I publish a summary on Facebook of what I am most grateful for on any given day during this season of reflection.  We are so blessed in so many ways and simply take most things for granted.  (I’m as guilty of this as the next person).

I would encourage anyone to do this.  I recently read that you can re-program your mind toward positivity by simply thinking of 3 things a day you are grateful for, and do that practice for 21 days.  I’m a slower learner, I need the shock therapy to my heart –  40 days gives me that gift.

What I have learned over the several years of doing this seasonal practice 40 days before Thanksgiving is that my entire daily attitude shifts over the course of those days.  Yes, I am usually grateful year around, but I’m the first to admit, there are simply times I fall far short in that category, and slip into what my mom would call “pity parties”.  I say that not as an excuse, but a confession.  I need more gratitude in my life.  I need more AWARENESS in my life.  I need to praise God more often for wonderful blessings – most particularly for His mercy and grace.  Since November has some challenging anniversary dates – and at least one blessed anniversary date in it, this practice helps me to gain perspective.

In the early days, I am not alert to specific items for which I am grateful.  Those first few days are often the “discipline” part.  I do it because I know it is the right thing for me to do.  I watch, i observe life – not just my life – but life in general.  I observe the life of others, of loved ones, of those going through hard times, and those who appear to have all their blessings like ducks in a row.

As the 40 days continue, I find myself increasingly aware of the blessings in my life – even when some of those blessings are trials.  I find myself so aware some days, that there is a list of multiple items in my journal which could be listed as today’s gratitude.  If I post on FB, I pick just one to share with others.   And I happily enjoy the blessings gained of my friends posting what they are grateful to have or experience in their life.

As I near the end of the 40 days and come to Thanksgiving as the day after the seasonal practice ends, I find that the day is wonderful.  Not in the sense of the traditional holiday, big meal, and all the “stuff” or a house overflowing with extended family or friends.  Those things are rare for us.  It is a wonderful day because I realize how different my attitude and heart have become as I look back over this year’s 40 day gratitude journal.

If you have never done this, or haven’t started yet this year, it is not too late.  Start to practice the presence of gratitude and as my mother used to sing “Count your blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done”.

Reflections on Christian Living – Lent 2015 Thoughts on Sin, Forgiveness, Relationship, Love and Growth – Part 5

29 Mar

Reflections on Christian Living – Lent 2015 Thoughts on Sin, Forgiveness, Relationship, Love and Growth – Part 5

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This is the last in the series of 2015 Lenten reflections.  This is where I admit that growing in holiness to become the person God wants me to be is a challenge.  Is it a full time job?  It can be, it is best when it is.  Is it hard?  Often.  Do I consistently make living my beliefs – 100% of every day?  Not at all.  Consistently, yes.  100%, no.   [To see how I deal with that, Go back to Part 1 of this series]  Is it worth it?  Totally.

I’m human, there are times I question and doubt, I fear and I fail my Lord.  I’m so glad my God is big enough to handle my questions, and so gentle and loving that he doesn’t immediately strike me dead for daring to question Him.  If He wasn’t like that, He wouldn’t be much of a God now would He?   God does not EVER turn away any sincerely seeking humble soul.   God is always faithful, He loves me no matter what.

I cannot hide from his love, it infinitely surrounds me. God promises He will never leave me nor forsake me.  He promises that if we seek Him, we will find Him.  That perfect love and true promises are what keeps me seeking God.  After all, we are in a love relationship.  I want to meet with God.  I want to obey God and follow His desires.  I want to fulfill the highest potential He has planned for my life.  And in turn, God always wants what is best for me.  He can take the bad stuff that just happens to anyone walking on this earth and He turns it around for my good. (When I let Him).

In reflection this season, I am also reminded that we are called “to live at peace with everyone – so far as it depends upon us”.  (Romans 12:18)  Here too we are challenged to draw upon our faith in God – for to live in peace often times means setting aside our personal comforts – our fears and our prejudices.  We need to go outside our comfort zones to grow, leave the past behind in order to avoid harming others – all the while standing firm in our core faith.  Not because we are faithful, but because GOD is faithful.  Not because we are better or think we are better than anyone else – for we are not.  We are simply forgiven sinners, striving to live in love.

That – the “live at peace” verse – God really means that.  It includes some extraordinarily difficult choices and actions.  Things such as: not compromising truth, not looking the other way at evil, not being silence in the presence of wickedness, and not being prejudice.  Instead, we are called to help the weakest among us, to help those who cannot help themselves, and to put into action plans that honor and glorify God.  We are called to be the very hands and feet of Christ on this earth – in the now, in the here, in our spheres of influence.  We are called to be a visible presence of God’s Kingdom on earth through our lives, our actions, our choices, and if absolutely necessary – our words.   Sometimes, I am greatly saddened when I think that Christians are more often know for what they are “against” than for whom they stand for.  Personally, I think it is a fabulous prayer to ask God to be more visible in my life actions than in my words.  Personally, I think if we can season our lives with more love and acceptance for people and share what God has done for us, we would be a much more attractive people of God, than we oft times are now.

I believe that God has the best ability to convict of sin and convince in love.  I believe that God – through the Holy Spirit – points all hearts to Christ.  Everyone on this earth will make a choice before they die.   (Rom 14:7-10)

When asked about my faith or current issues, will I speak answers, give my position and offer my reasoning.  I can share my testimony of what God means to me and what He has done in the past, and what He is doing in my life now.  But I am not called to judge your life.

For me, at least, I think the cliche to “Love the sinner, but hate the sin” is trite.  I believe it is impossible to live out without hypocrisy.  Maybe someone else could do it, but not me.  When I love someone I love them.  I accept them where they are now, just as Christ accepted me where I was then and where I am now.  God accepts me fully – just as I am.  He requests only honesty from us, from me.  It doesn’t mean God will leave me there.  For He wants to see me grow in knowledge and grace.  Over time – that growth can include: changes in lifestyle, reading and mentoring in the Bible, the very Word of God.

Here is how it works for me:  unless a person has given me permission to help you see your blind-spots, and only when I know you very well indeed  – and vice versa – I have been given you permission to point out my blind spots – only then do I think that it is helpful to share areas where another person cannot or does not have the ability to see how you (or me) can improve.  Only then, do I think it is acceptable for others to point out areas where anyone needs improvement and growth.  Mutual accountability.  Mutual accountability means mutual love, guaranteed acceptance and forgiveness. *I do have one exception*

Living out my faith, or as James (Jesus brother said) – “working out my own salvation with fear and trembling…” can mean being in accountability relationships, in love sharing our lives with others, not to put down, criticize or critique, but to share honestly our lives and “bleeding edges” in confidentiality with one another.  It can, and hopeful also does,  include corporate as well as private worship time.  It can mean meditation and study in the Bible to learn what God expects from us and of us.

God nurtures us to “ever grow”.   Kind of like an “evergreen” in nature.  Some periods have greater growth, some have lessor growth.  Unless there is a draught or uprooting, there should be growth. We, (I’m including me too) should not be the same people today that we were a year ago.  Along that time, we would be growing, budding, blooming and becoming more like Christ.

Bible-ScripturesRoses

So how are we to show one another the love of Christ?  Jesus told His disciples flat out – rule #1 – LOVE ONE ANOTHER. How can we do that?  Live in alignment with God, and fulfill His purpose for our lives?  One method I have been a part of in the past was being within a prayer community for several years that encouraged small accountability groups of 3 to 5 people to meet every week and answer the following 3 questions:

1.  What have you done to nourish your relationship with Christ this week?  (One of the reasons I included the mp3 song above is because I use music in my private worship to nourish my relationship with God – I have not tried this before, but I believe if you click on the notes, the track will play for you to enjoy.)

2.  How have you studied to improve your knowledge of God and of His creation?  (Including your fellowman)

3.  What actions have you taken to share Christ in your spheres of influence?

Let me tell you, participating in those groups (3 over the course of 20 years), was one of the best tools I have honestly ever been introduced to as a method for encouraging personal spiritual growth.  What was said in the group meeting – stayed confidential between only the participants.   This time was growing, fun, and fantastic fellowship.  It was gaining a foothold in a tough place with friends to help you along the way if you fell.  It was great.  I hope to find new prayer partners to meet with regularly very soon.  (Pray with me if you will for this to happen soon)

We are commanded to seek out and spend time with others of same faith.  The purpose is to help our spiritual growth.  God doesn’t expect us to have all the answers and be a “Lone Ranger” Christian.  Trust me, we don’t have all the answers.  Again, if we did, I would think God is too small.  I trust him and have faith – even when I don’t understand all that is happening in my life or the lives of those I love.

Instead, we are encouraged to learn from one another and to keep each other accountable to hold onto integrity, to avoid hypocrisy.  The Bible says:  “steel sharpens steel”…Reflections on this truth, also keep me seeking God as part of a local community of believers.  It is in fellowship with like minded people that we can gain wisdom to have others help us see our own blind spots and to gain strength from each other as we seek to serve the Lord together.

This is part of the beauty of Easter.  Living a resurrection life.  Jesus appeared after His resurrection to over 500 of His disciples (The book of Acts).  Why do you think He did this?  I think He did it to encourage them to stay together, to stand firm, to keep the faith, and to help them realize His resurrection was a REAL HISTORICAL EVENT.  An event that continues to this day.  Now that, my friends, THAT, is worth celebrating.

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Please leave a comment if you want more information or have questions.  Thank you for reading.

Prayer 4 – PRAYER another method

16 Apr

It is Wednesday of Holy Week for most Western Christians, prayer during this week is common. I would like to encourage you again to increase your prayer by considering another acrostic method for prayer.   Psalms5_3 It is the very word PRAYER itself.  What could be easier?

P – Praise God, be thankful for all the blessings in our lives, even praise God for the trials and circumstances that can be tough in our lives.  Think of all God has done to reconcile us to Him. So much grace and mercy simply cannot be ignored.

R – Repent and be made whole again. This is telling God about our mess-ups, short-falls of omission (not doing what we should have) and errors made – sins of commission (doing what we should not have done)

A – Adore God, When  love. Plain and simple. Do you love God? He loves you. He loves me.  He is love, so he cannot love anyone.  His love is so complete, He died to give us each a future and a hope; to give us a path of reconciliation to God the Father.

Y – Your needs. We all have personal requests we pray for or want to pray for. Often, but not always,  they are related to the very same items we repented and confessed above. Keep us from temptation, help me to be more faithful, loving, kind, gentle, humble, wise, frugal, bring me healing. I urge you to examine your motives again. (If the reason for these requests — i.e. bring me a winning lotto ticket — is greed, go ahead and pray it, but be willing to hear God say, no, not this week).

E – Everyone else’s needs. We all have people in our circle of life. Some are people we would prefer be in another circle. Jesus commanded we pray for those people. Some are people we like, or have heard of their needs via a prayer chain, or posting request, or email, or conversation where one’s ear picked up a need. Some requests will most certainly be for those we love here on earth. Sometimes the needs of others are unspoken to us, but if we ask the Holy Spirit, how can I pray for my child, my husband today – What do they need? God will answer.

R – Rejoice in the coming answers, and recognize God hears and loves to hear from you. Ask in faith, and thank God for the answers – even if you do not yet see them in fruition. As of now, I have only known God to answer 3 ways. Yes, No, Wait in the hallway until the door opens. Personally, I prefer either of the first two over the Wait. But God has His plan, and our best interest at heart *always*. I would love to hear from you. I am a lover of prayer and spending time with my Lord. If you find these PRAYER blogs helpful let me know. If you have a specific PRAYER question, let me know.

New Year’s 2013

2 Jan

I do not make New Year’s resolutions as such. I think, I pray, I goal set. This is not the only time for me to reflect. I do however often the it is the only time many Christian’s look back more than forward. I chose to look forward. In fall of 2012 at a church seminar, they provided me with a name for what I’ve been doing for years. It’s Christian goal setting. It’s making a plan for intentional growth in the Lord. Not just sliding reactively through our journey, but setting a theme verse for the year, an idea of focus which you work on the entire year, and then setting sub-goals or specific SMART goals on how to achieve what you desire. Of course prayer preceded, accompanies, and follows you throughout the year. I have found that focusing on intentional growth in my spiritual journey keeps me from growing complacent, lazy or stagnant. And as you walk the path toward the goals you have set – specifically for Christian growth – and specifically for ALL roles and areas of your life, our indulgent heavenly Father is gracious in guiding, adapting and refining the plan as the year goes on. Do I always achieve every goal – no. But does it help me focus by making a firm commitment to God (after listening in prayer to His leading) – Yes. Try it. Ask me questions. Watch how God works in your life to conform you more to the image of Christ.

Martha L Shaw - Poet, Writer, Artist

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