Category Archives: Attitude
WHAT FAITH IS:
- Doing the right thing regardless of the consequences and knowing God will turn the ultimate effect to good.
- Reliance on the certainty that God has a pattern for my life when everything seems meaningless.
- Confidence that God is acting for my highest good when He says no to my prayers.
- Realizing that I am useful to God not in spite of my scars but because of them.
- Accepting the fact that God knows better than I do what is ultimately good for me.
- Living with the unexplained.
- The way to please God.
Excerpts from Pamela Reeve’s Faith Is. Portland: Multnomah Press, 1994
On May 29  in my message on Galatians 5:1-5, I opposed the “Gratitude Ethic” which says: “God has worked for me, now I will return the favor and work for him;” or: “God has given me more than I could ever pay back, but I will devote my life to trying.” But the question was raised by Steve Roy after the service whether there may be another way gratitude could motivate obedience that does not involve a debtor mentality. So I spent about six hours on Memorial Day trying to think that question through. Here is where I am.
Definition: gratitude is a species of joy which arises in our heart in response to the good will of someone who does (or tries to do) us a favor. We do not respond with gratitude to a person if they accidentally do us a favor. Nor do we respond with gratitude if they do us a favor with mercenary ulterior motives. On the other hand, we do respond with gratitude to a person who tries to do us a favor but is hindered by circumstances beyond his control—say, he sacrifices his life to bring us medicine in the jungle but it turns out not to heal. We still feel gratitude toward him. Therefore gratitude is not merely the response of joy to a benefit received. It has special reference to the good will of another person. A person whose joy centers only on a gift received with no sense of joy in the good will of the giver, we call an ingrate. So gratitude is a species of joy which arises in response to the good will of someone who does (or tries to do) us a favor.
This joy, like all joys, has in it an impulse to express or display the value of its cause. This is a crucial insight for understanding how gratitude motivates behavior. It is the nature of joy to demonstrate or express the value of its cause. When something gives us joy we feel an impulse to show the value of it by our words or actions.
The intensity of this joy and its expressive impulse is determined by three varying factors:
1) the importance to us of the gift offered (We are more thankful for a winter coat than for an ice-cream cone);
2) the sacrifice it cost someone to give the gift (We are more thankful if a person risks his life than if his gift is of no inconvenience);
3) our own sense of unworthiness to receive the gift (We are more thankful for free gifts than earned wages).
The question how gratitude can properly motivate good behavior is the question: how should we express or demonstrate the value of God’s good will toward us? Gratitude is the joy that arises in response to God’s good will toward us in all his gifts. This joy has an impulse to express the value of that good will. How should it do so?
Answer: It should express the value of God’s good will in a way that honors the nature andaim of that will and does not contradict it. (For example: I should not try to show my gratitude to someone who just paid my way through an alcohol treatment center by throwing him a beer party.)
Let’s take God’s good will expressed in sending his Son to die, for example. The nature of that act of love is that it was unconditional, undeserved, a gift of sheer grace. The aim of that act was to unleash a power of forgiveness and renewal that would transform people into reflectors of God’s glory. So the way gratitude for this act of God’s good will toward us should express itself is by saying and doing what honors the nature of it as free and theaim of it as God’s glory.
Certain attitudes are thus ruled out: any attempt to pay God back would contradict the nature of the act as free and gracious. Any attempt to turn and become God’s benefactors is ruled out as dishonoring to the nature and aim of the divine act. That was my point last Sunday. But there are some proper ways for the impulse of the joy of gratitude to find expression:
1) the admission that we don’t deserve Christ honors the gracious freeness of the gift.
2) Words of love, praise and thanks will pop out like fruit on the branch of gratitude.
3) Trust in the forgiveness and renewing power unleashed in the cross honors its aim.
4) Acts of self-denying love also show how free we are made by the all-sufficiency of the gift of love in the cross.
This is how I see gratitude motivating obedience to Christ. It does not prompt us to pay him back or to meet his needs. As a species of joy it has in it an impulse to show the value of God’s good will. What shows the value of God’s good will in its true nature and aim are words of praise, a heart of trust, and a life of love.
Thankful for you,
Neal Jeffrey: A Case Study
One of my favorite people, and certainly one of America’s One finest communicators, is Neal Jeffrey. Neal, as quarterback, led the Baylor Bears football team to the Southwest Conference championship in 1974. Today, he addresses many youth groups as well as adult businesspeople. He is truly one of the most humorous, sincere, and capable speakers I’ve ever heard. The interesting thing is that Neal is a stutterer. However, he has chosen to make stuttering an asset, not a problem. Now think about what you just read. A very successful quarterback and public speaker who stutters doesn’t compute in the minds of most people. Neal Jeffrey has taken a negative and turned it into a positive. After speaking a few minutes, he tells audiences that in case they hadn’t noticed, he stutters. Then with a big smile, he says, “Sometimes I do get hung up a little bit. But don’t worry. I guarantee you something’s coming!” The audience invariably responds enthusiastically Neal is the classic example of an outstanding individual who chose to make an obstacle an asset. The obstacle has forced Neal to be more creative and to do more reading, research, and studying so he can most effectively turn that liability into an asset. Result: He got better, not bitter. He is better not in spite of his stutter, but because of his stutter. Neal has reached and is reaching goal after goal in all areas of his life. I believe that you can do the same thing. When (not if) troubles and problems come your way, remember that the only way to the mountaintop is through the valley. All of us have liabilities that can hold us back or propel us forward. In most cases, the choice is ours. So, take your obstacles or liabilities, recognize and evaluate them, and then find a way to turn them into assets.
- Zig Ziglar. Something to Smile About: Encouragement and Inspiration for Life’s Ups and Downs (Kindle Locations 1215-1226). Kindle Edition.
Attitude is the Most Important Thing by Chuck Swindoll
“The longer I live the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude to me is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than success, than what others think, or say, or do. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.”
Robertson McQuilkin, former esteemed president of Columbia International University in Columbia, South Carolina, once drove an elderly friend on an errand. She moved slowly and painfully, being crippled with arthritis.
“Robertson,” she asked as they drove along, “why does God let us get old and weak? Why must I hurt so?”
“I’m not sure,” McQuilkin replied, “but I have a theory.”
“What is it?”
He hesitated to share it, but she insisted. This is what he said: “I think God has planned the strength and beauty of youth to be physical. But the strength and beauty of age is spiritual. We gradually lose the strength and beauty that is temporary, so we’ll be sure to concentrate on the strength and beauty which is forever.”
Today I can complain because the weather is rainy or I can be thankful that the grass is getting watered for free.
Today I can feel sad that I don’t have more money or I can be glad that my finances encourage me to plan my purchases wisely and guide me from waste.
Today I can grumble about my health or I can rejoice that I am alive.
Today I can lament over all that my parents didn’t give me when I was growing up or I can feel grateful that they allowed me to be born.
Today I can cry because roses have thorns or I can celebrate the thorns that have roses.
Today I can mourn my lack of friends or I can excitedly embark upon a quest to discover new relationships.
Today I can whine because I have to go to work or I can shout for joy because I have a job to do.
Today I can complain because I have to go to school or eagerly open my mind and fill it with rich new bits of knowledge.
Today I can murmur dejectedly because I have to do housework or I can feel honored because the Lord has provided shelter for my mind, body, and soul.
Today stretches ahead of me, waiting to be shaped. And here I am, the sculptor who gets to do the shaping. What today will be is up to me.
I get to choose what kind of day I will have!
- Author unknown
The Pursuit of Happiness
When Thomas Jefferson selected the phrase “the pursuit of happiness” to describe one of the unalienable rights of man, he was appropriating an idea with a very long history. Since the time of Aristotle and before, happiness was understood as a condition to which all people properly aspire. But for the Greeks, as for the biblical writers, happiness was an objective reality, not just a feeling or an emotional state. The phrase “whatever makes you happy,” so commonly uttered today, would have been nonsense to Hebrews, Greeks, and Christians alike, since it implies no fixed moral order in which happiness resides.
Happiness is roughly synonymous with the biblical idea of “blessedness.” In classical and medieval Christian ethics happiness referred to a state of human flourishing or well-being that aligned the life of a person with the truest good. Actions, thoughts, desires, and ambitions had to be ordered in light of the proper end of mankind for a person to be truly happy. Happiness was thus an ethical, not a psychological project. To pursue happiness was to pursue the whole reason for one’s being, but that meant recognizing that one’s desires and actions were in need of correction. It meant accounting for the fact that human beings did not instinctively pursue the truest good, that some very attractive pleasures were not truly in keeping with the most essential contours of our nature. In Christian terms, the pursuit of happiness meant recognizing that God had created us to flourish in the context of obedience to Him so that our image-bearing nature might display His glory. Since our sin and consequent waywardness alienated us from our deepest, truest identity, the pursuit of happiness was only possible by grace, since we cannot by our own strength resist the disordering effects of sin in our lives.
So happiness on this historic account is really a function of sanctification, of growth in holy obedience. That formulation would no doubt come as a shock to most of our contemporaries, perhaps even to many Christians, though it would have probably caused a nod of affirmation from most pagan philosophers. How has it come about that a nation often assumed to be Christian, a nation also obsessed with pursuing happiness, has acquired such an anti-Christian understanding of what it means to be happy?
Part of the answer is tied up with the radical innovations in ethical thought that took shape during the eighteenth-century, the Enlightenment culture in which Jefferson was at home. It was a time in which philosophers were abandoning the idea of an essential human nature that defined human ends. It was, in a sense, an abandonment of the idea of sin, since these Enlightenment thinkers were quite willing to talk about (in Alasdair MacIntyre’s words) “untutored-human-nature-as-it-is,” and base their understanding of ethics and politics on a picture of an intrinsically innocent human nature. This was a time in which the freedom of the individual was becoming the ultimate good, for individuals and societies. The philosophies of the time when our nation was founded were committed to the idea of the individual as sovereign in his moral authority (see MacIntyre, After Virtue, p. 62).
In such a context, the venerable idea of the pursuit of happiness took on a whole new meaning. Happiness came to be understood as whatever any individual conceives it to be. Since it could no longer be objectively defined in terms of a fixed purpose for human nature, the pursuit of happiness soon came to mean the pursuit of pleasure, the relentless quest for fun, for an emotional state of carefree bliss. And this state need have no correlation to the ethical choices one has made, to the way one has ordered one’s life. In fact, many Americans seem committed to pursuing this kind of happiness by means of making bad ethical choices: committing adultery, dishonoring their parents, killing their unborn children, abusing their own bodies. When happiness becomes merely a mood, the sustaining of which is the highest good, rules tend to get broken, like eggs in Lenin’s omelet.
In the twentieth century, aided by the rise of mass media and ubiquitous forms of entertainment, the pursuit of happiness-as-fun came to be felt as a kind of moral imperative. Writing in the mid-1950s, psychologist Martha Wolfenstein noted the emergence of what she called “fun morality,” an ethic that displaced the old-fashioned goodness morality “which stressed interference with impulses. Not having fun is an occasion for self-examination: ‘What is wrong with me?’ …Whereas gratification of forbidden impulses traditionally aroused guilt, failure to have fun now lowers one’s self-esteem.” Not only has happiness been detached from objective human ends and identified uncritically with personal pleasure, the pleasures assumed to be the source of happiness are increasingly the most trivial and fleeting. Submitting to the dictates of fun morality makes the passive consumption of entertainment a more plausible road to happiness than subtler, more demanding pleasures like learning to play the violin, acquiring a love of literature, or cultivating a beautiful garden.
As it happens, the dominant assumption that happiness is a custom-built project with potentially instant payoffs does not seem to have made most people that much happier. In a recent essay entitled “The Pursuit of Emptiness,” John Perry Barlow observes: “Of my legion friends and acquaintances who have become citizens of Prozac Nation, I have never heard any of them claim that these drugs bring them any closer to actual happiness. Rather, they murmur with listless gratitude, anti-depressants have pulled them back from The Abyss. They are not pursuing happiness. They are fleeing suicide.” Barlow reports on an experiment in looking for smiles on the faces of people in the “upscale organic supermarket” in San Francisco in which he regularly shops. In eleven months, seeing thousands of faces, “nearly all of them healthy, beautiful, and very expensively groomed,” he counted seven smiles, three of which he judged insincere. Instead, in supermarkets and elsewhere, he sees a characteristic “expression of troubled self-absorption [which] has become a nearly universal mask.” Trying to find happiness on our own terms, rather than on the terms our Creator has built into our nature, is an exhausting and disappointing undertaking.
Carl Elliott, author of the book Better than Well, perceptively documents how many Americans use various “enhancement technologies” in the effort to feel better about themselves (which may be the working definition of happiness for many of our contemporaries). Elliot senses that the American project of pursuing happiness has become so desperate that it now seems to require “not only that I pursue happiness, but that I pursue it aggressively, club it into unconsciousness, and drag it back bound and gagged to my basement.” The lengths to which people go to nab happiness are astonishing: the drugs they take; the fantasies they sustain; the money they spend; the relationships they poison.
There is something of a backlash against this militant happiness-seeking, this regime of relentless perkiness. Earlier this year, Eric Wilson’s slim manifesto, Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy, was greeted by a chorus of sympathy. Wilson questioned the virtue of striving to be perpetually upbeat, reminding readers that it is sometimes quite emotionally healthy to respond to the tragedies of life with darker sentiments. Other recent books have questioned the tendency to treat sadness as a mental illness. These protests are fine as far as they go, but they are still working with the assumption that happiness is a subjective state.
The recovery of a richer vision for human happiness is a project for which Christians are uniquely situated. We believe, unlike most of our contemporaries, that we are made to delight in the knowledge and love of God, to find our fulfillment as creatures only as we walk in His ways. Knowing also that we live in a world disordered by sin, we recognize that true blessedness will often, until Christ returns, involve suffering, persecution, and sacrifice. Our happiness is not a right, but a gift from one who was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. To the best of our knowledge, Jesus never asked the disciples: “Are we having fun yet?” But He did teach them that faithful servants would enter into the joy of their master. Happiness is the fruit of aligning our lives with God’s purposes for us. “If you keep my commandments,” Jesus promised, “you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:10–11). The pursuit of such single-minded faithfulness, not simple-minded fun, is the true road to human happiness.
About Ken Myers: is host and producer of Mars Hill Audio in Quinque, Virginia. He is author of All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture.
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