Guard Your Heart With Gratitude

A Healthy Heart
After a few weeks off we now refresh our “Guard Your Heart” series. We always need to be about guarding our hearts because the heart is the core or our being and doing. If our hearts are healthy our being and doing will be God glorifying, others edifying, and self-satisfying. Thus, we must continually guard them from hard heartedness brought on by onset spiritual arteriosclerosis. And this is not always easy to do. However, today, we will see how to guard our hearts against one of the worst spiritual diseases of all. Let’s turn to Psalm 73:21. Here Asaph the psalmist confesses:
When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered…
I have seen bitterness choke the spiritual life out of even the best of Christ followers. Like the virus, bitterness is a toxin that can easily spread and infect and affect everyone (Hebrews 12:15). But what was causing the psalter’s, heart to be grieved and his spirit to be embittered? He sees the prosperity and arrogance of his enemies and it drives him to envy (v3). Furthermore, he believes his enemies have “made in the shade” kinds of lives. Early in the chapter he grumbled 4-5
4 They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. 5 They are free from the burdens common to people; they are not plagued by human ills.
This lament reminds me of how Garrison Keillor used to sign off on his weekly radio show, “The Tales of Lake Wobegon”:
Where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking,
and all the children are above average.
Theodicy
They say we should never judge our personal lives on the public lives of others. To do so is a big mistake but the psalmist does so anyhow. However, in a moment of self-awareness, Asaph reasons within himself (v16).
When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me.
The longer he ponders the question, “Why do good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people?” the moodier he becomes. Try as he might he can’t understand why negative events happen to God’s people while positive things happen to pagans. One of the oldest and most enduring problems the Old Testament saints grappled with was that if God is good how can people who ignore him prosper while those who love him don’t? On top of that, the pagans that are prospering in Asaph’s world are the very ones that are making him miserable. Much like the person who takes credit for your work and ends up getting the promotion and eventually becomes your boss. None of this makes much sense especially if a loving God is up there running things.
Gratitude List
There is a strong correlation between what we think about and how we feel and how we feel and how we behave. Asaph knows that bitterness is infecting his heart. To arrest this disease he heads towards the sanctuary. There’s no better place to get some spiritual surgery done. Once there, his heart begins to change. What was the catalyst for this change? A gratitude list. Listen to Asaph’s in v23-26
23 Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. 24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. 25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Notice that Asaph’s gratitude list includes three big items:
God holds me by his right hand. God guides me with his counsel.
God takes me into glory.
Gratitude always leads to praise (v25)
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And praise always leads to greater desire for God (v25)
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
Asaph realizes that no matter what happens in life, no matter to whom it happens, and whenever it happens, it doesn’t ultimately matter because of who God is and what he has promised (v26).
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Who has the time to be bitter, or to even care whether or not the pagans prosper if one has gotten God and all the blessings and provisions that he alone supplies?
A Family Thanksgiving Tradition
Growing up my family and I had this Thanksgiving tradition whereas one couldn’t taste even one morsel of the bounty until each person gave at least one thanks for each person sitting around the table. Some years this was more of a chore than others especially if life wasn’t going really well or if one was mad at other family members. This tradition was really hard on my dad as he vowed to never eat anything on Thanksgiving Day until the turkey was ready and we always ate mid-afternoon.
Let me confess that growing up with three sisters this was not the easiest exercise. But we would slough through it and at the end of the day it was powerful to see our familial love and appreciation grow because of this one simple tradition. Can you imagine how quickly our nation would heal if we had Thanksgiving once a month? How about our families once a week? How about our relationship with God if we did a gratitude list every day?
Power of A Gratitude List
It’s true that gratitude changes everything and that everything good springs from gratitude. Therefore the best way to guard our hearts from bitterness is by practicing gratitude and the best way to do that is by developing a gratitude list. During my downtime due to surgery I have been doing this very thing. For the sake of transparency I want to admit that you will encounter a couple problems when you begin a gratitude list:
(1) Like the 1983 Lays potato chip commercial, “No one can eat just one.” No one can list just one. Once you get started you can’t stop! There’s way too many things for which to thank God. Like David said in Psalm 103:2, “Praise the Lord O my soul and forget not ALL his benefits.” And the old saint Matthew Henry after he was robbed:
1 I am thankful that he never robbed me before. 2 I am thankful that although he took my wallet, he did not take my life. 3 Although he took all I had; it was not much. And 4 I am glad that it was I who was robbed, not I who did the robbing.
(2) It doesn’t matter how you feel when you start you will be feeling groovy when you are done. The sheer writing of the gratitude list will simultaneously wipe out bitterness from your heart and fill it with joy. God will again become the “Strength of your heart.”
Conclusion: Bitter Proof Your Heart
Unfortunately, bitterness will always try to “worm” its way into our hearts. So the next time you start thinking negative and feel negatively, bitter proof your heart by getting alone with God and start working on your gratitude list. You’ll always be thankful you did!
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