Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name.
Psalm 30:4 ESV
It is summer and that usually means one thing, I am broke. Now, to be fair, I know that word has as many definitions as there are people. My definition of broke is what my wife and I refer to as the four wall approach. This means we only pay for those things that are necessary INSIDE THE HOUSE! House payment before car payments. Utilities before credit cards, etc. We make a list of our expenses, prioritizing them with the most important on top. We then draw a line where the money runs out.
As a teacher, I only work August through May and I only get paid for the months I work. Now, the smart thing to do is to squirrel away a little of each check over the school year to cover the summer expenses. Unfortunately, we never seem to do that due to the fact that unexpected expenses always seem to crop up during the school year. A furnace needs to be replaced or a new set of tires on the car is a necessity before the snow flies. The roof needs to be reshingled or a long overdue vacation chips away at the savings.
Palzewism # 25
Money lets me afford to keep two luxuries that I have grown very accustomed – eating food and living indoors
I have been a teacher for over 20 years now and I’ve gotten very skilled at being broke. I know which bills need to be paid and which ones can slide a little. I don’t answer my phone much in July and August because debt collectors are not the most positive people to listen to. I try to be sympathetic to them, showing real concern about how my forty dollars missed payment may cause their multi-billion-dollar company to fold overnight because of the effect on their bottom line. I understand that information will go down on my “permanent record” – ie. Credit Report. I understand that I have failed to uphold my contractual obligations by working as a shady and flighty career such as education (instead of procuring a solid financial future for my family and myself like maybe a debt collector). I simply explain to them that they are “below the line” and there really is nothing I can do. If I have a choice between making a credit card payment and grocery shopping, food wins every time!
There are times, I must admit, that these phone calls affect my sense of self-worth. I begin to berate myself as unfit. I wonder why I chose this life for myself. Then, reality hits me right in the face and I realize that teaching is not a choice, it is an opportunity cost!
Opportunity cost is an economics term that refers to the value of what you have to give up in order to choose something else. In a nutshell, it’s a value of the road not taken. In my life, the cost of doing a job that I love is that I only get paid for 10 months out of a year. Now, if the desire to pay all my expenses year-round was greater than my desire to teach, I would seek another career immediately. The opportunity cost of being a teacher is not being paid in the summer, and I am surprisingly OK with that.
I have learned a long time ago that life really comes down to two choices. You can choose to be content with what you have or be sad about what you don’t. I first experienced this in the summer of 2006. I had decided (which means I really followed God’s will) that I would go on my first short term mission trip. My destination was Guatemala, where our church was going to give spiritual support to a people so poor, they scavenged a garbage dump looking for food. We went down for eleven days and every day was a gut-punching, eye-opening reminder of how truly blessed I am to live the life I have. On that trip, I learned what “broke” truly meant.
One day, we were doing home visits in the local villages that have sprung up around the dump. The men had gone to “work” at the dump, looking for food and things that could be sold for money. We walked into this disheveled house that was no bigger than my carport back in Milwaukee. The floor was a concrete slab and the roof was slanted aluminum panels, with two gutters attached to collect rainwater for all the household needs. There were no walls, either outside or separating the living areas. A mattress laid in the corner next to a fire hearth and a few shelves that contained the family’s kitchen equipment (one pot and a few spoons).
There were dirt paths that ran off the sides to other places in the village, the in-between parts overgrown with nasty looking weeds and debris. Everywhere you could look were signs of despair and hopelessness, but I couldn’t focus on any of that.
The first thing that caught my eye was the view from the east, overlooking the mattress. What looked like a mere twenty feet away was the most gorgeous mountain view one could imagine. I was mesmerized by the beauty and majesty of God’s creation. While lost in admiration of the view, I noticed a sign (in Spanish of course” that read
Levanto mis ojos hacia las colinas.
¿De dónde viene mi ayuda?
Mi ayuda viene del Señor
quien hizo el cielo y la tierra.
When I asked what the sign meant, I was given the English translation
I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
Psalm 121:1-2 ESV
The owner went on to tell me how she and her family give praise and thanks to God daily for what they have. They didn’t dwell on what they were missing.
Paul writes about this in his letter to the Philippians. He tells them, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:11-13 ESV. Paul realizes that the “stuff” that we value is essentially meaningless. If he has an asset, it is through God’s providence that it has been given to him for the use of furthering the Kingdom of God. If he lacks something, he also knows that God has deemed that item unnecessary in his present situation. Whether he has something or not, the situation requires him to go to God with praise and thanksgiving.
Praise & Thanksgiving
The words Praise and Thanksgiving are used often together, so much that we tend to forget that they both mean very different things about our interaction with our heavenly father. Praise is to compliment and admire God for all his virtues and for what he is. Without putting ourselves in the mix, praise is simply acknowledging God for who he is and what he has done. God creates and sustains. God provides for all his creation. God is good and just, but also merciful.
Thanksgiving is to express thanks and gratitude for God for the things that he has done and provided you. We give thanks for our family, health, home, and a billion other things that God provides for us, most of which we are obliviously unaware of. We also thank Him for what we don’t have, what he has kept away from us. I thank him that although I am not working right now, I do have a career that I enjoy and a life that is truly blessed. I may not have the best car in the world but I thank Him daily that it starts and gets me from point A to point B in a reasonable amount of time. I may have Cerebral Palsy that affects the way I do things sometimes but I give thanks that I can serve his kingdom, be it helping at a food pantry or writing a weekly blog that makes others consider Him in places where they normally wouldn’t. Thanksgiving is rooted in the gratitude one has for God for the things he has been given by God, but praise comes not from gratitude, but from the insight of who God really is.
One thing that my family has done in the past when my children were younger was something we called “The Gratitude Jar”. Raising three sons on the autism spectrum made family devotions challenging until we came up with a format that worked for us. We discovered our smart TV could play “youtube” videos. One of us would choose a song that we liked on KLOVE and play the video of that song which had on-screen lyrics. After the song, we would discuss the lyrics then pray together. We did this for a few years.
One of those years, my wife introduced us to “The Gratitude Jar”. Once a week, we would write on a slip of paper whatever we were each grateful for that week. We wrote generic things such as jobs, money, family, or we wrote our specific gratitude about passing a hard test at school or getting a good test result from the doctor. At the end of the year, the jar was full. We keep it on our shelf as a reminder of God’s blessings and every once in a while we will open it and remind ourselves of God’s providence in our lives.
Praise and Thanks are not natural to our sinful nature. I remember a practice that I learned in a seminar on teaching that I still use to this day. It’s called “Penny Praise”. You start simply by putting ten pennies in your dominant hand front pocket. Now, if you’re like me, your hand slips in and out of that pocket numerous times a day. The thinking is that every time I would “feel” the coins, it was time to praise a student. This could be as simple as stating how well they were sitting in their seat or how awesome they did on yesterday’s homework. Every time I would praise someone. I would casually move one penny from the right pocket to the left. The goal was to move all the pennies every hour. Once they were all on the left, I would start with the next class moving them all to the right pocket. After several classes, my “praise” for the students became more natural and started integrating themselves in my teaching style. I found this to be a great exercise for all walks of life and find myself doing small “refresher” courses when I forget. I have used this technique (or variation) to learn how to praise my wife, children, coworkers, etc. I even use a version of this to praise God! Since I am a teacher, every time I hear a bell, I praise God, simply for who he is. I praise Him for being Loving, Forgiving, Good, Kind, Patient, Fair, and Righteous.
Thanks and Praise is a mind pivot that you must mentally work on every day of your life. Everyplace, every time and in every situation, God is working for your good and well being as Paul beautifully states in Romans 8:28 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Bad things will still happen, but those impacts and consequences will be reduced from the maximum potential.
Bottom line, there is always a reason to give thanks and praise
- What does it mean to thank God for what you don’t have?
- Think of a time when you had to have something. What happened?
- Can you identify someone you kniow who has an attitude of gratitude? What makes then different?
- In what situation can you use the “penny praise”?
- How can you incorporate a GRATITUDE Jar into your daily devotion regime?
Prayer: Dear God. We Praise you for who you are! We Thank you for what you have done! We also Thank you for what you have kept away from us! May every action of mine point others to you. In Jesus’s name, we pray. Amen
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“You Turned My Mourning Into Dancing!”, my book, is available for purchase here.