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Peace or Anxiety – You Choose!

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians‬ ‭4:6-7‬ ‭NIV‬‬

When the apostle Paul wrote these familiar words, he was nearing the end of his two years of house arrest in Rome, which ended with his death as a martyr.  Based on a vision in which the Lord stood near Paul and told him he must testify in Rome (Acts‬ ‭23:11‬), Paul’s life took a drastic turn. When he testified in Jerusalem before King Agrippa, Paul appealed to Caesar and was escorted to Rome under armed guard. The apostle Paul spent the final two years of his life chained‬ to a Roman guard, but they were not wasted years. During that time, he wrote the books of the New Testament that we now know as Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon, in addition to proclaiming the kingdom of God and boldly teaching all who came to see him about the Lord Jesus Christ.

As I did a study of the book of Acts earlier this year, reading the stories of Paul, Peter and the other apostles, their surrender to the revealed will of God, regardless of the personal cost involved, was something that stood out to me.  These leaders of the early church had a clear understanding of the subject of surrender, and they lived it out in their daily lives.

But Paul and the other apostles were also fallible humans, just like we are. We tend to put these men up on a pedestal, but I can’t help but wonder if before the apostle Paul wrote these words that teach us how to overcome anxiety he lived them out. The circumstances he faced certainly could have caused anxiety. I suspect Paul learned through personal experience how to replace anxious thoughts with the peace of God. And then he put what he had applied in his own life in writing, leaving us clear instructions on how we overcome anxiety.

When I saw Philippians 4:6-7 was one of the three focus Scriptures for this first week of our I Give Up: The Secret Joy of a Surrendered Life Bible study, my first reaction was to wonder what these verses have to do with surrender. But as I’ve faced some circumstances that have caused some fear and anxiety about what lies ahead, I’m beginning to look at Philippians 4:6 through a different lens. The words “in every situation” stand out to me. I don’t know what your “every situation” might include, but mine right now feels a little scary.

Since all the options for treating the recent changes in my left knee have led to dead ends, I don’t know what lies ahead. Yes, I know I need to pray, but I’m having a little trouble with the specific requests since at this point I can’t see God’s plan. I’ve been taking time daily to express thankfulness to the Lord, but I can’t honestly say I’m walking in the peace of God. So how do we get to that place when we know something is wrong but we are powerless to change it? When we see no way out of our situation and don’t know what God is doing?

Laura Story tells of struggling with this when she was expecting their youngest son. After several normal ultrasounds, one wasn’t. Something was wrong, and she experienced anxiety about what was ahead. She says, “Now I knew something would be wrong, and I was powerless to change it. What needed to change most was me.”

She and Martin went to talk with their good friend and pastor, Bill. His advice was that this was a time they needed to wait on the Lord.

Laura agreed that she needed to wait on God, but immediately asked, “What steps do I need to take to do that?”

Bill’s answer was simple. “Wait is wait. There are no steps. You just surrender. And then you sit tight.”

When we face a situation that we are powerless to control and God hasn’t given us understanding of what lies ahead, anxiety may be our reaction. So what do we do in this situation? I’ll share how I usually handle this type of anxiety.

  • Surrender is the first step. Turn the reins over to God. He knows the end from the beginning, and He has the power to bring good out of even those situations that have our emotions in turmoil. Our first prayer is a prayer of surrender
  • Be still and remember He is God. He is still in control. Remember your situation isn’t too big for Him to handle.
  • Immerse yourself in God’s Word – read it, write it, study it, memorize it, meditate on it.
  • Then wait. Wait on God and keep waiting until He reveals a step you need to take or your situation changes. Don’t jump ahead of Him, but when He speaks be quick to obey.
  • Finally, give thanks that He is God and in control of your circumstances. Thank Him for the things He is teaching you though this situation, for the work He is doing in your life as you wait on Him.

Situations that we are powerless to control are NOT beyond God’s control. Surrender to His plan, draw close to Him, and wait expectantly for Him to work. Your circumstances may not change overnight, but you will begin to change.

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What Is Surrender Anyway?

For the next five week’s, I’m going through a Faithgateway Online Bible study on Christian worship leader and recording artist Laura Story’s newest book, I Give Up: The Secret Joy of a Surrendered Life. My normal Tuesday and Thursday posts will be centered on the teaching in this book and the related videos and study guide.

The title for this week’s study: “What is Surrender Anyway?” So today’s post is to make sure we understand the true meaning of surrender.

Surrender is basically a military term. It is what an army does when it realizes their opposing army is going to be the victor and they lay down their arms and give up their rights to the conqueror.

This world is a battlefield. Since the Garden of Eden, mankind has ignored and rebelled against our Creator and chosen to walk according to our own desires. In essence, we have joined sides with Satan, who has been called the “god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

There’s one major problem with that – it puts us on the losing side of the battle. Satan hasn’t yet been totally stripped of his power, but he has been defeated by our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ. The battle was won when Jesus became the spotless Lamb of God, died for our sin and rose again.

If you are a Christian, if you have accepted the finished work of Jesus Christ on the Cross as the full payment for your sin, you did so by surrendering to the drawing of the Holy Spirit, revealing the truth to you that you needed a Savior. But surrendering to God doesn’t end when we are born again and experience new life. That is simply the beginning. 

In simple terms, surrender is turning the control of my life over to God. Surrendering to God is recognizing His authority in my life and choosing His will over my own. Surrender is not meant to be a one-time decision for a Christian. It is meant to be a daily lifestlyle. It is laying down our desires in order to make pleasing God our top priority. As Laura Story says in our study guide, “Surrendering to God’s will is a learned skill that takes a lifetime to develop.”

The actual word surrender is not used in most translations of the Bible. But the concept of surrender is found throughout both the Old and New Testament. 

  • Surrender is submitting to the Lord. “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” James 4:7 
  • Surrender is recognizing the truth of Galatians 2:20, which says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” 
  • Surrender is being a disciple, a follower of Jesus Christ. It is believing and living according to Luke 9:23-24, which says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.”
  • Surrender begins with presenting our bodies as living sacrifices, as Romans 12:1-2 tells us to do, the first prerequisite of knowing and doing the will of God. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
  • Surrender is, as Ephesians 6:6 says, “doing the will of God from the heart.” Sometimes the will of God is clearly stated in Scripture, but often this isn’t true. It begins with us coming to the Lord in prayer and asking, “Lord, what is Your plan in this situation?” And then waiting patiently until we receive an answer and walking in obedience to the revealed will of God.
  • Surrender is yielding to the hands of God as He shapes us into a vessel to bring Him glory. It is making ourselves willing to be molded into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Remember, surrender is a daily choice. It is to choose to make Jesus Christ Lord of every aspect of our lives, seeking His will in every circumstance that we face. It is being who God created us to be.

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The theme song for the “I Give Up” Bible study.

 

 

 

 

Never Alone: Help for the Brokenhearted

Psalm 34 is one of my favorite Psalms, from it’s opening verses that encourage us to “bless the Lord at all times,” to its reminder in verse 8 to ”taste and see that the Lord is good” this is one Psalm I go back to frequently when I am needing to shift my focus off of my sometimes overwhelming circumstances and on to my God who rules over everything that touches my life.

Since last November, when we lost our son David, verse 18, today’s I Am Not Alone verse, has also become a favorite. Because suddenly, I knew what it was to walk around daily with a broken heart.

God has never promised His people that we won’t experience a broken heart. Life is full of circumstances that cause us to feel like our hearts are being crushed to the point that the thought of facing another day seems beyond our ability. The death of a loved one, a miscarriage ending a long-awaited pregnancy, a devastating diagnosis such as cancer, broken bodies, dreams and relationships – all those and many other things can result in a broken heart that makes it difficult for us to keep going.

So where is God in the midst of circumstances that break our heart? What does He do to help us through such times? I am currently reading a recently published book by Elisabeth Elliot, a book based on one the her final teaching series before dementia took her memories and finally her life, entitled “Suffering Is Never For Nothing.” In a chapter called “Acceptance,” she spoke of the need for accepting the painful circumstances God allows to touch our lives and moving forward.

Elisabeth Elliot said, even in circumstances that crush our hearts, “We’re not adrift in chaos. We’re held in the everlasting arms. And therefore, and this makes a difference, we can be at peace and we can accept. We can say yes, Lord, I’ll take it.”

And she goes on to say, acceptance is possible because suffering is never for nothing. God is at work in our lives during times of suffering. We may have many questions, whys that He does not answer. But there is one thing we can be confident God will do during those times when life leaves us brokenhearted. He gives us Himself, His sustaining presence that gives us peace that passes understanding.

As I read these words spoken by one who was well acquainted with grief, I was comforted. Because even now, nine months after the loss of our precious son, I had to acknowledge that was exactly what God did in the days following that devastating loss. I cried out to Him for help, and His presence sustained me through the tears.

On this Thankful Thursday, I don’t know what you are currently walking through. You may be facing a situation that has you feeling crushed and unable to move on. Or you may simply be feeling stretched emotionally by the daily challenges of life. But in every situation we face in this life, if we cry out to Him God answers by giving us Himself. When we walk through difficult seasons, we can be assured that the Lord will never leave or forsake us, that He will walk at our side and sustain us by His presence. And that’s a good reason to give Him thanks!

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Refined – Not Defined – By Trials

Last Thursday, I shared an important lesson God reminded me of as I was reading the book I Still Believe, an autobiography written by Contemporary Christian singer and song writer Jeremy Camp. Before I put this book aside, I wanted to share another truth that I learned while reading this book. It has to do with the purpose of trials in our lives.

“The Word of God never promises that we won’t go through trials. Actually, it’s pretty much a sure thing that we will go through them. In fact, James exhorts us to ‘consider it pure joy, my brethren, whenever you face trials of many kinds.’ We aren’t guaranteed a perfect life. We’re going to struggle and endure hardships.”

But that’s not the end of the message. Jeremy continues:

“And yet God does promise that in our trials, He will stand right next to us and be there every moment. He will be faithful to lead us and guide us, to breathe life into us and heal our hearts.”

But honestly, the statement that touched the deepest place in my heart from this book was the following one. Frankly, it opened my eyes to a truth I hadn’t seen before, the difference between being refined by our trials and being defined by the difficult circumstances God allows to touch our lives. One is a part of the plan of God in allowing suffering in our lives on this earth, the other was never meant to be.

“What I have walked through has refined me. It hasn’t defined me – this is not who I am, ‘the guy whose wife passed away and who has a powerful testimony because if that’- but it has refined me and deepened my dependence on the Rock of my salvation.”

As many of you know, we lost our thirty-four year old special needs son David last November. And after his death, one of my biggest struggles was feeling like I’d lost a major part of who I was. Suddenly, I was no longer the mother of a child with special needs. For thirty-four years, my life (and my husband’s as well) had centered around meeting David’s extensive medical needs. When that was no longer my responsibility, I felt lost.

Until I read the above quote, I really didn’t understand I had been allowing the suffering in my life to define me, to determine how I saw myself. Trials that don’t just come for a short time and then go away can do that if we aren’t careful. But I was not primarily the mother of a child with special needs. My identity is found in Christ and my relationship with Him.

Yes, trials are a part of life on this earth. Yes, they refine us, changing us from within. But, no, the difficult circumstances we walk through are not meant to define who we are. Unfortunately, when trials drag on and on and on, they have the potential of doing just that. What we are walking through becomes so much a part of who we are that it can become how we see outselves, our identity.

Ladies who are reading this on our GLG page, remember your chronic illnesses do not define who you are. You are a child of God, an heir of God and joint heir with Christ (Romans 8:16-17), who happens to have one or more chronic illness. If you are reading this on my personal blog, perhaps your prolonged trial is of a different kind, but the same lesson applies. Life on this earth and trials go together but the suffering we go through does not determine who we are.

On this Teach Me Tuesday, let’s remember our trials do refine us, but they don’t define us. We are God’s beloved children who will one day be whole, when we see Him face-to-face. Allow your trials to remind you of this truth, and look forward to that day when we will leave behind these broken bodies and live in the future God has promised us, when “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation‬ ‭21:4‬ ‭ESV‬)‬

Going “Gratitudinal” – Changing My Attitude to One of Gratitude

The final chapter in Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy, by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, is about change. When we are facing difficult circumstances, change sounds inviting. But this chapter isn’t talking about a change of circumstances. The change referred to in this chapter is a change in our attitude toward our circumstances.

An attitude is a set of emotions, beliefs, and behaviors toward a particular subject, situation, person or group of people. Attitudes are often the result of our experiences or upbringing, and they can have a powerful influence over our behavior. While attitudes are enduring, they can also change. Attitudes are a learned tendency to evaluate things in a certain way, and since they are learned they can also be unlearned.

Woodrow Kroll, evangelical preacher and radio host of Back to the Bible has said concerning our attitude about difficult circumstances, “Nothing is so sour that it can’t be sweetened by a good attitude.”

Author, speaker and pastor John Maxwell wrote in his book Developing the Leader Within You, “The greatest day in your life and mine is when we take total responsibility for our attitudes. That’s the day we truly grow up.”

While changing circumstances is a great goal, sometimes we are powerless to do this. For example, I can do nothing to change the fact that our special needs son David suffered for thirty-four years with profound mental retardation, spastic quadriplegia CP, seizures and fragile bones prone to fracture and then graduated from this world to heaven last November. I also can do little to change my personal pain and limitations from the chronic illness and disability I live with daily as a result of an auto accident in 1975 that also took the life of our first born daughter Teresa. But in both of these situations, I do have the power to change my attitude. I can choose to have a God-honoring attitude in whatever circumstances I’m currently walking through.

New attitudes start with new mind-sets and result in new behavior. Let’s take the two circumstances I shared above. In dealing with the challenging life and recent loss of our precious son, I could focus on how hard life was for David and the pain of our recent loss, or I could shift my focus to the truth that David is now in the presence of the Lord and whole after a lifetime in a broken body. In my chronic illness and physical disability, I could turn my mind on all the things I’m unable to do, or I could thank the Lord for the blessings in my life and all the things I am able to do. As Nancy says, “The pathway to personal transformation requires a change in perspective.”

She says, “I’d like to coin a new word for those who may be deficient in the gratitude department (which includes all of us from time to time).” Instead of speaking of “attitudinal change,” Nancy calls us to “gratitudinal change.”

Gratitudinal change comes from choosing “to live in the fullness of your relationship with God, not hindered and hamstrung and holding Him at arm’s length, but experiencing Him richly. Feeling at home in His presence.”

It results in rewriting our story “into a tale of God’s grace, one that He uses to help you be an effective minister of His hope and healing to those who are walking the same kind of path” He has helped us to walk. It’s being “so available to His Spirit’s leading, so aware of others’ needs, and so willing to be open and genuine, that God takes the things Satan meant for evil and transforms them into things of value.”

It’s living as God’s Word instructs us in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

‭‭The author gives several specific recommendations to get us headed in the direction of “gratitudinal change.”

  • Surrender your rights to God. If we are to bloom and flourish as children of God in this harsh and suffocating culture – shining like ‘lights in the world’ – we must pour ourselves out as a drink offering before the Lord.”
  • Commit to a set season of gratitude. “Like any other virtue, a grateful spirit is the work of God’s Spirit within the life of a believer who is purposeful about putting off fleshly inclinations and cultivating spiritual ones. And that takes time, effort, and focused attention.” 
  • Take stock of your gratitude accounts. “Who deserves (or needs) a word of thanks from you? Who in your life could use a bit of encouragement today?”
  • Write thank you notes. Remember, “the act of expressing gratitude breeds joy. In the sender and in the recipient… Don’t get hung up on the ‘technique.’ Do resolve to have a thankful heart and to take time to express your gratitude as frequently as possible, by whatever means possible, to as many people as possible.”
  • Do it together, as a Body-building exercise. As we bring this nine-week study of Choosing Gratitude to a close, I encourage you to share with the other members of our group how you plan to put these principles we’ve studied into practice.

Understanding the place of suffering in the Christian life is a key to walking through whatever God permits to touch our lives with a Gratitudinal attitude.

Joni Eareckson Tada became well acquainted with suffering when at age eighteen she suffered a cervical fracture when diving into some shallow water in the Chesapeake Bay and became a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the shoulders down. She has identified suffering as “God’s choicest tool in shaping the character of Christ in us... the gym equipment on which my faith can be exercised.” She adds, “God is more concerned with conforming me to the likeness of His Son than leaving me in my comfort zones. God is more interested in inward qualities than outward circumstances – things like refining my faith, humbling my heart, cleaning up my thought life and strengthening my character.”

Elizabeth Elliot was plunged into the world of suffering when her husband Jim was one of five missionaries killed while participating in Operation Auca, an attempt to evangelize the Huaorani people of Ecuador. She said, “This hard place in which you perhaps find yourself is the very place in which God is giving you opportunity to look only to Him, to spend time in prayer, and to learn long-suffering, gentleness, meekness – in short, to learn the depths of the love that Christ Himself has poured out on all of us… The secret is Christ in me, not me in a different set of circumstances.”

Author Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth brings this study to a close with these words, “Some of the holy work we need to have done in us and through us can only come through the valley of shadow and suffering. Are you going to be resistant to that? Or are you going to be clay in His hands, knowing that He is intent on shaping you into the image of Christ and wants to use your life for something far bigger than you own comfort, convenience, and pleasure? He wants your life to be part of a grand, eternal redemptive picture that portrays the wonder of His saving grace.”

I encourage you to meditate on these quotes concerning the benefits we gain through suffering. And allow them to cause a change in your perspective concerning the difficult circumstances in your life.

Do you want your life to reflect the character of Christ? Do you agree that God is more interested in inward qualities than in outward circumstances? Do you want to know the depths of God’s love? Do you want to “go forward in ways that are pleasing to Him, ways that place us in the center of His great will and plan”? Then, make the decision to begin looking at your world through “gratitude-colored glasses.”

I want to close today with a song by Joni Eareckson Tada that perfectly expresses the attitude God desires us to have toward the suffering He has allowed in our lives.

Why Choose Gratitude? Eight Benefits of Being Thankful

Be 62C78836-C1F4-4DEA-A7F3-C7ED5F8AD6D6Today we are on Chapter Four in our ongoing study of Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth’s book Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy. (All Bible verses in ESV, unless noted.)

Have you ever faced such difficult circumstances that you felt being grateful was an impossible choice? Mrs. Wolgemuth begins this chapter on why we should choose gratitude in every situation, regardless of how difficult, with an interesting story from the diary of well known eighteenth-century Puritan preacher and Bible commentary writer Matthew Henry.

While living in London, Matthew Henry was accosted and his wallet taken. Knowing that it was his duty to give thanks in everything, he meditated on this incident and recorded the following:

“Let me be thankful, first, because he never robbed me before; second, because although he took my purse, he did not take my life; third, because although he took all I possessed, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.”

No matter what situation we are currently walking through, there is ALWAYS something we can thank God for in the midst of it. To quote our author, “the person who has chosen to make gratitude his or her mind-set can view anything – anything! – through the eyes of thankfulness.

 

Whether you are “grieving a loss that never settles far from your conscious thoughts,” or “crying yourself to sleep at night over a situation with a son or daughter that is beyond your ability to control,” it’s still possible to give thanks. “Maybe you’re facing some health issues of your own, or your income just isn’t meeting your monthly expenses,” you can still choose to be grateful. Even if all of these or some other overwhelming problem is causing you to struggle, an attitude of gratitude is still possible.

But learning to do this may not happen overnight.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth says, “The grateful heart that springs forth in joy is not acquired in a moment; it is the fruit of a thousand choices. It is a godly habit and pattern that over time becomes a new muscle in our spiritual makeup.”

But in such bothersome circumstances, why should I choose to give thanks? What will I gain by doing so? In this chapter, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth lists eight positive benefits of expressing gratitude in even the most painful situations (with one Scripture and a short quote from the chapter on each benefit).

GRATITUDE IS A MATTER OF OBEDIENCE

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

Be thankfulGod has commanded it – for our good and for His glory.” 

GRATITUDE DRAWS US CLOSE TO GOD

We are called to “enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise” (Psalm 100:4).

Or as Nancy puts it, “Thanksgiving puts us in God’s living room. It paves the way into His presence.

GRATITUDE IS A SURE PATH TO PEACE

Be anxious for nothing, 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 minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7 NKJV)

To put it even more simply: In every situation … prayer + thanksgiving = peace.”

GRATITUDE IS A GAUGE OF THE HEART

Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name; the upright shall dwell in your presence.” (Psalms 140:13)

The only people who can sustain a consistent flow of thanksgiving between them and God are those who know who, what, and where they’d be if He hadn’t intervened and saved them from themselves.”

GRATITUDE IS THE WILL OF GOD

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

In other words, you may find yourself a lot closer to hearing God’s heart on a certain time-sensitive matter, not by making pro- and con-lists or anguishing between multiple options, but simply by doing what you already know to be His will.

GRATITUDE IS AN EVIDENCE OF BEING FILLED WITH THE SPIRIT

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:18-21)

Being thankful is a prime example of being filled with the Spirit… The fact is, we cannot whine and complain and be filled with the Spirit at the same time. When a thankful spirit resides in our hearts and expresses itself on our lips, it’s an evidence that the Holy Spirit lives in us, that we are yielding to His control, and that He is producing His gracious fruit in and through our lives.”

GRATITUDE REFLECTS JESUS’ HEART

And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:27-28) 

On four occasions, it is recorded in Scripture that Jesus gave thanks to the Father, probably the most remarkable one within hours of His betrayal, arrest, scourging and crucifixion. As He observed the Passover feast with His disciples, Jesus gave thanks before partaking of the elements, which He fully understood “represented His body and blood, soon to be broken and poured out in horrific fashion for the salvation of sinful man. On a night when from a human perspective He had every reason to be self-absorbed and to give in to self-pity, resentment, or murmuring, He spoke words of thanks to His heavenly Father, words that flowed out of a thankful heart.” 

GRATITUDE GETS US READY FOR HEAVEN.

And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying, ‘We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, who is and who was, for you have taken your great power and begun to reign.'” (Revelation 11:17)

So think of today as a ‘dress rehearsal.’ And do it just the way you will when you’re doing it ‘live’ at the actual performance.”

 

 

 

 

Thankless or Thankful: Which Will You Be?

Today we are looking at chapter three in Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth’s book Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy.

My heart broke as I read the true story Nancy uses to introduce the theme of this chapter. The story begins on September 7, 1860, a little over seven months before the beginning of the American Civil War, and focuses on the heroic actions of Edward Spencer, a young seminary student who risked his life to rescue the victims of the doomed steamship Lady Elgin.

The Lady Elgin was carrying more than 300 passengers and crew on a sightseeing tour from Milwaukee to Chicago when it was struck by the schooner Augusta. Most of those aboard the Lady Elgin perished wheny the ship broke apart in the waters of Lake Michigan. But seventeen people were saved that night by Edward Spencer, who battled the breakers for six hours. An experienced swimmer, he had a rope tied to his body, and swam through the waves to grab exhausted passengers.

In the process, this young seminary student received numerous injuries from floating wreckage which changed his life forever. Never able to fully recover from the physical toll on his body from his act of bravery, he had to give up his dream of being a pastor and spent much of his life confined to a wheelchair. Yet, the most important thing to Spencer, according to his brother, was not whether he should have risked his life and livelihood to rescue these seventeen people. His biggest concern was whether he had done his best for Jesus.

Nancy gives a sad postscript to this heroic story. When later asked by a reporter what stood out to him the most about this life-changing experience, Edward Spencer replied, “Only this: of the seventeen people I saved, not one of them ever thanked me.” Those words brought tears to my eyes.

A similar story is told in Luke 17:11-19. I especially like the Message paraphrase of this story about ten lepers whose lives were transformed by Jesus.

“It happened that as he made his way toward Jerusalem, he crossed over the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten men, all lepers, met him. They kept their distance but raised their voices, calling out, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’

“Taking a good look at them, he said, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ They went, and while still on their way, became clean. One of them, when he realized that he was healed, turned around and came back, shouting his gratitude, glorifying God. He kneeled at Jesus’ feet, so grateful. He couldn’t thank him enough—and he was a Samaritan.

“Jesus said, ‘Were not ten healed? Where are the nine? Can none be found to come back and give glory to God except this outsider?’ Then he said to him, ‘Get up. On your way. Your faith has healed and saved you.'”

These two stories, one a part of American history, the other told by Jesus, teach us an important lesson. When we are in difficult, life-changing circumstances, it is easy to become so focused on what we are personally going through that we forget to express gratefulness to those who have reached out to us to help us through our trials. In both of these stories, the people who failed to say “Thank you” were probably feeling a bit over-whelmed by what they had just been through. As Nancy says, “ingratitude is not always a calloused, who-cares shrugging of the shoulders. Sometimes it’s just fourth or fifth on a list we never get around to following through on.”

As I read these words earlier this week, my heart was convicted. Most of you know that my husband and I lost our special-needs son David last October. Since his memorial service in December, we have been extremely busy trying to complete a long list of things that were needed to bring closure to this difficult season of our lives. One of those items was writing thank you notes to many who had ministered to us in various ways during this time. Some were sent almost immediately, others after Christmas, but as I read this chapter I was reminded that there were still some important notes that needed to be written and mailed. So this week, my husband Mitch and I have completed another task on the still lengthy list of things needing to be done by writing and sending these last few thank you notes to some special people in the church where we are members. Our church has a theme which I love: Being living proof of a loving God to a watching world. As we have walked through one of the most difficult seasons of our lives, our church has demonstrated this theme to us in real life, and that meant our gratitude needed to be expressed in a concrete way.

Nancy concludes this chapter with five gratitude robbers that we need to beware of and cautious not to give place to.

Unrealistic expectations.We can start to expect a lot – from life, from work, from others in general – until no matter what we’re receiving in terms of blessings, it’s never as much as we were hoping for.”

Forgetfulness. When we remember all God and others have done for us, gratitude is a natural response. “Forgetfulness and ingratitude go hand in hand.

Entitlement. “When we take simple blessings for granted as if they were owed to us, or conversely, when we start to think that our house, our car, our wardrobe, or our general station in life is beneath what we deserve, ingratitude finds all the oxygen it needs to thrive.

Comparison. “Any time our focus is on ourselves – even if it’s on the good things we’re doing – it keeps us from being grateful for what others are contributing.”

Blindness to God’s grace. We need to remember that God’s mercies that are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23) “are not blessings we deserve but graces given by God’s loving hand to fallen creatures, those whom He has redeemed by His good pleasure.”

Remembering to thank God is very important, but today’s lesson is a reminder that people also deserve our gratitude whenever that do something that makes our load a little lighter or simply do something that blesses us. Saying “thank you” costs us nothing, and it’s an easy way to spread encouragement to those around us.