Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Heart of Gratitude

Thanksgiving 2003

If I were Paul writing my memoirs I would've included Acts 13:8-12 (sorcerer - down!); or Acts 16:18 (fortune teller - exorcised!); or Acts 16:26 (jail break!).  We only know these stories because of Luke.

When Paul looked back on his missionary career he listed some of the significant events, such as his stays in prison, the times he was flogged (five times by lash and three times by rod), when he was stoned, shipwrecked (three times) and betrayed by a false brother on several occasions.

I'm thinking if anyone has the credentials to write a statement like I Thessalonians, it is Paul.  He said, "Give thanks in all circumstances (not for them), for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."  Paul was not a masochist.  And he wasn't writing a Thanksgiving sermon.  He did not thank God FOR the flogging - but he allowed gratitude to bubble back to the surface of his heart when the pain gave his mind room to think.

This passage challenges each of us to understand that even serious griefs and aggravations are temporary in the context of God's over all plan for our spiritual well being.  No matter how bad circumstances become, we can be grateful and confident that Satan has not blind-sided God.  For the follower of Jesus there is always one issue more significant than life or death.  Your relationship with Jesus tomorrow is more important than whether you live or die today.

Unless life makes a radical change, or you move to Utopia, circumstances will eventually become grim.  I trust you are living in the glow of a recent success and I hope that glow lasts a long time.  But the light will eventually dim and the shadows of the enemy will start dancing on the walls of your safest room, your sanctuary.  At that point, the way back to fresh victory is by re-establishing a heart of gratitude to God for what He has done.

King Jehoshaphat had been energetically doing God's will.  And enjoying some success.  He had diligently been re-establishing a proper respect for God and justice in Judah.  He might've expected some help from God.  At the beginning of 2 Chronicles 20 it appears that the king is not going to get that help.  It appears circumstances are pointing to disaster.

Read 2 Chronicles 20:1-30

If you had an enemy closing in on you, what song would you sing?  I don't know all the words but "Raindrops Keep Fall'n on My Head" sounds appropriate.  When a vast army is coming to pillage my home and dance on my grave, the doxology does not immediately spring to mind.

Jehoshaphat is naturally alarmed.  But he calls a congregational meeting and they go to prayer.  They remember God's faithfulness in Joshua's day.  They confess their weakness and they ask for help.

The enemy of your soul wants to use adversity to drive you away from God.  Truth be told, he wants to crush you up into his own version of a protein drink and devour you as calories for his ravenous ego.  Satan doesn't feed his stomach, he feeds his ego and you're his favorite meal.  But before he can do that he has to put a wedge between you and God.  So with every crisis he whispers that God has mistreated you:  "If God were good this horrible thing would never have happened."

The facts of the matter are never fully put forward.  In some cases we may be completely to blame, but we still blame God for not "catching us" after we got drunk and drove the car into the canal.

At times we are relatively innocent but the drunk in the other car runs us into the canal, and instead of holding them responsible we blame God.  "If God were so wise, why did He give that idiot freewill?"  Forgetting how often that idiot is us. . . well, probably not you.

The point is, adversity presents a temptation to slander God.  At that moment a heart of gratitude to Jesus defeats Satan just when he thinks he is strongest.  In Jehoshaphat's day the people of God overcame the enemy by committing themselves - even in the storm - to being a worshipping community.

Their fight song (battle cry) became "Give thanks to the Lord, for His love endures forever," through sickness, loss, good health, success.  "Give thanks to the Lord, for His love endures forever."  Notre Dame will probably keep theirs -- but that is their problem.

Where is your biggest battle right now?  Can you picture the enemy puffing himself up at your weakness?  Getting excited about your adversity?  Try the fight song once more:  "Give thanks to the Lord, for His love endures forever."  The enemy thinks that you are ready to give up!  Just say it again with a little more conviction.

We like to think that when we sign up to be on God's side our dreams and plans take "ten giant steps forward" and we're almost across the finish line in the game of "Mother May I."

Faith is a forward journey, for sure, but rarely do we see more than one step at a time.  And faith always includes risk.  "Harmless risk" is an oxymoron.  If there is no potential harm, there is no real risk, and no heroes of the faith.

We can be certain that when we are on God's side the final chapter will be victorious.  The last chapter in God's book tells us about a new city, and the river of life and the reversal of sin's curse and the bright presence of Jesus.  And every committed follower gets to share in that victory. But we should never presume that because the last chapter is such a wonderful success that each chapter between now and then will be equally delicious.

If you need a miracle on this side of heaven, it is because you are in a bad way.  We all want miracles, but we try as hard as we can to avoid needing one.  Only sick people need healing.

Only the person with puss infected sores and body parts so eaten away with leprosy that the next time he picks up a piece of wood for the fire he'll lose a finger is the person who needs the healing touch of Jesus.  It would've been awesome to have been the person who experienced the power of Jesus restoring two dead legs.  The downside is that your legs had to die first:  No walking, running, climbing, playing, dancing!

In the mean time, the time before the miracle, the time when the path is dark and your steps are motivated only by faith -- in that time know this:  God did not send the dark, but He will use it to shape your character in profound ways.

The information in God's Word is given for the purpose of transforming your heart.  Faith is informed by the Word of God and when information has done its transforming work, you are ready to walk into the dark places.

Every leader of warriors has learned that victory is on the other side of (in Churchill's words) "blood, toil, tears and sweat."  Or in Garibaldi's words, "Hunger, thirst, forced marches, battles, and death."  Victory is through the dark.

Jesus knew that victory was on the other side of the cross.  "And for the joy set before Him He endured the cross" (Hebrews 12:12).  Jesus has been to the darkest places a man can go.  He has faced the most ferocious enemy a person can battle.  He has experienced the deepest humiliations.  And He has won.

And by faith in Him He will share the victory with you.  The steps may be dark, the threats may be loud, but His presence will be your guide and counselor. So when you hear reports of an approaching enemy with a vast army you can remember where Jesus has been and how He has been victorious.  You can join a worshipping community that precedes Jehoshaphat, and that community will continue on after you have found your rest.  Today you can sing, "Give thanks to the Lord, for His love endures forever."

A day is coming when you will join a throng of people starting at Adam and including your distant grandchildren, and angels that so impressed John the Revelator  that he recorded the impact of that victory song this way:

"Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude,
          like the roar of rushing waters
          and like peals of thunder, shouting:
               For our Lord God Almighty reigns.
               Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory!"
                                                           (Revelation 19:6,7)

"Give thanks to the Lord, for His love endures forever!"

No comments:

Post a Comment