Being grateful to a Supreme Being and to other people is an acknowledgement that there are good and enjoyable things in the world to be enjoyed in accordance with the giver’s intent. Good things happen by design. If a person believes in the spiritual concept of grace, they believe that there is a pattern of beneficence in the world that exists quite independently of their own striving and even their own existence. Gratitude thus depends upon receiving what we do not expect to receive or have not earned or receiving more than we believe we deserve. This awareness is simultaneously humbling and elevating.
Emmons writes that gratitude increases spiritual awareness, promotes physical health, maximizes the good, protects against the negative, and strengthens relationships. It “frees us from ourselves,” though gratitude can be “hard and painful work.”
According to Emmons, to remain in the discipline of gratitude we must pay attention and actively remember what we have received that we are grateful for, which can be reinforced by practices like letter writing or keeping a journal, and through worship, particularly when our liturgies help us notice God’s activity and recall God’s faithfulness both past and present. God may have been active in our lives directly or through a neighbor. And signs of God’s faithfulness may be found in our lives today or through hearing the story of Scripture. Gratitude requires an “external focus.” A self-focused way of being inhibits gratitude.
Jonathan Edwards is one of the greatest minds in American history. He is most well known as a Puritan minister, particularly for his role in the First Great Awakening, and is still read in literature and history courses for his sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Though known as “America’s Greatest Theologian,” his theological work also has significance for philosophy, particularly metaphysics, epistemology, and value theory.
Edwards is someone I have read, but not as closely and carefully to this point as I one day aspire to. But one document I have read is his “Resolutions,” which begins, “Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.” He sets a guideline for himself, “Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.”
Here are a few of my favorites:
1. Resolved, that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory, and my own good, profit and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now, or never so many myriads of ages hence. Resolved to do whatever I think to be my duty, and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many and how great soever.
5. Resolved, never to lose one moment of time; but improve it the most profitable way I possibly can.
9. Resolved, to think much on all occasions of my own dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.
13. Resolved, to be endeavoring to find out fit objects of charity and liberality.
17. Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die.
24. Resolved, whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, to trace it back, till I come to the original cause; and then both carefully endeavor to do so no more, and to fight and pray with all my might against the original of it.
25. Resolved, to examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt of the love of God; and to direct all my forces against it.
28. Resolved, to study the Scriptures so steadily, constantly and frequently, as that I may find, and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of the same.
34. Resolved, in narrations never to speak anything but the pure and simple verity.
37. Resolved, to inquire every night, as I am going to bed, wherein I have been negligent, what sin I have committed, and wherein I have denied myself: also at the end of every week, month and year.
42. Resolved, frequently to renew the dedication of myself to God,
which was made at my baptism; which I solemnly renewed, when I was received into the communion of the church; and which I have solemnly re-made this 12th day of January, 1722—23.
47. Resolved, to endeavor to my utmost to deny whatever is not most agreeable to a good, and universally sweet and benevolent, quiet, peaceable, contented, easy, compassionate, generous, humble, meek, modest, submissive, obliging, diligent and industrious, charitable, even, patient, moderate, forgiving, sincere temper; and to do at all times what such a temper would lead me to. Examine strictly every week, whether I have done so.
52. I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again: resolved, that I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age.
56. Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.
67. Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what good I have got by them, and what I might have got by them.
70. Let there be something of benevolence, in all that I speak.
A close examination of the document shows that Edwards added to his list over time. His first list of resolutions was not his final list. He found room to grow, new resolutions, new matters of focus for his life with God.
Such a list clarifies convictions. It offers a helpful guide, a standard, and a rule for living.
These are not resolutions for a year, but for a lifetime.
As I’ve thought over what I wrote over the weekend about prayer, I’ve returned to the idea that prayer needs a context to make sense in our life with God. Prayer is not only about getting answers, or fixing problems, or changing the course of history, though God is certainly free to give us answers, or address our issues, or change our present reality. Prayer is a part of something bigger. It is not an isolated activity, but is part of a larger whole.
What is that larger whole?
Dallas Willard explains:
Hearing God’s word will never make sense except when it is set within a larger life of a certain kind.
To try to locate divine communication within human existence alienated from God is to return to idolatry, where God is there for our use. To try to solve life’s problems by getting a word from the Lord is to hide from life and from the dignity of the role God intended us to have in creation. As John Boykin remarks, “God does not exist to solve our problems.” We exist to stand up with God and count for something in this world.
We must ultimately move beyond the question of hearing God and into a life greater than our own–that of the kingdom of God. Our concern for discerning God’s voice must be overwhelmed by and lost in our worship and adoration of him and in our delight with his creation and his provision for our whole life. Our aim in such a life is to identify all that we are and all that we do with God’s purposes in creating us and our world. Thus, we learn how to do all things to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31; Col. 3:17). That is, we come in all things to think and act so that his goodness, greatness and beauty will be as obvious as possible–not just to ourselves, but to those around us.
That’s the greater context. We pray, not so that we can fulfill a religious duty (one that can be undertaken either happily or unhappily), nor to get God to do what we want, but instead to be in relationship to God and to live according to God’s greater purposes, to learn how best to fulfill the purposes for which we have been made and the vocation to which we have been called.
Back in 1973 Jerry Jeff Walker recorded Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother” and included it on his Viva Terlingua album. It’s a classic. But I never knew the story behind it until recently.
“I walked in and there were thirty or forty people drinking, including one old woman,” he recalls. “The jukebox stopped and they all turned and looked at me.” He nervously asked the bartender for a case, and while he waited, he found himself getting baited by the woman and her son. “How can you call yourself an American with hair like that?” she asked. Her son added, “You want me to beat him up?” Hubbard got his beer and fled, but not before eyeing a pickup truck in the parking lot with a gun rack and a redneck bumper sticker. Once he was safely back with his pals, he picked up his guitar, strummed a G, and made up a song on the spot, about a redneck mother whose son was “thirty-four and drinking in a honky-tonk, just kicking hippies’ asses and raising hell.”
In the late 90s and early 2000s I was listening to a bunch of Outlaw and Red Dirt Country music. Singers gave call outs to other singers, and thanks to the magic of the internet, I kept collecting MP3 tracks and discovering music that I hadn’t heard on mainstream radio. That’s how I found Jerry Jeff. I went to see him play live at the Heart O’Texas Fairgrounds with my buddy Justin Newcom under a little tent with maybe five hundred people, and loved every minute of it. I’ve been a fan ever since. Here’s a picture I took back at the 2018 Texas Bash. Molly and I had a blast seeing him live.
I’m still keeping my eye out for a good “Goat Ropers Need Love, Too” sticker. If you see one, let me know.
Imagine a clock that was designed to keep time long after you were gone. Americans presently live an average of 78.69 years. Jeff Bezos helped fund the construction of a clock that will keep time 10,000 years. Assuming the next one hundred and twenty eight of your descendants live the average human life span, they may see Bezos’ clock tick its last tock.
This past winter, inside a mountain on Jeff Bezos’ sprawling West Texas ranch, Hillis and his colleagues began assembling the device. It is housed in a cylindrical 500-foot shaft cut into solid limestone. Visitors will enter through a jade-paneled door and climb a staircase that spirals around the clock’s gargantuan innards—5-ton counterweights, 8-foot stainless steel gears, a 6-foot titanium pendulum. If they choose to engage the clock’s winding mechanism, they’ll be rewarded with one of 3.65 million unique chimes composed by musician Brian Eno. But the effort is optional; at the top of the stairs is a cupola made of sapphire glass, which will keep the clock fed with thermal energy and sync it up with solar noon. Left unattended, it will mark the millennia on its own. Bezos, who helped pay for the project, told WIRED in 2011 that “whole civilizations will rise and fall” over the life of the clock. That leaves plenty of time to think about what’s beyond the four-zero barrier.
Human beings are geared more toward dealing with and facing immediate threats, deciding matters based on what benefits them most in the moment. But by taking the long view, when considering those who will come long after us, our perspective shifts and perhaps the decisions we make today will be less about ourselves and more about those who are to come after us, our posterity.
We’re a mist, a passing shadow, like grass that is renewed in the morning and in the evening fades. 10,000 years is a long time. But I hope to use this short span for good, and to leave something behind for those who will come after; hopefully something better, something good.
If you know me, you know I love books. Last week, I finished Jeff Pearlman’s Football for a Buck, which tells the story of the United States Football League. Pearlman is a great writer, I’m a sports nut, Donald Trump is part of the USFL’s story, and that made this interesting book more timely that it otherwise would’ve been. I also finished Michael Connelly’s latest Bosch and Ballard novel, Dark Sacred Night. I read everything Connelly writes. He’s a master of crime fiction, and Harry Bosch is one of my favorite characters in literature.
Amazon’s released their February Kindle deals. Here are a few notable books:
These are all either two or three bucks. The Name of the Rose is a detective novel, set in a monastery. I read it about ten years ago and enjoyed it. We’re using the Shigematsu book in my covenant group at Truett Seminary, and I think it is excellent. If you’ve struggled to formulate an approach to the spiritual life that works (meaning, in the past you’ve tried, got frustrated, and felt like you failed), you might want to check it out. I’ve enjoyed reading Henry Cloud, and thought those topics might be relevant to a few of my friends. Sider, McKnight, and Merton are authors I appreciate.