Like An Athlete, We Need To Train So We Can Finish The Race, Fight The Good Fight.
Like an athlete, we need to train. Spiritual disciplines are exercises to develop spiritual muscles needed to be an active warrior for Christ. Sadly, our culture has become a spectator society. People today would rather watch others play the game while they hoot and holler and get all excited. Then they go to work and say “How about those _________. “like they had anything to do with the outcome. I suppose that is like going to church for many people. “Yea God, Go Pastor Jim.” Then we go home and wait for the next Game. That is not what the spirit filled life is supposed to be like.
Jesus lived in thankfulness to God. And he expressed his thanks to God publicly for the benefit of others that they too might learn to be grateful to God (John 11:41-42).
Jesus appreciated God as the Father who watched over all his creation, even the little sparrows thought to be of little value and the wildflowers that were never seen by people (Matthew 6:26-30). He thanked him for providing food (Luke 24:30), for listening to him (John 11:41), and for the opportunity to minister to others (Matthew 14:19, 15:36).
Jesus began and ended his prayers with words of thanks and praise to his father and in the Lord’s Prayer he taught his followers to do the same (Matthew 6:9-13). He even thanked God for the opportunity to sacrifice his life for the world (Matthew 26:26-27).
Of the thousands of people that Jesus ministered to the gospels record relatively few instances of people thanking him. The Samaritan leper was the only one of ten lepers who were healed to come back and thank him (Luke 17:11-19). The prostitute was the only person at Simon the Pharisees party to show appreciation to Jesus for the forgiveness he offered to them all (Luke 7:36-50). Even Jesus’ own disciples didn’t seem to show gratitude to their Master until after he rose from the dead.
Indeed, most people who benefited from Jesus’ wise teaching and wonderful miracles walked away without thanking him. Yes, they were amazed by Jesus and maybe in their excitement they praised God or told other people about what Jesus did, but they didn’t go to Jesus to thank him personally. OF the many thousands of people that Jesus preached the Good News to and healed it seems that only 120 became grateful, devoted disciples (Acts 1:15).
Jesus’ disciples may have been slow to develop attitudes of gratitude, but they certainly did become grateful. The Acts of the Apostles and the epistles written by John and Peter, Jesus’ brother James, and Paul, all overflow with generous expressions of thanks to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. And their thankfulness to God spills out into their appreciation for one another and the people they ministered to.
“Thank you” are two of the most important words you can say. They are the language of a holy and healthy soul. They bless God, others, and yourself. They usher you right into God’s presence! (Psalm 100:4).
Thanksgiving is foundational to a lifestyle of worship to God. Ray Ortlund was a spiritual father to me and the most enthusiastic disciple of Jesus I’ve known. He taught me to worship God by praying: “I love you Lord because…”
In his Psalms David brought thankfulness to the forefront of spiritual life. Thankfulness to God for his many blessings belongs in all of our prayers (Philippians 4:6), in all of our praises (Psalm 95:2), in all of our conversations (Ephesians 5:19-20), in all of our thoughts about others (Philippians 1:3, 2 Thessalonians 1:3), in all our life circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
This leaves lots of room for us to grow in gratitude!
Learning to be grateful to God in all things takes practice. It’s like exercising your mind. Paul practiced and learned this positive mindset toward God and it became so much a part of him that it in his letter to the Philippians we see his joyful gratitude exude from him even when he was imprisoned, persecuted for his faith and chained to an ogre-like soldier
A great exercise is to start your day by counting your blessings. Make a gratitude list on paper or in your mind. And then share it with someone! (Gratefulness is infectious!)
Be sure to include in your gratitude list not only God’s tangible blessings, but also the less obvious things like appreciating him for his character, things he’s teaching you in your trials, and the little, daily things that can go overlooked.
This is the way to become, in the words of Augustine, “An Alleluiah from head to toe!”
“Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name.”