Common Blessings, Familiar Miracles, Part 2
About the Guest
God's mercy is new every morning. On today's broadcast, hear a message by Gary Thomas, a popular speaker and author, on the value of contentment.
Gary ThomasGary Thomas is a writer in residence at Second Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, and an adjunct faculty member teaching on spiritual formation at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon and Houston Theological Seminary in Houston, Texas. He is the author of 20 books, including When to Walk Away, Sacred Marriage, Sacred Pathways, Cherish, Sacred Parenting, and the Gold Medallion Award-winning Authentic Faith. He has a master’s degree from Regent College, where he studied u...more
God’s mercy is new every morning.
Common Blessings, Familiar Miracles, Part 2
Gary: The Garden of Eden is a great case in point. Here is a man and a woman in paradise. We define the Garden of Eden as paradise. They've got everything they need. And God says, "Look, Adam and Eve, it's all yours. Enjoy it. You can have it all, except for that one tree." And what do they say? "What's that one tree?" Amazingly, Adam and Eve saw that one tree, and the Garden of Eden was insufficient.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, November 26th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. I think all of us could stand to cultivate what Puritan Jeremiah Burrows called "the rare jewel of Christian contentment."
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Friday edition. You know it’s good for us to have a day like we’ve had this week where we pull aside and gather together, many of us gathering with families or with friends, just taking a day out of the year where we stop and we reflect on the blessings that are ours because of God’s providence and spend some time giving thanks. That’s a good discipline for us to be in, not just one day a year but it’s good to have a day a year where our attention gets drawn to those blessings and the fact that if we don’t pull aside and give thanks we begin to take those things for granted.
Dennis: Well, it's about what Gary Thomas, who gave a message we featured on yesterday's broadcast mentioned, how blessings become rights. We deserve it. You know what? We ought to have that, and we ought to continue to have that, and it won't be long, probably, before a building like we're enjoying will be considered a "right." I hope that never happens. We've got a dedication out front, and a giant boulder to symbolize the significance of God's provision for this ministry. But, nonetheless, we, as human beings, tend to become ungrateful.
Bob: Yes. We're going to hear part two of the message that you're talking about from Gary Thomas on today's program. Gary is an author and a conference speaker. He has been a guest on FamilyLife Today in the past, and he was helping us understand a principle that he says he's learning to apply in his own life and one that all of us need to apply. It's the principle of learning to give thanks in all things and finding the things that we take for granted around us, and then practicing gratefulness to God for those things that we too often take for granted. Let's listen as he explains what he's talking about. Here is Gary Thomas.
Gary: A while back, I woke up, and there was an issue my wife and I were working through, and I was so frustrated because we seemed to be going around and around with this, and I just have this thing – it's a disease of my brain, where I get fixated on something, and I'm building my case, like a lawyer, and I can't let it go. I'm going back over history, and I could present a great case before the Supreme Court, and I'm sure I'd win a 9-0 decision, the way I just fixate on this.
Then I start applying this – I just started thanking God for the many wonderful qualities of the astonishing woman I've married, and that reminded me of some other things. And so I started thanking Him for those things, and that reminded me of some other things, and I'm going on and on, and after about 20 or 30 minutes, I’m laughing in bed, because I'm realizing how pitiful it sounded: there was one issue that was bugging me when I had 20 minutes' worth of thanksgiving to give God.
It wasn't a case of recognizing the glass is either half empty or half full, my glass was 99 percent full, and I'm focusing on the one percent. And that's so often the way we are, not just with people, but with God.
That's a dangerous place to be with our heavenly Father, because if your faith is based on God continually blessing you, if your satisfaction in God is based on God giving you new blessing after new blessing, you will never be fully satisfied in God. Because as much as God can bless you, you will become comfortable with those blessings and not even see them anymore.
It's a neurological condition we have. The neurologists call it tolerance – our brain adapts to the familiar. What was once strange becomes routine, and our brain has learned to just accept it.
This explains why Scottie Pippin, a young boy, could grow up in a virtual poverty situation – small house, 13 people – and become a professional basketball player, play for the Chicago Bulls and the Portland Trailblazers, earns $15 million a year, drives a $100,000 Mercedes, and floats on a 74-foot yacht. You might think that a man who grew up in that situation would be absolutely astonished every time he goes out to his driveway, touches that Mercedes saying, "I can't believe I'm driving a car that costs more than the house I grew up in. I can't believe I can go out on a yacht that has more rooms than the house I grew up in."
That's not his attitude. He was followed by a reporter from Sports Illustrated during a pre-game warm-up in Portland, and he pointed up to the stands where Paul Allen, a founder of Microsoft and the owner of the Portland Trailblazers was standing, and he pointed at him and said, "That man is worth $40 billion. How do you get to have a billion dollars? I just want one of them. Tell me, how I can become a billionaire.”
Now, if I were to talk to most men here, who are, say, making an average salary of $65,000, I know some of you make more, some of you make less, but say I’m your employer and I know you're earning $65,000, and I have a conversation with you saying, "I want you to be happy. I know it costs more to raise a family these days. I'm afraid that you might be tempted to look elsewhere so I just want to know, would $15 million a year satisfy you? I can’t give you a raise for three years, but I’ll guarantee for the next three years you’ll get 15.” Would that make you happy? Is there a man here who would say, “No boss, I won't do it??”
And for the first few months, you would be amazed. You would call up your spouse and say, "You won't believe it. We've got it made.” You could have a new house and a new car, and you'd be astonished but you know what? At the end of three years, you wouldn't be astonished. It would just be the way things are.
That’s how our brain adapts. That's why addictions are such a strong thing. If you talk to an alcoholic they don't drink to become drunk. They drink to feel normal. Their brain has adapted to alcohol and so when you remove the alcohol suddenly it doesn't feel normal anymore. It explains how you can live by a railroad track and get a great night of sleep. Have a friend, a family member, come to visit. In the middle of the night, they feel like a locomotive is driving down their throat.
They get up and see you at breakfast and say, "How in the world do you guys get any sleep at night?" You say, "What?" "It sounded like a train was going to cut me in two at about 3 a.m." "Oh, we don't hear that anymore." Do you know why you don’t hear that? Your brain has adapted. That train signal is normal. It knows, "You don't need to worry about it. You don't have to get up." Which means that the spiritual discipline of thankfulness will never relate to our situation, it will always relate to our attitude.
The Garden of Eden is a great case in point. Here is a man and a woman in paradise. We define the Garden of Eden as paradise. They've got everything they need. They've got a great relationship with the Lord; they walk with the Lord in the cool of the day, a relationship that most prayer mystics could only dream about. There they are, naked and unashamed, the only holy nudist colony in the history of the world right there in the Garden of Eden.
No cancer, no arthritis, no Alzheimer's, no stealing, no keys to lose – you don't need keys in the Garden of Eden. Nobody is going to steal anything.
And God says, "Look, Adam and Eve, it's all yours, enjoy it. You can have it all except for that one tree." And what do they say? "What's that one tree?" "You don't need to worry about that. Look behind you. Everything is yours, just stay away from this one."
Amazingly -- it astonishes me, but it shows the depths of our depravity -- Adam and Eve saw that one tree, and the Garden of Eden was insufficient. It was paradise, but it wasn't enough because one thing was forbidden them. So they took that fruit, and they ate. Which means the very first human sin was not lust, and it wasn't murder, it was discontentment. Even the Garden of Eden couldn't satisfy us.
William Law, the great 18th Century Anglican, asked an intriguing question. He said, "Would you know who is the greatest saint in the world?" That fascinates me. What makes someone unusually holy? According to William Law, it is not he who prays the most or fasts the most, it's not one who is great at the spiritual disciplines. He says it's not even he who gives the most money, but it is he who is always thankful to God, who wills everything that God wills, and who receives everything as an instance of God's goodness and has a heart always ready to praise God for it.
It's a picture of a man or woman who walks around recapturing that wonder of God that He has provided for them so well spiritually and relationally and physically. And it doesn't matter the situation they're in, because they recognize God's goodness for that.
I have a friend who 25 years ago was hit by a drunk driver just before high school graduation. He had a severe spinal cord injury. Today he's got one eye that's three-quarters of the way sewn shut; he can't use his left hand; has to live in a wheelchair, he can't walk outside of it.
Even worse, his voice has been radically altered. It's very hard for people to understand him if you don't know him and if you haven't talked to him before. And so when I take him out, and we're running errands, it's very humiliating, because people will treat him like he's a three-year-old, and they assume because he can't talk that there is something wrong with his brain. They talk to him like English is a second language. He desperately wants children. He's wanted to be married, but now that he's closer to 50 rather than 40, he knows that it's probably not very likely.
We were doing an errand a few weeks ago. I was driving him around, and I notice that every year about the start of fall his voice changes, and I was asking him about it, and I said, "Well, do you think maybe it's allergies, do you think you have some allergies?" And he looked at me and he says, "Oh, no, I'm very thankful to God that I don't have any medical problems." I did what you did. I laughed. I said, "Scott, look at you." But see that tells me, thankfulness has nothing to do with our situation; it has everything to do with our attitude. We can always find something to be thankful for.
I think of 91-year-old Charlie Constantino. He was celebrating his 91st birthday, and his friends and family were asking him, "Charlie, what are you most thankful for about being 91 years old?" To be honest, Charlie had to think for a bit. It took him longer to get out of bed, his eyesight isn't as sharp, his hearing isn't as good, there are more aches and pains, but he finally thought of something and smiled. He looked at them, and he said, "Well, at 91 years of age, there is very little peer pressure."
Just about any situation that we get in, I've found thankfulness can transform your life. I don't want this to sound like an obligation. If it is, I'm doing a terrible job explaining. It's a privilege.
There was a time in my life it seemed pretty dark to me. I was working for the public utility, I was going to seminary trying to finish up my thesis; I'd done the coursework. I was reading electric meters for a public utility, and it dawned on me one day as I'm going around being chased by dogs, going out in fertilized fields and trying to find lost meters and all that. But I'd read electric meters as a high school student during the summer.
I graduated from high school, went on to college, and during college I read electric meters in the summer to pay my college bills. I graduated from college, started working on a master's degree, read electric meters during the off days, to help pay for that. I finished up the master's coursework, and now I was working on the master's degree – still reading electric meters, still being chased by the same dogs, still slogging through the same fields, and I remember asking myself, "What's wrong with this picture?"
I wanted intellectual stimulation, and all I was getting was fertilized fields, and I would be eating these warm peanut butter sandwiches out in the middle of nowhere with the smell of manure surrounding me. I'd come home and tell Lisa, "When I get a real job, I will never eat another peanut butter sandwich again."
But it showed my ignorance when I said "when I get a real job," because I had an experience a few days after that when I pulled up to a house, and a man came out, and said, "Hi, Gary, how are you doing?" It didn't surprise me that he said my name, because we wore them on our uniform.
He said, "Isn't it a beautiful day?" I looked around and, you know what? It was. And we know, here in western Washington, we can’t take those for granted. I mean, there wasn't a cloud in the sky. It was a piercingly blue sky, and I'd missed it, because I was all upset about the situation I was in.
Then he looked at my left hand, and he said, "Gary, you're married." I said, "Yes, I've been married for about four years." He goes, "God has given you a wife. Isn't God good that He has given you a wife?" He said, "Gary, do you have any children?" I said, "We just had a baby girl about four months ago." "God has given you a baby? Let me see a picture." I showed it to him – "Isn't God good? And look at this, Gary, God has given you a job to provide for your wife and your daughter. Isn't God good?" And with all sincerity, I looked at him and said, "Yes, God is good."
Nothing about my situation had changed. Everything about my perspective had changed. I still didn’t particularly like the job, but I realized what it was doing, that God had given me many blessings and He was a providing a vehicle for me to care for those blessings. I realized that God is good.
So when you're finding areas in your life that are rubbing up against your own satisfaction and contentment, ask God to open up your eyes to the common blessings and the familiar miracles. This could change your parenting – as parents – and I'm as guilty of this as anyone – most of us parents have only two prayers that we pray for our kids.
First, we say, "God protect them," and then we say, "God, change them. Keep them from doing anything stupid and keep stupid people from them." And you could put virtually all our prayers under those two things, and that's how we pray.
Can I suggest a third prayer? God, thank You that my son has made a commitment to follow you. Thank You for my daughter's voice. Thank You that my daughter reaches out here. Thank You that my son does that. In fact, if you will spend as much time thanking God for those aspects of your kids' life, as you do asking God to change them, you're going to renew your relationship with them.
In fact, I would say that if our children are more aware of where they fall short in our eyes, than of the fact that we point out, more than anyone else, the evidence of God's grace in their life – if they feel that way, they may have a Pharisee for a parent. God doesn't treat us that way. We're not to treat our kids that way. Our job is not just to correct them, it's to point out – "I see God moving in your life. It's right here and, you know what? I thank God for that. Thank God he’s moving in your life.”
And with your spouse – we’re not allowed to seek a new spouse, but you can seek a new marriage. Instead of praying that God would change your spouse, you start praying as I did that morning and say, "Lord, thank you for this about my spouse, thank You for that.” Maybe you don’t have 20 minutes worth – may you have one thing you can be thankful for – just wear God out with that one thing, like a mantra. "Lord, thank You for this," "Thank you for that." Focus on that.
But as important as anything, as much as this will change how we look at our vocations, how we look at our children, how we look at our spouses, and I want to leave us with this – it will change how we relate to God.
If you're disillusioned with God, I would say it's because your eyes have become closed to the common blessings and the familiar miracles. Intimacy with God is entered through thankfulness. Psalm 104 says, "Enter His gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise.” How do we begin a relationship with God? With thanksgiving.
Bob: That is Gary Thomas with a great reminder that we should approach the throne with thanks and praise on our lips, and I have to confess there are times when I rush in with a list of things that need to be fixed rather than with any gratefulness for what God has provided.
Dennis: Yes. There is no doubt about that. I have an application for each of our listeners out of what we have heard both yesterday and today. First of all, for the single listeners, whether you're single and never been married or single having been married at some point and now you're not.
Perhaps it's not by your choice but nonetheless you are single, and you can find much about your circumstance to be ungrateful for. I'd like to challenge you, as a single person, to take 30 minutes tonight and just evaluate everything in the past year of what you can give thanks for. I would predict this, Bob …
Bob: 30 minutes, really?
Dennis: Thirty minutes – I would predict that if you would spend 30 minutes doing this, a sheet of paper would not contain all of what you would be able to write down. Secondly, for the married folks who are listening to today's broadcast, I'd like to challenge you to do this – why don't you write a tribute to your husband or to your wife that just is a tribute of thanksgiving?
Just write down all the things that you are grateful for about your spouse and write it to her or to him and work on it and type it up and maybe even frame it, and then read it to them on a romantic date night or on a special getaway that you might have.
Bob: What if you're not getting along? What if you're mad at each other? What if you've had some conflict?
Dennis: I think it would be a good idea to go ahead and do it. That would make it even all that much more important to do this little project.
Third, for those who have families, you might find it interesting to have a family night and see how many things you could come up with in 15 to 20 minutes that your family could list in terms of what you are most thankful for.
Create a little easel maybe in your kitchen where you enjoy dinner, or get some butcher paper and scotch tape it to the wall – and just make sure it's not a magic marker that bleeds through against Mom's wallpaper. Begin to list all of the things you are grateful for as a family.
Bob: There is something contagious about gratitude and about thanksgiving, isn't there? It can provoke all of our hearts to be more grateful and more thankful and, certainly, this is the time of year when that ought to be the direction in which our hearts are pointed, but, frankly, we ought to be pointed in that direction every day of the year.
In fact, I’m thinking about the devotional guide that your wife, Barbara, put together for families on the subject of gratitude, called Growing Together in Gratitude. It’s designed to give families stories that you can reflect on over the dinner table or during your family devotions, whenever you want to do it. These stories help us understand why we should be grateful people. They do help cultivate a heart of thanksgiving and gratitude in us. We’ve got Barbara’s book Growing Together in Gratitude in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.
If you go online at FamilyLifeToday.com you can get more information about this seven-day devotional for families. That’s really what it is; it’s a week-long devotional, or you could do it over the course of a month or whenever it makes sense for you as a family. It’s a great devotional for families to read through together called Growing Together in Gratitude and you can find out more online at FamilyLifeToday.com.
I should also mention that we’ve got copies of Gary Thomas’ newest book called Pure Pleasure: Why Do Christians Feel So Bad about Feeling Good? He really helps us understand more biblically what our response ought to be to the things that delight us, to the things that bring us pleasure. It’s not more spiritual to be against pleasure, and that’s what he looks at in this book. We want to encourage you to get a copy of Gary Thomas’ book, Pure Pleasure: Why Do Christians Feel So Bad about Feeling Good? You can order that from us online at FamilyLife.com and we’ll make arrangements to get a copy of Gary’s book sent out to you.
And with that we’ll wrap things up. Hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend, and I hope you can join us back on Monday, when Chuck Colson is going to join us along with his daughter, Emily. We’re going to hear a very moving story about Grandpa Chuck and his daughter Emily and some of the challenges they have faced as a family as she has sought to raise an autistic son. We’ll hear that story on Monday, and I hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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