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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Cultivating a Heart of Thanksgiving

by Nan Jones

"Offer to God thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High. Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me." ~ Psalm 50:14



More often than not, a sacrifice of praise.

I've learned that having a thankful heart is key to managing the fierce battles that come with ministry.

I've learned that when I can't praise God for my circumstances, I can always praise Him for who He is. In my opinion, that is the very definition of sacrificial praise—an offering to the One who loves us.

Thanksgiving … in spite of it all.

Why is this so important? And why, in the above verse, would the Lord instruct us to offer thanksgiving and pay our vows to Him, and then call upon Him in the day of trouble for He will deliver us?

To begin with, a thankful heart is the best vehicle to accomplish God's will in our lives.
1 Thessalonians 3:18 reads, "in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." A thankful heart expresses complete trust in God's sovereignty. There are many wonderful things that occur in ministry, but along with the good comes the bad and the ugly. The Apostle Paul is instructing us to give thanks, even in the bad times, because this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for us. This kind of trust elevates our faith to new heights.

A thankful heart keeps us focused on the Lord and lifts us above the fray. There's something about praise and thanksgiving that, not only honors the Lord, but changes us from the inside out. Our attitudes change. Our fears and doubt dissipate. We are suddenly and thoroughly reminded of who we aren't and who He is. How amazing is that?

And a thankful heart expresses acceptance of God's will even when it's contrary to our own. This pleases the Lord and honors Him greatly because of its expression of complete trust. An intimacy of fellowship is formed with Him as we choose thankfulness and praise over complaint.
Elisabeth Elliott is a hero of my faith. Her husband, Jim, was killed by the Auca tribe of Equador as he shared the Gospel with them. She later spent two years ministering as a missionary to the very tribe who killed her husband. Can you imagine? A thankful heart is what set her free to be able to do that!  It was a sacrifice—an offering—of praise, an expression of contentment and accepting God's will. In her book, Secure in the Everlasting Arms, she says:
“To love God is to love His will. It is to wait quietly for life to be measured by one who knows us through and through. It is to be content with His timing and His wise apportionment. It is to follow in the steps of the Master, as did Paul, who was able to say that he had learned contentment no matter what the circumstances. His circumstances when he wrote that? Prison. No easy lesson, but great gain, which is the sum of godliness plus contentment (1 Timothy 6:6).”
I want to cultivate a heart of thanksgiving like Elizabeth Elliot. I want to readily offer my thanksgiving to the Lord in complete trust of, not only His love for me, but His will for my life wherever that may carry me.

For I know that if I obey the Lord in this instruction, when the day of trouble comes—and it surely will, especially for those in ministry—He will be faithful to deliver me that I might glorify Him.
Isn't that comforting? Reassuring? This knowledge gives me a sure place on which to stand steadfast in the work of the Lord. A thankful heart helps keep me centered in His perfect will, it keeps me filled with the wonder of His presence as He inhabits my praise.

A thankful heart helps me face each new day knowing I need not fear, for the Lord is with me.
How about you? Are you learning to cultivate a thankful heart in all things, especially those things that reek with struggle? What does a thankful heart mean to you? Has the Lord given you some insight you would like to share with others?

Oh, I certainly hope so. Lessons of thankfulness will not be soon forgotten.

About the Author:

Nan Jones is an author/speaker who uses the words of her heart to assist fellow Christians in discovering the Presence of God in their darkest hour. She has been published in several anthologies as well as the online inspirational sites Christian Devotions, and Inspire a Fire where she is a monthly contributor. She is also a monthly contributor to PW Connections, a blog and forum to encourage pastors' wives. Nan has had the honor of being featured as a guest blogger on several sites. She is thrilled to announce her debut book, The Perils of a Pastor's Wife released June 30, 2015 by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. This memoir was a 2016 Selah finalist. When Nan isn't writing, she enjoys leading prayer retreats, bible studies or sharing God’s love as keynote speaker for special events. She is becoming known by her brand: "Even so, I walk in the Presence of the Lord" as she teaches her audience to go beyond the veil to find God's Presence. You may visit Nan at her website: www.NanJones.com. Nan has also created a facebook community page, Seeing Beyond The Veil, to provide a place for folks to go and get away from the chaos for a few moments and focus on Jesus through scripture, worship, testimony, and inspirational quotes. For personal communication you may email Nan at nan@nanjones.com

The Perils of a Pastor's Wife is available on AmazonBarnes and Noble, and LPC Bookstore

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

There's Always Something to be Thankful For

November is typically the time of year when my Facebook newsfeed fills up with, "Today I'm thankful for..." every day of the month, yet those same people quickly lose their spirit of thankfulness as soon as the month is over. 

Most lose it the day after Thanksgiving when they hit the Black Friday sales.

I've had times when my heart has been more thankful than others, but even in the rotten periods I've learned there is always something to be thankful for.

We had several years of trying times in ministry at several separate churches. Some were so bad we would ask each other from time to time if we were the problem because the opposition was so great. We worked for several churches I wouldn't invite people to. I had people ask me where I went to church, and I'd tell them and then tell them where they could find a good church. There were times when I'd make the five mile drive to church, stop halfway and return home, call him and say, "I just can't do it today."

But there was always something to be thankful for.

The view of the river from my back porch became a sanctuary during those years. Holding my children close was like air in my lungs. My job that took me out of town a few evenings a week gave me confidence when speaking in front of groups and provided a boost to my self-esteem when I felt beaten down by people at church. I was even thankful for the rumors spread about me because I knew they weren't true. (I'm still married, unlike the rumors said, and still alive and in good health, unlike other rumors).

Sometimes the thankfulness was simply being glad that I wasn't as miserable as the person complaining to me or gossiping about me. 

Through the years I've strived to keep our home a peaceful place so even when church isn't the peaceful environment, my family knew home was a haven. Home was a place where we didn't talk about one another, where we could find quiet if we needed it, where we were free to laugh and be ourselves, and where we lived life, making sure we were the same people in front of each other as we were anywhere else we went.

Today I'm thankful that we raised children who love the Lord, despite witnessing how cruel His children could be. I'm thankful that we went through the tough times we did because it made us stronger leaders. I'm thankful for all of the seasons because God has always shown His faithfulness.

About the Author:

Suzanne Schaffer has been in full-time ministry with her husband Wayne since 1992, pastoring in Pennsylvania and Illinois. She has two grown children and spends most of her days either writing or reading with a cup of tea close by. She enjoys attending auctions and sometimes brings home more stuff than she knows what to do with. She believes life is too short for mediocre food and insists on having good chocolate in the house at all times. You can connect with Suzanne at her blog, www.notenoughchocolate.blogspot.com


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

When “Home for the Holidays” Isn’t Possible

Ministers work when everyone else is on vacation. Someone has to lead the Wednesday night prayer service just before Thanksgiving. Many churches have a Christmas Eve service or three, and if Christmas is on the weekend, your pastor will be there. When your pastor is also your husband, these situations often indicate you’ll spend the holidays away from your extended family.

I’m not discounting the loneliness that arises because of these situations. It’s real. If, however, you choose to redeem the distance, you may find greater significance and some special memories in your new normal.

Four Ways to Redeem the Distance at Thanksgiving

1.      Evaluate what’s really important about the holiday.
Chances are, your previous Thanksgivings were taken up in the stress of preparing your own home or taking your family to someone else’s home. Either way, you were thankful, but giving thanks probably wasn’t at the top of your to-do list. This year, be thankful for the lack of distractions, then take some time to really think about thanksgiving. Not Pilgrims and Indians (although that’s fun) but gratitude for the previous year. Search the Scriptures (Psalms are a good place to start) for verses that help you generate gratitude; make crafts with your children or decorate a board with one of the verses. (There are probably a thousand ideas on Pinterest to help you do this.) Let your actions become an act of worship.

2.      Establish your own special traditions.
What did you love about Thanksgiving as a child? As you’ve grown as a Believer, what do you realize has been missing from your past observances? Now you have the opportunity to incorporate those things into your family story! Maybe one of your activities from above will become an annual practice.

3.      Bless others.
Most of the time, our holidays are centered on our extended families and those feel-good, kin-folk moments, but many people will be lonely this Thanksgiving. Seek out others in your church or community who also cannot travel and invite them to your home for Thanksgiving. If you want to maintain the eat-until-you’re-stuffed tradition, this is the way to do it! In opening your home (or carrying your hospitality to someone else’s home) you’ll lose your own loneliness without even realizing it.

4.      Schedule time with family outside the holidays.
We don’t want to distance ourselves from our families, so before the holiday arrives, make sure everyone knows why you won’t be there. Find a time when you can visit each family and schedule it now so that, when the holiday hits, you and your extended family will have something to look forward to.

Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be a dreary, lonely time just because you can’t be “home for the holidays.” Remember God has placed you in this place for a purpose. You can choose to redeem the distance and glorify God in your right-here right-now.

Come back next month, and I’ll tell you about our first sweat-drenched Christmas overseas!

In the meantime, what about you? How have you redeemed the distance when you couldn’t travel for the holidays?

About the author:

Carole Sparks is passionate about God’s Word—about how it can change our everyday lives! After years of globetrotting, she now lives, learns, and loves (plus a good bit of writing) in the hills of East Tennessee. Connect with Carole through her website, http://carolesparks.com or her blog, http://notaboutme1151.wordpress.com.

You can also find Carole on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

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