The Cure for a Cynical Heart

“I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart;
I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and exult in you;
I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.”
(Psalm 9:1–2)

 Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day, and while everyone is busy making preparations for the big meal and the family gatherings, may we not forget the reason why we’re all together – to give thanks to God for all His blessings.

I recently came upon the following from A.W. Tozer on Thankfulness As a Moral Therapeutic that I thought I would share which tells of the benefits of a spirit of thankfulness.

In this world of corruption there is a danger that the earnest Christian may overreact in his resistance to evil and become a victim of the religious occupational disease, cynicism. The constant need to go counter to popular trends may easily develop in him a sour habit of faultfinding and turn him into a sulky critic of other men’s matters, without clarity and without love.

What makes this cynical spirit particularly dangerous is that the cynic is usually right. His analyses are accurate, his judgment sound. He can prove he is right in his moral views; yet for all that he is wrong, frightfully, pathetically, wrong. But because he is right, he never suspects how tragically wrong he is. He slides imperceptibly into a condition of chronic bitterness and comes at last to accept it as normal.

Now as a cure for the sour, faultfinding attitude I recommend the cultivation of the habit of thankfulness. Thanksgiving has great curative power. The heart that is constantly overflowing with gratitude will be safe from those attacks of resentfulness and gloom that bother so many religious persons. A thankful heart cannot be cynical.

We should never take any blessing for granted, but accept everything as a gift from the Father of Lights. Whole days may be spent occasionally in the holy practice of being thankful. We should write on a tablet one by one the things for which we are grateful to God and to our fellow men. And a constant return to this thought during the day as our minds get free will serve to fix the habit in our hearts.

In trying to count our many blessings the difficulty is not to find things to count, but to find time to enumerate them all… To my parents I owe my life and my upbringing. To my teachers I owe that patient line-upon-line instruction that took me when I was a young, ignorant pagan and enabled me to read and write. To the patriots and statesmen of the past I owe the liberties I now enjoy. To numerous and unknown soldiers who shed their blood to keep our country free I owe a debt I can never pay. And I please God and enlarge my own heart when I remind the Lord that I am grateful for them.

Tozer, A.W. The Root of the Righteous. (Harrisburg, PA, Christian Publications Inc., 1955) Pg. 122-125.

So if you’re struggling with a bitter and cynical heart, find your cure in thankfulness. Make your list of blessings today – count your blessings, name them one by one. Pour out before the Lord your gratitude and praise, not just when the bird is on the table, but each and every day.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sola Deo Gloria!

Pass the Chocolate

“Is this not the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?”
(Isa 58:6 ESV)

This being Ash Wednesday, the beginning the Lenten season, everybody’s talking about what they’re going to give up as an act of discipline.  Some have turned off social media, some will try to quit smoking, others have promised, somewhat humorously, to stop shoveling snow.

If taken seriously, the practice of forsaking those vices that tempt and try your soul is a commendable thing, especially if it leads to a permanent victory over a besetting sin.  However, to merely give something up that is not inherently bad, depriving yourself of a God-given pleasure, to somehow feel “closer to God” for 40 days, only to take it back up again in the end seems… how do I say this… NUTS!

I don’t think this is a Biblical teaching.  It may be rooted in tradition, but at the heart of it, the notion of a Lenten Fast to demonstrate devotion and discipline smacks of works righteousness, declaring, “Hey God, I gave up caffeine for 40 days, just for you.  Aren’t you proud of me? I may have been a terrible grouch, but didn’t I prove to you my spiritual fortitude?”  Now where’s that jewel in my crown?  Have you ever stopped to ask how many people are actually drawn to the Gospel of Jesus Christ because you gave up wearing polyester pant suits for 7 weeks?  Did anyone even notice?

Now, if I haven’t totally offended you and you’re still reading, here’s my suggestion: Rather than give up some trivial pleasure this Lent, fast from something that doesn’t belong in the Christian life anyway, something that you, the Church, and your community would be better off without for good.  Here are a few suggestions:

Complaining – Nothing has ever really been gained by a grumbling and complaining spirit.  Yes, yes, the squeaky wheel  gets the oil, but it also eventually gets replaced.  Look through the history of Scripture, never once did God commend the complaining spirit.  Complaining about your lot in life, at its heart, is really telling God that you know better how your life should be going, that you have a better plan.  Complaining, if we take the Israelites in the wilderness as our example, is always looking back at what’s happened in the past, always looking down at what’s happening right now, but never looking forward to what God has promised, to what God is doing.  I will not say that God cannot use a complaining spirit, but when He does, it usually isn’t a good thing.  Stop complaining.  Remember, God is using the very things you are complaining about to work transformation in your life – it has a holy purpose.  Give up complaining for 40 days, you, and everyone else around you, will be better for it.

Comparing – Connected to the idea of complaining is that of comparing.  We like to compare ourselves to others all the time.  We compare ourselves to those who are less fortunate and say, “Well, at least I’m not that bad.” We compare ourselves to those who seem to have everything and say, “When is it going to be my turn?”  Constantly comparing yourself to others to demonstrate your righteousness will get you nowhere with God.  Constantly comparing yourself to others to make excuses for yourself doesn’t have any standing before God either.  Stop comparing yourself to others, and comfort yourself in the knowledge that God has put you where you are, given you the gifts that you have, and is working his grace within you now, that you might grow in the likeness of Christ.  If you must compare yourself to anyone, compare yourself with Him – then cry out to him for mercy and grace.

Bitterness – Nothing hinders the Gospel, nothing quenches the Spirit, nothing obscures the witness quite like a bitter and unforgiving Spirit.  “God is love,” we say.  “I’ve been forgiven,” we celebrate.  “But it will be a cold day in you-know-where before I forgive him…”  I love the phrase “nursing a grudge” because that’s exactly what it is; you are keeping that grudge, that bitterness, that hostility alive, feeding it and nurturing it so that it is always there.  Rather than fostering love, forgiveness, and peace, a bitter and hostile spirit leads to division, animosity, and tearing one another down.  If you have been forgiven, you will forgive.  If you are unwilling to forgive, have you really been forgiven?  This Lent, try fasting from bitterness, and feasting on forgiveness.

Despair – Now by this I don’t mean grief.  There are certainly occasions where grief is appropriate, especially when grieving over the death of a loved one.  By despair I mean that hopeless, pessimistic burden that comes when we forget the Gospel message.  When we look at our sin, our guilt, our shame, and we say, Well, I’ve certainly done it this time.  God surely can’t, won’t, forgive me now.  This despair comes when we turn our eyes from God, from His love for us in Christ, from the earth-shattering power of the Cross and the Empty Tomb, from the wonder-working power of His Spirit in us.  This despair comes when we stop listening to His promises, stop dwelling in His Word, stop fellowshipping with His Church.  We despair when we forget who He is, who He has called us to be, and who we truly are in Christ.  Give up this unhealthy, unfaithful, un-gospel despair, and rejoice in the fact that He has called you His child – and so you are!

So there you have it, just a few suggestions; feel free to add your own ideas in the comments below.  May this Lenten Season be a time when you can cast off every weight and sin which clings so closely, and run with perseverance the race set before you, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.