PRACTICE #5: HEIGHTING OUR POWER OF APPRECIATION
“FLYING WITH EAGLES” SERIES
APRIL 27, 2008
The children of an out-state Nebraska farmer were concerned that their father did not show their mother due appreciation for her kind disposition and her many efforts in doing demanding farm chores. Apparently, he was the poster boy for being reserved and undemonstrative. One afternoon, the mother was delayed at a neighbor’s house and did not arrive home before their father, as was customary.
When the father returned from the field at the usual time, and walked in the front door, he saw his six children playing on the floor. He stood in the doorway surveying the scene for a moment, then frowned and said, “Where is everybody?”
After that moment, the children stopped worrying if their father appreciated their mother.
This morning we turn our attention to the fifth “flying with eagles” practice. Thus far we have looked at the importance of “allowing for trouble,” “taking charge of our future,” “allocating time for personal renewal,” and “interrupting negative trains of thought.” Today we turn to “eagle flying” practice number five: heightening our power of appreciation.”
Listen to how the Apostle Paul puts it,
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
A sympathetic friend said to a crippled woman, “Affliction does so color life.”
“Yes,” the crippled woman replied, “but I propose to choose the color.”
That’s what Paul suggests here. He suggests that we can choose the topics of our contemplation. We can choose to color our days. He asserts that the content of our minds is largely at our discretion and that by the use of this selective power we can alter our world.
Norman Vincent Peale tells of crossing the Hudson River on a pea-soup morning. The ferry was crowded with commuters grousing and complaining about the weather. His elderly mother was with him, and as she stood at the rail, seemingly oblivious to the damp cold, she said, “Norman, isn’t the fog beautiful?” There’s something so soft and luxuriant about the way it caresses the buildings and the trees and casts them in a soft hue.”
He looked where she was pointing, and observed, “Sure enough, it was beautiful, in a way.” He said, “All of us commuters had chosen to focus on the negative aspects of the weather and were making ourselves miserable, whereas my mother found the good in it.”
And note the directive and the promise contained in Paul’s words. Paul’s directive is, and this is simply a summary of his words, as you color your days “focus on the positive things in life, not the negative things in life.” Focus on what is honorable, just, pure, commendable, excellent and pleasing. Moreover, when Paul says to “think about these things,” the verb tense he uses suggests the “grooving” of one’s mind. That is, if we think of these things often enough, there will come a time when we cannot stop thinking about them. They will be engrained in us. With our minds thus “grooved” like ruts in a road, it will be difficult to jerk our selves out of such a mindset.
And note the promise. If we do these things, “the God of peace will be with us.” Now for a former Jew, like Paul, peace was never a minus sign. That is to say, it was never just the absence of trouble. No, to the Jew, it was everything that contributes to our highest good. It is a combination of contentment and joy. In other words, Paul is saying, if you want to fly with eagles, if you want the peace of God to dwell with you, then here’s a way to do it. Heighten your power of appreciation.
There are, however, other personal benefits to heightening our power of appreciation, in addition, to experiencing the peace of God, which is reward enough. For example, cultivating the power of appreciation is also physically beneficial to us. It contributes to good health. Hans Selye’s research is a case in point. Selye, the renowned authority on stress, discovered in his research that gratitude significantly reduces stress levels. In fact, cultivating a thankful and appreciative spirit reduces stress so significantly that Selye calls gratitude the healthiest of all emotions.
In his hay-day, it was said that every word Rudyard Kipling wrote was worth twenty-five cents. Hearing this, a group of college students got together and wrote him a letter which said, “We understand that every word you write is worth twenty-five cents.” Enclosed is twenty-five cents. Send us your best word.
Two days later, these college students received a telegram from Mr. Kipling. The telegram consisted of one word: “Thanks!”
That certainly applies to our health.
A second benefit to heightening our power of appreciation is it makes us more appealing a people. Gratitude not only makes us healthier, it also makes us more attractive. Remember that biblical story about Jesus when he healed the ten lepers, but only one returned to give him thanks? Remember that story? Now, who was the most attractive of the ten lepers? Why none other than the leper who came back to say, “Thanks.”
I do not know about you, but I find it much more enjoyable to be around thankful people than grumpy, bitter, complaining people. In fact, I have a low tolerance level for complainers, and I so identify with the man who told off the town grouch. Remember the story?
The town grouch was grumbling as usual and finally his neighbor had run out of patience with him, and he asked the town grouch, “Don’t you have anything for which to be thankful today?”
The town grouch said, “Nope!”
That did it. That sent the neighbor off the edge, and he said to the grouch, “Well, have you considered thanking God for turning your nose right side up? He could have put your nose upside down, you know. Then when it rained you would have drowned and when you sneezed, you would have blown our thankless head off.”
Contrast the town grouch, however, with that wonderful little fourth grade boy. The class assignment was to write a short paper on things for which they were appreciative. The boy wrote, “I am most thankful for my glasses … I am most thankful for my glasses because they keep the boys from punching me and the girls from kissing me.”
The apostle Paul would have loved this boy. Whatever is praiseworthy, whatever is commendable, think about these things!
A third benefit to cultivating a appreciative spirit is it opens us to the wonderful works of God taking place all around us. Imagine someone gives you a dish of sand and tells you that there were particles of iron in it. To find those particles, you might search for them with your eyes. You might sift the sand with your fingers, but all in all, you may be unable to detect them. But suppose someone else handed you a magnet, and you swept the magnet through the sand. What would happen? The almost invisible particles of iron would attach to the magnet by the power of attraction.
Let me offer you a magnet of sorts. A number of years ago, someone introduced me to a spiritual discipline that helped to open me to the wonderful works of God. Here how it works. Each day write down five things for which you are thankful. Five things. That will help us focus on whatever is pure, just, commendable, praiseworthy, honorable, etc. But here’s the trick. Each day you have to add two new things to the list. You cannot keep listing the same five each day. Each day you need to add two more things. And some days this was really a challenge because some days I had trouble coming up with the five from the day before, let alone two new things, but more than anything else, this practice made me more conscious of the wonders and works of God.
We’ve talked about the benefits of heightening our power of appreciation. Now let’s turn to some simple ways to put this into practice in our lives. First, we need to search for the good and give thanks. Let me be honest. This does not come easily to me. It’s something on which I need to work. I am a little like Ward Cleaver in an episode from “Leave It to Beaver.” I grew up on Ward, June, Wally, Lumpy, Eddie and the Beav, and I recall an episode where the Beav receives the best report card of his life. He had improved in all areas, except one … physical education. In PE Beav received a “D.” And that was all his father, Ward Cleaver, could see on the report card, the “D.” He could not see the improvement in all the other areas. He just focused on the one negative thing.
Oh to be more like the eagle flyer in the desert. A man was touring the Sahara dressed in a bathing suit. A Bedouin gazed at him in disbelief. The tourist explained, “I’m going swimming.
The Arab informed him, “But the ocean is 800 miles away.”
“Eight hundred miles!” exclaimed the tourist with a huge smile on his face. “Boy, what a beach!”
Search for the good and give thanks. Second, to heighten our power of appreciation, give thanks ahead of time for whatever good we desire in life. Remember Jesus words, “We reap what we sow.” If we sow thanksgiving we will more likely reap thanksgiving.” My wife, Trudy, is a master at this. Most every day I hear her say, “This is going to be a good day,” and most of the time, it is. Others of us say, “Oh man, I can’t wait for this day to be over.” And that’s how we live the day: dreading it, struggling through it, despising it. Each morning try repeating the words of the Psalmist, “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it,” and see what happens.
And lastly, and this is the most difficult task in heightening our power of appreciation, give thanks in the midst of problems and challenges. Listen to these words from the Apostle Paul,
We appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; esteem them very highly in love because of their work.
We really did not need to read those verses except that I did not want you to overlook that wise, wise counsel from the Apostle Paul. Verse 6 …
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.
Note Paul’s careful choice of words here, how he used the preposition “in” rather than “for.” To thank God for all things would be a denial of the presence of evil in the world. Paul’s not asking that we do that.
Listen to the words of John Claypool,
We are not free to determine what happens to us, but we are free to determine what response we will make to events. One alternative is the way of resentment; we can focus on the bad and ask angrily, “Why did this have to happen?” The other alternative is the way of gratitude; this involves sifting through an event and asking, “What is there to be thankful for? Amid all this wreckage, what can I use to build toward a future?
HE ENDS BY SAYING, This is the choice that is always ours, and it is my contention that it is this second alternative – gratitude – that makes the crucial difference between being a victim of or victor over events.
Do we thank God for little Austin Taylor’s heart problems? No, we do not thank God for that. We can, however, thank God in the midst of this situation. We can thank God for the power of prayer. We can thank God for the care of nurses and hospital staff. We can thank God for Austin’s rosy cheeks and the smile on his face. And we can thank God for a faith community that stands with the Taylor family in the midst of the challenges they face.
Actively search for the good. Give thanks in advance. Give thanks in, not for, but in all things, and your power of appreciation will heighten.