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Friday, March 21, 2014

Gratitude: The Spiritual Discipline of Training The Heart And Steering The Mind Toward Grace and Goodness.


On March 26th, 2013, I wrote a blog entitled Do You have Wonder Deficit Disorder - http://oldmenplantingchurches.blogspot.com/2013/03/do-you-have-wonder-deficit-disorder.html . In it I wrote the following:

"Wonder requires a belief in the possibility of some sort of enticing MEANING or ORDER or MYSTERY behind all meaning, including what the senses apprehend as design or pattern. A mystery hides in the fact there is anything wonderful at all. People experience it, if they pay attention or give thought, moments of joy or delight or beauty which can transport them into a momentary lightness of being they want to repeat. Wonder is experiencing a deep pleasure of the heart and a magnificent delight to the senses, or the mind. The heart was made with a natural capacity for wonder, and enchantment and delight. The mind wants to "see" what it is and apprehend its meaning. That's not all the heart or mind were made for, but few of us cultivate their abilities to respond with wonder easily to all the miraculous populating our days.
 
Wonder Deficit Disorder keeps its victims from closely looking, deeply listening, richly tasting, exquisitely feeling, or pondering contemplatively. They live as surface dwellers unaware, creatures of habit caught in an affective sleepwalk - blind to much beyond the prurient, entertaining, or 'shocking'."

While I was writing about a "disorder" not clinically recognized, the post did highlight the notion we fly through our days often like Mad Hatters. Time for contemplation comes in short supply after a while. Contemplation, reflection and noticing take a back seat in a very long bus. But it is those three spiritual "tools" which make it possible to develop a way of life where gratitude becomes a wide lens through which we learn to appreciate the lavish beneficence of the One who called us by name. We are trained by it to see all the good God does for us each day. Spiritual disciplines serve to train us in

  • Knowing Christ.
  • Understanding what he has revealed to us.
  • Understanding to what he summons us .
  • Understanding how the Kingdom life is lived and what is priceless in his eyes. 

Their practice is for our freeing and deepening in following Jesus.

So what is gratitude exactly? Put simply, The Oxford Dictionary Online (American Version) defines it as: "the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness." I like the definition being put as a quality of being and a readiness to respond in kind. Living the way of thankfulness, appreciation and kindness seems to me to be at the heart of following Jesus. He reminds us that, "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Learning from and letting the Holy Spirit train us in gratitude will enable us to see real treasures adorning our ordinary days, including some of the toughest days.

To help you, below is a simple way to practicing the spiritual discipline of gratitude. It's best to work on it daily, but every other day will be effective also. The goal is for it to become a way of seeing grace and goodness everywhere. It's a matter of being able to look for and notice much in the same way an artist sees the interplay of light, and shade or subtleties of form and texture, or a musician hears tonal textures and rhythmic subtleties. They've learned how to look and what to look for.

STEP ONENOTICING

Noticing is the practice of paying attention rather than be on autopilot; it’s stopping to look so you can really see;  listen so you can really hear; linger so you can really taste; smell so you can really savor; touch so you can really feel what’s actually there. It's turning the attention to something intriguing, curious, or inviting. There is something more to the eye deserving a closer look or a more careful listening. In noticing, you pause to take in what has caught your attention; to examine it more closely. There seems more than a first glance warrants.

Noticing as a spiritual discipline is the act of deliberately stopping to examine, ponder or apprehend. Regarding grace and goodness, it's like combing through the thoughts, activities and relationships of the day to see where grace paid a visit or came in disguise; where goodness caused a smile, leaving your load lightened or something set to right. Someone or something pointed you to the love of God, and it was refreshing.

A helpful way to begin practicing the spiritual "tool" of noticing is to stop for a moment each evening and ask questions such as: What did I actually notice today? Did I overlook God's benevolent Presence and action toward me anywhere? What grace did I experience? Where was God good to me even if I deserved something far less? Where was my heart lifted to blessing and my mind pulled toward truth? Where did he challenge, chasten, or discipline me? Where did I fill my day with my most familiar and treasured distractions?

The ultimate goal of of step one in this spiritual discipline is to be able to notice the Presence and activity of God in and around you through the Holy Spirit who is always at work summoning us toward Christ and His Kingdom, and thus away from that which will never bring life or freedom however momentarily sparkly.

STEP TWO: SAVORING

Savoring I find to be in short supply with many people most of the time. Our over-committed, over-scheduled, pixilated, hurry-up lives don't readily foster this next step very much. It also requires attending to grace and goodness, but with a steadier gaze.  Put simply it's the benign practice of gradually developing an ability to linger with and delight in something of great worth or substantial pleasure, to thus train the heart and steer the mind toward the grace and goodness we want to recognize.

Savoring can be defined as to enjoy or appreciate (something pleasant) completely, especially by dwelling on it (Oxford Online Dictionary - American Version). Taking the time to linger with what you've noticed or experienced so you can take in why is admirably true, exquisitely beautiful, or stunningly good. Dwelling in such an experience lends the time needed to really look at it to see it's goodness or cause for delight. It might be feeling deeply what you're experiencing as being wonderful or praiseworthy. Perhaps it's thinking long and hard on something yielding treasures of wisdom and truth. Maybe it's just enjoying ice cream, a crackling fire on cold day. Or it's the exhilaration of climbing to the peak of a mountain and being able to see for miles. Savoring causes you to pause and abide with what has captured your attention. Savoring also trains your heart to open you to the lavishness of God's creative and sustaining grace revealing goodness beyond parallel. His goodness unlocks your heart a little at a time; savoring gives such unlocking necessary time.

Savoring is a spiritual discipline of trusting, yielding, opening to linger and experience fullness. 

STEP THREE: THANKING

Thanking the our Father, the Creator, and Sustainer, Jesus our Savior, Liberator, Friend and Lord, and the Holy Spirit, our Helper, Teacher and Revelator is the wise and good response of everyone who has learned to notice then savor all the grace and goodness everywhere. Consider these texts and quotes:

Psalm 107:1: Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! 

Psalm 100:1-5: A Psalm for giving thanks. Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. 

Colossians 3:15-7: And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. 

“Gratitude bestows reverence.....changing forever how we experience life and the world.”
― John Milton

“[Gratitude is] an ancient cornerstone of prayer is that our desire to thank God is itself God's gift. Be grateful.”
― Richard Leonard

“As we learn to give thanks for all of life and death, for all of this given world of ours, we find a deep joy. It is the joy of trust, the joy of faith in the faithfulness at the heart of all things. It is the joy of gratefulness in touch with the fullness of life.” ― David Stendl-Rast

Thanking God for everything is the sweet fruit of learning to notice and savor his lavish, abiding grace. His goodness is radiant in and through his grace which we have learned to notice more and more. In our learning, we come to savor the richness of what he has given us every day. We linger to apprehend, taste, see, hear, and feel what is before us on any given day: simple gifts exquisitely precious. We are thanking him for their presence in our lives. Even our routines within an ordinary day is chocked full of reminders to be thankful because God has given them. We can find his grace and goodness nestled there. Even hard days, boring days, unbearable days are full of grace and enfolding goodness. Because we've learned to be thankful from knowing how to notice with a heart trained to savor, gratitude slowly yields a manner of being and a way of walking closely with Christ.

I encourage you to begin practicing this spiritual discipline of gratitude. Start by asking for God's help in beginning and continuing. Ask him to open your eyes so you can really see. Clear a space in your life, an oasis of time where you can notice the abundance all around you; savor some of the most beautiful or good, and then offer thanksgiving and praise. Do so at work, in the neighborhood, when you're running errands, going for a walk...anywhere.  Just do it.

To help you remember:

In NOTICING, we entice our hearts and open our minds toward God's goodness and grace.

In SAVORING, we settle our hearts in and fine-tune our minds to God's goodness and grace.

In THANKING, we liberate our hearts and elevate our minds in God's goodness and grace.
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