Several years ago, we were attending a National Vineyard conference in Anaheim. It was a difficult season in my life. I was feeling particularly tired and sorry for myself. Working two jobs, not getting enough sleep, battling a long illness, I loved leading worship but everything about my life was getting to be like going through the motions. I was deeply weary. There was no breath of inspiration for living the life God gave me. I felt like the valley of dry bones.
At these conferences, there are usually breakout sessions each afternoon on various topics, which I am sometimes inclined to skip, because I’m tired and I’m an introvert. I need down time.
However, this particular time, Linda and I decided to attend an afternoon session on worship. It was led by Chris Lizotte and I really enjoy his thoughts on worship. But I was surprised when at this workshop, Chris spoke for less than a minute and then introduced his neighbor, Jimmy. I thought to myself ‘I should have gone back to hotel and taken that nap!’. Jimmy was a small man, in his early fifties/late forties, with a broad smile, a carpenter by trade, who embraced the Southern California surf culture, with a blonde pony tail and a pretty thick southern drawl. Jimmy had also been fighting cancer for a while and actually lost that fight not too long after.
Jimmy wasn’t really a preacher, but he had a powerful message. He was about saying thank you, out loud to God, for His love and every detail of care He shows for us. This man embodied his message. He was joy packaged. We were undone!
His message wasn’t new. The scripture clearly tells us to give thanks always and in every situation. But I think this message hit me hard for a few reasons. One, it was what God was speaking to me. It was clearly his word to my tired, sick, discouraged and weary heart. And it hit the target square on. It was all the more powerful because it was delivered by a man fighting cancer and could not have been more authentic and genuine. He was a husband, father and friend who in no way wanted to be in the situation he was in. But, in every inch of his being, he was extremely and genuinely thankful. The resulting joy and peace were something you could see and feel. I have a tape of the session, and it still moves me.
He was a living example of how actively giving thanks to God changes your perception of everything. He was a powerful reminder of the fruit of gratitude Jimmy just had us all say “Thank You Lord” a whole bunch of times together. It sounds contrived, but when the Spirit is in something, it gets real very quickly. We could feel the Spirit moving through the room, happy to move among us and lift burdens. We ended the time by crowding around Jimmy and praying for his physical healing. It was a bath of tears. Good tears.
This 90 minute session brought about a lasting change in me. Here in the bay area; we are a sarcastic, suspicious, independent bunch. How could something this simple as a grateful heart change such “sophisticated” people? But it did change us. There is power when we name things. And naming the things we had to be thankful for was just that, powerful. When we name things we see them. And we are reminded of them. And we stop and acknowledge them. And we encourage others when we share them. So we started intentionally thanking God out loud as an act of worship. We wrote Him notes of thanks. Thank you Lord, thank you Lord, thank you Lord became a breath prayer for us.
Everyone has difficult things happen. We’re navigating a particularly hard one with our friends and family right now. The hard challenges of this life are real. And we need to acknowledge them and pray our way through them, hearing what God is saying to us about them.
But equally if not more important is His goodness. So even still in the midst of the good and the bad, the easy breezy days and the hard painful ones, when we gather together for dinner, we each take a moment to say what we’re thankful for this day. Each of us naming something we are thankful for, from the youngest to the oldest. It seems to disarm the enemy’s lies, calm our insecurities and neutralize our fears. It sets the tone for our conversation. It puts us in the right frame of mind to hear His voice and go where He leads us.
It can change your way of thinking and lighten your heart. As it becomes an ingrained part of your daily rhythm, it will change the way you encounter others and engage in daily life. You will see the joy of the Lord become your strength. It will become your “go to”, because you’ve put in the time, you’ve practiced the discipline of being thankful and it becomes part of your spiritual rhythm.
“Thank you Lord, that You know my name, That you look at me and everyone as the same, Your love is strong, and it never changes.” (From- You Know My Name by Chris Lizotte)