The Art of a Grateful Heart
On our wedding day, Martie and I gladly vowed to be faithful “in good times as well as in bad, in sickness as well as in health, for richer or for poorer.” In a way it may seem strange to include vows about the bleak reality of bad times, sickness, and poverty on a cheerful wedding day. But it underscores the fact that life often has “bad” times.
So what are we to do when we face life’s inevitable difficulties? Paul urges us on behalf of Christ to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). As difficult as that may sound, there is good reason why God encourages us to embrace a spirit of gratitude. Gratitude is grounded in the truth that our Lord “is good” and “his love endures forever” (Psalm 118:1). He is present with us and strengthens us in the midst of trouble (Hebrews 13:5–6), and He lovingly uses our trials to grow our character into His likeness (Romans 5:3–4).
When life hits us with hard times, choosing to be grateful focuses our attention on the goodness of God and gives us the strength to make it through our struggles. With the psalmist, we can sing, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever” (Psalm 118:29).
Far from home and training for World War II, American recruits in basic training turned to humor and correspondence to cope with the challenges they faced. In one letter home a young man described the vaccination process with wonderful exaggeration: “Two medical officers chased us with harpoons. They grabbed us and pinned us to the floor and stuck one in each arm.”
Yet one soldier began to realize that humor could only take him so far. Then he received a Bible. “I enjoy it very much and I read it every night,” he wrote. “I never realized you could learn so much from a Bible.”
Long ago, the Jewish exiles returned home after years of slavery in Babylon to find their problems came with them. As they struggled to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls, they faced opposition from enemies, famine, and their own sin. Amid their trouble, they turned to God’s Word. They were surprised at what they learned. When the priests read from the Book of the Law of God, the people were moved to tears (Nehemiah 8:9). But they also found comfort. Nehemiah the governor told them, “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (v. 10).
We don’t need to wait for trouble to hear from God. The Bible is where we learn about His character, His forgiveness, and His comfort. As we read it, we’ll be surprised at what God’s Spirit will show us in its pages.
The young man fidgeted as he sat down for his flight. His eyes darted back and forth to the aircraft windows. Then he closed his eyes and breathed deeply, trying to calm himself—but it didn’t work. As the plane took off, he slowly rocked back and forth. An older woman across the aisle from him put her hand on his arm and gently engaged him in conversation to divert his attention from his stress. “What’s your name?” “Where are you from?” “We’re going to be okay,” and “You’re doing well” were a few things she whispered. She could have been irritated with him or ignored him. But she chose a touch and a few words. Little things. When they landed three hours later, he said, “Thank you so much for helping me.”
Such beautiful pictures of tenderheartedness can be hard to find. Kindness does not come naturally to many of us; our primary concern is often ourselves. But when the apostle Paul urged, “Be kind and compassionate to one another” (Ephesians 4:32), he was not saying it all depends on us. After we’ve been given a new life by our faith in Jesus, the Spirit begins a transformation. Kindness is the ongoing work of the Spirit renewing our thoughts and attitudes (v. 23).
The God of compassion is at work in our hearts, allowing us in turn to touch others’ lives by reaching out and whispering words of encouragement.
Wonders in Focus
Some of us are inclined to look at the world and see only what’s wrong. DeWitt Jones is a National Geographic photographer who has used his profession to celebrate what’s right about the world. He waits and watches until a shaft of light or turn of perspective suddenly reveals a wonder that had been there all along. He uses his camera to find beauty in the most common faces of people and nature.
If anyone had reason to focus on the wrongs of the world, Job did. After losing all that had given him joy, even his friends became his accusers. Together their voices taunted him for not admitting that he was suffering for sins he was hiding. When Job cried out to the heavens for help, God remained silent.
Finally, from within the chaos of a whirlwind and the darkness of a storm, God asked Job to consider wonders of nature that reflect a wisdom and power far beyond our own (Job 38:2–4).
Would He now ask us? What about something as natural as the ways of a dog, cat, fluttering leaf, or blade of grass? Could a shaft of light, or a turn of perspective, reveal —even in our pain—the mind and heart of a Creator who has been with us and for us all along?
Revealed to Be Healed
As a boy, I watched my father plow fields that had never been cultivated. On the first pass the plowshare would turn up large rocks that he hauled away. Then, he would plow the field again, and then again, to further break up the soil. With each pass the plow turned up other, smaller rocks that he cast aside. The process continued, requiring many passes through the field.
Growth in grace can look like a similar process. When we first become believers, some “big” sins may be exposed. We confess them to God and accept His forgiveness. But as the years pass by, and as God’s Word passes through us and sinks into our innermost being, the Holy Spirit brings other sins to the surface. Sins of the spirit once thought to be mere peccadilloes—small, seemingly unimportant offenses—are revealed as ugly, ruinous attitudes and actions. Sins like pride, self-pity, complaining, pettiness, prejudice, spite, self-serving indulgence.
God reveals each sin so He can cast it aside. He reveals to heal. When harmful hidden attitudes come to the surface, we can pray as the psalmist David did, “For the sake of your name, Lord, forgive my iniquity, though it is great” (Psalm 25:11).
Humbling exposure, though painful, is good for the soul. It’s one of the ways in which He “instructs sinners in his ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way” (vv. 8–9).