Thanksgiving and Encouragement Discipline

I came across a phrase recently that sounded strange to me: “Thanksgiving Discipline.” These words seem inconsistent. For me, thanksgiving is occasional and related to emotion. Sometimes I feel thankful; other times not so much. The occasions of thankfulness are tied to infrequent flashes of unexpected good fortune or the sudden recognition of continual blessing.  Discipline implies effort and focus. In fact, discipline is kind of a socially unacceptable concept. It involves something we do and not happenstance.

Yet, our attitude of thanksgiving should be constant. It provides the foundation for the encouragement of others which allows for the making of disciples. That’s our mission and thanksgiving, gratitude, and encouragement are the path. Love of God and neighbor require a focus on God and neighbor. Focus on ourselves robs us of gratitude and promotes fear and insecurity. If we look to God and what He’s up to we can’t help but be thankful. Looking in the mirror promotes fear, insecurity, and ingratitude.

How can we practice Thanksgiving Discipline? Maybe there are clues in the way we celebrate Thanksgiving Day? On Thanksgiving we focus on God and his blessings. There’s no reason that should be limited to an annual event. We sometimes go around the table and say what we are thankful for. It wouldn’t hurt to make a list of the things we are thankful for and check and update it daily. On Thanksgiving we sit at a table and eat a meal together. Maybe if we did that everyday we would know more about what God is doing in our family and have more to be thankful for.  On Thanksgiving we focus on the good things. I don’t know why we don’t cook turkey or corn bread dressing more often during the year. I don’t now why we treat ourselves to our favorites only on holidays. Shouldn’t we enjoy our favorite foods, people, and activities as often as possible?  Maybe if we focused on the best things, we wouldn’t be distracted by the not-so-good things. That would have to up our thankfulness.  On Thanksgiving we often focus on the homeless or others who are less fortunate. It makes us appreciate what we have. No doubt that would be a great daily practice.

An attitude of gratitude makes it easier to be an encourager. If we can be more constantly aware of what God is doing for us, it flows that it will be easier to encourage others. Brighten lives sometimes means contributing something concrete, but more often it is accomplished by sharing a better more thankful attitude.

It seems we can discipline ourselves to be more thankful and more encouraging. Everyday can be about Thanksgiving. We really should; after all it is our mission.



Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.Philippians 4:6

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.  Matthew 6

Of all the faith challenges in scripture, the challenge not to worry is the toughest for me. I have no trouble with the divinity of Jesus, the virgin birth, the resurrection, or Jesus’ sacrifice for my sin. I can balance the God of Justice of the Old Testament with what seems the more loving God of the New. That’s not a problem.  I worry about worry.

Worry is a problem for most of us. It magnifies yesterday, muddies up tomorrow and minimizes today. It eats up time, energy and focus. It hampers hope, freezes faith and labors love. Jesus warned against it often both directly and through its foundation in fear. He preached worry’s antidote and cure: faith. Not faith in its what-I-believe sense, but in its whom-do-I-trust sense.

Worry is the greatest test of our faith because it’s not “spiritual” or “cerebral” but practical. It’s not something we think about during sermons or on retreats, but something that’s in our face every day. Our spiritualized “trust” in Jesus meets concrete challenges in screaming kids, sadistic bosses, out of control politicians, unexpected bills. It creeps up on us through unexplained pains that must be cancer, layoffs that surely mean we are next, by moody kids who are surely covering up their drug abuse, criminal activity or unwanted pregnancies.

Worry grows as we age and our bodies start to fail, minds constantly wander and friends die off. We are hammered with the realization that we will never do all we hoped, live like we dreamed, or love like we should. Our days become more clearly numbered. There is too much time, but not enough time. Our spouses don’t seem to be as head-over-heals in love as they once were. Our kids are learning how dumb and truly powerless we are. The award shows are full of artists we never heard of and movies we’ve never seen. Our grand kids have to tell us how to use our phones and computers.

The answer, of course, is to increase our focus on God. If we will look carefully at his creation, we will understand his power and love. If we consider our walk with Him thus far we will remember his faithful presence and many miraculous interventions. If we immerse ourselves in his word, we will be encouraged and empowered by His promises. It takes work to trust what can not be seen over what seems constantly in our face. To not worry is to be happy, but it takes more than a song with a calypso beat. It takes practicing the presence and reality of God whom we can’t see unless we look with eyes of faith.

The View from the Bottom

This morning I took my grand son to school. He has to be there for 6:20. That’s ridiculous, but another story. We stopped for breakfast at Waffle House. The cook was busy cleaning the grill. He had worked all night and was about to get off before he went to his second job that began at 8 a.m. Lord, I repent of every consideration of my life as hard or any trial as significant. I had no trouble believing that Jesus really loves that guy.

Richard Rohr is a controversial catholic priest. I agree with him about 80% of the time. About 10 percent of what he says is great. About 20 percent, he’s just “out there.” I guess he would have to be labelled “left-wing.” Here’s one of his “great” quotes:

Only converted people, who are in union both with the pain of the world and the love of God, are prepared to read the Bible with the right pair of eyes and the appropriate bias, which is from the side of powerlessness and suffering instead of the side of power and control.

Jesus clearly identified with the poor and the outcast. He seemed most concerned about widows and orphans. He made it clear that the road to the kingdom of heaven was toughest for the rich and powerful. Life seems to push us down when we begin to feel too superior or self-reliant. The steering wheel is ripped from our hands when we begin to think we’re driving. We usually fail to see this as a gift. It’s essential that we see life from the bottom. We must understand poverty, helplessness, dependence and absence of control. We must see ourselves as apparently valueless in order to fully understand the love of God which embraced Calvary.

How can we trust in government to deal with unemployment or poverty or fear of terrorists which is run by persons who have never been poor or powerless or had a real job? How can we believe that church is a fancy building or that spirituality can be measured by bank accounts? How can we not see that the church is most alive when the believers have nothing and live in constant threat of death for their faith?

We might understand life so much better if we could see things from the very top or the very bottom.