Gratitude is a posture, a practice, a lifestyle. Intentionally choosing gratitude - no matter the circumstance - is the key to a resilient and growing faith.
Hi, I’m Odalis. If we haven’t had the opportunity to meet yet, I’m part of the pastoral team here at Cornerstone and I help to lead the worship team as well. I am really grateful for this opportunity to share, to spend this time together, to pursue the Lord together. I consider it a deep gift and privilege to do what I get to do and to be part of this team at Cornerstone, to be a group of people who have been so changed by Jesus and to share about that love, that light of who He is to those around. I am born and raised in SF, I guess a little fun fact. My husband and I have been married for two years. My current goal at home is to secure a puppy. I’m also cool with adopting dogs, but the Christmas puppy in a box idea, Christmas morning, just seems really great.
As I said, I’m really excited, I’m really grateful to share as we kick off our advent series called Heart of Worship. It is so fitting to me that we’re entering the Christmas season, that we get to, every year, off of Thanksgiving, off of this invitation into gratitude. Gratitude to me is more than just saying thanks when someone holds the door, or thanks for a gift, or things like that. I believe that in a life lived with Christ, gratitude is a posture. It is a practice. Really, it becomes a part of our lifestyle of worship. In everything we walk through, it becomes a part of who we are. It is my deep conviction that intentionally choosing gratitude, no matter the circumstance, and offering, expressing it to God as worship is the key to a resilient and growing faith life.
This is what I have on my heart to share together as we pursue what it means to foster hearts of worship. While we share this time, I’ll just start with some scripture. I’ll share a little bit about my life. I’ll invite you to think about your story and, together, we’ll listen for the Lord. That’s really my only ask. Is for us to approach this time open and with a listening ear to what God might already be saying now. I would love to pray and then we’ll get started.
Father God, we choose you in this time. We thank you for who you are. We thank you that you, the Father of lights, don’t change like shifting shadows. You are consistent. You are present. You are bright. When we look to you, we find you. You make yourself known to us. As we’re here in this time, as we’re here in this holiday season, as we’re looking ahead at what might be some unknown times, God, we look to you and we thank you that we see you. We thank you for your word and we thank you for this time. Jesus, we pray these things in your name. Amen.
The scriptures have a ton to say about a lot of things. It’s the Bible and it’s the source of our life and strength. It connects us to God who created life, right? The scriptures are a great place to be, but specifically for gratitude, there’re tons and tons of verses. One that stood out to me as I was preparing is Psalm 107: “Give thanks to God, for He is good. His steadfast, his steady, his constant love endures forever.”
Another one from James, a little different, “Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you meet trials of various kinds for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness, and let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” It’s this perspective shift of when you walk through trials, difficult times, count it joy. Look for the opportunity in it and thank God for His presence in it.
One of my often quoted ones this year, Philippians 4:6-7: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” It’s an invitation to come to God with all of our burdens and to remember to thank Him in that burdensome place.
Colossians 2 says, “So then, just as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in Him, rooted and built up, strengthened in the faith as you were taught and overflowing with thankfulness.” Let it be a characteristic of your life, of your faith that we are overflowing with thankfulness.
Here’s one that gets me every time. This is one we’ll come back to as well. 1 Thessalonians 5, “Rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances. It’s a high bar. It’s a high bar, but it’s also a loving invitation. Looking back on this year, we started it with high hopes. I don’t know about you, but I was pumped for 2020. Though I truly believed that God has used this year to do really specific things. It hasn’t been wasted time. It’s also really fair to say and to rest and acknowledge the fact that it’s been different from what we expected.
I don’t want to talk too much about how it’s an unprecedented season, because I already know someone who will pinch me for using that phrase. In a way, we get it. Okay, it’s been a hard year. It’s been different. Okay, we get it, we get it. Also, the reality of that is still unfolding in real-time. It continues to unfold. It’s important to acknowledge this as we move into the holidays. The difference isn’t always bad. Often the difference, the variation, these seasons of upheaval, are opportunities to present to God and to pursue Him in new ways. But as we set our expectations on the best, we do so regularly looking for what’s right, trying to make good goals, goals for growth, for flourishing, to pursue feeling satisfied and joyful and content, and we’re hopefully bringing God into those goals.
Then, like this year, life threw stuff at us; things changed and we know that God is good, He’s kind, He’s strong, and He’s present. It also begs the question, “Well, what does that strength mean in these times? What does it mean to turn to God with gratitude when everything is in upheaval?” God’s strength is not this passive. I’ll get to Odalis later when she comes down strength. He is present in real-time. A lot of the time, it’s about us turning our hearts to pay attention to His presence in those places and doing so habitually. This has really been true for me this year, this needing to shift and look for God, and sometimes only recognizing Him in hindsight.
For example, I have had to practice and stretch and exercise learning to trust God in the unknown places this year, specifically. But also Looking back on my life, on the story that God is writing in my life, through my life, I have seen how, when we choose to look to God for our consistency, for our foundation, when we choose to worship Him, it changes everything.
I shared I started working at the church 10 years ago, in 2010, which the Giants won their first World Series in 50 some years. It was a good year, but also it was a year that marked the beginning of a really painful season of my life. I had been coming to Cornerstone for a couple of years. Before that, I had a very vague knowledge of God. I prayed pretty much when I lost my keys or my wallet, or I was really about to get in trouble. Really vague knowledge, and by 2010, 10 years ago, I had started to serve. I was plugging in, I was building relationships, I was investing in this community, and I was starting to build up this knowledge of God, of who He is.
Right then, in October, my dad passed away really suddenly. He was 56, and four days after his birthday he had a heart attack in his sleep. I don’t talk about this a lot. My seedling of faith did not have answers or a concept of how to walk through it. In some ways, that still shows up now. Every new experience is without my dad. I know everyone has a different dad relationship. Some of us this year have had to grapple with this in really deep ways. For me, my dad meant the world to me. I could always count on his support on his being there. There was a quiet strength to his presence, and though he did so very imperfectly, I truly believe he did his best to be a dad to me and my brothers.
There are a lot of ways that hole has not filled and there are a lot of ways I don’t expect it to be. To be honest, I don’t have a great explanation of that season. It was a deeply painful time and there are many unanswerable questions when there is a loss of a loved one. I am still left with many of those and they are the reminders of a dark time and they are reminders of a faithful God. I was trying to think about how to describe this. It felt sort of almost like being dropped into the deep end of a pool and not knowing how to swim. There is a darkness to it. There is a being stuck of wanting to get out, of not being able to. You’re grasping for something, anything, to hold on to, and anything to bear your weight, to pull on, and you can’t grab water. Now, there’s a futility to it almost.
It went on for what felt like forever. This agony was also connected to so many other feelings of history that are inexplicable now. A future that is unpredictable, of an unsettledness of trying to get used to it, and while you have to experience things to get used to them, and not wanting to experience it. There have been a lot of losses this year. There are so many of us who have experienced heartbreak, who have experienced the loss of loved ones, or broken relationships, from the loss of purpose and direction, the deep loneliness, anxiety, and fear that have taken hold this year. There is this breaking aspect to it.
I don’t know what each of you has walked through. I don’t know the specifics of your pain. But I can say with deep clarity, with true conviction, that the Lord has been with you. He is with you. He will be with you through every painful step of the way. Though every realization of new degrees of loss, these moments that you didn’t see coming, in that grief, those are part of the process, His goodness is there too. I know because He was there with me through all of it, and He continues to be. For me, in some ways, I don’t think I’ll ever fully grasp how God took that broken, pain-riddled girl, and brought new life into her. But my friends, that’s what He does.
Over time my faith grew, and over time my trust in God grew. My understanding of who He is grew, and, with it, my understanding of worship grew. I mean this so genuinely that worship changes us. Worship changes us when we choose to worship. I’m going to be strong on this as we talk, because it is, as I look back at the thread that brought me from that place to where I am now, we can’t control our circumstances but we can control ourselves. When we choose worship, when we choose to connect ourselves to the Source of joy, strength, power, encouragement, healing and hope, and life, when we choose to connect ourselves to Jesus through worship, it changes everything.
Gratitude is this immediately tangible, broadly applicable, very specific practice of worship. It’s specific and yet it is so broad. It’s acknowledging, “Okay, I don’t have everything, I don’t know everything, I don’t totally need to. I may have lost something I thought I needed or something that I did need, but it’s okay for now because I’m held by the one who knows me, who sees me, who loves me better than I do myself. He, like our good Heavenly Father, provides. He cares. He knows. He sees. He makes a way for us.” Gratitude is a proactive declaration of trust, of being open to what He determines being best, aligns us with who He is, His character. It helps us to start to look more like Him.
Now, it didn’t happen right away for me and it might happen right away for you, and I would love to hear all about it. It might take some time. But growing in it, learning to give thanks in all circumstances has been a key for me, not just in that season, but in every difficulty, I have walked through since. Every difficulty. Through every season. A good season, give thanks. A terrible, no good, awful day, give thanks. A deep wounding, a deep pain, a season where your areas of vulnerability get just ripped open, give thanks. Not for the bad thing, but for God, because of who He is no matter what happens. When we do this, it changes us. It betters us. It strengthens us. It connects us to God’s heart, which helps us to look more like Jesus.
I look back on these 10 years on what I walked through, even things I’m walking through now, and I pause and I give thanks. I’ve never given thanks for the sudden loss of my dad. That’s not what this is about. There are things in life we don’t give thanks for; death, disease, tragedies, pains, but how do we give thanks anyway? If we’re invited, like we were reading from 1 Thessalonians before, to rejoice always, to pray continually, and to give thanks in all circumstances. All circumstances; that is, a lot of circumstances. If, as 1 Thessalonians charges us if this is the will of God for us in Christ Jesus, if He has designed us for this, if He has made us with this in mind, well, how do we rejoice when we only feel pain? How do we pray when we’re frustrated with life and, if we’re honest, maybe a little bit with God? How do we give thanks when we don’t feel grateful?
As we continue to walk through sheltered in place, as we continue to wrestle with a division across our country and in so many of our homes, as we embark on a holiday season that already seems marked with confusion, unknown, fear, difference, and longing, what can we do about it? I want to offer three keys, three things that I have learned along the way through what I’ve seen God work in my life. I want to invite us to apply these as we grow our hearts of worship, to become people, as the scripture says, overflowing with gratitude because growing in this connects us to Jesus, our Source, our hope, our strength. It fosters, it builds, it grows, it develops our life of faith and it will see us through every circumstance we walk through. It’s not going to immediately solve every problem, but it’s going to change how we walk through it.
First, my invitation to us, my challenge to us, is to reorient our perspectives. Giving thanks is an act of worship. It’s a declaration of trust, it’s an act of obedience rather than a reflection of our current circumstances. It’s an act of worship, of trust rather than a reflection of our current circumstances. So sometimes we’re going to feel good. We’re going to be feeling the joy. There are so many examples of that in the scriptures. Just one, Psalm 47: “Clap your hands all you nations. Shout to God with cries of joy for the Lord Most High is awesome. The great King over all the earth.” That is a celebration that they were walking through when they wrote that, right? Sometimes that’s our worship. That’s our perspective on God.
Sometimes our perspective is one of pain, and so our worship might sound like a lament of pain. Bring it to Him. A great example is Psalm 42, all of it, but for time’s sake, verses 9 and 10, “I say to God, my rock, why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy? My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me saying all day long, ‘Where is your God?'” Reorient. This is a valid place. It later goes on to say, “Why are you downcast, oh my soul. Hope in God. Hope in God. I will rejoice again. Shift to remember who it is.
Sometimes our worship is these moments of bewilderment, of pain, of confusion. Psalm 143: “So my spirit grows faint within me. My heart within me is dismayed. I spread out my hands to you. I thirst for you like a parched land. Answer me quickly, Lord. My spirit fails. Do not hide your face from me or I will be like those who go down to the pit. Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love for I’ve put my trust in you. Show me the way to go, for to you I entrust my life.” This cry for direction, for clarity, for any kind of answer. We bring our worship to God. We bring ourselves to God, and in that moment, we declare Him more important. That’s what it means to pray “your will be done” as Jesus invited us to. It’s a hard thing to mean in the middle of life-defining circumstances, but we’re essentially saying, “God, you’re more important than this brutally painful thing, you’re more important than this incredibly joyful thing, and you’re more important than all of the in-between.
We give thanks for all of it. C.S. Lewis, who is an author, who is an incredible voice for faith through a large portion of history, wrote The Chronicles of Narnia. He phrased it this way. He said, “We ought to give thanks for all fortune. If it is good, because it is good. If bad, because it works in us patience, humility, and the contempt of this world and the hope of our eternal country.” So when we’re shifting our perspective, yeah, we’re shifting our perspective from our circumstances and onto the Lord, onto who he is, onto the trust that though it may be shaky right now, we know it’s there. We’re shifting onto who he is and we’re shifting to reorient ourselves on not here, on where He is, on our eternal hope. We’re reorienting ourselves around God is in the future that Christ has secured for us, and that’s the foundation for our now. It’s in light of that reoriented perspective that we can be reminded, as the Apostle Paul reminded us, to delight in our weakness, which is where God’s strength reveals itself. Again, he’s not saying to cheer for the bad things, but he’s reorienting our perspective to remember the one who’s got us here and then.
My second encouragement for us as we are fostering these hearts of grateful worship is to build a habit of looking for reasons to be grateful and to give thanks. As much as possible in my life, I have practiced, and I don’t always remember to, but to start every word of prayer, every prayer with a word of thanks. Every time, especially if it’s hard to think of something to say thank you for. It has been embarrassing, just between me and the Lord, before how I struggled to find something to say thank you for. I have been shy and embarrassed or frustrated at myself, thinking, “I can’t think of one thing to say thank you for.” That’s okay because the point is bringing that gratitude even if it’s just the intention of gratitude before Him.
Sometimes my prayers have been, “God, thank you that this day is over and I can go to bed.” Or, “God, thank you for this warm cup of coffee, which is my peaceful moment of sanity in whatever moment it is.” Look for things to say thank you for. Look for those moments that connect us to the heart of God. Look for those spaces where we catch any glimpse of Him. I’m taking a class on Christian theology and my professor had us read his book, Simple Christianity. He calls it echoes of a voice, like these moments of beauty, of gratitude, even if they’re hard to look for, even if they’re painful things, these spaces that connect us back to God. It’s this echo of his voice where we’re not catching the fullness of his voice yet, but we’re hearing a glimpse of it here and now. It connects us to Him in a way that we couldn’t if our ears were stopped.
The third thing I want to invite us to is to practice a physical posture of gratitude. I know this isn’t for everybody right away, and that’s okay. The Lord wants us exactly where we’re at, whatever your comfort level is. When we’re in prayer and when we’re in worship, there is something to be said for connecting our physical posture to the intention of our hearts. If we think about gratitude, it’s giving and receiving, right? God has given us something, we’re receiving it, and then we’re giving Him our gratitude and He receives it. So it’s this openness.
I want to invite us to start with open hands, in worship, in prayer. If you’d prefer a bowed heart, just a little a bowed heart, a small gesture, a small physical gesture to connect to the internal intention, our choice of worship in whatever space that is. It can often help connect us in a deeper way when we create this consistent flow between our heart and our bodies and our minds. My prayer for us is that we would learn to give thanks for good, whatever it is, to the giver of all gifts. My hope for us is that we would learn with resilience, with worship, and with trust to give thanks to God in the not-so-good. That we, as we are invited into, as we foster this life of intentional, chosen, expressed worship can live in a way that is God-centered no matter what happens.
I would just love to pray. God, we thank you for your word. We thank you for this time, God, and we thank you for your faithfulness no matter what. Whether we are starting really small or we’ve been practicing gratitude for a long time and it feels second nature, we thank you for your presence and your faithfulness, and your love with us in all of those places. Father, would you reveal your heart to us? Would you connect us to you, our source of hope, of life, and strength? Would you give us the courage and the perspective and the posture of heart to move through these holidays in line with you? God, give us a sense of your presence through what might be a difficult season and remind us no matter what happens of your goodness. We pray these things, Jesus, in your good and beautiful and worthy name. Amen.
In a moment, the worship team is going to share a song that I love, but before that, we’ll have our time of giving. You can give online and you can also mail in your checks. There’s more information on the FAQ online, but our faithfulness in this way is just deeply wonderful. The song that the team is going to share is one that I love. I picked it out, not sorry. It’s a song called I’ll Give Thanks. One of my favorite parts is the chorus, which sings, “I’ll give thanks to God when I don’t have enough ’cause He’s more than enough.” He’s more than enough. Let that be the prayer of our lives in this day, in this season, and moving forward through the course of our days. God bless you.
Two things: one, I want you to know how thankful I am for all of you. I really am. I was just reflecting on what a wonderful church you are and I include those of you who’ve joined us as part of our extended family in different parts of the nation and, in some cases, different parts of the world. You’ve been connecting with us over these months and we’re going to stick together. We’re all doing this journey together. But I wanted to tell you ‘thank you’ just for your faithfulness, for your giving, for your support, for your encouragement, just the quality of this church has really shown in a beautiful way, during this very challenging time. I’m so looking forward to not only celebrating Christmas but also for the New Year that awaits us as we believe and prepare for breakthrough.
One other thing I want to still remind you, please take advantage of the season, the Christmas season. Yes, embrace the one who is light in the darkness. There’s a blessing here. There’s a blessing here. The Lord has not left us alone. His coming changes everything and He’s with us now. God is with us. How good is that? He’s so God, He’s so good. He wants us to, so God and He’s so good, share this goodness with others. May the Lord keep you, and your spirit, and your soul, in your mind and in your body, that’s my prayer for you all in Jesus’ name. Don’t forget, you are greatly loved.