WE HAVE A GRATITUDE PROBLEM

Dear Church, we have a gratitude problem, and it’s not what you think.

We seem to have conflated the concepts of gratitude and worship, and so much so that many of us can no longer tell the difference. When we think about what it means to worship God, all too often our focus is reflecting on all the ways God has been good to us and all the ways we’ve seen His faithfulness in the form of blessings and earthly provision. Even listening to some modern worship songs can often reveal just how much the focus has shifted from who God is to what God has done for us.

As I begin to get deeper into writing my upcoming book about suffering, I’ve had to stop and reflect on this question: why it is that the modern church seems to have lost its way in regards to suffering? Why is my generation genuinely struggling to cope with pain and affliction and still keep the faith? I think part of it has to do with this “gratitude problem.” When our focus drifts away from who God is and we fixate instead on looking for God’s faithfulness in what he does for us? We shift our perspective, and we’ll ultimately weight our understanding of God by our own circumstances and experiences.

It often starts innocently enough: we see God move in an incredible way to provide for us, or we hear a testimony of His power and faithfulness to a fellow believer, and we say to ourselves “See? God is so good.” There is of course truth in that statement, God is so good, but the problem is when we assign that goodness to Him only in light of the ways we see Him provide for us. We use our limited perspective of what we believe is good and just and fair in this life, and start to see that as a measuring stick for our understanding of God’s faithfulness. Sure, we know God is good when He gives the miracle baby to the faithful couple who have spent 10 years waiting and praying, but is that WHY we know He is good? Do we believe He is good when the couple that tries for 20 years never gets a miracle of their own? Do we believe He is good when cancer and disease take our loved ones seemingly too soon? Do we believe He is good when the deepest desires of our heart are the very things He says no to? Do we believe He is good when we don’t have such obvious “proof” to hold up to show it? When we begin to focus too much on the testimonies of the things God has given to us as the proof of God’s character, then it shouldn’t be surprising when hard times lead us to question our faith or even God’s love for us. After all, if God’s gifts to us are the evidence we look for to prove His love and ultimately His goodness, how can we be sure of Him when our prayer seemingly goes unanswered?

GRATITUDE

One of the ways I’ve tried to become more intentional about combating this issue is in prayer. We have used a very simple model in our home to teach our boys about prayer. Each night when we have bedtime prayers, the boys have followed the same pattern: first they thank God for at least three things, then they pray for at least three other people, then they can pray for themselves (which always includes an apology for sin and a request for forgiveness, …

DEVOTIONALS AREN’T BIBLE STUDIES

With the start of fall and children heading back to school, my Instagram feed is once again filled with snaps of book covers laid next to morning mugs of coffee, captioned with inspirational quotes taken from within their pages. Women are getting back into their morning quiet time routine, moms’ ministries are announcing their new fall event schedule, and Bible Study groups are starting up again after their summer break. With the amazing year that Christian publishing has had, there’s certainly no shortage of quality books to choose from. My own Amazon purchase history certainly suggests it’s been a gangbuster year for female authors of faith. But here’s the thing friends: those inspiring devotional books we all love? Most of them actually aren’t Bible studies, and it’s important we carefully recognize the difference.

quiettime

Devotionals can do a fantastic job pulling us out of our own limited experiences and calling us to look at ourselves and our faith in a new light. They can be inspiring, even challenging, and it would be no exaggeration to call many of them life changing. Yet one key point separates a devotional from a Bible study – a devotional doesn’t require you to have your Bible there with you to read it. When you read a devotional, it may include references to specific scripture or even verses quoted within its pages, but the book is self contained. It can be slipped into your purse and read anywhere from your local coffee shops to the carpool pickup lane, and that very convenience is part of their appeal, especially in seasons of life where time is a difficult commodity to come by.

The problem with devotionals comes when we confuse them with Bible studies, and allow them to step into that vital role in our walk with God. It can be far too easy to feel the encouragement and insight we gather from the writings of wise women of faith, and begin to feel as though our hunger for God’s word is being met and filled. We become like little baby birds, happily accepting the regurgitated nourishment from our mothers beak, already pre-chewed for our comfort and ease, and we no longer feel the urgency to leave the nest and seek our own meals. We enjoy our morning coffee with an inspiring chapter of Christian nonfiction, and we call that our quiet time for the day. Meanwhile our Bibles sit nearby on the shelf and we don’t feel the ache of their neglect.

A true Bible study entails exactly that: a study of God’s word itself, with time spent deep within its pages. It may guide us to certain passages, even offering insights into understanding we might have otherwise missed out on, but ultimately it can’t be read on its own – its purpose is to point us back to our Bibles, and to push us to go deeper in our understanding of its words. it’s inside those very pages we meet with our God, allowing Him to speak His truth over our hearts and lives. There’s a sacred intimacy in reading His love letter to us, and it simply can’t be replaced by reading the second hand interpretations of others. We may gain new insights hearing about someone else’s experiences with God and with His word, but it’s simply no substitute for our own first hand encounters.

Another benefit to reading scripture is that you surrender control of the conversation and leave yourself open to hear whatever God chooses to speak to. When we buy a devotional they are usually topical, and so we can decide

WE HAVE A GRATITUDE PROBLEM

GRATITUDE PROBLEM

Dear Church, we have a gratitude problem, and it’s not what you think.

We seem to have conflated the concepts of gratitude and worship, and so much so that many of us can no longer tell the difference. When we think about what it means to worship God, all too often our focus is reflecting on all the ways God has been good to us and all the ways we’ve seen His faithfulness in the form of blessings and earthly provision. Even listening to some modern worship songs can often reveal just how much the focus has shifted from who God is to what God has done for us.

As I begin to get deeper into writing my upcoming book about suffering, I’ve had to stop and reflect on this question: why it is that the modern church seems to have lost its way in regards to suffering? Why is my generation genuinely struggling to cope with pain and affliction and still keep the faith? I think part of it has to do with this “gratitude problem.” When our focus drifts away from who God is and we fixate instead on looking for God’s faithfulness in what he does for us? We shift our perspective, and we’ll ultimately weight our understanding of God by our own circumstances and experiences.

It often starts innocently enough: we see God move in an incredible way to provide for us, or we hear a testimony of His power and faithfulness to a fellow believer, and we say to ourselves “See? God is so good.” There is of course truth in that statement, God is so good, but the problem is when we assign that goodness to Him only in light of the ways we see Him provide for us. We use our limited perspective of what we believe is good and just and fair in this life, and start to see that as a measuring stick for our understanding of God’s faithfulness. Sure, we know God is good when He gives the miracle baby to the faithful couple who have spent 10 years waiting and praying, but is that WHY we know He is good? Do we believe He is good when the couple that tries for 20 years never gets a miracle of their own? Do we believe He is good when cancer and disease take our loved ones seemingly too soon? Do we believe He is good when the deepest desires of our heart are the very things He says no to? Do we believe He is good when we don’t have such obvious “proof” to hold up to show it? When we begin to focus too much on the testimonies of the things God has given to us as the proof of God’s character, then it shouldn’t be surprising when hard times lead us to question our faith or even God’s love for us. After all, if God’s gifts to us are the evidence we look for to prove His love and ultimately His goodness, how can we be sure of Him when our prayer seemingly goes unanswered?

Β One of the ways I’ve tried to become more intentional about combating this issue is in prayer. We have used a very simple model in our home to teach our boys about prayer. Each night when we have bedtime prayers, the boys have followed the same pattern: first they thank God for at least three things, then they pray for at least three other people, then they can pray for themselves (which always includes an apology for sin and a request for …

GOD DOESN’T EXIST IN A NICHE: NEITHER SHOULD YOU

Finding your niche. Define your niche. Know your niche.

Finding your niche

Niche.

Niche is hands down the official buzzword of the blogosphere. What’s it mean? Essentially, the number one piece of blogging advice given at conferences, classes, and all over Pinterest boils down to this: find a specifically defined and branded area of the internet where you can establish yourself as an expert, and then stay in your lane. If you blog about recipes? Don’t post about home decor. If you’re a graphic designer? Don’t talk about your parenting. Pick an area of expertise, and then streamline your posts to stay within your sphere so that you have a clearly defined audience and an established brand.

So what’s my niche here at The Joy Parade?

I don’t have one.

Finding your niche

When I started this blog, I hired an amazing designer who specialized in branding. I created a Pinterest board while working with her to brainstorm what I wanted my branding to communicate. Sure, some of that work is about color palettes and graphics and such, but much of it is defining how you want to make people feel. It’s imagining what your readers will experience when they go to your website, scroll through your Instagram, or otherwise engage with your brand online.

If you’ve ever clicked on the Meet Stephanie page, you may have seen this verse: “So being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” The verse serves as a manifesto of sorts for my purpose behind the Joy Parade. It’s a place where I get to share myself with my readers in an authentic way, letting each and every one of you into my story to see what God is teaching me and how He’s showing Himself to our little family. It’s an extension of who I am – spilled out to take form in these words and images, and sent lovingly outward to travel the web and onto the screens of whoever God would have them for.

The person God created me to be – she doesn’t have a niche. She’s a mother. She’s an author. She’s a singer. She’s a lyme disease warrior. She loves photography. She’s an autism advocate. She’s a wife. She’s passionate about community. She loves to cook. She sings. She’s a friend. She’s a child of God. She isn’t define by what she does, who she knows, or what she creates. She exists outside of a niche because she was made in the image of a multifaceted God who is too complex to be defined. She’s a direct reflection of a God who is beyond boundaries, rules, or labels.

Niches are finite, and we are reflections of a God who is infinite.

For bloggers, authors, and speakers, this embracing of the niche has created a disturbing set of trends in our community. By defining ourselves within our respective niches, we unleashed a wave of unintended consequences. Bloggers in similar niches began to amalgamate more and more. They followed the same people, read the same books, attended the same conferences, pinned the same things on Pinterest, adopted the same mantras… Without even noticing, we created echo chambers around ourselves and our brands, leaving a space that was hostile to diversity and detrimental to the very creativity that we set out to celebrate. The same names appear again and again on the various conference speaker line ups. The same books show up over and over again on Instagram, cleverly staged with a morning coffee …