Archives for the month of: November, 2014

give thanks

Giving anything is done intentionally. When we give a gift or advice, when we “give a hand” or “give a break”, we contribute something on purpose. Giving thanks works the exact same way.

It is easy to be thankful for things that bring us joy. Gratitude is an easy, natural response when we get what we want. Being thankful results from an understanding that something has been given to us. Many of us will gather with family and friends this week to celebrate all that we have been given. But celebrating what we’re thankful for is not the same as giving thanks.

In order to give thanks, we must acknowledge that what we have is a gift. There are countless gifts that God has given each of us, some of which we actually recognize. He provides for us and blesses us, and our response to those good gifts is thanksgiving that is almost effortless. It is easy to be grateful for the things that bring us joy.

But what if we don’t like what we’re facing? What if we are in the midst of a season of trial or suffering? What if our circumstances fuel our anxiety or bring us pain? What if God doesn’t obey us and gives us what we specifically asked to be protected from? Sometimes we are unhappy with what we are facing, and we have good reason to be anxious or afraid. Gratitude seems out of place. “Giving thanks” seems insincere when we don’t like what we’re facing. And yet, the Bible says we are to

1 Thess 5:18  give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’ will for you in Christ Jesus.

Over and over the Bible says we are to give thanks to God. We are to enter his gates with thanksgiving (Psalm 100:4), we are to be watchful and thankful (Col 4:2), and be thankful and worship God with reverence (Heb 12:28). He even goes so far as to require that we refuse to be “anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Phil 4:6)

I don’t think God necessarily wants us to thank him for the things that bring us fear or pain; I believe he wants us to thank him in spite of them. When we focus on our problems, we can lose sight of God; when we focus on God, we have better perspective on our problems.

Heb 13:15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise.

A sacrifice, by definition, is costly. It may cost us financially. It may cost our expectations or our comfort zone. It will cost us a focus on ourselves. I believe that being able to thank God in the hard times is a “sacrifice of praise”.

 Sometimes our thanksgiving is a natural response to our circumstances because we are thankful for what we have. But sometimes our thanksgiving has to be a sacrifice of praise. It would be easier and far more natural to complain or stage our own pity party; it would make much more sense to be outraged or disgusted or disappointed or hurt. We would have to sacrifice our outrage and disappointment and pain in order to be thankful. Are you willing to trust God with the things in your life that do NOT bring you joy? That cause you pain or suffering? Can you place them on his altar and entrust them to his care…even when you don’t like the results?

Are you willing to sacrifice your control and desires and praise God for what is, rather than what is not? When you enumerate all your blessings, will you be able to place your unfulfilled expectations and disappointments in God’s hands as well? Is your gratitude based solely on the things that make you happy, or can you offer him a sacrifice of praise?

This thanksgiving as you recall all the wonderful gifts you are grateful for, remember to be thankful to God himself – for knowing the details of your past and loving you through them, for his presence in the difficulty and pain of your present, and for leading you into all that is to come in your future.

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“The Gospel is for those who know they are empty.  Those who see no need for God in their lives see no need for God in their society.  They think they are capable of all they need. Our lives are significant only when we join God in our world.” Alister Begg

We can be “full of ourselves”. We can fill our homes with possessions and our calendars with activity. We can fill our resumes with accomplishments and our thoughts with mindless entertainment. We can be “full” of things that do not fulfill us, that do not feed our soul. We focus our efforts on achieving purpose, but find ourselves drained of passion. We can fill ourselves with what the world says we need, and find that we are disappointed in the results. All of our attempts to fill ourselves only leave us unsatisfied with a more complicated “to do” list.

Jesus knew that we would be tempted to fill ourselves with meaningless or destructive things that would consume us and leave us empty.

Matt 5:6  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.

What are you hungry for? Are you filling your heart and your life with things that fulfill you, or with things that just take up space and time? Are you surrounded by activity and clutter that leaves you empty and disappointed? How much of your passion is spent on moments that don’t matter for more than just that moment? Do you base your worth on things that give you recognition, or on moments that fill your soul?

During Jesus’ earthly ministry, those who were full of themselves walked away from him or conspired to destroy him. Those who recognized his truth, who found his joy and were filled with his power were those who admitted that the standards of this world left them empty. Their recognition of their emptiness allowed them to be filled with the Holy Spirit found new passion and meaning that defined the rest of their lives.

May God give us the perspective to see our emptiness and fill us with his love.