The Epiphany of Joy, Chapter 8: Joy in Gratitude [2 of 2]
Happy Thanksgiving, y’all! Please enjoy the 2nd half of The Epiphany of Joy, Chapter 8, while I scamper off to help my wife start preparing dinner. God bless you!
As I write this chapter, Thanksgiving is only three days away. As coordinator of the after-school program for The Rock of Sports and Performing Arts, the gym Hannah trains at, Mary put together a curriculum of thankfulness and gratitude for the month of November. Mary felt called to help cultivate, and maybe even introduce, an attitude of appreciation for the everyday blessings we may take for granted. One of the projects she developed for the month was a “gratitude journal,” where the kids answer a series of questions beginning with the preamble “What are you thankful for that’s . . . .” When asked “What are you thankful for that’s small?” one of the girls in the program responded “I’m thankful for how small is my love for God and [how] it will get bigger.” Out of the mouths of babes, I’m tellin’ ya!
“A thankful attitude opens windows of heaven,” Sarah Young wrote in Jesus Calling (November 22nd entry). The moment I wake up in the morning, I try to jumpstart my day by praying “This is the day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it, for I believe I can do all things through Jesus Christ who strengthens me.” You may recognize my wake-up prayer as a combination of Psalm 118:24 and Philippians 4:13. I find that starting off the day with an attitude of rejoicing, thankfulness, and appreciation banishes negativity and instills joy in my heart from the get-go; this simple prayer can sweep away some powerful negativism. Mary wonders how I can be so happy immediately after the alarm buzzes and I roll out of bed. Now the secret is out!
In his first letter to the Thessalonians, the apostle Paul wrote “Rejoice always, pray continuously, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Giving thanks in all circumstances is God’s will for us, as is rejoicing (expressing joy), and praying (engaging God in conversation). Giving thanks when things are going well is one thing, but thanking God for the challenges and flat-out nasty stuff? That’s an attitude-changer, a door opening to God’s storeroom of unlimited joy. As the psalmist wrote in Psalm 100:4, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.”
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6 NIV). The result of presenting our petitions with thanksgiving? “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7 NIV). The fruit of thanksgiving is peace, a peace which goes beyond the natural and is anchored firmly in the supernatural.
Thankfulness raises the awareness of God’s presence in my life, and with this awareness comes joy. Little things I may have passed by without noticing come into sharp focus in the light of I AM: the peek of hot pink sunrise between the horizon and the thick gray cloud layer above, that flash of momentary radiance, God’s “Good morning” as I finish up the day’s devotional; the unexpected rain storm which pops up the day I write “Water trees” on my to-do list; the sudden discount on the hardwood flooring we’d been wanting to install, but didn’t want to pay that much for; the inrush of sudden inspiration tumbling through my head at 3:00 in the morning, thoughts that perfectly complete the chapter I’ve been stuck on for the past couple days. When you embrace a moment-by-moment appreciation, God will play “Where’s Waldo” with you all day long by hiding His little pleasures wrapped in good timing just to see you smile when you notice them. He’s a great Daddy!
I like to think of these as “Thank You, Jesus” moments, where Mary and I just can’t help but smile and say “Thank You” to the One who orchestrates our joy. And as gratitude becomes a habit, as I open my eyes to even the smallest things to be thankful about, I find myself saying “Thank You, Jesus” a lot during the day. What a great way to start the day, what a great way to experience it, and what a spectacular way to end it.
One morning I woke up with my sinuses on fire and my throat irritated from the dry winter air. “That’s one thing I don’t like about this time of year,” I said to Mary as we rolled out of bed at o’dark thirty. “The heater dries out my sinuses.” Then instantly I said “Thank You, Jesus, for the heater,” and I imagined what it would be like to suffer through a North Texas winter–or any winter for that matter–without a furnace in the house. As I sat on the bathtub step writing this experience in my notebook, Mary walked into the bathroom to get a shower. “Thank You, Jesus, for hitting my husband.” Believe me, I’m thankful He clobbers me over the head with these nuggets of inspiration–it makes my job all that much joy-filled as I recognize the gifts He’s poured out on me and my family.
Appreciating the gifts–and the giver–makes having received the gifts even more valuable. When I was a kid, my mom made sure I wrote out and mailed off a thank you note for every birthday present, graduation gift, or Christmas present I’d ever received. I don’t think I fully appreciated this expression of gratitude at the time, especially after a particularly large haul from a birthday or graduation party, but as I grew older I realized writing out a thank you note by hand forces you to slow down a bit and actually reflect on the giver’s thoughtfulness, and maybe even sacrifice. The act of expressing appreciation can make the gift all that much sweeter and more memorable–to this day I can remember specific wedding gifts Mary and I received, and who gave them to us. Now we hover over Hannah for days as she writes out her thank you notes in halting early-first-grade script, and it warms my heart to see the enjoyment she now gets in doing it herself.
Gratitude raises my capacity to receive and express appreciation for even the smallest things, tangible or not. As I practice gratitude, I look forward to finding the little pleasures God sprinkles throughout the day for me to find, pecks on the cheek from the One Who wants me to experience life with joy, peace, freedom, and gratitude. Thank You, Jesus, for good health. Thank You, Jesus, for financial provision. Thank You, Lord, for opportunities. Thank You, Lord, for my talents and abilities. Thank You, Jesus, for my family, my friends, my church, and my relationship with You. And thank You, Jesus, for the opportunity to glorify You by living today as You intended, with a heart of gratitude. May You implant this attitude ever deeper into our hearts. And, by the way, thank You, Lord, for You!
Copyright ©2013 by David C. Hughes