By Francis Frangipane
For the last several messages, the Holy Spirit has been urging us to deal with issues of the heart. We've focused on issues like cold love, anger, grumbling and betrayal. Now, I'd like to share what I believe is a means to discovering the life of God. I am speaking of possessing a thankful heart. It is truly a place of immunity from the demonic and fleshly storms that come our way in life.
Of course, there are some people that test not only our character but also our sanity. I remember visiting a church and seeing a sign in the pastor's office over the door. It read, "Everyone who walks through this door makes me happy: some when they enter the room and others when they leave."
Well, that's one way to keep our spirits up, but it's not exactly what I mean. I'm saying we can be thankful that God is with us no matter who walks through the door. In fact, the Bible tells us to "rejoice always . . . [and] in everything give thanks." (1 Thess. 5:16, 18). The Word doesn't say thank God for everything, but thank Him in everything. In every battle there is a place where we can find God. In every conflict there exists a spiritual means to ascend into God's presence, where we can ride out the storm.
A thankful spirit sustains us when we otherwise would faint. It makes us alive to the awareness of God's nearness. The truth is, that no matter what trial we are in, God is there with us. A thankful spirit acknowledges Him, identifying His blessings and appropriating His gifts; gratitude escorts us into the presence of God.
The value of gratitude goes beyond transforming our hearts, it can also transform the people who are near us. Certainly, we can see what's wrong with people, but have we ever actually thanked God for them, even the trouble-makers? You see, without them, we would never mature spiritually! They thrust us out of ourselves, causing us to rely more completely upon the help of God.
Yet, gratitude is actually a form of spiritual warfare, especially when it comes to healing human relationships. True, there are times when, for a variety of reasons, people are not open to us and they shun our initiatives for peace or reconciliation. However, I believe if we were more genuinely appreciative of them, in time they might relax their guard and open up.
You see, not only is Jerusalem surrounded by walls and gates, our souls also are protected by barriers; we too have walls and gates surrounding our lives. We have "eye gates" and "ear gates" that allow influences into our soul. But we are not open to everyone. We've learned to protect ourselves instinctively from emotionally damaging people. On the other hand, the words of loving, appreciative people inspire us to drop our guard and let them in. Just as God requires we enter His gates with thanksgiving, so it is with human nature, for we are made in God's image. If we expect others to open up to us, it is important we express our gratitude for the good we see in them.
Of course, people do not have to be perfect for us to appreciate godly elements in their character or personality. When I voice my gratitude for a specific quality or virtue that I see in another, I affirm and strengthen that virtue. By so doing, I also gain their trust.
For example, if you're not thankful for your teenagers, your disappointment with them will push them away from you. The Bible says that a "false balance is an abomination to the Lord" (Prov. 11:1). Sometimes we can be so focused on the negatives in our kids that we drive them away. We communicate with anger and disgust, weary of the battle we've been having with them. Yet, if we take time and sincerely communicate the things we appreciate about them (and those things are there. You must just find them), your teens will relax their guard.
Parents, as an experiment, dismiss for several weeks the obligatory criticisms you usually express when you and your kids are together. Instead, tell them the things you appreciate about them. You see, each of us needs to know we are appreciated at least for something. Even God responds positively to praise! Such reinforcement empowers our desires to do well and increases our sense of self-worth and value.
Acceptance: Oxygen For The Soul
Because God has designed us to be social creatures, we each enter the world with an innate desire for acceptance. By appreciating our loved ones, we affirm and help settle their quest for acceptance, without which they might otherwise be compelled toward ungodly associations. Just as when property appreciates it increases in value, so when we appreciate our loved ones, destructive tendencies created by self-hatred and fear of rejection diminish proportionally. By appreciating what we see as right in people, their soul nurses on the life of love and acceptance.
You see, there's something like radar inside the human heart that senses the displeasure of others. Displeasure and ingratitude are like a repellant to human relationships. People think, if I can't measure up – if you can't see anything good in me – I'll go where people will accept me as I am. Thanksgiving brings our loved ones closer to us rather than driving them away.
At the same time, I know people in marriages that, every time they get together, they wind up discussing what's wrong with their relationship. Why not take a few weeks and shift the focus to appreciating what's right in each other?
Some of us have been ungrateful, gossiping and grumbling. So, for those in particular, I'm calling for a thirty-day fast. From what? Let's fast from ingratitude. For the next thirty days, each time you would have complained, grumbled or been ungrateful about something or someone, focus instead on things for which you are thankful. Make a list of at least seven people in your world that you know fairly well and write down seven things in each of their lives for which you are appreciative. Over the next two or three weeks, tell them how much you appreciate this or that quality you've observed in them. Finally, let's see if most of these very people do not begin to automatically open up when you draw near; let's see if you can't enter their gates with thanksgiving.