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Look for Christ and You Will Find Him!

When the month of July rolled around, I turned the page on the Pathways calendar in my bedroom, but didn’t pay much attention to the message on this month’s page. This calendar has had encouraging quotes by Christian writers, so today I decided to check out this month’s message. Here is what I found.

“Look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else.” – C. S. Lewis

As I read these words, the cry of my heart was to look for Christ in all the difficulties we have walked through for the last few months. Where is Christ in the midst of all the uncertainties of this world-wide pandemic? Where is Christ during this time when our Christian freedoms are being threatened? Where is Christ in the financial difficulties that we face as a result of shutting down our economy? Where is Christ in the midst of the civil unrest in our nation? Where is Christ in this chaos that has become a part of our daily lives?

As I contemplated these questions, one answer came to mind. Christ is in His people. If you are a believer in Christ, the Spirit of Christ, also known as the Holy Spirit, lives within you.

You may feel alone in this situation. But if your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), the truth is you are never completely alone. Through His Spirit, we are strengthened and empowered to be His hands and feet to those around us. We are encircled by His love – yes, Paul told us in Ephesians that we KNOW the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.

  • For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:14-19

The Spirit of Christ is also available to direct our path, to tell us where to go and where not to go.

  • And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.” Acts 16:6-7 ESV

And if we find ourselves in a situation we can find no way out of, He is able to deliver us.

  • What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance,” Philippians 1:18-19

And finally, if we feel lonely during this season on “social distancing” we can be confident that Jesus Christ doesn’t practice social distancing. He is always as close as our breath. And the writer of Hebrews promises that He will never leave or forsake us.

  • Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?'”Hebrews‬ ‭13:5-6‬ ‭

So the next time you look for Christ, take a look at your brothers and sisters whom you’ve been meeting across a Zoom screen during this season when we haven’t been able to gather in person. And take a look in your mirror. We are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus during this difficult time, as the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, works through us to touch others. How are you doing that in the place where Jesus currently has you? And how have others been Christ for you during this difficult season?

I want to close with a short prayer that I heard this morning, from Pastor Chris Shook of Church of the Woodlands in the Houston area. I’ve been watching her encouraging morning devotions, and her prayer this morning fits perfectly with this post.

“Lord, fill me up with You, so I can pour Your presence out on others.” Amen!

Bringing Calm to Unrest

Last Thursday, I was encouraged when my husband Mitch and I were finally able to have lunch together at one of our favorite restaurants. After months of isolation due to COVID-19, things were finally starting to look up. Stores and restaurants were gradually opening back up, still with the need to maintain social distancing, but it felt like things had turned a corner. Our church was even planning in-person services on Sunday, and though we had decided to wait a few more weeks before going back, things were finally starting to look hopeful.

Then, as we left the restaurant to take a package to UPS, we turned on the radio and listened to the news. The heartbreaking story of the senseless death of George Floyd was the top story. We expected there to be some protests about this situation, but we really didn’t know what was ahead. What started as a peaceful protest of the injustice was quickly hijacked by violent external groups bent on destruction and mayhem.

Soon after that, we learned George Floyd was originally from Houston, our hometown, and that his family still lives here. So as we heard of the rioting and destruction in other cities I was a little fearful of what was ahead. George Floyd’s brother Terrence has been a calming voice in our city, saying violence wasn’t the way to honor his brother. He said, “My family is a peaceful family, my family is God fearing. Do this another way.” This has still been a time of deep grieving, but Houston has been spared most of the destruction and violence that has marked other cities.

As I’ve thought about this situation, two questions have been on my mind. First, as Christians, how are we to be a calming force in the midst of situations like this? First, remember we are all created in the image of God. Our skin color or nationality doesn’t change that. Paul gave us advice on how we are to deal with situations such as these, two important instructions found in the book of Romans that apply to situations of injustice. We are told to weep with those who weep, and our ultimate goal is to learn to live in harmony with one another.

Another truth is equally important in this situation. Ephesians 6 reminds us that our battle isn’t just with flesh and blood. Yes, there are people involved whose desire is to fan the embers of hatred into a raging fire. But behind them there are spiritual forces in control. Walking in this understanding and responding in love and prayer can bring healing to a horrible situation.

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” Ephesians 6:12-13

Yes, the United States is in turmoil right now, but as Christians we can help to bring the presence of the Prince of Peace into the unrest. Let’s reach out to our black brothers and sisters and support them through this time. And let’s pray for all those affected by this travesty.

Remember, the Light of Christ can overcome the darkness, the Love of Christ can replace hatred. Though prayer, we can come against the spiritual forces that are behind this situation. And we can run to the Lord, our strong tower, and find in Him a place of safety.

“The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.” Proverbs 18:10

Living For Eternity

SOMETIMES LIFE HURTS. That’s definitely been true in my life during the last fourteen months. First, we lost our special-needs son David, then I found myself dealing with a long list of new health issues that seemed to have no simple solutions. During such times, it’s easy to become disheartened.

As I was praying this morning about this Wednesday’s RECLAIMING YOUR LIFE post, one of the first books we studied in God-Living Girls came to mind. Choose Joy: Finding Hope and Purpose When Life Hurts, is the life story of Sara Frankl, co-written by Mary Carver.

Sara Frankl knew what it was to live with chronic pain. As a young woman, she was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, an autoimmune disease and form of arthritis that primarily affects the spine but can also attack other joints. As Sara’s disease progressed it became clear that her health was not going to get better.

The pain and loss could have easily become Sara’s primary focus, but she decided this wasn’t how she wanted to live. Sara chose to place her trust in a God Who is good all the time and to find hope and purpose in the midst of the pain. She chose joy, not happiness which she described as being “flimsy as a shirt blowing on a line in the breeze.” She chose “true heart joy, which sustains through obstacles, disease, death.” She lived with an “unwavering trust that God knows what He’s doing and has blessed me with the opportunity to be a part of it.” 

Sara lived with relentless pain, but she chose to focus on the blessings instead of the burdens. She believed God had a purpose for her illness or He would have taken it away. And she accepted God’s plan, though it was difficult, and focused on what God wanted to do through her life. She wrote, “It’s not about me; it’s about what He can do with me. My job is simply to pay attention and enjoy the rainbows.”

Sara made it her goal to live the best life she could with what she had been given. She knew it wouldn’t be the life she had expected to live before this disease touched her life, but accepted it as the one God meant for her to live. Though Sara may never have used the term RECLAIMING YOUR LIFE, that’s how she lived.

Sara Frankl came up with six life goals which she wrote on her wall. They were a constant reminder of what was most important to her and they became the motivation for every choice she made.

As we focus this year on reclaiming what chronic illness has stolen from our lives, I felt Sara’s Life Goals would be a good launching pad for each of us to come up with our own life goals as we press on to live in the fullness of what God has in mind for our lives. The following verses encourage us to forget what is behind and press on toward fulfilling the goals God has set before us.

“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians‬ ‭3:13-14‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians‬ ‭2:10‬ ‭NIV‬‬‬‬‬‬

Sara’s Life Goals:

  1. To not be ashamed to stand before God.
  2. To fulfill God’s plan by living the best life I can live with what I am given.
  3. To be aware and present in every moment.
  4. To love what I have, not yearn for what I lack.
  5. To spread the Joy, not the fear.
  6. To be intentional in all things.

Now, it’s your turn. If you have surrendered your life to Jesus Christ, you will one day stand in His presence. Let’s look beyond our earthly desires for a while and focus on eternity. What are the goals you hope to fulfill before you see Jesus face-to-face? What principles do you go back to over and over again to guide your decisions? Share some of your personal life goals with us in the comments.

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Quieting the Clamor in Our Minds

“Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.” 1 Kings 19:11-13 (NIV)

Do you ever feel like your circumstances are shouting so loudly and with such insistence that it’s difficult to hear anything else? How do you quiet your mind during times of increased pain so that you are able to hear the “gentle whisper” of God’s voice? This is the subject I felt the Lord wanted us to consider this week, as I was praying for direction for today’s Teach Me Tuesday post.

This last month has been unusually difficult for me. First, I noticed my left knee was hurting so badly that just making it from my bedroom to the living room caused severe pain and swelling. This was a drastic change, after several months of increasing my walking to the point where I was able to manage thirty minutes of walking most days with little pain. Then a couple days later, I added new symptoms, this time with my digestive system. And the process of trying to get some answers concerning what was going on began. After a doctor’s visit, lab work and several x-rays of my knee, I still don’t know much more than I did before I saw my doctor. More tests are being scheduled, but how do I stay where I need to be in my relationship with the Lord during this time of waiting.

I’m not sharing this so you will feel sorry for me. Since my writing ministry focuses on helping those who deal with the daily challenges of living with chronic illness, I know many of you understand the frustration I’m currently dealing with. So for today’s post, the question on my heart is an important one: how do we live with such physical and medical challenges and still quiet the clamor in our minds so that we can hear the “gentle whisper” of God’s voice and come out of our times in His presence strengthened to face another day?

Personally, I hear God’s voice best when I’m taking time to read and study His Word. Some days, the distractions may mean I can only read a few verses, but I’ve learned to pick up my study Bible or Bible app and my current journal and turn the passage I’m reading into a prayer. This morning I did that with Psalm 23, a passage most of us are very familiar with, but by the time I finished those few verses and read some verses listed as cross references I was strengthened to face another day.

I was reassured that the Lord is my Good Shepherd, and He will meet all my needs. With Him, I will lack no good thing (Psalm 34:9,10). I prayed for the Lord to lead me to restful waters, even in the midst of these new health problems. I thanked the Lord that we are now through the valley of the shadow of death that we entered last November when our precious David graduated to his heavenly home, even though we still miss him daily, moving forward into the next things He has for us to do. I asked Him to continue to lead us into the new things He has for our family. Reflecting on His help during this time of loss encouraged me to trust He will also be with me as I walk through this time of unknowns. And I rejoiced that His rod and staff remind me He has been with me and will continue to be with me regardless of what lies ahead of us. And I closed my time with a prayer of gratefulness that His goodness and mercy will follow me all the remaining days of my life on this earth, and then I will dwell with Him for eternity. I left my quiet time with the quiet assurance that I had heard God’s voice and was ready to move forward.

On this Teach Me Tuesday, let’s share some ways we have learned to quiet the clamour of our minds caused by difficult circumstances and daily life with chronic illness. How have you learned to quiet your mind during the painful times of life, to shut out the distractions so that you are able to hear the “gentle whisper” of God’s voice?

Bringing Down the Walls

Have you ever faced a set of circumstances that you honestly could see no way out of? Our family has faced a series of seemingly impossible circumstances in recent years, including an unexpected property tax bill we had no way to pay, a lack of transportation we had no solution for, and a reduction of income after losing our son last November that made it appear we would be a facing a deficit in money to cover our monthly bills. In each of these situations, God has made a way where we could not see a way. And God also has the answer for any insurmountable situation you may be facing.

When I opened a devotional I receive in my daily email Monday morning, ready to begin my morning quiet time, the Scripture was from Hebrews‬ ‭11:30.‬ It read, “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days.” But as soon as I read the verse, I sensed the Lord speaking to my heart that faith – the subject of the devotional – was only one of the requirements for bringing down the walls of Jericho. Yes, faith is important, but alone it won’t do the job. So before actually reading what the author of the devotional had to say, I took some time to look back at Joshua 6, where this story is recorded in detail.

This account of the fall of Jericho begins with these words:

“Now Jericho was shut up inside and outside because of the people of Israel. None went out, and none came in. And the Lord said to Joshua, ‘See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and mighty men of valor.’” Joshua‬ ‭6:1-2‬ ‭(ESV)

With the city “shut up inside and outside” there was no way for Israel to get into the city of Jericho, definitely not to take the land that God was calling them to take. The huge city gates had been sealed shut, and no one could enter or leave the heavily fortified walled city. Joshua and the people he was leading had an insurmountable problem that was beyond their ability to resolve.

The stories recorded in the Old Testament are more than bedtime stories to share with our children. They are true stories that were written for our instruction, to give us hope when we face circumstances we can see no way out of. As Romans 15:4 tells us, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

If you haven’t read Joshua 6 for a while, I encourage you to take time now to pick up your Bible or open your Bible app to do so. As you read Joshua 6, look for the specific instructions the Lord gave Joshua, and be alert to any information given about his and the people’s response. Then come back and finish today’s Teaching Tuesday post.

So what was the Lord wanting us to learn from this rather bizarre battle story? I saw at least five important lessons we need to heed when we face situations we can see no logical way of.

  1. The first truth that stood out to me is that God’s ways are not like our ways. As Isaiah 55:8 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.” If I were coming up with a battle plan to breach an immovable wall, I don’t think it would include marching around the wall daily for six days and then seven times on the seventh day. If doubt my “weapon” of choice would be trumpets made from rams’ horns or late shouting at a pre-arranged time. How about you? But if God’s ways are not our ways, we need to be sure we are trusting in the Lord and not leaning on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).
  2. The second lesson that stands out to me is when faced with impossible circumstances, Joshua listened to all of God’s instructions. God could have just given him the instructions day by day, as He sometimes does, but in this case He gave the entire battle plan before the implementation of it began. Joshua didn’t jump ahead of God. He listened to God’s full plan before he took the first step.
  3. Third, Joshua and the men he was leading followed the Lord’s instructions to completion. God could have brought down the wall in one day or even one hour, but that wasn’t His plan. He gave Joshua a detailed battle plan and Joshua led the people in following it exactly as it was given. Obedience was a key to the victory that was to follow. Genuine faith in God is shown by doing what He has told u to do. As it says in James 2:26, “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”
  4. Another truth I saw as I read this chapter is that God didn’t just give Israel His battle instructions and then leave. Behind the men of war (who were armed but not instructed to use their arms to bring down the wall), there were to be seven priests carrying seven trumpets made of rams horns. And after the trumpet bearers, the processional ended with some Levites (probably four, though the number isn’t included here) carrying the Ark of the Covenant. The significance of this is that the Ark was God’s dwelling place on earth – they took God with them as they were following these unusual battle plans.
  5. Finally, Joshua and the men of Israel did not bring down the wall. God did! He alone has the power to bring down the walls that are holding us back from fulfilling His purposes. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:57, God is the One who gives victory. “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

‭‭I don’t know if you are currently facing a situation in your life that looks insurmountable, but if you are I encourage you to take these five lessons from the story of Jericho’s walls coming down and apply them to what you’re facing. Remember, our God is still in control, and He has the power to bring us to victory. Seek His face, listen for His instructions, and walk in full obedience as you trust in Him to do the work only He can do.

Receiving the Word of God with Meekness

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” James 1:19-22 (ESV)

How we approach the Word of God is vitally important! Just opening our Bible isn’t enough. When we approach the truths of God’s Word, the above verses teach that we are to do so with an attitude of meekness.

Meekness is a word greatly misunderstood in our society, where it is often equated to weakness or deficiency in spirit and courage. Because of this misconception, in most modern versions of the Bible, the Greek word the New Testament uses for meekness is usually translated gentleness. The above passage is one of the few where meekness is used – frankly because “gentleness” would make no sense in James 1:21. Other versions translate the Greek word as “in humility” or “humbly,” which is a characteristic of those who are meek but actually misses the full meaning of the word.

The Greek word “prautes,” as it is used in the Bible, is the condition of heart and mind with which we are to approach God and His Word.

  • Meekness is the way Jesus lived while He was on earth, always following the instructions the Father gave Him. “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak.” (John‬ ‭12:49‬) ‭‬‬
  • Meekness is a characteristic Jesus taught in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew‬ ‭5:5‬)
  • Meekness is one of the attributes Paul encourages us to put on as God’s people. “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,” (Colossians‬ ‭3:12‬)

Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, one of my favorite Bible study tools, defines meekness as “an inwrought grace of the soul” – in other words, a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23, translated “gentleness” but the same Greek word) – that is exercised first and foremost towards God. Vines goes on to say, “It is that temper of spirit with which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss, the author of a recent study our God-Living Girls with Chronic Illness group did on Choosing Gratitude, contrasts meekness and pride using the the following words.

You see, meekness says, ‘I know that God has His reasons, and it doesn’t matter whether I can see the reason or not.’ But the proud heart, the poisoned heart, says, ‘It should have been done differently. I see no reason for this; therefore, God should not have done this.’

She adds about meekness as our attitude toward God’s Word, “It’s able to cleanse us, to renew us, to transform our lives. But it does none of that if we don’t receive it, if we resist what it says, if we don’t have a teachable and humble and open spirit to the Word of God.”

God’s desire is to “implant” the Word of God in our hearts, where it will take root and grow. And for that to happen, we must approach our Bible reading and study time with an attitude of meekness, with a willingness to listen and then do what God is teaching us. Sometimes that means allowing His Word to encourage us during a difficult season, other times it will correct us when we’ve left the path God is calling us to walk, sometimes it will warn us of a danger ahead if we don’t deal with a wrong attitude.

How Can I Say Thanks?

Entitlement. The “I deserve it” attitude: I deserve love. I deserve peace. I deserve comfort. I deserve an easier life. I deserve more help. I deserve happiness. I deserve it and I want it now.

No other quality so marks today’s culture. And no other quality so quickly destroys the attitude of gratitude we’ve been learning to purposefully choose during this study of Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth’s book Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy.

Do you see remnants of entitlement surface in your life from time to time? I know I do. During this past week, I’ve faced a daily battle to not give place to this destructive attitude that is so prevalent in our society. After accomplishing some major steps last week toward bringing closure to this season of loss after the November death of our son, I had high expectations that this week would be different, as we began moving forward into the future God is preparing our family for.

Instead, this has been another difficult week. I faced another outbreak of the stress-related hives that begin in early December that has made me miserable physically. Now that the medical equipment and supplies were no longer blocking my access to David’s room, it was time to start sorting through all of his personal things, which was difficult emotionally. Instead of the hoped for closure, it’s just seemed like more of the same trials. I’ve battled such thoughts as “I deserve an easier life,” and “I’m tired of waiting for _ _ _ _ to be done,” and even “it’s not fair that the rest of my family gets to eat this dessert but I can’t without blowing my diet.”

To choose an attitude of gratitude often begins by kicking an attitude of entitlement out of our lives. So how do we get over an “I deserve it” attitude? By recognizing God has already given us more that we could ever ask or imagine. and humbly thanking Him for His amazing goodness toward us as His adopted children. Humble gratefulness toward God and the people He has placed in our lives is the key to overcoming an attitude of entitlement.

The chapter we are reading this week in our study of this book on the grace of gratitude is filled with some practical ways of putting to death an attitude of entitlement and replacing it with a true spirit of gratitude. True gratitude is so much more than walking through the motions or completing a list of things we feel obligated to do. Genuine gratitude is the natural outflow of a truly grateful heart. It is a change of lifestyle.

So how do we cultivate a heart and lifestyle of gratitude? What are some practical ways to turn away from a heart rooted in entitlement and develop a heart and lifestyle of gratitude? Nancy lists several in this chapter.

  1. Speak it aloud. Hebrews 13:15 says, “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” Gratitude “begs to be expressed, both to God and to others.” Or as author Gladys Berthe Stern said, “Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone. Spoken words of thankfulness have the power to dissipate a spirit of heaviness in the lives of those around us (Isaiah 61:3).
  2. Sing it out. “Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name.” (Psalms‬ ‭30:4)‬ ‭ Whether you have natural musical talent or the best you can do is “make a joyful noise to the Lord” (Psalm 98:4), music is a powerful means of expressing gratitude to God for His goodness to us.
  3. Kneel down. “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!” (Psalm 95:6) Kneeling before God symbolizes worship and honor to God. Kneeling during prayer or worship is a sign of humility, by it we humble ourselves before Him and recognize Him as Lord. Romans 14:11 says the time will come when, “every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” As believers in Christ, we are encouraged to do that now as a part of our gratitude to God.
  4. ‭‭Privately and publicly. “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations.” (Psalm‬ ‭57:9‬) Gratitude should be expressed everywhere, and at every opportunity, both privately before the Lord and publicly before others.
  5. When and where. Just as the ways to express gratitude are varied, the times and places where it is appropriate are unlimited. While definitely a part of celebrations and holidays (“holy days” or even secular holidays), each day presents us with opportunities for giving thanks. 1 Chronicles 23:30 says praise and giving thanks are to be offered every morning and at evening. Daniel taught by example the discipline of giving thanks three times a day. Psalm 119:62 says, “At midnight I rise to praise you, because of your righteous rules.” And to make sure we know that gratefulness and praise are always appropriate, Psalm 34 begins with these words, “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.”

“Of Whiners and Worshipers”

Frances Jane Crosby, better known as Fanny Crosby, prolific writer of over eight thousand hymns including such well know classics as Blessed Assurance and Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross, wrote the following in her autobiography concerning how she became blind as an infant and her response to this misfortune.

“When I was six weeks of age a slight cold caused an inflammation of the eyes, which appeared to demand the attention of the family physician; but he not being at home, a stranger was called. He recommended the use of hot poultices, which ultimately destroyed the sense of sight. When this sad misfortune became known throughout our neighborhood, the unfortunate man thought it best to leave; and we never heard of him again. But I have not for a moment, in more than eighty-five years, felt a spark of resentment against him because I have always believed from my youth to this very moment that the good Lord, in his infinite mercy, by this means consecrated me to the work that I am still permitted to do.”

If anyone has a “right” to feel resentful and whine, it was Fanny Crosby. Yet as a young child she decided this was not the life she wanted to live. Her first recorded poetry, written at age eight, reflected this decision.

The message from the life of Fanny Crosby is clear. Whether we will be a whiner or a worshiper is a decision we must make for ourselves. No one else can do it for us. No matter what circumstances we are currently facing, we can choose the highway of worship and gratefulness. Or we can choose the path of whining and ungratefulness

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth begins this week’s chapter by sharing that life often requires us to make a choice of which path we will walk, using Fanny Crosby as an example. This is where I personally was when I sat down Wednesday afternoon to write this post for today’s study.

Since early December, when we had the memorial service at our church for our son David, we have been working to bring closure to this season of our lives where grieving the loss of our son has never been far from our conscious thoughts. But one major task was still facing us, the actual burial of David’s remains. Since he was totally dependent upon us, David was eligible for burial in the plot where my husband and I will later be buried, at the Veteran’s Cemetery in Houston. But for that to happen, we needed a letter from his doctor confirming his level of dependence. Because of a change in doctors shortly before David passed away this was complicated, finally requiring us to go back to his longterm doctor who wrote the letter for us. We were recently able to get the needed letter and to schedule the internment of David’s remains for this Friday.

On Wednesday, as I sat down to prepare this post, I was struggling. My mind had been focused all day on the upcoming internment, and even though I’d spent time in God’s Word and prayer I was definitely not feeling grateful. The last thing I felt like doing was writing an article on choosing gratefulness. But I knew what needed to be done and chose to do it.

As I did some research on the life of Fanny Crosby for the introduction to the article, God began to change my focus back to where it needed to be. I was once again able to begin walking out the lesson we all are learning through this study, that there are times when we must go against our emotions to choose gratefulness.

The rest of this chapter gives contrasting portraits of these two ways of living. The author names six positive characteristics of a grateful person and the corresponding six negative qualities found in the lives of the ungrateful.

  1. A grateful person is a humble person, while ingratitude reveals a proud heart.
  2. A grateful heart is God-centered and others-conscious, while an ungrateful person is self-centered and self-conscious.
  3. A grateful heart is a full heart, while an unthankful heart is an empty one.
  4. People with grateful hearts are easily contented, while ungrateful people are subject to bitterness and discontent.
  5. A grateful heart will be revealed and expressed by thankful words, while an unthankful heart will manifest itself in murmuring and complaining.
  6. Thankful people are refreshing, life-giving springs, while unthankful people pull others down with them into the stagnant pools of their selfish, demanding, unhappy ways.

As Nancy shares these six characteristics of a grateful person and the opposites found in the lives of the ungrateful, she asks us to take assessment of our personal lives.

  • Do you more often manifest a humble, grateful spirit, or a proud, self-sufficient, ungrateful one?
  • Do you tend to be more focused on your own needs and feelings or on what you can do to minister to others and meet their needs?
  • Are you more likely to center your thoughts on what you have or on what you wish you had, on your blessings or on your unmet desires?
  • Are you content with what God has provided, or do you resent difficult circumstances or people and become upset when others fail to live up to your expectations?
  • Are your thoughts more focused on your blessings or your problems?
  • What impact does how you respond to the situations touching your life have on the lives of those around you?
  • When others spend time with you, do they leave feeling refreshed or even more drained than when they came?
  • Which kind of person are you? Which kind of person do you really want to be?

Take time today to ask yourself these questions. And if you don’t like what they reveal about your heart, recognize that only you can decide to make the needed changes.

But also remember God doesn’t call us to make the changes in our own strength. He has given us the indwelling Holy Spirit to empower us to both will and to do what pleases Him. Or as Philippians 2:13 says in the New Living Translation, “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.”

  • Thanks… for Everything

    “What are you thankful for? Gratitude 101.”

    The message of this chapter is one that is usually shared around the Thanksgiving table, but Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth shares that she purposely waited until the back half of her book Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy to address this. The focus of this book is to present Christian gratitude, in contrast to what she speaks of as the “simple garden variety” gratitude.

    The first thing to understand concerning Christian gratitude is the importance of matching up the gift and the Giver. That has been a major goal of the earlier chapters in this book, to remind us of the truth of James 1:17, that every good and perfect gift ultimately comes from our heavenly Father, regardless of whose hands it passes through on the way to us.

    “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

    The underlying principle of Christian, God-centered gratitude is the goodness of our God. If we miss this truth, it’s like building a house directly on the ground, skipping the foundation. Christian gratitude is built on the foundation of the goodness of our God. And on this foundation, we can build a lifestyle of purposeful gratitude that won’t crumble the first time we face a difficult set of circumstances.

    Psalm 34:8 is a good verse to memorize about this attribute of God.

    “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

    Nancy says, “My desire is simply to free us to experience and express more of God’s goodness, and to keep us from grieving His Spirit by failing to recognize and express appreciation for the benefits we have received from Him and from others.”

    How often do you look at the practical blessings that surround you daily and see them as a reminder of God’s goodness and boundless grace? Reminders that He cares for us and provides for our every need?

    Let’s close this week’s lesson by a time of practicing gratitude to God in each of the three specific areas covered in this chapter. Grab a journal or notebook and let’s take fifteen minutes of practicing gratitude in these three areas.

    This exercise is to enable us to see how many things we truly have to give thanks for. As the songwriter put it:

    “Count your blessings, name them one by one,

    And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.”

     

      The first area mentioned includes the visible, material blessings the Lord gives us (pages 113 – top of 114). Take time now to get out your Gratitude Journal and make a list of as many of these as you can think of in five minutes.
      Next, she writes of our spiritual blessings, giving a few examples on pages 114 – the top of page 119. How many spiritual blessings can you think of in five minutes?
      Finally, she writes about relational blessing, on pages 119 – 121. Take another five minutes and make your own list.

    Let’s close today with a song that reminds us we’ve “been blessed beyond all measure.”

    A Sacrifice of Thanksgiving

    Charles Spurgeon, a nineteenth century British pastor, was well acquainted with suffering. Debilitating gout, rheumatism, neuropathy, kidney inflammation, painful slander, recurring depression – all were a part of his life. Yet in physical, spiritual and emotional suffering, Spurgeon chose to trust God’s heart. He said concerning the suffering that touched his life:

    God is too good to be unkind and He is too wise to be mistaken. And when we cannot trace His hand, we must trust His heart.

    “Our infirmities become the black velvet on which the diamond of God’s love glitters all the more brightly.”

    Many of those who read my blog posts have been diagnosed with a wide variety of chronic illnesses. If you fall into this group, you too are well acquainted with suffering. Even if you don’t deal with the daily challenges of chronic illness, you still likely have your own story of suffering. We all long for days when suffering will no longer be a part of our lives. Unfortunately, suffering, pain, illness, sorrow, and death – all are a part of life on this earth which is under the curse of sin.

    Revelation 21:4 speaks of a time when this will no longer be true, when God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore.” While as Christians we have this to look forward to, it is a future hope, one that will be fulfilled in the new heaven and the new earth. Life on this earth will never be totally free of suffering for any of us.

    As the introductory quote for this chapter says, giving thanks for trials of all kinds – for suffering, for pain, for loneliness, for loss of loved ones, for unkind words spoken to us that hurt deeply – is “a very difficult duty.” Yet this is what the Lord asks of us. Giving thanks to God in the midst of our difficult circumstances is our declaration to those around us and to the spiritual forces of wickedness that God is good, no matter what happens.

    Scripture clearly calls for us to give thanks even when to do so is a sacrifice.

    “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High… The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!” Psalm‬ ‭50:14, 23‬ ‭‬

    Gratitude is costly. It is a sacrifice. It is something we admire in the live of those we see as spiritual “superheroes” – people like Joni Eareckson Tada or Elisabeth Elliot or Corrie ten Boom. But as Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth says, “The capacity to respond to adversity with faith and gratitude is not limited to spiritual ‘superheroes’ and biblical characters.” We too have been given the ability to “endure the worst life has to offer and still come up ” thankful.” And when we chose to do this, we glorify God and experience His salvation and deliverance.

    Sometimes, when we choose a grateful attitude, God’s will is to change our situation. Other times, His will isn’t to change our circumstances but instead to change us in the midst of the situation we would love to see changed. Ultimately, anything that reminds us of our need for God is, in the truest sense, a blessing. While an attitude of gratitude doesn’t always result in a change in our situation, it does put us in a position to experience the good God has for us in the midst of the difficulties that touch our lives.

    Nancy concludes, “the only thing more debilitating than what they’re going through” – than what we’re going through – “would be going through it ungratefully.” Those who say “No” to resentment and ingratitude, who look for the evidence of God’s goodness even in the presence of excruciating pain and incredible loss, are the ones who survive and even thrive spiritually. Will you choose to be one who says “Yes” to a walk of gratefulness and trust that God is good, no matter what you are currently facing?