By Sherye Green
As I’ve shared earlier in this column, two themes I chose to focus on this year (as opposed to New Year’s resolutions) were discipline and rest. As I take stock of this year that is nearly over, I’m not too sure that I’ve achieved major strides with either one. But, I’m working on it!
Discipline is the theme currently on the horizon of my heart and mind. I have found that as I’ve gotten older, both my body and my thoughts have changed, much like they did in adolescence when I was a young girl. Always an early riser, I am finding out in these middle years that I simply cannot accomplish as much as I once was able to throughout the course of a day. One factor may be mental fatigue, simply not enough steam to stoke the engine. Lack of discipline, in what I eat and in how much I exercise, also contributes to my mental state as well.
This season of Thanksgiving is a time in which many reflect on blessings that have come into their lives, both in the recent past and over the course of a lifetime. It is a time in which I take stock, a spiritual inventory of sorts, of where I am and where I’d like to be. As always, the gap between the two is deep and wide. A grateful heart, however, will often determine how I assess the difference. Sometimes being thankful comes easily, other times not so.
I have found that there are days when I don’t want to be thankful, times when it’s easier to look at all that’s wrong with a situation, rather than what’s right. Maybe it’s because I’ve had a really long day at work, and my brain is fried. It’s much easier to whine and complain than to be thankful. Other times, the habit of grumbling has developed within my spirit without my awareness, like some insidious virus that has wormed its way into my computer. Do you have days like this?
The concept of sacrifice is found throughout the Bible. The Greek word for thanksgiving found in the New Testament is eucharisteo, which means “to be thankful” or “to give thanks.” The root word of eucharisteo is charis, from which comes our word “grace.” How interesting that our gratitude and God’s grace are bound together, like two sides of the same coin.
One definition of sacrifice, found in dictionary.com, is “the surrender or destruction of something prized or desirable for the sake of something considered as having a higher or more pressing claim.” The “something prized or desirable” in this case is my will, my pride, and my control over my own life. The “higher or more pressing claim” is God’s authority over my life, which I gave to Him some forty-two years ago. Even so, I still have to sacrifice my will to His daily. I still must bend the knee of my spirit each and every day.
What happens when I am not thankful? I can totally miss out on God’s “best” for my life because I would all too often rather keep the “better” grasped tightly in my hand, like a child clutching a favorite toy. As St. Augustine aptly put it, “God wants to give us something, but cannot, because our hands are full – there’s nowhere for Him to put it.”
A lack of gratitude in my spirit can lead to pride establishing even more of a foothold than it already has in my heart. How easy to think that all the good things in my life, even the seeming escape of some of the troubles of this world, are due to my talents and abilities. How absolutely childlike that I should fail to remember that it has everything to do with God’s grace and mercy.
Further, this lack appreciation causes me to miss out on the blessing of seeing life through the lens of gratitude, the view that my glass is half-full, rather than almost empty. God’s tender voice whispers gently to me from the pages of His word, “What I want from you is your true thanks; I want your promises fulfilled. I want you to trust Me in your times of trouble, so I can rescue you and you can give Me glory” (Psalm 50:14-15, Living Bible).
What happens when I am thankful? This sacrificial offering of my mind, spirit, and will creates a space of habitation for God within my soul. Author Ann Voskamp so beautifully conveys this thought in her book, One Thousand Gifts, “When I give thanks for the seemingly microscopic, I make a place for God to grow within me.”
When I thank God for all that is in my life, not just some, I am establishing a habit. I am laying down a groove, as it were, on the surface of my soul, where the needle of the discipline of thankfulness will play again and again a tune that is pleasing to my Father’s ear. Many times we think of spiritual discipline as a practice such as fasting, prayer, service to others, spending time in God’s Word, and tithing. We must never fail to build within our hearts this holy habit of thankfulness.
Lastly, when I am thankful, I make God smile. Just as I absolutely adore to please my earthly father, so should I long to do so for my Heavenly Father. Hebrews 13:16 tells me that my sacrifices of thankfulness please my God immensely.
Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Family and friends will gather to celebrate. Let the tastiest treat you sample this holiday season be one that was prepared on the hearth of your own heart: a sacrifice of a thankful heart.
Sherye Green is a Jacksonian, a teacher at Hinds Community College, and a wife, mother, and grandmother. Sherye and her husband, Mark, are members of First Baptist Church Jackson. She is also the author of Abandon Not My Soul.