The Gratitude Zone

Enter into a land of mystery and thankfulness, a land where people are content with what they have and stop regularly to count their blessings. Does such a place exist? It does, and it's called "The Gratitude Zone." For more videos, Bible studies, and Christian books, visit my website at DanaRongione.com.

Life's Greatest Easter Egg Hunt

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I hope you don't mind if we take a short break from our series on confidence.  It's been a wonderful learning experience for me, and I pray you, too, have gained insight from the various lessons we've studied so far.  But today, the Lord has laid another topic on my heart, and I need to share it with you.

A couple of weeks ago, we celebrated Easter, and generally, a part of the festivities include an Easter egg hunt for the kids (and, if we're honest, some of the adults).  Even those of us who know and celebrate the true meaning of Easter love to see the joy on the faces of the little ones as they run through the grass, looking behind every bush and under each rock.  Finding the eggs is fantastic, but the hunt itself is an exhilarating adventure, leaving us to wonder why we only do it once a year.

Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.
— Isaiah 43:19

What if I told you every day could be like an Easter egg hunt?  Even better, what if this adventure was open to everyone, no matter their age, popularity or bank account?  Life is like an Easter egg hunt, only instead of hunting eggs, we're hunting gifts.  No, I'm not talking about paper-laden packages or boxes with bows.  I'm referring to the many good things that pass us by each and every day without our ever noticing.  I'm talking about the gifts we're too busy or preoccupied to notice.

Let's face it, bad things are easy to spot.  Annoying people or events are hard to miss.  No matter how busy we are, we notice the negatives in life.  For example, it didn't escape my notice that the noisy work trucks parked outside my house both yesterday and today before 8:00 in the morning.  Their machinery and the voices of the men hollering at each other throughout the day were impossible to ignore.  But, that's two mornings.  How many quiet mornings pass by without me paying any attention?  How many times do I take for granted the stillness of the morning?

For whatever reason, it's in our nature to notice negative things and practically ignore the positive.  But, what if we made an effort to find the gifts in each and every day?  What if we explored the moments, aware and attentive of everything taking place around us?  We might hear the lovely birdsong serenading our journey through life or feel the warmth of the sun as it shines on our face.  We could find joy in the monotonous and happiness in the simple things like walking the dog or getting a shower.  Imagine the gratitude that would well up within us if every day was an adventure to uncover gifts from the Lord.  They're out there.  We know they are.  We just aren't looking.

See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
— Ephesians 5:15-16

I don't know about you, but I love the idea of starting each day with joyful anticipation of what the moments may hold.  I cherish the thought of smiling until my cheeks ache and praising God so much that my voice runs dry.  I'm thrilled with the possibility of living each day in excitement rather than anxiety.  And it's possible, my friends.  Sure, we may get grass stains on our socks and dirt on our shoes, but what fun is it if we don't get a little dirty, right?

Are you ready to leave behind the ho-hum?  How do you feel about embarking on life's greatest Easter egg hunt?  I love the idea, and I'm starting today.  I hope you'll join me.  After all, the more, the merrier!

This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.
— Psalm 118:24

What a Mouthful!

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Barnabas loves to play with balls.  He’s not the greatest at fetch because he doesn’t always like to bring the ball back.  More often than not, he’ll chase the ball, catch the ball, then settle down on the grass to chew on the ball.  Good times!  To help him understand the concept of releasing the ball, we tried playing with several balls at a time.  The crazy dog will chase and catch one ball, then chase the next and try to pick it up without dropping the first.  The result is one frustrated pup and one tickled “mommy.”  It’s hilarious to watch him try to fit two balls in his mouth at once.  Eventually, he realizes he can’t do it and drops the first ball in order to pick up the second one.

As I watched my hyper pup, Psalm 34:1 came to my mind–I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth.  The thought struck me that just as Barnabas can’t hold two balls in his mouth at once, neither can I hold praise and complaints in my mouth at once.  No, if God’s praise is continually in my mouth, there’s no room for criticism, hurtful words, or murmuring.  It’s either one or the other.  Not both.

The Bible makes this clear in James 3:10-12, which says, Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be. Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter? Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.  Blessing or cursing.  Not both.  It’s just not right.

As this year draws to an end and a new year begins, I pray I keep my mouth full of the right things like praises to God and words of encouragement to others.  With my mouth packed full of positivity, there will be no room for the negative, which leaves a nasty taste and results in a bitter spirit.

So, I ask you, what’s in your mouth today?  Is it full of complaints or praise?  I’m pretty sure it’s not full of tennis balls like Barnabas’.

Praise Opens the Door to Blessing

November is the month of thankfulness (though why people feel they only need to focus on gratitude during this one month, I don't understand).  During November, Facebook members post a daily gratitude post, and Christian radio stations focus their selections of music on songs that deal with praise, worship, and thanksgiving.

As I listened to one such station the other morning, I heard a song that rubs me the wrong way.  I'm sure the author meant well, but every time I hear the song, I feel the need to turn it off because it aggravates me.  The verses talk about going through a trial, coming out on the other side and then being thankful.  Then the chorus talks about how he's thankful like Daniel after the lions, thankful like Paul and Silas after the jail and so on.  Well, I'm sorry, but that's just not Scriptural because these men weren't just thankful after the trial.  They were praising and singing during the trial.

Sure, it's easy to be thankful when the storm is over, and everything is "back to normal."  But true thankfulness is discovered during the storm, not after it.  And many times, it is that praise in the storm that creates the blessing and escape. Just ask Jehoshaphat.

Second Chronicles 20 recounts one of my favorite stories in the Bible (though I probably have a hundred or more "favorites.")  Anyway, Jehoshaphat was the king of Judah, and he was in a royal pickle.  Several of the neighboring nations had joined forces and were heading toward Judah to destroy it and take the people captive.  Jehoshaphat, being a holy man, immediately took the problem to the Lord.  I encourage you to read the whole story, but Jehoshaphat's prayer can be summed up in his final words to the Lord:

O our God, wilt thou not judge them? for we have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon thee. (vs. 12)

We have no strength.  We don't know what to do.  But we're looking to you.  Wow, does that prayer sound familiar (only regretfully, I sometimes leave off the latter part)!  King Jehoshaphat knew they didn't stand a chance apart from God.  The battle was in God's hands.  And God answered Jehoshaphat's prayer, basically telling the king not to worry and that He would fight for them.  They only needed to stand still and watch what God would do.

Now, I want you to notice the king's response.

And Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground: and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell before the Lord, worshipping the Lord. (vs. 18)

As soon as they were done worshiping here, Jehoshaphat arranged the people and the armies of Judah to march out to the "battleground" where God had told them to go.  In the front of the procession, the king placed the musicians and singers, who led the people forth in song and praise.

Now, catch this, and pay attention to the wording:

And when they began to sing and to praise, the Lord set ambushments against the children of Ammon, Moab, and mount Seir, which were come against Judah; and they were smitten. (vs. 22)

  When did God move?  When the people praised.  When did the people praise?  Before the battle ever began.  Before the victory was won.  

Jehoshaphat prayed.  God promised.  The people praised.  Then God provided.

Based on the song I mentioned earlier, we have the mentality that praise is only necessary AFTER God works a miracle in our lives, but that's not what the Bible teaches.  And I dare say that we often miss out on the blessings that God has in store for us because we fail to praise Him in the storm.  

We don't seem to realize that praise often opens the door to blessing, nor do we take into account that God is worthy of our praise whether He changes our current circumstances or not.

Let's be careful not to reserve thankfulness for only the month of November, but let's also watch that we're not holding back our praise until we get what we want.  God has already given us far more than we deserve.  If He never gave us another thing, we still couldn't thank Him enough for what He's already done.  But I'd like to spend every day trying.  How about you?

Who Do You Think I Am? - Conclusion

We've reached the end of the titles of God in the Psalms without me even realizing it.  Yes, I could have expanded the study to include all the adjectives and descriptive phrases, but for the sake of brevity, I wanted to keep it focused on the titles themselves.  And, it seems we've reached the end.  Honestly, though, I can't think of a better term to end on than the one we discussed yesterday: "He in whom I trust."  If you think about it, it's only because God is all these other things that we can place our trust in Him.  What an awesome conclusion!

In fact, the book of Psalms has a beautiful conclusion of its own.  The last several chapters are all about praising God.  They speak of who God is, what He's done and what He is going to do.  It's like the Lord planned the book in such a way as to first explain precisely who God is so that we would find Him worthy of praise by the time (and hopefully long before) we reach the end.

For the sake of time and space, I'm not going to share with you all of these closing psalms, but I do encourage you to read them.  I would, however, like to post the final psalm as a means of concluding this study.  The title asks, "Who Do You Think I Am?"  Now, we know the answer to that question, and because God is so amazing, He deserves our praise.

Praise ye the Lord. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power. Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness. Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp. Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs. Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals. Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord. - Psalm 150