By Sue Osbourne
“The joy of the Lord is my strength!” (Nehemiah 8:10). This was my mantra as a teen and young adult. I always thought it was my job to keep striving for the joy of the Lord. Joy was something I had to work at, make a habit of, keep believing in and just keep smiling. Keep going! After all, wasn’t joy visible in my countenance? I learned fairly quickly that the joy of the Lord does not come from within myself, but in the restorative work Jesus did on the cross on my behalf. My salvation in Jesus Christ is how my joy is restored day by day. My joy comes when I have a heart that rests in gratitude. “The root of joy is gratefulness…for it is not joy that makes us grateful; it is gratitude that makes us joyful.” Being grateful comes when I offer thanks.
“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thes. 5:18). This verse came to life for me in my forties. As I strived in my own strength for joy and gratefulness the Lord showed me, through a decade of heartache and tragedy, that resting in Him was going to be the only way I was going to survive. In this season my marriage crumbled and led to divorce, several significant family members passed away, I went from a stay-at-home mom to working full time and raising my girls alone, I was a single mom with two amazing daughters yet I fought stress and fear daily. The stress and fear brought Alopecia (a disease that caused me to lose all of my hair in a month), with Alopecia I was told I would never have hair again. I went through a period of unexplained internal bleeding which landed me in the hospital several times and quite frankly the list goes on and on.
The point here is not to focus on what my past looked like; yes, it was hard, broken and dark. In my brokenness and dark days, Christ became the light in darkness, my only hope. Literally, everything else was falling apart. The light always penetrates the darkness. I learned that the cornerstone of my life had to be Jesus.
As I learned to abide and stay close to Jesus, I began to read and study everything I could find on joy, thanksgiving and gratitude. Seeking these characteristics in Jesus’ character had changed the darkness that surrounded me, healed my body and my days began to get brighter and brighter. Jesus was making all things new.
Then one morning, Isaiah 43:19 popped off the page of my Bible. “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” He was guiding me out of the wilderness and the barrenness of the desert I had been walking through. He taught me what persevering in Him looks like. Truly, Jesus has changed everything for me.
In the midst of the redemptive work Jesus was doing in my heart, mind and physical body, I began to understand the word grace – unmerited favor and that His promises are true. Take time to read 2 Peter 3 today. The new heavens, new earth – HIS kingdom was coming.
Anxiously waiting for the new, wanting to grow in a better understanding of grace – joy, thanks and gratitude became a daily habit. Surrounded by an amazing community, I was seeing and feeling the transformation Jesus was doing in my life. In 2010, the Lord led me to Ann Voskamp’s Joy Dare. I was so excited, this dare set my heart ablaze. The Joy Dare is anchored in finding 3 gifts in each day that you can give thanks to the Lord for.
Through the Joy Dare I was introduced to Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts. The focus of the book is Eucharisteo, a Greek word found in Luke 22:19 “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” “The root word of Eucharisteo is charis which means grace. In the Greek “he gave thanks” reads Eucharisteo. Eucharisteo: thanksgiving, envelopes the Greek word for grace, Charis. It also holds its derivative, the Greek word chara, meaning joy.
These words all fit together: charis equals “grace”, eucharisteo means “thanksgiving”, chara converts to “joy.” Together they are the most beautiful picture of gratitude.
At the last supper, Jesus took the bread, broke it and as He did, He knew soon his broken body would be a gift to mankind. All the while He offered thanks. Before Jesus died, He reminded the disciples to take the bread and the wine to remember and give thanks. This is where my gratitude takes root, it is laced in grace.
Grace was given to me – to you! Almost every day, I continue the practice of counting gifts. When I mentor college students and young adults, we begin with gratitude and the counting of gifts. Being spiritually healthy covers a multitude of issues. Jesus’ kindness towards us is in the grace Jesus offers us, we do not have to do a thing. Psalms 46:10 says it this way – “be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations! I will be exalted in the earth!” I love to invite others into this journey of counting graces by noticing everyday gifts that the Lord places before us. Watching the Lord transform hearts stirs my gratitude. Will you join me in counting gifts? It’s such a life-giving practice!
Count it all grace. Gratitude for Jesus’ sacrifice changed my life: past, present and future. I want others to know that the practice of gratitude brings peace, hope, joy; all of which can be theirs, no matter their circumstance, by placing their trust in Jesus.