In one of Aesop’s Fables, a ravenous fox notices some grapes hanging on a vine. He leaps into the air, but he can’t reach the fruit. Dejected, he trots off and remarks, “Oh you aren’t even ripe yet! I don’t need any sour grapes.”
When I was a young believer in Jesus, I was encouraged to keep a thanksgiving journal. It was a little booklet I carried with me as a means to capture the daily happenings that filled my heart with gratitude. Sometimes I would pen my thanks items at the end of the week, following a time of reflection.
Thomas J. DeLong, a professor at Harvard Business School, has noted a disturbing trend among his students and colleagues—a comparison obsession. He writes: “Business executives, Wall Street analysts, lawyers, doctors and other professionals are obsessed with comparing their own achievements against those of others. . . . I have interviewed hundreds of HNAPs (high-need-for-achievement-professionals) about this phenomenon and discovered that comparing has reached almost epidemic proportions. This is bad for individuals and bad for companies [and it leads to diminished satisfaction].” It’s also especially bad for believers in Jesus.
Just over a year ago, I made a New Year’s resolution to be faithful in prayer. The New Year came and I was off to a good start. But as the days got busier, I struggled to stay focused during my morning prayers, and my body began begging for more sleep. Yawn.
Recently, my wife and I embarked on a plan to reach out to people who are different from us—spiritually, ethnically, and otherwise. Why take on this challenge? We’ve experienced the grace and blessing of God, and we want to bless Him by loving others who are also made in His image. It’s interesting, however, that even as we’ve strived to bless Him, we’ve been greatly blessed by God through these new relationships!
As the father of four children, I tell them four words nearly every day: “You should be thankful!” I say it to them during dinner when they turn up their noses at vegetables. I say it to them when they want to get a toy that “all” their friends have. For my kids, and I suspect for many of us, giving thanks to God is an individual discipline—the proper response to what He’s done.
My friend noticed that his maple tree was shedding leaves prematurely. The tree doctor told him his tree was suffering from a girdling root. It had taken 30 years, but the offending root had encircled the tree and was now slowly choking it. If my friend didn’t dig down and hack the root off, the tree would die.
A pastor wanted to break his church out of their formal traditions and nudge them in a fresh direction. He sensed that the congregation’s formality was discouraging the local community from walking through the church’s doors. So he began to take small steps to help them change.
I started this year with great enthusiasm. Having mapped out a strategy for pointing the youth ministry at my church toward loving God and loving people, I shared it with some colleagues and off we went! Well, 6 months later, I did an evaluation and found we had made only minuscule progress. Discouragement covered me like a dark cloud.
Our young daughter Katelyn enjoys playing solitaire, but she lacks the patience to persist through the difficult points in the game. Instead of trying to solve being “stuck,” she’ll simply start a new game. I’ve challenged her not to give up but to seek the next available move.
Imagine going on a missions trip without your luggage. No change of clothing! Oh, and no money or credit card either. So, you can forget about buying the basic necessities you might need while you’re away.