The Anatomy of a Great Relationship – Part Three

The second benefit of being a man or woman of character (Psalm 15) is found at the end of the psalm. After describing the person of character in detail (see Part One), the psalmist concludes, “He who does these things will never be shaken.”

Now this is a benefit you don’t experience immediately. It’s something that comes from weeks, months, or years of investing in your character and your relationship with the Lord based in that character. It’s the result of adopting a lifestyle. The image the psalmist paints is that of two trees in a storm. And while the same storm sweeps over both trees with the same force, one tree is destroyed while the other is left standing. 

So it is with men and women of character. They are not delivered from the storms of life. But they are delivered through them. For their roots go deep. Their faith is strong. Their resolve is unwavering.

Their pursuit of Christlikeness has gained them the unique privilege of saying to God, “God, I’m just doing what You told me to do. You got me into this. It’s up to You to get me through it.” And so they deliberately and sincerely cast their deepest and most intimate cares upon God. And they live with confidence that He is going to care for them (1 Peter 5:7).

No place in the world is more secure than in the middle of God’s will. It’s the only real security. In that way, to pursue a life of character is to prepare for the storms of life. Remember, “he who does these things will never be shaken.” 

God assumes total responsibility for the life that’s yielded to Him. That’s why men and women of character will never be shaken. Navigating the storms of life is not their responsibility. Being obedient to the voice of God is. 

The greatest tragedy of missing this process isn’t that your marriage might fall apart. Or that you’ll flounder in your career. Or that you’ll be lonely the rest of your life. As tragic as these things may be, the greatest tragedy of refusing to pursue the character of Christ is that you’ll miss Him. There is a price for becoming a person of character. But it’s not nearly as high as the price of pursuing other things.

Character paves the way to intimacy with God. To know Him is to trust Him. To trust Him is to live with the confidence that He will not allow you to be shaken. That’s the ultimate promise of character. It is the promise of His presence, a presence you cannot possibly miss. 

The Anatomy of a Great Relationship – Part Two

Let’s turn from looking at the key relationship – intimacy with God – and look at our personal relationships. You’ve probably known someone in your past who pursued a relationship with you for all the wrong reasons. Once you got close to him, you realized he had a hidden agenda. Do you remember how that felt?

How do you respond internally to a person like that? Do you open up and become more transparent? Of course not. You become cautious. Everything he does is suspect. You rehearse old conversations and think, Oh, so that’s why he said that.

Think a minute. If your interaction with God is focused primarily on getting something from Him, what does that say about your relationship? You aren’t coming to Him on terms that warrant a relationship of intimacy.

Still, God listens to your self-centered prayers. Sometimes He actually grants your requests. But as long as you see Him only as a means to your ends, you will never experience intimacy. You will never truly know Him. This unique depth of relationship is reserved for those who respect Him, trust Him, and are willing to communicate honestly with Him. It is withheld from those who dishonour Him by treating Him like a vending machine.

There is a correlation between your personal holiness (character) and your intimacy with God. There is a direct relationship between your willingness to obey God and His willingness to reveal Himself to you. This is THE primary benefit of character. Character brings a heightened sense of intimacy with God, an intimacy available only through the pursuit of Christlike character. 

During His ministry on earth, Jesus modeled this cause-and-effect relationship. He reserved a level of intimacy for a select group. They had left everything to follow Him. They respected Him. They trusted Him. And they were in constant communication. No, the twelve apostles were not perfect. But they had left their businesses and their families to pursue a relationship with Him. He was their priority.

Further evidence of this is found in an incident that took place immediately following the telling of a parable. The meaning behind Jesus’ parables was not always clear. And apparently, that began to bother the disciples. On this particular occasion the disciples pulled Jesus aside and asked Him why He wasn’t more direct with His audience. He said, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, but to them it has not been given” (Matthew 13:11 NKJV).

Jesus was suggesting to His disciples that there would always be people who remained on the fringe relationally. There would always be curious onlookers who had a distant interest in Jesus. But special insights were reserved only for those in His inner circle. Did Jesus love the multitudes? Yes. He died for them as well as the Twelve. But the multitudes did not know Jesus as the Twelve did. He chose to reveal Himself to them at a deeper level. After answering the disciples’ question, Jesus took them aside and explained the meaning of each parable. To His special friends, it had been given “to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven.”

We are not talking about a relationship that excludes anyone. This exclusive relationship is available to everyone; everyone that is, whose walk is blameless and who does what is right. In other words, it is available to those in pursuit of character. 

Jeremiah echoed this same idea when he wrote, “You will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). 

So, I was out walking the other day and it was one of those still days when there was little to no wind in my region of the country. An unusual occurrence as there is always a wind, it seems. I walked a long distance in the still air and sunshine. But then I turned around to return home and seemingly out of nowhere there was a gentle breeze blowing. Where had it come from? It had been there all along. I just wasn’t’t aware of it. As long as it was at my back, I didn’t hear or feel it. But as soon as I faced the other way, my ears immediately sensed its presence. 

The same is true of God. As long as we have our backs turned to Him, doing our own thing, living life the way we think it should be lived, we are less aware of His presence. He is there, but we remain unaware. Once we begin prioritizing our lives around His values and principles, it is as if He comes alive in our lives. We have a heightened sense of the reality of God. But again, the sense of His presence is reserved for those who have turned in His direction. 

More next time… 

The Anatomy of a Great Relationship – Part One

Since mid-summer and a three week camping trip in the forests of my region of Canada I have been studying and reading a lot on healthy relationships. The believer’s relationship with God being the foundation for all healthy relationships. It is an interesting study as I learn about healthy and unhealthy relationships. Topics such as friendships in a time when we are ruled by social media; how to end unhealthy relationships; the need for solid character to develop healthy relationships; and how to grow healthy relationships.

As believers, the key to all relationships is our walk with God. Psalm 15 is a wonderful psalm that talks about the character of one who would abide with the Lord and have intimacy with Him. The writer asks (KJV), “Who may abide in Thy tent? Who may dwell on Thy holy hill?” The assumption is that these are two things to be sought after. However, neither sounds appealing. After all, who wants to live in a tent? And what’s the big deal about living on a holy hill?

The tent referred to the place where God resided. And the holy hill was the hill in Jerusalem where the permanent temple was eventually built. To have access to these places was to have access to God.

The Israelites of that day thought of God as dwelling in the ark of the covenant inside the sanctuary tent. God gave them that picture as a tangible reminder of His presence. In their way of thinking, the closer they were to the ark and the tent, the closer they were to God. The farther they were from the ark and the tent, the farther they were from God. They believed this so deeply that they took the ark of the covenant with them into battle. And who could blame them?

So when you take these questions, steeped in ancient Jewish culture, and translate them into our language, this passage asks and answers one of the most relevant questions imaginable: Who gets an inside track with God? The implication is that intimacy with God is a real possibility.

The psalmist makes it clear that this privilege is reserved for men and women of character. Psalm 15 in full reads (TPT):

Lord, who dares to dwell with you?

Who presumes the privilege of being close to you,

living next to you in your shining place of glory?

Who are those who daily dwell in the life of the Holy Spirit?

They are passionate and wholehearted,

always sincere and always speaking the truth—

for their hearts are trustworthy.

They refuse to slander or insult others;

they’ll never listen to gossip or rumours,

nor would they ever harm another with their words.

They will speak out passionately against evil and evil workers

while commending the faithful ones who follow after the truth.

They make firm commitments and follow through,

even at great cost.

They never crush others with exploitation or abuse

and they would never be bought with a bribe

against the innocent.

They will never be shaken; they will stand firm forever.

Let’s list the description in modern day terms:

      • They walk with integrity
      • They do what is right
      • They tell the truth
      • They don’t gossip
      • They don’t mistreat people
      • They side with those who are right
      • They keep their word
      • They lend money to those in need without interest
      • They don’t take advantage of people for financial gain

That’s quite a list. Clearly, character paves the way to intimacy with God.

Initially, this idea may sound somewhat pretentious. Unchristian. But that is not the case at all. Throughout Scripture, God is described as having a personality. Again and again, we see Him relating to humankind much the same way we relate to one another. In fact, the rules that govern human relationships are very similar the rules that govern our relationship with the Father – God the Creator.

Three elements are always present in a healthy relationship.

    1. Respect
    2. Trust
    3. Communication

To have a quality relationship with someone, you must respect him, trust him, and communicate with him. The same is true about your relationship with God.

The pursuit of character (the list from Psalm 15) entails all three elements of a healthy relationship. When you acknowledge that God’s standard is THE standard, you demonstrate respect. When you commit to follow God’s standard, regardless of what it costs you personally, you demonstrate trust. And as you seek to understand His standard more thoroughly, and as you run up against your inability to live out His standards consistently, you communicate with Him. 

The pursuit of character (Psalm 15) inevitably becomes the pursuit of God, for the standard by which you judge your life flows from the nature of the heavenly Father. You may begin with a list in mind. But eventually, you discover that you are pursuing a Person, not a standard.

More next time…

A Biblical Church 

I have always been captivated by the vision of what a church can be — an authentic community of faith that reaches increasing numbers of lost people and helps them grow into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.

Yet sometimes churches do not reach their full redemptive potential. They motor along year after year, well entrenched in programs and traditions, but ineffective in their main calling.

My hope – and what I work for in my ministry to the nations – is that churches around the world will make regular, strategic adjustments towards finding and following their true calling of reaching people with the Gospel of the Kingdom. Any time we can become more effective in this task it is well worth the effort.

We are in a season when we need to adjust our course to follow the whispers of His leading. We don’t need more programs and continued traditions. We need obedience. We should desire to become churches that people love to attend and that God uses to advance His Kingdom. We must desire to live the words of 2 Corinthians 5:9, both individually and as churches: “We make it our goal to please Him.”

Since the day I was saved in a small town in my province I became aware that I only have this day until my final day to get the word of Christ out to as many people as possible. And the older I have become the shorter that available time frame becomes and so the stronger the urgency I feel. I, like Paul, feel ‘compelled.’

I have this desire – inner compulsion: I want everyone I meet to experience the saving grace found in Jesus Christ. My aim is to rid myself of life’s superfluous activities and take the transforming message of saving grace to everyone I’m able. And as I mentioned, as my remaining days get fewer, my sense of urgency for the sake of the Kingdom is going up, not down. 

I believe that through Jesus Christ, the Church is the hope of the world, and we as Christians need not make any apologies for wanting to get better at what we are called to do. We must be dead serious about helping people come to know Christ and about helping Christians grow to be Christ-centered.

Our one task – our calling – as the Church is to “go into all the world and make disciples.” This is the task of every believer and not just those called to the office of evangelist or those extroverts gifted in carrying on conversations with everyone and anyone. It is the work (ministry) of everyone who declares the Name of Jesus and follows Him as a disciple. It is the reason Jesus came to earth. He Himself states that He came “to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10) and He calls His Church to complete that task in each generation.

As believers we cannot sit back and leave it to the leaders to win the lost. Programs within the Church, no matter how good, seldom bring people into the Kingdom and ground them in God’s Word. The task was left to individual Christians to share their faith with their family, friends, neighbours, and those they meet in the daily activities of life. Sharing Jesus must become a part of everyday life and not a program run on Tuesday nights from the church building. The motivation to tell others comes from the natural overflow of the love that we have received from the Lord.

Paul writes, “And may the Lord make your love to grow and overflow to each other and to everyone else…” (Philippians 1:9)

So, as we have been loved unconditionally by the Lord we are to love others in the same way – with no strings attached. And, as we do, we will see opportunity arise to share the Gospel. Doors will open for you to tell others what Jesus has done in your life and is still doing as you walk with Him daily. 

A biblical church is not self-focused. It does not exist for itself or its members. It exists for the non-members … those who do not attend. It is a community of believers who gather to encourage and strengthen each other so that they can become true “fishers of people.” That is what Jesus called us to when we answered His call and became born again. He stated it plainly and in a very clear manner. “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). If we are not fishing then we are truly not following.

I believe it is time for the Church – the true believers  – to step out in faith, build relationships with non-believers, and then show them the love of God as truly experienced in Jesus – inviting them to join with you on this amazing journey of faith. 

 

 

Pick a Verse, Any Verse!

I have recently run into several situations where solid, mature believers and disciples of Jesus have suggested I claim a verse. 

In one situation it was for the deliverance and salvation of a young man I relate to in another city and whom I have connected to an apostle there that I know. He is receiving personal, loving care from someone who knows who he is and what he is doing. And, the local church I belong to is simply called to pray. However, someone believed that we needed to pray over a clothe and mail it to him so he would be free. You know, like Paul did once in the book of Acts.

The second situation was for a personal healing I was seeking. They “commanded” that I simply claim the verse in Peter’s writings where he declared that by His stripes we were healed (quoting from Isaiah the prophet where it states that by His stripes we will be healed.) As if I am not walking in faith and don’t believe God’s Word and what Jesus accomplished on the Cross for each of us who believe.

I appreciated the heart and the motive and intent of both of these people. They were suggesting what they believed would help because they care deeply and love to see Jesus touch people physically, emotionally, and spiritually. But there is one simple flaw in their suggestions.

You cannot randomly select a verse out of context and claim it for yourself or for someone else. Pick a verse, any verse” simply is not biblical.And life and faith simply just don’t work that way. This is part of the heresy called The Prosperity Gospel fondly known as “Name it and claim it” or “Blab it and grab it.” As if you get to choose what you are claiming and by speaking it bring it to pass in your life. Does not work. Is not biblical. And, this teaching destroys people and churches worldwide. Not to mention making born again believers look like they are out of their minds and thus not a good witness to others who don’t know Jesus. 

So, just because Joshua marched around the city of Jericho for seven days and seven times the last day does not mean we should be marching around our city. God told Joshua to do that. A specific series of actions in a particular place and time. And in obedience it worked. God did not tell anyone else to do this. Jesus never did this. And, we can’t just pick it up out of context and apply our faith towards it. Doesn’t work that way.

Paul was directed to pray over some handkerchiefs and sent them to people who were sick and unable to be with him in his teaching times. Peter never did this. Timothy, a disciple of Paul and a spiritual son, did not try this. Jesus was never involved in this “mail order” healing ministry. We cannot simply pull it out of context and  think it is going to work. He didn’t tell us to do it. And, in the case I mentioned above – much better to have someone in person pray for them, care for them, and love them. 

Listen to offerings being taken and they tell you that if you give it will be returned to you 30 – 60 – 100 fold. And, your cup will run over. You will prosper and have more than enough. The verses they use for this false teaching are about “love.” Not money, not your tithe, not an offering… You can’t lift the verses out of context (the surrounding verses, the chapter, the book, the Bible) and simply apply it wherever you wish. Well, actually you can do that but it would be outside of the Gospel of the Kingdom and cause you to fall into heresy. 

In the midst of the global pandemic we have believers not taking precautions like wearing a mask, washing hands, and maintaining social distancing. They often quote “no weapon formed against them (deadly thing) shall harm them.” Again, a verse out of context. A total misuse of the verse.

There are many other examples I could share of “Pick a Verse, Any Verse” but you get the point. And, not to insult anyone, but really God would like us to use our common sense when it comes to living life in our fallen world. Common sense that He gave to us. Common sense which, when applied, would prevent this misuse of Scripture and help us to be better examples of what it means to be a disciple and true born again believer. 

What Do You Worship?

The question is “what” do you worship – not “who” do you worship. I am quoting from a book I recently read while on a three week retreat in the north of my province….

And, please note my definition of idolatry. Idolatry is taking something — anything — and making it more important than it should be in our lives.

A friend of mine who visited a remote, impoverished village in India told me a story. He saw a woman sacrificing a chicken as an act of worship to her god. My friend was shocked to see such blatant, modern-day idolatry. After striking up a conversation with the woman, he was impressed with her. She was well-spoken, kind, and educated.

When he learned that she had visited New York City three years earlier, he asked what she thought of America. She explained that she hated it. She had never seen more idolatry anywhere in her entire life. When my friend pressed her, she described three areas of idolatry that she saw.

First, she said, not so gently, the Americans worship their stomachs. Her eyes wide as she talked, this woman from a simple village described the massive stores overstocked with food to sell to people who had already had too much to eat. Evidently this woman was offended by people who are overweight when so many people in her village go hungry. 

Second, she described how Americans worship television. From her perspective, they design their homes around the television. It takes the most prominent place in the most important room, and the furniture is arranged not for talking to people but for watching television. It was almost too much for her to comprehend that some people even allow a television in their bedroom — of all places!

Finally, she said the worst form of idolatry was in the relationship people have with their phones. She was deeply offended that people use them while driving. Even worse was that no one (at least in her experience) could have a full conversation without reading something on their phone.

Kind of gives new meaning to American idol, doesn’t it. My friend didn’t try to disagree with the Indian woman. He knew he couldn’t. Everything she said was true. And she hadn’t even scratched the surface. 

Without getting into our obsessions with food and media, I’m simply raising the question about what we worship when we click. You are probably not putting a statute of a turtle ahead of God, and you probably aren’t a star-worshipper, but is your obsession with your phone gearing out of hand?

Some of us can honestly answer no. We are already using technology with good boundaries. We control it. It doesn’t control us. We might have a healthy view of social media and how we interact with it. If so, I’m thankful, and you should be too!

Yet I know many well-intentioned followers of Jesus who are being seduced, sucked into, and consumed by the virtual world. They think, “I just want to help my business.” Or, “This will give more exposure to my ministry.” Or, “I just love staying in touch with so many friends and family members.” 

As I read this and then took a long walk to think about it I had mixed feelings and several distinct reactions. I was pleased that for several years now I have set boundaries on my iPhone. It turns on at 9:00a. Before that is my time with the Lord, in prayer, reading and studying the Bible. It turns itself off at 10:00p so that I have an uninterrupted 90 minutes to read before heading to bed. I work so many hours in front of the computer screen in my office (9:00a to 1:00p) with emails and texts and then shut it down and go about other things – appointments, meeting with non-believers, and time in my study writing a book I am currently working on.

But I did realize that I needed to put up better boundaries regarding how much time I “waste” watching television some evenings. I realize there are more productive things I can do. But, after a normal day and early evening I am tired and want to simply relax and not have to think. But, that is simply a rationalization and an excuse. So, I have been changing my evening routine and putting my time and limited energy to better use. Establishing boundaries. No longer spending more time binge-watching than I do with the Lord in any given day.

Idolatry is still very much alive in the world today … no matter where you live or what language you speak. And, with all the technology now available idolatry has become an acceptable aspect of life. It is time to reclaim the precious time the Lord given to us each day. 

Remember: Idolatry is taking something — anything — and making it more important than it should be in our lives.

Let us be equipped for the coming days

An apostolic perspective from Raffi Shahverdyan – apostolic leader living in Armenia and ministering worldwide.

Let us be equipped for the coming days

Scripture gives us many examples of good administration.  Our Lord calls the Church both to pray, equip itself for times of crisis, and to minister to those who are in need.

1 – You have something to do today

“I sought for a man among them to build the wall and stand in the breach in my presence on behalf of the land so that it won’t be destroyed, but I found no one” (Ezekiel 22:30, ISV).

God relies on you.  There is no such thing as a retired leader.  That is, if you were ever called to be a leader, then you are called to be a leader now also.  Even if you’ve never been a leader before, you can start being one right now. Along the way, you’ll discover aspects of your own personality that you never thought you had.

“When will all of this end?” -This is the question that all of us ask in difficult times, but let’s just change the question and begin to pray like this: “God, what should I do?  How can I serve you in this situation?  How can I be effective with the gifts that You have given me?

“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many people” (Mark 10:45, ISV).

Depression conquers some people. It isolates them, and they become passive, but you must not be found amongst them. You must defeat depression and stand strong in the Lord by faith.

Don’t sit still.  Keep calm. Don’t slow down, don’t waste your time, but do something for God’s Kingdom and His people. Just one word of encouragement from you can change a person’s life. The Angel of the Lord once said to a very frightened Gideon: “The LORD is with you, you valiant warrior!” (Judges 6:12, ISV).

2 – Communication: the biggest need of the Church in these days

Someone needs you!

The Church is a body, whose parts are intimately connected to each other (see 1 Corinthians 12:12).

The Lord has said: 

“Where two or three have come together in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20, ISV).

Moreover, the Scriptures command us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together (see Hebrews 10:25).

While anti-Christian systems like communism and Islam forbid believers to assemble together by closing churches, today’s pandemic is an unseen enemy that is also working to prevent us from assembling ourselves together.  To meet the challenge, we ought to start thinking creatively about how we can communicate with one another, whilst still aiming to respect our governments’ health regulations.

To that end, we can communicate using these methods:

A – Managing all the projects of the church through the internet.  Download appropriate social networking apps on your devices such as WhatsApp, Viber, Facebook, Telegram, Signal, etc. Those of us who are tech-savvy need to help those who are new to technology and/or new to using these kinds of apps.  

B – Making phone calls (for those who don’t have an internet connection).

C – Communicating through printed literature and written letters.

D – Outside gatherings of small groups (maximum 5 people).

3 – Form and activate cell groups by using the internet

“I tell you that you are Peter, and it is on this rock that I will build my congregation, and the powers of hell will not conquer it” (Matthew 16:18, ISV)

In other words, start a small Church.

Let us not be overwhelmed by this crisis, but let us find ways of communicating and building relationships with our brothers and sisters in the Church. Let’s not wait for “someone else” in the Church to do something.  Rather, let us be the ones who take initiative by the Word and Spirit of God – and act on it.

A – Take part in the group in which you are already a member.  Don’t stand alone.  You can join or form a group of intercessors, a youth group, a missionary group, a group from Sunday school, a home church group, etc. 

B – If communication has stopped for a while, don’t wait for someone else to start it back again.  Instead, you be the one to get things going again. Send invitations out and start new groups.

C – Make a new group with 5-10 members and have communication with each other via the internet once a week.

D – You can start with a few members and then add new members as you go. Seek out and make contact with those who are isolated and/or don’t have any means of communication.

E – Aim to have a mixture of ages – men and women, boys and girls, from different backgrounds, so as to keep the group both dynamic and persistent. You can start a conversation with some of your friends, and then your group may grow organically from there. 

F – The aim of the group can first be to establish communication.  Once you have a base of people connected, you will be able to add programs such as praying, preaching, teaching, and group Bible readings.

G – You can request study and ministry themes from the Church’s secretary or create them by yourself as you study various parts of the Bible.

H –For those who don’t have an internet connection, you can give them print outs of different Biblical lessons and themes.

I – You can meet with the members of your group in open areas.  For now, this should be done with a limited number of people and with, of course, masks and proper social distancing measures in place.

J – Find and invite those especially to whom reaching out is difficult.  Those who have, for whatever reason, been left out of the normal means and methods of communication ought to be a special focus of our efforts. Make new groups and don’t get complacent with existing ones.

K –Talk to your pastor about your activities and be open and ready to receive direction, input, and advice.

L – Our main purpose is to feed and build the Church; to aid and arm God’s children to build His Kingdom and preach His Message.  Implementing measures to increase our communication and fellowship by whatever means available will not only help maintain the health of the Church, but it may also serve as an effective method of increasing evangelism and stimulating discipleship.

“…I kept them safe in your name which you have given to me: I took care of them and not one of them has come to destruction…” (John 17:12, BBE).

4 – Common means of communication and their potentials

Zoom – This is currently the most common app for video-calls.  It has the capacity to host large numbers of participants. A video-call up to 40 minutes is free.  After this expires, however, the connection may be reestablished to begin another 40 minute session.

Skype – You can have up to 50-minutes of video-calling, and it also gives other options not mentioned here.

Messenger – You can make hold a video-call with 8 members. There is an option to have a video-call with 50 members, but it is not available in Armenia yet.

Facebook / Instagram – Here you can share your messages with one another, individually or in groups.

Viber, WhatsApp, Telegram – These means of communication give you the opportunity to send large voice-recordings.  You can record and send your messages via these apps. You can communicate individually or create group-chats.  

SMS – This is the simplest means of communication, which is available on almost any kind of phone.  SMS messaging also allows you to correspond individually or in groups. Depending on the kind of phone that a given user has, you may be able to share voice recordings as well.  I would also like to utilize online Bibles and Bible apps, as well as implementing other methods for encouraging the reading and sharing of Bible verses.  Examples of some popular apps are YouVersion, Biblestone, and My Bible.  Most of these apps allow users to not only access, but download and synchronize information across multiple devices (e.g. smartphones, tablets, laptops, computers, etc.) so that everyone can read and share God’s Word effectively and conveniently.

God bless you all.

With love, Raffi Shahverdyan.

Cultivate the Value of Gratitude – Part Three

Like the apostle Paul. I too had to learn gratitude in all things. Truthfully, I’m not naturally grateful. That is true of many of us. I’, not embarrassed to say it, but I am bent more towards the negative, critical, discontented, and ungrateful side. Because I minister a lot, people give me way more credit than I deserve. 

Years ago I heard a teaching from one of my mentors that totally changed my life. If you know me you would know what I am about to share. He did a teaching called “Content or Discontent, Which Tent Do You Live In?” It changed my life and taught me that I  needed a different perspective. He taught me that I have to choose to be grateful for all the good that I see and not just focus on the issues, faults, and the places I and others could do better. 

I am naturally an early riser. I love the quiet and freshness of early morning before the world wakes up and interrupts my solitude, stillness, and silence. Most morning I wake up on my own long before the alarm goes off. It is simply a backup in case I oversleep. The mornings I don’t naturally wake up and the alarm goes off I can be heard to say “That stupid alarm” as I reach for the snooze button. I have had to train myself to say “Good morning Lord” instead of my natural response to being rudely awakened. 

I often wonder why we call it an “alarm clock.” It is like waking up to an emergency that is causing us alarm. When really we are just getting up to enjoy the gift of another day of life. 

One verse that has helped me build a spirit of gratitude is found in Ecclesiastes 6:9 which states, “Better what the eye sees than the roving of the appetite.” Think about it. Wanting what you have is better than trying to have what you want. It’s better to embrace what God has given us than to whine about what He hasn’t. When you take every good thing and acknowledge it, giving praise to God, it radically changes your perspective.

Turn your blessings into praise as we saw yesterday. Instead of complaining about your older car, you can thank God every day that you have transportation. If your house is always a wreck (and I remember when), you can thank God that you have a family, kids, and toys. If you feel like you’re always busy running from one place to another, you can thank God that you are healthy, needed, and have the ability to live an active, productive life. (I need to remind myself daily of this one). If your house is small, you can thank God that you have a refrigerator, a bed, and running water. Not everyone can take that for granted as we do. If you don’t like your job, wake up every day and remember all of the people who would kill for your job. Then thank God He has provided you with employment. 

Perspective is everything. The right perspective changes everything. When all you can think of is what you want to complain about, you can be pretty miserable and ungrateful. But when you shift your focus, your heart changes. Instead of being poisoned by ingratitude, you’re transformed by gratitude and contentment. 

Content or discontent – which tent are you living in?

Unlike any other virtue, living with gratitude can change the way you experience your life. Let go of longing for what you don’t have, chasing after things that never satisfy you longer than a few minutes. Give God thanks for all that you have. Know that you have everything you need right now. Perhaps no one reminds us of this truth more powerfully than the prophet Isaiah:

Come, all you who are thirsty,

come to the waters;

and you who have no money,

come, buy and eat!

Come, buy wine and milk

without money and without cost.

Why spend money on what is not bread,

and your labor on what does not satisfy?

Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,

and you will delight in the richest of fare.

(Isaiah 55:1-2)

Cultivate the Value of Gratitude – Part Two

How do you overcome the seeds of ungratefulness that culture has planted in your soul? How do you learn to be grateful in a world that excels at its opposite? How do you overcome the prevailing ethos of entitlement?

I’d like to borrow a line from a Matt Redman song called “Blessed Be Your Name.” In it, he sings to God, “Every blessing you pour out, I’ll turn back to praise.” To cultivate an attitude of gratitude, we should turn everything good in our lives into an opportunity to worship and give God thanks and praise. When we do, we acknowledge the Giver of the gifts. The Bible says in James, “Every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17). Since anything good we have comes from God, why not give God the credit? 

Remember, the entitled person feels he or she deserves everything good that they receive, ignoring God’s goodness in the blessings (see yesterday’s blog – Part One). But when they don’t get what they want in life, God then to get the blame. On the other hand, when we turn blessings to praise, we cultivate gratitude. We’re training our hearts to become constantly aware of God’s goodness.

Any blessing we don’t turn back to praise turns into pride. We think we earned it, deserved it, or are worthy of it. That’s pride. And pride breaks God’s heart. Among other things, pride is a God-repellent. He opposes the proud. The good news is that God gives grace to the humble. Just as pride disgusts God, praise delights Him.

The apostle Paul modeled the right attitude better than anyone I know. Paul easily could have fallen victim to material, relational, or circumstantial ungratefulness. He had reason to gripe about all that he’d given up for Christ. He’d surrendered the normal life of marriage and being a dad to spread the Gospel. He’d been beaten, flogged, shipwrecked, stoned, left for dead, and imprisoned.

While in house arrest, instead of blaming God, crying about the injustices, or losing his faith, Paul chose to focus on what he had. In his gratitude, Paul discovered the secret of contentment. This wasn’t a natural response for him, just as it won’t be natural for us. Paul had to learn contentment, gratitude, and praise. He said, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

No matter what life threw his way, Paul learned to be grateful and content. Not on his own but through Christ who gave him strength. 

Once you take inventory of all your blessings, it’s easy to be thankful for what God has given you. But it’s also helpful to think not just of the good things you have but also the bad things that you haven’t experienced. 

In her poem “Otherwise” poet Jane Kenyon reflects on her blessings with gratitude, embracing each moment of life.

I got out of bed

On two strong legs.

It might have been

otherwise. I ate

cereal, sweet

milk, ripe flawless

peach. It might

have been otherwise.

I took the dog uphill

to the birch wood.

All morning I did

the work I love.

At noon I lay down

with my mate. It might

have been otherwise.

We ate dinner together

at a table with silver

candlesticks. It might

have been otherwise.

I slept in a bed

in a room with paintings

on the walls, and 

planned another day

just like this day.

But one day, I know,

it will be otherwise.

Kenyon wrote that poem in 1993, upon learning that her husband, Donald Hall, had cancer. Ironically, it was Kenyon, not Hall, who died a year later after a fierce and swift battle with leukaemia. “Otherwise” came unexpectedly. But Jane Kenyon didn’t miss the blessings of God in each day. She learned the art of gratitude.  

Cultivate the Value of Gratitude – Part One

Have you ever gone to a lot of trouble to do something special for someone, but they barely acknowledge your effort? You planned. You saved. You prepared. You thought of every detail. You made everything just right. You worked like crazy to surprise someone, bless someone, honour someone. And they didn’t say thank you. Of course you didn’t do it to be rewarded, but an acknowledgement would have been nice.

Imagine how God feels when He gives us life, His love, His presence, His blessings, His Son. And we ignore Him, continuing to do our own thing. Or perhaps we’re a bit more gracious and give a polite, token “thanks, God.” We show up for church once or twice a month, if we’re not too tired or don’t have the chance to take a weekend trip out of town. We halfheartedly sing a few songs, listen to the sermon, nodding to acknowledge God before rushing to our favourite restaurant or coffee shop to enjoy our normal life.

I believe that as believers we need to learn and live, embrace and cultivate the life-changing value of gratitude. Difficult at the best of times and especially so in our “entitlement” culture of today. But, as disciples we must focus on and make an effort to cultivate a lifestyle that is consistently grateful for all we have been given by the Lord. Living life with an attitude of gratitude is life-changing.

Gratitude kills pride. Gratitude slays self-sufficiency. Gratitude crushes the spirit of entitlement. When we replace our daily discontentment with whatever in life is bothering us – and simply focus on how much we have to be grateful for, our hearts will slowly change and we will live a life of thanksgiving.

Learning to be grateful to God puts us in a constant awareness of the source of all good things in our lives, always reminding us of our need, which God met through Christ. Rather than demanding that God serve our wishes, gratitude puts us in our rightful place – eternally indebted to the One who gave us life in the first place.

When you dig up the roots of entitlement, gratitude will grow in the good soil of a fertile heart. Gratitude will change how you see your past, acknowledging God’s sovereignty in all things. Gratitude positions you to experience God moment by moment in the present, depending on Him daily. Gratitude places you in a posture of worship, ready to give praise to God for every good thing He will do in your future.

What has God done in your life? What has He given you? What blessings do you take for granted? Your life? Your health? Your friendships? Your job? Your home or apartment? When you pause to really think, I promise you can see God in all things, even in the things you wish had never happened.

I’ve always found it interesting that people ask why bad things happen to them, but they rarely ask why good things happen to them. These attitudes reflect the false belief that we don’t deserve bad but we do deserve good. Remember, all we really deserve is hell. If you’re a Christian, Christ has saved you from the pit of your sin. You’ve been filled with the Spirit of God. You’re adopted into God’s eternal family. Your life is not your own. You were bought with a price – the blood of Jesus shed for you on the cross.

Just like the lepers who came to Jesus, you’ve been cleansed. Healed. Transformed. (see: Luke 17: 11-19)  Will you be like most in our society — like the nine who were too busy to say “thank you”? Or will you be different, live gratefully, and return to say thank you to the God who gave you everything that matters?