Archive for August, 2014|Monthly archive page

Transformed by gratitude

A friend, who is going through a tough time, has been an inspiration for me. He finds real joy in the things I take for granted.

My mind is often on the troubles of life. His mind is, too. But instead of burying himself in his woes, he finds shafts of light that bring him happiness.

He reminds me of Hannah Whitall Smith who lived a heartbreaking life. Her husband left her, a beloved son died, and a daughter abandoned the Christian faith and married a prominent atheist.

Yet Hannah Whitall Smith grew deeper in her faith in Jesus, writing The God Of All Comfort after all these tragedies in her life.

I return often to a chapter she wrote titled “Thanksgiving versus complaining” where she delves into the benefits of gratitude.

She takes as her springboard 1 Thessalonians 5:18 where the apostle Paul writes: “Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”

As Smith says, many people believe this is an impossible command. How can we be thankful when something terrible has happened to us?

She tells the amazing story of Joseph in the Old Testament. Sold by his brothers into slavery, he endured wrongful imprisonment, virtually forgotten in a jail cell for many years. Then, through God’s power, he interpreted the Egyptian pharaoh’s dreams and was made a great leader.

When Joseph finally met his brothers again, he told them: “Don’t be upset and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives.” (Genesis 45:5)

This is an astounding act of forgiveness – and also thanksgiving for good flowing from evil.

Smith contrasts Joseph’s attitude with that of many Christians. The best they can do, she says, is to resign themselves to their circumstances. Being thankful is beyond them.

Yet God is always at work in our circumstances. He showers us with good things – everyday things that we take for granted. Family, friends, food, shelter.

Smith tells a story from a missionary tract of a woman who said she had no money to give to missionaries. A niece suggested she drop a penny in a box for every good thing she found in her life. So, the old woman began looking at her surroundings with new eyes and soon the box was full.

Being grateful for little things can change us – can change me.

The key is to see God at work in our lives – in everything.

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Don’t give up!

I am fascinated with stories of people who “hang in there” until they reach their goal.

When I was a child, I remember my father telling me the story of Thomas Edison who developed the first practical electric light bulb. Edison failed many times before he finally succeeded.

As one writer noted: “With unflagging determination, Edison and his team tried out thousands of theories, convinced that every failure brought them one step closer to success.”

As I grow older, I see more and more the dangers of discouragement. People fail to reach their potential because they give up too soon.

Discouragement affects Christians just as much as anyone else. We get discouraged because we fail to measure up to our own standards or someone else’s standards. Or, our particular dream seems impossible to reach.

We all need to keep our eye on the prize as the apostle Paul says. Every once in a while, I remind myself of Paul’s words in Philippians 3:13-14:

“Forgetting the past, and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”

Paul was not worrying about what others thought of him or comparing his accomplishments with someone else’s. He knew he was called by God to tell people about the good news of Jesus Christ and he was going to do it no matter what discouraging obstacles he faced.

That meant putting behind him the defeats he suffered and the hurtful things people said. Always, his eye was on Jesus Christ and what Jesus wanted him to do.

This is good advice for me. Like most people, I get discouraged. I get discouraged with my own walk with God. And I am disheartened when other believers I know lose heart and stop dreaming about what God can do in their lives.

I need to remind myself, as well, that my particular dreams need to be checked with God. Am I doing what God has called me to do?

A great hero of mine, George Muller, made a point of seeking what God wanted from him and then doing it even though he often didn’t know where the money would come from that day to feed the hundreds and, ultimately, thousands of orphans he cared for. He listened to what the Spirit of God was telling him through the Bible and then prayed with faith.

I need to “hang in there” and keep my eye on what Jesus is asking me to do.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled”

On the eve of his death, Jesus told his friends: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”

Jesus knew what was going to happen to him. As we know now, he was not looking forward to it – as a human being, he did not want to die (Luke 22:42).

His followers – disciples – were clearly puzzled by what he was saying. They had invested their whole lives in Jesus, believing him to be specially sent by God for his chosen people.

Yet, for some time, Jesus had been dropping some strange hints about his coming death.

In John 13, it is clear that Jesus knew how his disciples would react to his death for, in verse 38, he foretells that Peter will deny he was a follower of Christ’s. The life would go out of his friends like air out of a punctured tire.

But Jesus had a message for his friends – a message they would remember later on. It is a message for me and every believer, too.

After telling them not to be troubled, Jesus adds these words: “Trust in God; trust also in me.” (John 14:1)

“Trust” is a word that runs through the Bible. The question we all have to face is: Do I believe that God has my best interests at heart? Do I believe he will work out things for my good as the apostle Paul says in Romans 8:28?

Do I trust him?

I was struck a couple of weeks ago by something a friend said. He was heartbroken about a serious family problem. But, he was trusting God throughout.

You might say his heart was troubled and, therefore, he wasn’t trusting God. I believe he was resting in God, despite his anguish.

I don’t think Jesus was telling his disciples to be happy about all the confusion and hatred and death that was on their doorstep. He was telling them to rest confident that God knew what he was doing.

As I noted above, Jesus pleaded with God the Father about the death he was about to undergo. But he wound up saying these timeless words: “Yet not my will, but yours be done.”

From that moment, Jesus went resolutely to his death on the cross. You might even say, he went triumphantly.

Like the disciples, I have been confused and troubled about a number of things this year. Jesus’ words are a message for me.

In the presence of Jesus

A friend said something this week that touched me: He said he longed to be aware of Jesus’ presence in his life.

It was a heartfelt declaration from a man who believes in Jesus and trusts him in the midst of difficult personal circumstances.

His statement raises a host of questions in my mind – questions that Christians have been asking for centuries. For instance, is Jesus absent if I don’t feel he is present? If I don’t feel he is near, is it because of my sin or disobedience?

I am convinced that Jesus is always present even if I don’t “feel” he is. In Matthew 28:20, he promised that he would always be with us. And I believe what Jesus says.

But what about being aware of his presence? Why do some people have vivid experiences of Jesus in visions and sometimes audible words while others do not? Why do we have strong impressions of God’s presence at some point in our lives and at others we do not?

I often think of King David when I puzzle through questions of various kinds. God considered him “a man after his own heart”. And yet there were times when David felt the Lord had forsaken him.

In Psalm 22:1, David says: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I cry for help?”

Yet, on other occasions, David was keenly aware of God giving him directions.

Jeanne Guyon, who wrote Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ had a remarkably close relationship with Jesus. And yet she also wrote about long dry periods when God seemed far away.

I believe we can build barriers between ourselves and God through disobedience. God is present, but we feel he is far away. It is our doing, not God’s. Like the father in Jesus’ wonderful story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15, God is longing to welcome us into his arms.

But I also believe that we can go through periods where God seems far away even though we have done nothing wrong.

I like the way David ends Psalm 22. He reaffirms his trust in God and praises him despite his bewilderment.

As many have said, our faith is based on fact, not feeling. The fact is what Jesus has done for us on the cross and the life he has given us.

And the feeling? God will choose to bless us with an awareness of his presence in his own time and for his own reasons.