Practice May Not Make Perfect, But It Sure Makes Progress

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you”…1 Thessalonians 5:18 (ESV)

Happy Thanksgiving Week! I pray you’re looking forward to a great time of connection and celebration with friends and family this week. I pray you’ll also take some time to consider the inspiration (and namesake) for this, my favorite holiday of the year. Thanksgiving- or as we’re calling it in our Just Give Up series, appreciation- is a practice that seems simple on the surface, but in reality requires a strong measure of intentionality- and practice.

The idea of practicing appreciation may strike you as odd, perhaps even somewhat ingenuine. After all, if you have to force yourself to practice appreciating God and others, isn’t that an indication that such appreciation is a bit inauthentic? I’ll admit that in a sense, it may, but at same time, I’m not certain it matters all that much. This is a practice worth our practice.

Think about it- Anything worth doing in this life requires some measure of practice, some amount of discipline in the pursuit of an intended end. If you want to excel athletically, you’ve got to hit the weights. If you want to excel academically, you’ve got to hit the books. If you want to excel relationally, be it in your marriage, your parenting, or your friendships, you’ve got to work consistently to make that happen. There are days when such practice may not seem particularly delightful to you, but because the end is worth it, you push through in perseverance.

Let’s think about this in the context of appreciation. Because of sin, we are wired to be naturally greedy, discontented, and ungrateful (quite a sunny outlook on humanity, don’t you think?). Combine this with the fact that we live in a culture that delights daily in pointing out our imperfections and inadequacies, and it doesn’t take long to recognize that expressing appreciation is an uphill battle for us all.

Now obviously the ultimate antidote to this tendency is a heart deeply transformed by God’s grace. I’m not disputing that, not for a moment. But I also believe that we open ourselves up to receive God’s transforming work in our lives through the persistent practice of His commands on us as His people, such as the one that heads this post. The more we consistently choose to focus on the reasons we have to be grateful- and furthermore, to express to God and others that gratitude- the more our hearts and minds will be “retrained” to do so naturally. In this way, I believe discipline can lead to delight, practice to a “new normal.”

So what would it look like practically to practice appreciation in the rhythms of everyday life? Here are a few recommendations…

1. Begin and end your day with it. What if an intentional expression of gratitude was the very first- and very last- thing to which you gave yourself every day? Take five minutes before you dive in each morning to say “thank you” to God or someone else. Finish each evening in the same way, focusing on God’s grace and others’ goodness toward you instead of all of the offenses and inadequacies you’ve collected over the hours of the day.

2. Leverage technology to remind yourself. I believe our “smart”-everything, hyper connected world has in many ways contributed negatively to our epidemic of ingratitude. That said, if we’re going to be connected, why not utilize the technology at our disposal to push ourselves toward something better, like appreciation? Set a daily reminder on your device- you pick the time- and make yourself stop to intentionally express appreciation toward God and others.

3. Talk about it as a family. This is something we attempt to practice consistently in our home. As we share a meal at the end of the day, we also share the reasons we have to be grateful. This is sometimes as simple as directing our kids to express appreciation to their Mom for her care, her cooking, and more. However you do it, work to create a culture of appreciation in your home and family.

4. Make a list- and make it visible. As God brings to your mind the inspiration for appreciation, write it down- and keep it in a place where you’ll see it regularly. Seeing things over and over again has a distinctive way of getting them into our consciousness. This is another fun “project” you could initiate and maintain as a family.

It is my hope and prayer that these simple suggestions- and any others you might add to them!- will serve as a valuable “kick start” to your practice of appreciation this week and beyond. I’m confident that as you practice this practice, your perspective will shift dramatically, and as a result, your relationships with God and others will be transformed to look a little more like God intended. Practice may not make perfect, but it sure makes progress- that’s my prayer for each of you today.

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