Common Blessings, Familiar Miracles, Part 1
About the Guest
It's a familiar saying that "you can't see the forest for the trees." Today on the broadcast, Gary Thomas, author and founder of the Center for Evangelical Spirituality, explains how we often miss God's current blessings while waiting for future miracles.
Gary ThomasGary Thomas is a writer in residence at Second Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, and an adjunct faculty member teaching on spiritual formation at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon and Houston Theological Seminary in Houston, Texas. He is the author of 20 books, including When to Walk Away, Sacred Marriage, Sacred Pathways, Cherish, Sacred Parenting, and the Gold Medallion Award-winning Authentic Faith. He has a master’s degree from Regent College, where he studied u...more
It’s a familiar saying that “you can’t see the forest for the trees.”
Common Blessings, Familiar Miracles, Part 1
Bob: Which prayer do you pray more often – "Thank you, Lord," or "Bless me, Lord." Here is Gary Thomas.
Gary: We live in an age where we're told to seek blessing after blessing, God to increase this, and God to increase that, and the Bible does, on occasion, in a couple of places, urge us to pray those prayers. That's a biblical prayer.
But there are dozens of places where the Bible urges us to open our eyes to the blessings we've already received. Instead of always praying for more blessings to say, "God, thank you for the many ways you've already blessed us."
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, November 25th, Thanksgiving Day. Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We’re going to talk today about how we can cultivate a heart of genuine gratitude.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition, Thanksgiving Day here in the United States, and I need to start off right now by apologizing to our Canadian listeners. A while back I made some reference about the fact that they don't celebrate Thanksgiving in Canada, and I heard from our listeners. They have their own Thanksgiving Day. They don't celebrate it on the same day that we celebrate it here in the United States, so today is not Thanksgiving Day in Canada, but they do have a day set aside in Canada for Thanksgiving and many of our listeners wrote to me and said, "Shame on you."
Dennis: And what day is Thanksgiving in Canada, Bob?
Bob: It's in October, and that's all I know. I don't know what day in October. Now I'll probably get letters from them for that. Thanks for bringing that up.
Dennis: We want our American friends to know that we are celebrating Thanksgiving along with you. This is a day when we'll all be gathered around, well, two tables. One table at our house that occurs, oh, about 10:30, 11:00 in the morning, and then later in the afternoon, after we've traveled a couple of hours south of here, we'll join Barbara's family, and we'll go again around another table.
Bob: The first table is the French toast table, right?
Dennis: It's the French toast table, and Barbara always delights in Thanksgiving. In fact, this is her favorite holiday. She would rather have the family home for this day because she is not exhausted in preparing for it. It's a pretty simple day.
We go through our little tradition that she's created around giving thanks for the top five things that God has done in our lives over the past 12 months. We share those and then she collects them and saves them for future years so we can look back and reflect at some future date, and then we dig into the French toast, and it's tasty.
Bob: The second table is the Big Bird table, right?
Dennis: It's the Big Bird table, and …
Bob: Have you ever had a turkey that you shot during turkey season for Thanksgiving?
Dennis: I have not.
Bob: Have you ever shot a turkey?
Dennis: I have.
Bob: Have you?
Dennis: But it's not during Thanksgiving. It's usually in the spring.
Bob: Oh, it is?
Dennis: Yes. You could take a turkey in Thanksgiving. It would be illegal.
Bob: Well, I'm glad to hear it.
Dennis: You could go to prison for shooting a wild turkey at Thanksgiving.
Bob: You haven't had one of those for Thanksgiving in the past. We've got a message for our listeners today that deals with the subject of giving thanks, and it comes from a guy who has been with us before on FamilyLife Today, Gary Thomas.
Gary is the author of a great book on marriage called Sacred Marriage. He has also written a book about worship called Sacred Pathways. In addition to being a writer, he is also a conference speaker. He sent me a message not long ago that I think illustrates how we can take for granted the blessings of God in our lives. So let's listen together here on Thanksgiving Day and reflect on God's goodness to us. Here is Gary Thomas.
Gary: One of the early challenges my wife and I had soon after we were married was trying to find a compromise for our eating styles. I grew up the consummate junk food junkie – Captain Crunch, Big Macs, pizza, and ice cream were sort of my four food groups all through college, and I married a woman who is a natural health-food-eating, natural medicine-practicing woman, who eats 100-percent whole wheat bread and, well, you know, things that grow, and stuff like that.
We had a number of conflicts, and when I would say that the crisis point came when we had kids, and we were trying to deal with it because then the intensity gets ratcheted up a little bit, and one morning in particular, my son put down his spoon during breakfast, and he looked at my wife and said, "Mommy, how come Daddy's cereals have toys, and ours don't?" I had a hard time explaining that one.
Even today we deal with this. We were up in Mt. Vernon. I'm sure many of you have been through there when they have a street festival every year. There were all these booths. They have the woodworking, and they have the leatherworks and the artists have their paintings up there, and all of that, and we're going through all these booths, and then we came up to one, and it said, "Natural Organic Products." If you want to draw my wife's attention, just slap "organic" on it and she is focused right in.
So she goes up to the counter, and she picks up this bottle, and I'm looking at this. It's two sort of granola-ish type women behind the counter. I think you know the type I'm describing. So my wife picks up this bottle of natural, organic deodorant for $10 – Right Guard, $1.69; natural organic deodorant, $10.
And so my wife is talking to her, and she says, "Well, what does it have in it that makes it work?" The woman smiled and said, "Grapefruit and sage." Lisa nods and I'm off in the corner. I'm cracking up here, and I got Lisa a little upset. She said, “Gary!” I said, “Honey, I'm not trying to be a jerk, but I'd just really like to meet the guy who splits open a grapefruit for breakfast one morning and thinks to himself, ‘You know, I wonder what would happen if I sprinkle a little sage in there, and I’m good for 12 to 14 hours.’ Honey, it's food.”
But, you know, it is a historical blessing that my wife and I could even debate about what kind of food we eat, because there have been many centuries when it's not a matter of what food there is to eat but whether there is any food to eat at all. That makes it particularly difficult for somebody like me this morning who is trying to talk about 1 Kings, chapter 17, where you have a woman in a desperate situation. There's a famine in the land, there's no food to be found, and trying to translate that on a Sunday morning when all of us probably passed a dozen restaurants and any number of grocery stores or convenience stores full of food. How can we fully understand the depths of her need?
But here is a widow in Zarephath, in the time of Elijah, who is already a widow and that already tells you she's known her share of sorrow. She's watched her husband die, and now there is no more food left for her and her son in the house. She's planning to make one last meal, knowing that she will soon watch her son starve. I can't even imagine the fear that must be in this woman.
Then Elijah comes through town, and he calls out to the widow, and he says, "Please, please give me a drink of water." She draws some water from the well and gives it to him – "and if you would, make a cake for me,” and that’s when she tells him here, 1st Kings, chapter 17, you can read with me in verse 12. She says, "As surely as the Lord your God lives, I don't have any bread – only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in the jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son that we might eat it and die."
Elijah tells her if you'll go ahead and make me a cake, that oil will never run dry, the flour will never run out – and this woman has got to think, “You know, what do I have to lose? I've lost my husband, I'm about to lose my son, I'm about to starve to death. I'll make a little smaller cake for me and my son and one for him, and let's give it a shot.” So she does it and guess what?
The words prove true -- that oil never runs dry, the flour never runs out, and I'm sure for the first few days she is just giddy with excitement and opens up the jar just afraid maybe it's going to finally run out but, no. It's still there. She opens up the flour jar and she says, "I can't believe this. We should have run out weeks ago, and it's still here."
But then time went on, and time passed, and pretty soon when she opened up the jar, she expected that there would be oil because there always was. She'd open up the flour and, of course, there's flour. There's been flour there for months without putting anything in it.
Some time passed, we're told here in verse 17, that it was sometime later. We don't know how long – at least months, perhaps years, but sometime later her son became ill and died, not of starvation but of another disease, and now the widow is upset with Elijah. She goes back to him and says, "What good does it do me to have you spare my son from starvation if he's going to simply die of another disease?”
So Elijah takes her son in the back, prays to the Lord on his behalf. The son is raised from the dead. Elijah presents the son to the woman and, overjoyed, she says to him in verse 24, "Now I know that you are a man of God and that the Word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.
Now, I read this account of a woman who had been in desperate situations regarding her food, and the first question I want to ask her – now you know? Only now you finally believe that this is a man of God and that the Word of the Lord is true? What have you been eating for the last six months, if not two years, three times a day God has miraculously provided? But now you know?
What happened? So often God will surround us with blessings and miracles and when they first happen, we recognize them as blessings. We count them as miracles, and we thank God for them. But, over time, those same blessings become common. Those same miracles become so familiar that we don't even recognize them as coming from the hand of God. We don't even recognize them as a cause of thanksgiving. It's just the way things have always been.
And so when one problem comes up, that's all we see is that one problem. We forget all that God has done, and our attitude is, "God, what new thing have you done for me lately?"
Now, let's look at this from another perspective – let's go forward about 1,000 years, give or take a century or so, to Matthew, chapter 20. Thinking as we turn about what common blessings might we be taking for granted this morning, it may be even more basic than we realize as I think Matthew, chapter 20 will tell us. Here, again, we have two very desperate people in need of a touch from God.
Matthew 20, verse 29 says “As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, ‘Lord, son of David, have mercy on us.’ The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder – ‘Lord, son of David, have mercy on us.’
The picture here is two men who were being shushed by the crowd. They're saying, "Look, you're embarrassing us. This isn't how you act in public. Just be quiet. It’s embarrassing." But their need is so desperate they don't care how foolish they look. They are filled with their heart's need, and they are crying out because they see that's the only man that can meet that need. Who cares what anybody says about us. "Lord, son of David, have mercy on us."
So they finally get Jesus' attention. Verse 32, “Jesus stopped and called them, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ he asked. What a beautiful question. Imagine, the God of the universe, in whom all power in heaven and earth is under his feet, looks you in the eye and says, "You know what? You have my attention. What do you want me to do for you?"
I wonder – what would you say this morning if God were to stand in front of you and say, "You're here. You have my full attention. What do you want me to do for you?" What would you ask for? What would you request? It's not a rhetorical question. I want you to think about it.
What would be your first request if God were to say, "What is the one thing you want me to do for you?" I'm not sure that any of us would ask what these two blind men said. "Lord," they answered, "we want our sight." Why would we not ask for that? Because we already have it.
But you know what? If we were to be involved in an accident on the way home, and we were to lose our sight, and a week from now God were to meet us with that question – "What do you want me to do for you?" Our first thing that we would say would be, "Lord, I want to see again. I want to see my wife," "I want to see my husband," "I want to see my kids or my grandkids," "I want to be able to take a walk and look at the beauty of nature you've created," "I want to be able to read your Word," "Lord, I want to see."
Every day we have this miracle of sight, and yet how often do we thank God for that miracle? It's a common blessing. It's a familiar miracle. It can extend so much – it could be a house. If I was homeless, I think I would say, "Lord, I want a house. My kids are getting rained on. They're too hot in the summer. They're too cold in the winter. I want a house." I wouldn't say that now, I already have a house. It's a rather nice house, and so I don't think about it, but how often do I enter that house without saying, "Lord, thank you for this house. It might be familiar, but I'm so grateful for it."
It's not just the physical things that God gives us that we can be thankful for. It's the many spiritual blessings as well. I was driving down to Seattle a few weeks ago. I was listening to Public Radio, and they were interviewing the authors of a book called, "Religion for Dummies." I haven't read the book, but it was a priest and a rabbi that had written it together and basically they were reviewing the world's eleven major religions. As they were talking about that, I remember thinking how blessed we are to know the truth and the grace and the forgiveness won by us on the cross.
Do you know how few people can say that? None outside of Christianity. If we lived in a different age, and we sinned we might think we have to go find a bull to kill or at least a couple of pigeons to wring their necks. There are some religions where they have no assurance of forgiveness. If they commit a sin, they've got to try to frantically do five or six good acts, hoping that they can outweigh it.
And yet we live in the assurance and the grace won for us on the cross of Jesus Christ, and how often do we lose that awe, that we can simply say to the Lord, "Lord, I've blown it,” and know, without a doubt, that He's forgiven us and the blood of Jesus has covered our sins. We live in an age where we're told to seek blessing after blessing, God to increase this, and God to increase that, and the Bible does, on occasion, in a couple of places, urge us to pray those prayers. That’s a biblical prayer.
But there are dozens of places where the Bible urges us to open our eyes to the blessings we've already received. Instead of always praying for more blessings, to say, "God, thank you for the many ways you've already blessed us." This is an attitude toward life that goes far beyond our relationship with God. It can change our family lives as well.
I was watching a show, and my wife had the remote control, which is why we were watching Barbara Walters. I'm not trying to slam anybody, but I just haven't met too many guys who see Barbara Walters on the screen and think that's where they need to stop. Usually we're thinking there's got to be sports center somewhere, so we keep clicking.
So my wife has the remote control on the other couch, so we're watching Barbara Walters, and she's talking to the widows of 9/11. And they said something that just made me wish I'd been recording it but, of course, I couldn't imagine ever wanting to tape Barbara Walters and try to watch it twice, much less once.
But the comment that one of the widows said is – she said, "The one thing I can't stand anymore is when I hear wives continually criticizing their husbands." And to a woman – all the widows were shaking their heads. One woman said, "It would make my day if my husband was home to leave the toilet seat up." She goes, "I couldn't imagine anything better." Because they now looked at their husbands in a different light; instead of just seeing all the problems he brought they saw the loss that he had.
I do a lot of marriage conferences since the book Sacred Marriage came out, and I was at one, and there were a number of groups talking in between sessions and one group I could see some women talking, and one woman was getting more and more flustered.
There was a different woman who was talking about the rock garden that her husband put in over a three-day weekend. She was waxing eloquently about the great workmanship that he had done and how it looked so well and the hours he had put in, and she was so proud of it and of him. And you could see this woman getting more and more irritated, until she finally stopped and said, "Please stop. My husband spent all weekend watching a golf tournament. I don't need to hear about how your husband put in a rock garden."
I was talking to that woman later, and I had talked to her husband, and I just asked her a couple of questions. I said, "Tell me about your house. Where do you live?" "It's about 2,200 square feet, and we have a good-sized lot for the kids," and I remember telling her, "You must be very thankful that you've been able to live there. I don't know where it's like here, but where I come from in Bellingham, 2,200 square feet is not a mansion, but it's a decent-size house. You must be very thankful.” She said, “I guess so.”
"So where do you work?" She said, "I don't have to work. My husband earns enough. I'm able to stay home." I said, "Boy, you must be so thankful for that. Did you realize that 65 percent of the women in your situation have to work outside the home? You're one in three that gets to stay home. You must be very thankful." And she said, “I didn’t think about it.”
Then I asked her about the weekend, and I had talked with her husband, so I had a little bit of inside information. I know what he had done on Monday. After the tournament, he had taken his son – his son was going to start playing T-ball – so he'd taken his son out to a field to teach him how to hit a ball off the T.
That afternoon he had taken the daughters to a movie and spent some good time with the daughters, and on the way home from the theater, he was calling his wife saying, "Do you need me to pick up something for you from the grocery store? I know you're getting dinner ready." She said, "Yes, actually there are a few things I need," and so she gave him a few things, and he made the trip and he came home.
After she tells me this, I looked at her, and I said, "Do you have any idea what a single mom would say if, for one day a week, a man came into her family and spent some guy time with her boy and some healthy time with her daughters, and on the way home said, 'Hey, can I make a grocery store stop for you?' She would feel like she had died and gone to heaven. She would be on her knees that night saying, 'Thank You, Lord, for one day when it's not all on me for when I have something that I really need for my kids that I can't provide."
That woman looked at me, and I saw the recognition cover her face. She went over to her husband, and she kissed him on the forehead. He said, "What's that for?" She said, "For being you."
She wanted to wring his neck a few minutes before that, but now she was thankful, because she saw the common blessings. Now, I’m going to be honest. If I was talking to the guy, I would say, "Look, guy, you know, all day watching golf – probably not a good thing to do." In fact, I think I could drop the word "probably." But so often in our relationships we look at what people aren't doing and forget what they do.
Bob: That is Gary Thomas talking about the common blessings in our lives that all of us take for granted.
Dennis: We do, and as I was listening to him, I was beginning to create a list of copies of that CD to mail them out to some friends I know. I think this is a great reminder. I may get 25 copies of this, because I think in this land of affluence and plenty, that it's so easy to find someone else who has more than you.
Or to find someone else's marriage and family who is in better condition, it appears, than you. I think this is just a great reminder for us to take this day and give thanks, but to also practice the art of gratitude and thanksgiving on a daily basis for the – as he put it – the little things that God gives you that you need to give thanks for.
Bob: Yes. I think this is something that we have to cultivate as a practice in our life, as a spiritual discipline. I think a lot of times when it comes to giving thanks or gratitude we tend to think, “Well, you should only do that if you’re really feeling thankful or feeling grateful.” I think we need to recognize that the Bible teaches us that we ought to train our heart on what it should feel, how we should respond.
I think of those passages in the Bible where it says, “Rejoice in the Lord always,” and you think, “Well, sometimes I just don’t feel like rejoicing.” The instruction of Scripture is when you don’t feel like rejoicing, train your heart to rejoice. Cultivate an attitude of rejoicing, cultivate an attitude of thanksgiving. This is not something where we’re just ruled by our passions, but where we tell our emotions.
I think of David in the Psalms when he asks his own soul, “Why are you so downcast, my soul?” and then he counsels his soul, “Put your hope in God.” If you’re not feeling particularly thankful today, well, you need to instruct your emotions that you should be thankful, that there is much to be grateful for, and to count those blessings.
I know for our listeners, you may have had some very difficult circumstances this year; economic circumstances, job-related, family-related, tragedies that have gone on in your family. But there are still things to be grateful for. So we have to train our hearts and minds to think rightly and to respond rightly to what is going on. Think of Job, who when he faced tragedy, he said “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” In the midst of the tragedy, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
If you’re not familiar with Gary, if you’ve never read any of his books, let me encourage you to go to our website. He’s just finished a book called Pure Pleasure and it talks about thinking biblically about blessing and pleasure in our lives. The best way to find out more about the book is to go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. Again, it’s our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. There’s more information there about Gary’s book, Pure Pleasure, and you can order from us online if you’d like.
There’s also information there about a devotional guide that Barbara Rainey put together on the subject of gratitude that’s designed for a family to help cultivate this heart of gratitude. You can find out more about Barbara’s book, Growing Together in Gratitude, when you go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com.
Now I want to encourage you to join us back tomorrow. We’re going to hear part two of Gary Thomas’ message called Common Blessings, Familiar Miracles. I hope you can be tuned in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. And we want to thank you. Thanks for tuning in and taking part of your Thanksgiving Day to listen to us. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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