Pressing On


A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Tag: thankfulness

Misplaced thankfulness

Today is a day set aside for giving thanks.  It is a wonderful tradition we Americans have carried on for decades (even as Black Friday shopping deals encroach on the day).  Despite all the turmoil going on in the world, we have much to be thankful for.

But I feel the need to issue a warning:

The contents of our thankful sayings will reveal what we hold most dear.  More specifically, which person(s) we hold most dear.  So when grace is said before dinner tonight, or as everyone goes around the table to say what they’re thankful for…listen not just for their words, but listen for their heart.  Above all, we should listen to our own words and consider our motives.

The shift is subtle, but it is so easy for our prayers and thankfulness to become self-centered.  One of Jesus’ parables dealt directly with this:

Luke 18:9
[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else:

Now before we ignore this parable because we think that we don’t fit Jesus’ target audience…let’s think back over our prayers for the last week.  Maybe you’ve prayed only once, or once a day, or even multiple times a day, but what has been the content of those prayers?

How do our prayers compare to these two individuals?

Luke 18:10-14
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee was standing and praying like this about himself:

‘God, I thank you that I’m not like other people – greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying,

‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner!’

I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Can you hear the bragging tone of the self-centered Pharisee?  He’s so thankful that he doesn’t do the wrong things and that he always does all the right things.  Certainly, God should be impressed by his actions.  In the Pharisee’s mind, he has earned his place with God by doing everything better than everyone else.

The tax collector doesn’t bother to look at what he has or has not done.  Instead, his focus is entirely on God.  He recognized that God was the foundation of their relationship.  Without God’s participation and mercy, there was no chance for this tax collector – regardless of what good things he does or has.

So let’s avoid being thankful for “things” and “stuff” simply because “things” and “stuff” are enjoyable.  Let’s not be thankful in comparison to other’s situations and life choices.  It’s ok to enjoy blessings and good moments in life; however, the amount of blessings we have is not proof of how close we are with God.

But some evidence of our relationship with God will be heard in our prayers and words of thanks.

Keep Pressing,

How to stay focused while praying

About a year ago, I started a series exploring the way Jesus prayed.  My theory was that if God’s goal is to make me more Christ-like, then I should probably take a look at how, when, and where Jesus prayed.  Out of the numerous things I learned, two observations of Jesus’ prayer life stuck out:

First, that He frequently went off to quiet places to spend time with the Father in prayer.  Out of a variety of circumstances, Jesus was constantly devoting chunks of alone time to talking with His Father in Heaven.

Second, Jesus’ main concern in His prayers was the Father.  Jesus was primarily focused on the Father’s plan and the Father’s glory.  His aim was to increase the Father’s glory – which means to enhance the Father’s reputation and honor in the world, and this was primarily achieved as Jesus completed the mission that the Father gave Him to accomplish.

As rich as that study was, as I moved on to other parts of Scripture I didn’t always remember these main lessons.  Looking back, my prayer life has both ebbed and flowed…tossed about by circumstance and my mental state of the moment.  One particular item I’ve struggled with is staying focused while praying. 

When I pray, I’m usually sitting in a quiet room with my eyes closed to avoid visual distractions.  My conversation with the Father starts out alright, but about half way through the fourth sentence…my mind jumps to something that needs my attention later on in the day, or I remember what I had forgotten to buy at the store, or I start to process a relationship problem that needs addressed at work or with a friend or in my family. 

It never fails…my mind picks the worst possible moment to leave the deep waters of relationship with the Father, and I starting splashing around in shallow thoughts of the smaller parts of life.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve apologized to God for mentally abandoning our quiet time together.

I don’t think my struggle is all that unique, either.  In various forms, I’ve heard other Christians voice similar difficulties.  I suspect that ancient believers also dealt with this, because towards the end of his letter to the believers in Colossae, Paul wrote

Colossians 4:2-3
Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving.

Since Jesus’ death and resurrection bridged the gap between us and God, we know that as a child of God, we can pray at any time to our Father.  However, I think we tend to take advantage of that freedom and we get comfortable with sporadic communication.  Paul’s instruction here is to make prayer a priority, something we are devoted to.  Just like Jesus purposely setting aside chunks of time, we should as well.  Early morning, late night, commuting to work, or wherever we can consistently get time for just us and the Father; we need to make the time and protect that time from other things that will try to distract us.

This is where I’m so grateful for the second half of Paul’s instruction – stay alert in it with thanksgiving.  When my mind drifts off, I can immediately refocus my attention by thanking God for something, anything.  Giving thanks takes the focus off of me and my agenda because it makes me look toward the person I’m saying “Thank you” to.

As I have been applying Paul’s instruction, I’m realizing how a lack of thanksgiving has kept me unfocused…and being unfocused has prevented me from growing deeper with the Father.  So I need to make sure I’m purposely scheduling chunks of time with the most important Person in my life, and also telling Him about all the parts of my life that I am thankful for.  I’m certain that as I do this, my concern for the Father’s plan and the Father’s glory will increase.  Then I will begin praying like Jesus did, because my relationship with the Father will be a lot like Jesus’ relationship with the Father.

Maturity, growth, and deep relationship will not happen if we give God some sporadic moments of talk during our week.  The richness of a relationship with our Creator will only happen as we devote time to Him.  Will you make that choice?  The first step is simply saying “Thank you”.

Keep Pressing,

Singing out

Singing is a common, but odd part of life.  What is it about stretching out vowel sounds that brings so much of our inner-selves out into the open?

From the earliest of ages, we are prone to sing.  Regardless of the tone quality, we readily belt out whatever is on our minds.  Our favorite songs help us emotionally identify with another person or situation – oftentimes the song will be able to put what we feel into words, even though don’t quite know how to say them.

We sing for a variety of reasons, too.  We sing because we feel good.  We sing because we feel bad.  We sing because we’re hurt.  We sing the praises of others.  We may sing alone, but the moments when we sing together are very precious.

All throughout the pages of Scripture, we find people singing.  Even some books of the Bible are composed entirely of songs.  There are songs about the past, songs about the present, and there is the prophecies of us singing “new songs” in eternity future.  Clearly, singing is an important part of the human experience.  God made us, and one of the things he made for us to do, is to sing.

While giving the believers in Colossae basic directions for living a Christ-focused life, Paul included a note about singing:

Colossians 3:16
Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God.

The psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs covers the range of styles that the Colossian Jewish and Gentile believers would have been familiar with.  Notice that Paul isn’t commenting on music style or preference…but he does give direction for their motivation to sing.  The root of their songs will come from their gratitude…to God

This direction, however, doesn’t mean that all of our songs are of a “thank-you-thank-you-thank-you” tone.  It is ok to sing about difficulties and failures, for they are part of our experience.  In this verse, Paul is telling them that their inspiration to sing is in their position of thankfulness toward God.

Their inspiration will come from practicing the direction Paul writes at the beginning of the sentence – let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you.  Paul knows that the Colossian believers need to dwell richly – or intimately live with – the depth of Jesus’ love for us.  As they are continually taught and encouraged with the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, gratitude will begin to motivate their lives, including the songs they sing.

But what topics, specifically, would they sing about?  How would they know if they’re singing the right things?

I’m certain that as the message about the Messiah was dwelling richly among them, they had plenty to sing about.

Keep Pressing,

Bridging the gap between God and others

We mentally separate the parts of our lives in order to keep everything straight.  The typical division of our time and relationships is into sections of church, family, work, school, and spare time.  However, we tend to make these areas into islands with little or no connection to the other areas.

As Christians, we also tend take this practice one step further – we see our relationship with God as something separate from our relationship with others.  While we know that both are important and need to be cultivated, we often deal with one while excluding the other.  However, the two are more connected than we realize.

This is the next point Paul wanted to convey in his letter to the believers in Colossae.  Look at the verses below and see if you can identify how our relationships with other Christians connects to our relationship with God:

Colossians 3:14-16
Above all, put on love – the perfect bond of unity.  And let the peace of the Messiah, to which you were called in one body, control your hearts.  Be thankful.  Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you

We can become so comfortable in our established family position that our relationship with God and our relationship with others can seem like mutually exclusive ideas.  The way these two concepts are connected for us is in the same manner Paul connected them for the Colossians. 

However, his bridge sentence is comprised of just two words, so it is easily missed.  Likewise, the full impact of this small sentence is also overlooked.  Paul says that we are able to aim for peace-driven love with those around us only as the message about the Messiah is present among us.  To be thankful is the bridge between the two.

We are truly thankful when we are mindful of the favor extended to us by someone else.  It shifts the focus off of ourselves and recognizes who the other person is and what we have become because of their actions.  The better we understand and think about Christ’s incredible love for us, the more we are thankful for the choices He made on our behalf. 

To be thankful is focus-shifting experience.  Being thankful towards God puts him in the proper place in our lives; it shows us how to lovingly and peacefully relate to others.  So our ability to bridge the mental gap between of our relationship with others and our relationship with God comes down to two words – Be thankful.

Keep Pressing,

Finding strength in joy

Ever notice that feeling “blah” often goes hand-in-hand with feeling “weak”?

I’ve never had a moment where my mood was kinda “eh” and I was also feeling strong, or empowered, or engaged in life.  Instead, when I’m discontented or feeling a little down…it seems like everything takes additional effort – thinking, handling routine responsibilities, or just moving my body all seem to be a chore.

As he opens his letter to the believers in Colossae, Paul tells them what he has been praying for them.  He’s been petitioning God for three specific things – first, that God would fill them with the knowledge of His will; second, that God would strengthen them with His power, so they could have both endurance and patience; and now, we’ll take a look at Paul’s third request.

Paul is still asking God to give the believers strength; however, this time, Paul wants them to find strength in joy.  We can all recognize that a lack of joy usually accompanies a lack of strength, but the idea of joy actually giving us strength might seem a little strange.  To fully understand his reason for connecting both strength and joy, take a look at where Paul says that our joy should come from:

Colossians 1:11-12
May you be strengthened…with joy giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light.

The Colossians’ joy, and ultimately their strength, was directly tied to their perspective.  If they were looking only at their present circumstances, their own failings, or the hopelessness in the world around them, they would not be able to find any lasting enjoyment. 

Instead, Paul prays that they would recognize the benefits the Father bestows on His children.  He is the one who made it possible for them to share in the saints’ inheritance.  There was no way for any of us to merit eternal life, or to merit becoming part of God’s family.  Eternal life and the opportunity to share in the family inheritance are both gifts of God to us; all because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. 

Think back over the other gifts that God has given you…if He is able and willing to bless His children in so many ways while we still wrestle with our sinful desires, imagine how great our inheritance will be when our sin-natures have been left behind!

Thinking about such big ideas and big topics leads us to wonderment and thankfulness for what the Father has done.  Whenever we stop and honestly thank someone, we are shifting the focus off of us.  We look at the gift and the giver in full appreciation; we stop looking at ourselves.  It is in this attitude of thankfulness that we find joy, because being thankful towards God puts Him in the proper place in our lives.

As we joyfully thank God for who He is and what He has done, we are strengthened.  We can deal with the sin-soaked world that pulls us down, because we see more than just the circumstances and difficulties that are momentarily in front of us.

Keep Pressing,