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.

Jesus Said “Grow Up”

I may write more about this later, when I feel I can do it successfully without preaching at any particular group of people. For right now, let me just say this:

If you dislike the idea of religiosity, a rules-based life that pits holy haves against heathen have-nots, then you’d probably like Jesus. A lot. I’m not saying that he didn’t have a standard for living–he did, and it was the most ethically challenging you’ll ever come across–but he didn’t have a lot of patience for people who wanted to turn ethical living into a pissing contest.

Jesus basically said that kind of religion was immature. Here’s how he put it in Matthew 5 (The Message translation):

38-42 “Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.

43-47 “You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

48 “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”

I love verse 48–“In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up.”

Becoming a mature person, a complete person, is our goal. I believe the Scripture teaches that true completion is only found in Christ; this means we cannot realize our full potential just by living a moral and decent life. Without Jesus, there are aspects of our character left untapped and undeveloped.

Likewise it means we cannot be our full selves if we claim Jesus but don’t live according to his ethic. In other words, we can’t say we love Jesus but hate poor people. Or disregard the suffering of others. Or neglect to not only pray for our enemies, but respond to their slights with kindness and hope.

Why should we do this if we follow Jesus?

Because “God gives his best…to everyone, regardless: the good and the bad, the nice and nasty.”

“Grow up,” Jesus said. That’s what we’re all aiming for. That’s the goal of being human. To be the best person we can be. To do it, we all need a little help.

Sometimes, the most grown up thing we can do is ask for it.

The Christian Ombudsman

An ombudsman is usually someone hired to be an impartial observer of an organization’s practices and to bring to light certain situations that require special attention, either positive or negative. In other words, an ombudsman is someone who watches an organization and says, “This is good, keep doing it” or “This wasn’t so good, here’s a correction.”

We live in a world of factions; forget the mainstream media’s portrayal of things and look to the news feeds of your own friends and family–you’ll see that many people run to one extreme or the other in order to find security. As a result, people share distorted (at best) or untrue (at worst) portraits of those who disagree with their positions.

As a Christian, I find that most of the people I know struggle with sharing who Jesus really is. In fact, most of the people I know don’t actually share Jesus–they share political opinions disguised in religious rhetoric. I’ve wasted plenty of time in the past trying to attack people on both sides of the aisle for their statements and ended up with nothing but heartache (and in many cases, heartburn). So the goal of this blog isn’t to hatchet either Christian polemic.

Instead, this blog will look at things through the lens of Jesus and the rest of Scripture. I won’t pretend that some posts will seem to lean toward one political direction or another; it’s practically a given since we’ve made that language an intractable part of our daily discourse. But my focus will be on what Jesus said and did, or what his followers said and did, in contrast with what many believers are saying and doing today. And my goal isn’t to convince Christians to change their positions–though, if that happens, all the groovier–but instead to help those who find themselves weary of the religious rigmarole altogether. I will share thoughts on faith and Jesus as a safe zone for those who don’t have a faith of their own.

As a result, I’m open to questions from the curious. I’d love to speak to those issues you find mystifying, troubling, or flat-out disturbing. Sometimes I’ll share my thoughts, other times I’ll share the thoughts of others. The goal will always be to stir your thinking and answer your questions with gentleness and respect.

What I’m not open to are attacks from the dissenting, or bullying from those who find their security stems from having everyone agree. You have the rest of the Internet for that.

So that’s the goal. Honest answers from a practitioner of the faith, which is what the Bible says we’re supposed to do anyway (1 Peter 3:15-16). I’ll figure out a way to create a form that allows questions to be submitted, and if I get one, I’ll answer it the best I can. If I get none, then I’ll just start with what’s top of mind.

I’m looking forward to blogging on a regular basis again, and for having a purpose that keeps me inspired. Hope you’ll come along for the ride.

Ashamed No More

I was ashamed of being small and skinny.

I was ashamed of being smart and creative, but not in conventional ways.

I was ashamed of being introverted.

I was ashamed when I couldn’t live up to other people’s expectations, especially those I loved.

I was ashamed because everyone else told me my life had a clear purpose, and even though I believed that, I couldn’t immediately define that purpose.

I was ashamed because I believed any tension in a relationship was a result of my failures, and thus required me to fix things.

I was ashamed.


I still struggle with shame, but I will no longer be its hostage. I have good qualities. I have bad qualities. I am defined by neither. I am who I choose to be, and I choose to be forgiven by God and made new. I have that option available to me because of my relationship with Jesus.

I needed to tell myself this today. I probably need to say even more, dive into some deeper waters and make peace with some things that still try to bring me low, but I’ll hold off on that for another time. For now, it is enough to acknowledge that shame has no power over me because I am a child of God. It’s not that I’m incapable of being corrected or that I’m “too big for my britches”; it’s that I’m discovering something greater, freer and more powerful in Christ than I’ve ever known before.

I wish the process were easier, but the process itself is what brings healing. It’s what brings growth.

And it’s available to anyone who would want it.

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).