1 Thessalonians 5:18; Philippians 2:14; Philippians 4:8-9
“Please pick up these three things, and put them in the box where they belong,” I firmly tell my two and a half year old, pointing to his red matchbox car, a stuffed dog and a green ball, scattered on the floor. He understands what I’m asking him to do, because he can verbalize any action he performs, yet he is wandering all over the living room, mimicking monkey, gorilla then dinosaur sounds. The battle continues. It is almost bedtime and I make the request again, resisting the temptation to simply pick up everything off the floor myself. Resisting the easy way. Finally, I pick my son up and speak directly into his ear. “Momma is asking you to pick up these toys now.” A blood-curdling scream erupts from his mouth followed by sobbing and kicking. I haul him into the bathroom and he does not calm down until he steps into the bath water. Twenty minutes later, I try again. Freshly shampooed, diapered and in his pajamas, I tell him to put the red matchbox car, stuffed dog and green ball into the toy box. This time he reluctantly obeys.
Once I put him to bed, it occurs to me that I act exactly the same way toward God. I know He is also patiently asking for my obedience as I flail, kick and scream. Why do I resist? It’s just as hard for me to submit to the authority of God as it is for my toddler to submit to the authority of me or his Dad. Because this, too, is a power struggle.
One area of obedience where God has been challenging me is in my complaining and finding fault when circumstances don’t go as I had hoped. This is hard, especially after my toddler has just smeared yogurt on my sleeve before I can wipe it off his fingers. I have been a champion complainer, both with the words I speak outloud and the words I speak internally. Both need to stop. “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure …” Paul instructs in Philippians 2:14. I might need to tattoo that to my forehead.
It’s a new paradigm. If I can shift my focus from what I perceive as wrong and bad to all that I know is good and right in my life, perhaps blessings will actually have a place to settle.
We live in a culture of fault-finding and complaining. Sometimes the only way I can escape the grumbling of others is to turn off all media and pull the covers over my head. Oops. There I go again, complaining. How about I put a shock collar on that goes off every time I verbalize a complaint? But seriously, I love Paul’s advice in Philippians 4:8-9. “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think of such things. In other words, it is my responsibility to intentionally fill my mind with what honors God, and turn away from the activities and situations that don’t. I think that includes the books I read, movies I watch, on-line activity and my thoughts.
Scripture also gives me a powerful antidote to relieve a complaining attitude. Intentional thankfulness. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 “In everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
On days when everything seems to be going wrong, when my prayers feel like they bounce right back unanswered, I’m slowly realizing that I am allowing circumstances to dictate my level of contentment. God is teaching me to go back to basics by thanking Him for a roof over my head, a healthy body, a loving husband, a wonderful child, and food on the table, which is more than what some people have. I breathe. God still expects my obedience through a thankful heart even in the midst of my own adult temper tantrum. God is sovereign. He has a plan for all who believe and are called according to his purpose. That calms me.
I believe that there is also a reward in obedience. Not that my only motivation in developing a thankful heart is in seeking a reward, but with an attitude shift into genuine gratitude, a peaceful heart, better relationships, and answered prayer might be pleasant side effects.
A medium sized glass bowl sits on my kitchen table. It’s almost full of folded up slips of orange sticky notes. You know, the lined kind at office supply stores? The minute I recognize a blessing, or want to write thank you to God, I scribble it down. Some days I can toss in up to five in the bowl. A gratitude journal would take less space, but I need something more visual and colorful. And one of these days, I’m going to open up every single slip of paper, spread them out on the table to count them in a tangible way, and read and remind myself of God’s abundance and goodness. And then start over, bowl empty, ready to receive.