How to Be Thankful

I struggle with being thankful, which sucks because, as a Christian, thankfulness is supposed to be a crucial piece of my life. I am grateful for the good things in my life — Rachel, Ella, Jon, an awesome job, great friends, a fantastic church — but thankfulness extends beyond just what we enjoy. It also extends to those things we’d prefer to avoid.

Tough times. Sadness. Personal demons. An unjust world.

The easy answer is to simply not be thankful for the stuff that hurts; to just chalk it up to cosmic injustice, or the cold heart of a distant deity, or the blind pitiless indifference of a mechanistic universe. In fact, rather than being thankful, it’s easier to take the position of anger and indignation that such things exist.

Problem is, that kind of anger overwhelms you. It consumes your soul. Before long, it consumes your world.

We feel this on a regular basis. Our collective position these days is outrage followed by self-preservation followed by blame someone else followed by people deciding to move to Idaho and live out the end times in a shack with a nifty beard.

My Facebook feed alternates between “Praise Jesus and pass the turkey!” and “The world is going TO HELL IN AN F-16 LOADED WITH NU-CU-LAR WEAPONS!!!”

But in the middle of this is Jesus. He’s been kicking my butt lately. You know, in a kind way. I’m reading through the Gospels again because I want to understand how he lived above the fray. And the truth is, he didn’t live above it. He lived in the thick of it, right in the middle where the ugly stuff happens. And his anger, while real and impressive, was reserved for only those things he found offensive to his deepest sensibilities.

Otherwise, Jesus took life as it came and kept things cool.

I read this the other day, and it gave me pause:

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.”

Contentedness, I think, is the heart of thanksgiving. You have to appreciate what you have in order to be thankful for it. I’m not a content person; I have dreams I want to chase, things I want to do, and so I spend a lot of time looking ahead at what could be while being disappointed that it isn’t realized right now. I also have things that I want out of my life — character flaws, insecurities, fears and the like. I spend as much time focusing on those (if not more).

Yet here’s Jesus, telling me to be content with who I am.

That’s hard.

I would wager that nothing Jesus taught is as hard for the modern American Christian than being content with who he or she is. In fact, I’m not even going to generalize this; I’m going to just be straight up honest: as an American Christian, this is one of my greatest struggles. I’ve grown up believing I had a manifest destiny to be more, to be better. I find it difficult to simply be me, whether I’m at home alone or in a room full of strangers. Who I am has always been less of the focus than what I do or how I perform.

And therein lies the restlessness, the discontent.

To be thankful, I must be content. To be content, I must trust in the intrinsic value I have, not because of what I do, but because of who I am. And, as a Christian, to whom I belong.

To be thankful, I must find rest in the truth that God loves me and walks with me, both towards my dreams and away from the things I need to leave behind. I must be content that God is at work in my life and, in his mercy, finds that to be enough.

For that, I am honestly, truly thankful.

5 Things That Make Prayer Powerful

Most people I know believe in the power of prayer. Few actually practice it though.

I’m not being judgmental. Until the last couple of years, my use of prayer was similar to Bugs Bunny’s use of dressing in drag: strategically reserved for only the biggest messes.

But now I can’t go the day without some serious praying.

I’ll spare you the long, useless sermonizing and get to the nitty gritty. Here are five things that make prayer powerful for me:

  • Consistency – my wife and I pray almost every morning, together, about an hour after we wake up. Some days we forget; when that happens, we usually notice a distinct difference in our attitudes and reactions to the events of the day. Often, if we miss in the morning, we’ll stop whatever we’re doing later in the day and carve out time to pray together. It makes a huge difference in our minds and hearts.
  • Honesty – this will sound weird, but if I’m praying about stuff that upsets me, I don’t try to hide that from God. I have, on occasion, uttered a word or phrase one would think inappropriate for conversation with the Almighty. I do not do this to be cool, nor do I do it because I am not reverent; on the contrary, I am too aware of God’s sovereignty to even think that I can “clean up” my thoughts. I’m not saying God condones cussing, but I do believe he values honesty more than attempts to preserve his delicate sensibilities. God is not someone’s 90 year-old grandmother.
  • Brevity – marathon prayers have their place, but not as a daily discipline. Too often, when I try and pray long prayers, I find that I venture away from the honesty God values. I get preachy, and, as a former pastor, that’s something I want to avoid. Brevity also forces you to make your point known to God instead of just hinting at it. Think of it this way: if you were sitting in a meeting with someone and they kept beating around the bush, you would eventually lose your mind. Most of us want people to get to the point; while God is infinitely more patient, I think the discipline of getting to the point is better for us because it forces us to be clear about what’s on our mind.
  • Sincerity – I can’t tell you how many times I prayed for stuff I didn’t really care about. I suppose you could file this under “Honesty”, but there’s enough of a distinction for me that I think it bears mention. I can honestly pray for someone else, but that doesn’t always mean I am sincerely invested in that situation. Being sincere when we pray about someone else’s sickness, or loss, or grief, helps us develop our empathy, which helps us pray with deeper sincerity.
  • Humor – this seems out of place when talking about prayer, but I find humor helps me stay away from too-pious prayer. I have no problem with piety, but when you get too-pious, you drift into a place where your prayers are hollow and bordering on spell-casting (which is another post for another day). The purpose of prayer is not for us to direct the affairs of God, but for God to direct the affairs of our lives; humor, especially in the midst of dark seasons, can be a powerful weapon to help alleviate our own drift towards playing God instead of talking to him.

This is a short list, but each of these five things have become important to me as I’ve learned to pray. You may be wired differently than me, so your list would naturally look different than mine (cuss words and humor, for instance, might not be part of your discipline). Regardless, creating space in your life for regular prayer is essential to a healthy relationship with God.

What do you do to make your prayer life powerful? What is something you have learned about prayer that you would share?

Sound off in the comments below, or on my Facebook page. You can also share your thoughts with me on Twitter (@JasonMuses).

The Second-Hand Truth of the Gospel of Whomever

I had lunch with friend on Friday, and he said something that really stuck with me. Josh is a writer himself, so it’s no surprise he’s good with a turn of the phrase, but this one little gem has kept me spinning since we talked.

“Too many Christians,” he said, “live on second-hand truth.”

I knew immediately what he meant.

For many Christians, their knowledge of God, their relationship with Christ, their intimacy with the Holy Spirit, is only as deep as their pastor’s. Because many Christians never go beyond what they hear and see on Sunday.

So they quote what they hear from the pulpit. They allow the pulpit to direct their passions, their anger, even their love. And while having a pastor to help us understand the Scriptures is Scriptural itself, there is no substitute for living out the Word of God in our daily lives.

But many Christians don’t do that. Because we’ve been trained to accept second-hand truth as enough.

The problem with second-hand truth is its lifelessness. It’s flat. It falls apart when life happens. Your pastor says homosexuality is bad, and homosexuals are ruining the country, and then you actually meet someone who is gay and they don’t fit the narrative. In fact, you like that gay person, and your instinct is to get to know them, not shun them.

But the second-hand truth kicks in: you can’t associate with gay people and be a follower of Jesus.

True, the Bible says that Christians shouldn’t associate with the sexually immoral–which includes homosexuals, adulterers, divorcees, and folks who have sex before marriage–but only if the sexually immoral have identified themselves as Christians. And more often than not, the sexually immoral clause is part of a list of other behaviors like drunkenness, greed, gluttony, and overcharging people for coffee. And again, these lists are intended to call out wrongful behaviors of people who identify themselves as Christians.

In other words, the only people Christians should be shunning are Christians who claim to be Christians but don’t live like Christ.

But many preachers/pastors don’t frame the argument that way, and since folks are content to accept second-hand truth as Gospel, we end up with idiots protesting the funerals of fallen soldiers or marching to “protect” the rights of white people.

It’s tempting for me, as a former pastor, to place the blame on preachers. It would be easy to make the preachers out as the source of the problem, but the truth is they are merely the symptom. Bad theology in the pulpit isn’t the issue.

The real issue is Christians who don’t have a relationship with Christ.

You have to read your Bible for yourself.

You have to ask hard questions about what you read.

You need to seek out more than one opinion on things.

You bear the responsibility to take your doubts, misgivings, uncertainties before God in prayer.


The power of the Gospel to save is found in the truth of Christ, who he is, what he has done, and how he changes people. When you live by second-hand truth, you are not sharing the Gospel of Christ with the world; you are sharing with the world the Gospel of Whomever.

There is no power in the Gospel of Whomever.

None. Whatsoever.

Read your bible. Ask questions. Pray. Write down things you think about. Talk about what you read, think and feel with other people. This is Christianity. This is the community, the body, of Christ.

When you begin to do that, you begin to see the power of the Truth at work, first-hand, in the world around you.

And you’ll wonder how you ever settled for the second-hand variety.

The Battle for Privilege

I was tempted to write something about the dismissal of Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran, who was relieved of his duties as my hometown’s top fire fighter due to (ironically) incendiary comments he made in a self-published book. Here in the South, religion and politics make for combustible bedfellows, and it’s easy to rattle off a knee-jerk reaction to stories similar to this one.

Many Christians are up in arms over Cochran’s firing. They’re calling it persecution, a violation of the First Amendment, a violation of his civil rights (which, here in the home of the Civil Rights movement, is a big deal).

Other folks are up in arms over Cochran’s statements. They’re saying his words created a hostile work environment, were effectively creating a religious power structure, were diminishing to the homosexual community (which, here in the “excellent epicenter of the LGBT South, is a big deal).

I can see both sides of the issue. And what’s at stake is neither free speech nor religious liberty nor LGBT rights nor a safe work place.

What’s at stake is privilege. Namely, who gets it.

Christians want to be able to say what they want without fear of reprisal, even when how they say things invites angry response.

The community of tolerance wants to be accepted without demonization, though they often caricature people who don’t buy into their view of tolerance.

Both groups are fighting for the same thing, and it’s not just principle: it’s the privilege to exercise their principle with relative impunity. Our society loves underdogs, but it gives power to the overlords. Right now it’s an all-out battle to decide just which group gets to hold power.

It’s sad, really. Both sides are screaming at one another to be accepted, to be heard, to be understood. Both sides say they want to live at peace. But neither side is willing to give up the press for privilege, because it delivers too many benefits, too much power, too much ease. To live at peace with one another would require struggle, sacrifice, a persistent willingness to work through issues as they arise. It requires walking with one another.

But too many folks want to walk over one another.

So the Battle for Privilege rages on…