Tag Archives: gratitude

Facing the Storms (Guest Post)

Photo credit: Pixabay

Facing the Storms

by Steph Beth Nickel

Sitting on the patio at a restaurant in Grand Bend, Ontario, we watched the sky grow dark and the storm roll in. (They moved us inside as they battened down the hatches, so to speak.)

It was fascinating. A sunny day at the beach turned into a thunderstorm with torrential rainfall. Not to mention a power outage that had us wondering if we could slip under the arm across the parking lot. It had stopped halfway down. (We made it with lots of room to spare.)

The drive home was uneventful. The power was out in much of St. Thomas, but hey, no biggie. I couldn’t help but think of my friends and others living in California, dealing with raging fires, and Texas, being bombarded by Hurricane Laura.

You may not be facing thunderstorms, forest fires, or hurricanes, but you are facing storms. We all are, here in the anomaly called 2020.

I can almost guarantee you’ve heard all the suggestions below before, but in case you need a reminder, as I often do …

When you’re facing a storm, consider the following:

  1. As they say these days, give yourself permission to feel all the feels. Accusing God of wrongdoing is dangerous. Feeling what we’ve labeled “negative feelings” is 100 percent acceptable.
  2. Give yourself a break. Sometimes we do get overwhelmed. We simply have to acknowledge that there comes a point when this becomes an excuse, rather than a legitimate reason, for not getting busy crossing things off our To Do list.
  3. Begin a Gratitude Journal. Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts got us thinking about listing 1,000 things we’re thankful for. Whether we do this or not, keeping track each day of something we’re thankful for can go a long way to reassuring us there is beauty even in the midst of the wildest of storms.
  4. Rest and recharge. Go for a photowalk. Curl up with a good book. Watch a movie. Take a nap. Play a boardgame or put together a puzzle. There are countless ways to refresh.
  5. Get together with a friend. Proximity or social distancing protocols may make this a challenge, but Zoom and FB Rooms, etc. can be the next best thing to getting together in person.
  6. Fellowship with other believers. Some congregations have begun to meet in person. Others are live-streaming their services. Attending church (or watching the broadcast) are important, but so is genuine, interactive fellowship, with lots of back and forth. Participating in a Bible study in-person or online can build us up and help us face what comes at us.
  7. Spend time in God’s Word and prayer. Of course, this is important no matter what “the weather.” However, the temptation is to succumb to the weight of overwhelm and let important disciplines slip away. It may not be the time to sign up for a theology course. (But who knows? It may be.) No matter what, spending time developing our relationship with the Lord is of prime importance.

How about you? How are you facing the storm? What do you do to get you through these difficult days?

Steph Beth Nickel
Steph Beth Nickel

Steph Beth Nickel is eclectically interested and eclectically involved. She is an author, blogger, a regular contributor to the HopeStreamRadio online radio station, a freelance editor, and birth doula. Steph brings her interests together under the Nurture and Inspire umbrella. Ladies, you’re invited to join her Facebook group by the same name: Nurture and Inspire

Love One Another (Guest Post)

Photo credit: Pixabay

Love One Another

by Steph Beth Nickel

A simple walk through Walmart. That’s when it hit her. I don’t think I can do this mask thing for the long haul.

Deep breath. You’ll be okay.

Thankfully, with God’s help, she talked herself off the ledge. But it was scary. It was the first time she could, in a small way, empathize with those who deal with full-fledged panic attacks.

This isn’t a post about the benefits and drawbacks of wearing masks. It’s about something far more important. It’s about love and respect.

Years ago, our former pastor said we can’t know for sure what motivates a person to speak and act the way they do. We may have our suspicions, but two people can do exactly the same thing for entirely different reasons.

It breaks my heart to read how people are attacking one another on social media. Like many people, I find conflict upsetting—even when I’m not directly involved.

While some conflict is inevitable, much is avoidable—especially when it stems from the assumption that we know why people are choosing to respond to COVID-19 in the way they are.

This situation isn’t going away anytime soon—barring divine intervention. How can we love one another well?

Here are nine ideas:

  1. Draw close to the Lord. We can only love others well if His love becomes a wellspring in us, bubbling up and overflowing to those around us.
  2. Be kind to yourself. It’s especially important these days to take care of ourselves. It’s not selfish; it’s vital.
  3. Admit it when you’re struggling in one way or another. We all need at least one confidante in our life who will actively listen as we pour out our heart, someone who won’t simply spout platitudes and expect us to “get over it.”
  4. Become a good listener. Stephen Covey said, “Listen with the intent to understand, not the intent to reply.” I prefer the simpler version: listen to learn, not to respond.
  5. Begin a Gratitude Journal. While the situation can be overwhelming, when we deliberately examine our life for things to be grateful for, it changes our attitude—and that splashes over onto the people around us.
  6. Plan fun activities. Instead of grieving what we can’t do—at least for prolonged periods—it’s important to make the best of the situation. We are created for community. It’s important to enjoy time with family and friends, whether in person or online.
  7. Look for an opportunity to reach out to someone who is lonely. Even pre-COVID it was easy to neglect those who are isolated and on their own. It’s even harder for them these days. While we can’t necessarily go for a visit, we can write them a letter or give them a call. A simple act can brighten someone’s day more than we realize.
  8. Fellowship with other believers. The Lord used the analogy of a body for good reason. We truly need one another. Whether we get together in person or learn to use Zoom, it’s crucial to our spiritual wellbeing to spend time with other Christians. While watching a church service online can be beneficial, it isn’t the same as interacting with one another.
  9. Pray for one another. We see throughout the Scriptures that prayer is a command and an invitation. One of the most incredible things someone can do for us is pray. Why not let someone know today that you are praying for them—and don’t forget to do just that.

This list could be much longer, but these ideas provide a good jumping off point.

I’d love to hear how you are loving others in the midst of these challenging times.

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Steph Beth Nickel
Steph Beth Nickel

Steph Beth Nickel is eclectically interested and eclectically involved. She is an author, blogger, a regular contributor to the HopeStreamRadio online radio station, a freelance editor, and birth doula. Steph brings her interests together under the Nurture and Inspire umbrella. Ladies, you’re invited to join her Facebook group by the same name: Nurture and Inspire

The Importance of Contentment (Guest Post)

Girl in hat and sundress, picking daisies in a sunlit field.
[Image via Pixabay]

The Importance of Contentment

by Steph Beth Nickel

Why do you do what you do? Complacency, contentment, or conviction?

An onlooker might not be able to tell the difference.

Sometimes even we can’t tell the difference.

It’s what I’ve always done. That’s complacency.

I believe this is right, and it has been confirmed over and over again. That’s conviction.

But what about contentment?

It may look like complacency, but then again, it just might be conviction.

Contentment is my word for 2020.

As you may know, I am eclectically interested and eclectically involved. Too often I’m distracted by the Oo, Shiny! Books, online courses, careers …

Do you think it’s time to stop buying books (or at least slow down) when you have over 1,000 physical and ebooks you haven’t yet read?

Most of mine are accessible on my phone. <sigh>

And what about courses and lifetime access to online conference sessions, some of which were inexpensive, others … not so much?

I’ll buy this healthy living annual subscription and access to this library of workouts, and I’ll be healthier by the end of the year … if I access them and put what I learn into practice that is. (We won’t mention the fact that I was a personal trainer and know what I need to do to get healthier.)

Of course I’ll maintain my doula certification while writing, editing, working as our church admin, and helping my hubby clean the church each week. Sleep? Who needs it? (That would be me.)

To be honest, my whole life might be a case of FOMO, fear of missing out.

Does any of this sound familiar to you?

In 2020, I will seek to live by my conviction that I have been called to contentment.

I will read 24-36 of those books I already have.

I will complete at least 12 of those online courses I’ve purchased and put into practice those things I learn from my paid subscriptions.

I will devote myself to writing—and publishing—the books I’ve begun.

I will maintain my doula certification because this is something I’m passionate about, but I will pace myself and not leave the requirements of my recertification to the last month or so.

I will stop becoming distracted by the Oo, Shiny! and look for the sparkle in the opportunities and possessions I already have.

Plus, I will regularly give thanks for my life as it is in the Here and Now.

How can you grow more content in the year ahead?

Do you have a word of the year? If so, what is it and why did you choose it?

All the very best in 2020!

Steph Beth Nickel is eclectically interested and eclectically involved. She is an author, blogger, a regular contributor to the HopeStreamRadio online radio station, a freelance editor, and birth doula. Steph brings her interests together under the Nurture and Inspire umbrella. Ladies, you’re invited to join her Facebook group by the same name: Nurture and Inspire

Noticing. And Remembering.

O Lord my God, you have performed many wonders for us.
Your plans for us are too numerous to list.
You have no equal.
If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds,
I would never come to the end of them.
Psalm 40:5, NLT*

We recognize the truth in verses like these. And yet we forget.

We forget who God is – how strong, how full of love and mercy, how trustworthy.

We see the troubles and stresses in our lives and in the world around us, the looming danger and darkness, and we lose sight of the truth that God is bigger.

Remembering what God has done helps us keep perspective. Look at what He’s done in the Bible and in the lives of Christians around the world. Think back on how He’s moved in your life, the lives of friends, in your church.

For every big thing God does, how many small ones might we overlook? A parking spot when it’s needed most, a lost item found, a phone call at just the right time?

To know and rely on His love (1 John 4:16, NIV**) we need to notice and remember the evidence.

O Lord our God, Your power and goodness are beyond human understanding, and truly we could never list all that You have done. Teach us to remember, and open our eyes to see what You’re still doing. No matter what the day brings, help us to be secure in trusting You.

This week’s song is “The Goodness of the Lord,” by Travis Ryan.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

** New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

Saying Thank You

One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, “Praise God!”
Luke 17:15, NLT*

Ten lepers – contagious, shunned and ritually unclean – had called to Jesus from a respectful distance, begging to be healed. Their faith must have been strong, because Jesus didn’t invite them nearer, touch them, or tell them to do anything particular to be healed (like wash in a specific place – see John 9:7).

He simply told them to go and present themselves to the priests. That was the step for after they were healed, so the priests could confirm it and permit them back into the community.

Luke says that “as they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy.” (Luke 17:14b, NLT*) Their act of obedient faith allowed them to receive what they’d pleaded for.

Only one came back to say thank you. And he was a Samaritan. Not that a Samaritan shouldn’t have come back, but where were the Jews that Jesus had just healed?

Jesus made a point of showing that those who’d had the most exposure to Him, the most benefit from His teaching, responded with less gratitude than the man from outside Jesus’ main teaching focus. There are a few other examples of this throughout the gospels, and it’s not to put down the Jews. It’s to show Jesus’ wider focus, and to call us who have been blessed with hearing Him to not take Him for granted.

What have you asked Jesus for today? Or what have you seen Him do? Remember to say thank You. (click to tweet this)

God who saves us and restores us to Yourself, if You did nothing else for us we could still never thank You enough for the gift of salvation. But You do so many other things for us as well. Open our eyes to see Your hand in our lives, and give us sensitive spirits to respond with heart-felt gratitude and praise. Thank You for all You do, and for who You are.

Our song for today is Kathryn Scott‘s “How Could I Ever Say Thank You?

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

When God Does Something Good

“How kind the Lord is!” [Elizabeth] exclaimed. “He has taken away my disgrace of having no children.”
Luke 1:25, NLT*

North American culture today doesn’t equate a woman’s worth with her fertility, but for women in Bible times, failure to produce a child – especially a male heir – was a source of shame.

What strikes me here is Elizabeth’s response. She’s old by this point, well past natural childbearing age. God surprises her with a miracle pregnancy as announced by an angel to her husband, Zechariah. (Luke 1:5-25)

Elizabeth is purely grateful. She alludes to the long disappointment in her life, but she’s not bitter. She sees how God’s gift is meeting that hurt.

She sees the power of God. And she accepts His timing. There’s no hint of asking why He took so long, let her be barren for so many years, waited until she’s old and feeble and has no stamina to chase a toddler all day.

“How kind the Lord is!”

If God chooses to meet our unmet longings – or if He chooses not to – He is still kind and good. He is still enough. He still does good things for us.

How do we respond?

First of all, let’s keep our eyes and hearts open to notice what He does. Let’s respond like Elizabeth, with gratitude and trust. Not with “well, it took You long enough!” Not with complaints to taint the thanks. Neither with mindless acceptance or casual indifference – nor a sense of entitlement.

Let’s respond with mindful worship and gratitude, acknowledging God’s goodness and mercy, and knowing that while He doesn’t owe us anything, He loves us enough to give His own Son to rescue and redeem us.

Our Father God, how good You are! How kind indeed. Grow in us an awareness of Your care and a humble gratitude for Your many gifts. Teach us, like Elizabeth, to respond with praise, adoration and trust.

I don’t have an “Elizabeth” song, but here’s Christy Nockels singing a “Mary” song of praise: “Magnificat” (from one of my favourite Christmas albums, Do You See What I See? by Todd Agnew & Friends).

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Fixing Our Thoughts

Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.
Philippians 4:8b-9, NLT*

It’s so easy to dwell on the negatives. The hurts or injustices. Sometimes we do it because we’re sulking or just plain cantankerous, but I think it’s often out of fear (what’s this world coming to?) or discouragement. After all, we see so much, so often; it wears us down.

The Christians in Philippi were experiencing persecution, and their beloved Paul was in prison. His letter encouraged them to keep focused on Jesus as their help and their hope. With Christ as their anchor, they needed to keep their broader focus positive and filled with gratitude.

This verse doesn’t ask us to deny the bad things in our lives. The context of Paul’s letter makes that clear. But after acknowledging the circumstances, bringing our needs to God in grateful prayer that He cares and will help (Philippians 4:6) we’re not to stay focused on the needs or the waiting.

We’re to cultivate an awareness of the good, in the middle of the struggle. If we focus on the darkness, it swells to fill our vision. If we focus on the light, with our Saviour at its centre, the darkness reduces to its true size. A size which is smaller than God.

Mighty and compassionate God, protect and deliver us from spirits of discouragement, despair and hopelessness. Remind us that You are greater than our hardships, and that Your creative grace can take even the worst and bring something positive from it. Doubt would tell us that’s impossible, so please help our unbelief.

Hillsong’s song, “The Potter’s Hand,” is a lovely way to refocus our thoughts.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Every Morning, New!

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning.
Lamentations 3:22-23, NLT*

Remember childhood, especially in the summer, when each new day meant another chance to play and have fun? We’d pop out of bed early, eager to get started.

I have some vague memories of this, but I’ve certainly changed. Waking is neither easy nor exuberant.

Instead of morning bringing thoughts of opportunity, it usually comes with a desire for a bit more sleep and with a list of responsibilities. At least that’s how mine start.

God and I have talked about mornings over the years, and I don’t dread them anymore. It’s still a work in progress, though. As I type this, I realize I’ve forgotten to begin each day with “This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24)

Choosing gratitude is key. Because each day is a gift—and an assignment—from God. (Click to tweet)

This week He reminded me of a fictional character who loved Mondays. She said they were “like mini New Years four times a month. A chance for a fresh start.” (Regina Beswith, in Rachel Hauck’s Princess Ever After). When I reviewed the novel, I picked this as a mindset I needed to learn.

And soon forgot.

Chatting about Mondays on Facebook, my friend Deborah said “The Lord’s mercies are new every morning just in time to forgive us for being ungrateful for the new day!”

His mercies are fresh every day. To cover our ingratitude and other sins, and to provide what we need for the day.

Merciful and gracious God, forgive our ingratitude and short-sightedness. Restore to us the joy of our salvation, the joy of living each day with and for You. Help us embrace Your daily mercies and live for Your glory.

Here’s a song from Christian rock pioneer Randy Stonehill: “Celebrate this Heartbeat.” The video shares the lyrics in ASL, and I found it interesting to see the subtle changes the translator had to make in the wording.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Gratitude. And Hope.

I’ll make a list of God’s gracious dealings,
all the things God has done that need praising.
Isaiah 63:7a, MSG*

I confess I’ve lost track of counting God’s blessings. Even if I hadn’t, it would only touch a small sample of what He does and has done.

My gratitude journal has mostly entries of things that blessed me personally, like seeing a pheasant or a sparkly ceiling. Or bubbles. Small gifts from God to make me smile.

He gives so much more.

He gave His Son to save us. He gave us life and breath. He designed this beautiful planet and the cosmos. Gave us imagination. Invited us to work with Him in growing His Kingdom.

He draws us into relationship with Him, to worship and to flourish.

These days, world and local news makes it look like God is silent. Or absent. I think He’s waiting. Which means my job is to wait with Him, but to wait in trust. That can only happen when I remind myself of His ways and His unchanging nature.

I need to pick up that journal again. Record those evidences of His care. I need to keep reading the Bible. See the evidences of His intervention in the lives of His people. Remind myself that He’s got this.

Sovereign Lord of creation, we see so much pain and devastation. We confess that human choice has caused much of it. We confess how easily we can get discouraged or frightened by the circumstances. Remind us of Your love and power. Of Your justice. Help our unbelief, and help us to anchor our spirits in who You are. Open our eyes and help us to see what You have done and what You’re doing now. Help us trust what You’ll do in the future.

Our song is from worship leader Kathryn Scott: “How Could I Ever Say Thank You?

*The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Continual Praise

Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him and praise his name.
Psalm 100:4, NLT*

The psalms we most often hear in church, and many of our Christian hymns and worship songs, ring with praise and gratitude to God. It’s a big part of how we respond to Him, and rightly so.

That’s how I usually interpret verses like the one above, but this time it reminded me of something else as well. When the Israelites went to the Temple, they brought sacrifices: animals, birds, grain, oil, wine.

They were giving back to God through a variety of offerings. We bring our financial gifts and sometimes ministry gifts. We bring our hearts. But our thanksgiving to God, our praise of His character and His deeds, are acceptable sacrifices as well.

Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name. (Hebrews 13:15, NLT)

A continual sacrifice… not just when we go to church.

Just like the animal sacrifices were to be pure and without blemish, we need to offer God our best praise, our best thanksgiving. That means spending time with Him in prayer, reading the Bible and keeping our eyes open to spot the good things He does in our lives.

It means offering the sacrifice when life is easy, and when life is hard. Not that we pretend everything’s rosy, but that we’re honest about the pain while continuing to declare God’s unchanging nature and His unfailing love.

David did this, in many of his psalms. It’s a “required” sacrifice, but not to stoke God’s ego. It’s required for our sakes—as an antidote to how quickly we let the blessings or trials block our sight of the One who loves us. Praise and thanksgiving ground us, restore our focus and our perspective.

Jennifer Slattery offers some excellent suggestions in her blog post, Cultivating a Thankful Heart. And if you haven’t yet read Ann Voskamp’s excellent book, One Thousand Gifts, it’s an excellent jump-start in the spiritual practice of gratitude to God.

God our Creator, Saviour and Sustainer, we could never thank You enough for all You’ve done, and there aren’t enough words to tell how great You are. Please move our hearts to praise and gratitude as part of our worship. Remind us this isn’t optional, and we thank You for the benefits we’ll receive in our spirits as we draw nearer to You in obedience.

Matt Redman‘s song, “Blessed Be Your Name,” is a great anthem for praise and worship in all circumstances. This version is sung by Robin Mark.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.