Stand and Be Thankful

Stand and Be Thankful

It is good for us to be thankful. A recent trend in the productivity industry – or at least one that I have recently noticed – is improving productivity by teaching people the practice of expressing gratitude. Simply taking ten minutes at the end of each day to list three things for which we are thankful is said to improve our perspective and our attitude, thereby increasing our productivity.

So what are you thankful for today? Over the Thanksgiving weekend (here in Canada) social media was flooded with Facebook posts and Instagram stories, displaying all that people are thankful for: family, the beauty of God’s creation in landscapes and sunsets, God’s provision of a hearty meal. Many people even express thankfulness for their dogs, and one or two maybe for their cat.

It’s Hard to be Thankful

The recent events of our world can make difficult for us to be thankful, as it can feel like the world is falling to pieces. Hurricanes have left untold numbers homeless. A man shoots into a crowd of people enjoying a night of music, taking 58 lives, and impacting hundreds and thousands more with fear, grief, and loss. Wildfires are burning out of control. Earthquakes rock major cities. And this is only what we see on the news.

Each of us deal with personal struggles that weigh on us as well: finances, relationships, the pressure of a career, raising kids, the experience of grief and loss. We know of hardships happening to others within our circles of influence, and we often feel ill-equipped to help.

It is easy to lose hope in our world today. And if our hope is in things that are temporary, it should not surprise us when they are shaken and when they fall.

The Thanksgiving of King David

In Psalm 23 King David grapples with the realities of the world in which we live. King David experiences the highest mountain tops and the lowest valleys of life, and yet he is able to be thankful.

David begins this well-known psalm with a picture of a shepherd caring for his sheep; green pastures, still waters, the peace and security of being watched over by a Shepherd who cares so much for us that He would give his life for each and every one of us, leading the sheep along what David calls, “paths of righteousness.”

This all sounds like a comfortable, safe, easy life. Yet David makes it clear that even along this path, we will encounter difficulties and trials. He calls this, “the valley of the shadow of death,” and it’s no walk in the park. David is describing his darkest times of life, and he attributes them to the evil of this world. That’s why he declares that he will not fear the evil, but he will continue to follow the Shepherd who keeps watch over him.

Let’s be very clear about the reality in which we live. Bad things happen, and all of us will one day experience a dark valley or two in our lives. It is these difficult times that put our character and faith to the test. In these times we have a choice to either blame God for the bad that is happening, or press in to God through a relationship with Jesus Christ, where we will find all that we need to endure and prevail over our challenges.

God Provides All We Need

I have always been perplexed by the table prepared for David in the presence of his enemies (verse 5). Did God set this table so that David might invite his enemies to dine with him, thereby turning enemies into friends? That might be the peacemaker in me talking, but it is not what David teaching us here.

Louie Giglio, in his book Goliath Must Fall (a book I recommend for your personal reading), explains that this table is a table of provision. The enemy – be it fear, anger, lust, hate, addiction, greed, self-centredness, pride, or anything else that extinguishes the light of Jesus in your life – has no place at the table God has prepared for you. God provides all you need to face the darkest valleys of life, and come through them on the other side thankful for His provision.

And the greatest provision of all is His presence.

Be Thankful for His Presence

God’s grace has made a better way for us. When the things of this world shake and fall, Jesus Christ remains our salvation, our hope, and our strength. Jesus never leaves us, he never fails us, and best of all, he equips us to stand firm and push through our darkest times.

”Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s evil schemes… Therefore put on the full amor of God, so that when the day of evil comes you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” Ephesians 6:10-11, 13

When the world feels like it is falling apart, be thankful that Jesus Christ has made it possible for us to know God. He has given us his Holy Spirit to fill us with wisdom, strength, and courage.

Let us stand and be thankful.

Defining a Successful Life

What if it were true that a successful life is about learning to become less independent, and more dependent?

We spend our entire lives striving to become independent. Think of our children, as an example. My wife and I now have three teenagers living under our roof. On the one hand, we have rules in our home that we expect our kids to follow. We still have many lessons to teach and wisdom to share with them before they go out to take on the world. And of course, we still feed them, clothe them, and put a roof over their heads. Though they are growing quickly, there are many ways in which they still depend on us.

At the same time, we want our teenagers to grow in their independence. This means getting part-time jobs and learning to manage their time and money. It means giving them the keys to the minivan for an evening out with friends. It means preparing them for the next steps of their lives – things like university and choosing a career, moving out on their own, finding a spouse who loves Jesus and shares the same morals and values as they have been taught. We are preparing them to make some of the biggest decisions of their young lives, decisions that will affect the trajectory of their lives for many years to come.

Our natural trajectory is from dependence to independence.

Jesus once said, “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” How does a little child receive almost everything? With wide-eyed wonder, with unconditional love, with trust as a starting point and a faith to follow almost anywhere.

Yet how do we as adults approach almost everything? It is a sad reality that we have been conditioned to see the world through the lenses of scepticism, fear, mistrust, and doubt. We might blame what we watch on the news, or some painful past experiences for this, but the self-help aisle at any bookstore will testify to the fact that our default outlook on the world is less than positive.

The Journey from Independence to Dependence

King Solomon’s wisdom in Proverbs 16:3 says, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.” In other words, if we give everything we do to Jesus, we can’t go wrong.

Now, I know what you’re thinking because I’ve been there. I long ago lost count of the times my plans have failed, the times when things haven’t gone quite right in my life. Maybe for you today isn’t looking so great either. So what is King Solomon getting at here?

The way we typically understand this verse goes something like this; let’s say I want to be a rockstar, even with my rapidly thinning hair and complete lack of singing ability. I practice my guitar and spend countless nights in my bedroom screaming along with the latest hits. Along the way, I keep praying something like this, Jesus, I really want to be a rockstar. So, I’m giving you my plans so you can make them happen – I commit my plans to you. And if you’ll make that happen, just think of what I can do for you! I’ll use the stage to tell people about you. All that money I will make – I’ll give a bunch of it (okay, at least some of it) to the church. How does that sound to you Jesus? Because I really like the way my plans sound to me. Do we have a deal?

We’re “committing” those plans to Jesus, so it should all work out… right?

Thankfully, this isn’t how life in the Kingdom of God works.

Success is Dependency on Jesus

Think of committing your everything you do to Jesus just like rolling a big rock up a hill, or the rolling away of the stone from the tomb; to commit to the Lord whatever we do means, literally, to roll care for, or responsibility for, all we do on to Him.

The word commit does NOT mean that we give to Jesus whatever we have already decided to do. It means letting Jesus decide what is best for us, and following his plan. It means giving Jesus the responsibility of leading us into what he has planned for us to do in this life. We give Jesus the reigns of our life, and become his followers.

The trajectory of a Jesus-centered life is from independence to dependence.

Like little children we come to Him; wide-eyed, trusting, ready to follow, because we believe that what He has for us is good. In fact not just good, but the best for us; far greater than anything we could ever plan for ourselves, accomplish by ourselves, or even dream of by ourselves.

This way of living isn’t easy, which is why Jesus described it as the narrow path. It is the way to a full and successful life. Committing everything we do to Jesus is the way to a life that matters, for now and for eternity.

The Joy of Giving

A little girl and her friend arrived at our first night of Vacation Bible School with a zip-lock bag full of coins and bills. The little girl’s mom explained that these two budding entrepreneurs had heard about our VBS mission project – sending a team of people to Mexico this December to build two homes for families in need – and they wanted to help. They set their mind to running a lemonade stand, and after a lot of work, here they were bringing their hard-earned profits to offer as their gift.

Ya, it put a big lump in my throat too…

Giving as a Way of Life

There is something about the selflessness of generous, cheerful givers that always gets to me. Jesus once told a story about the people who will someday inherit the Kingdom of God. (Matthew 25:31-46). Jesus said that one day the King will return, and he will call the people who have given the hungry something to eat and the thirsty something to drink, the people who have shown hospitality to strangers, the people who have given clothes to those in need, the people who have cared for the sick, and the people who have visited those in prison. And the King will say, “Thank you for doing these things to me!” (My paraphrase).

The irony of the story is that the people who the King calls don’t understand; when did they ever give and serve the King in this way?

“I tell you the truth,” says the King, “when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” (Matthew 25:40, NLT)

Giving in God’s Kingdom

These two little girls, along with every little boy and girl and every family who has given to our mission project this week, every volunteer who has given their time and talents this week, they all inspire us and teach us what it looks like to give in God’s Kingdom:

1) Give with joy: It sounds so easy – become aware of a need, go and make a plan, execute that plan, and then get giddy with excitement at thought of giving away our the profits of our hard work, or sharing our gifts and talents in a new way with others. I want to give with this kind of joy, the kind of giving that makes the King smile.

2) Give with trust: If you are a giver, is it a sacrifice for you? Do you prayerfully make choices about where your resources will go? Or do you spend with abandon on yourself, and hope that there is something left at the end of the month to give to others (your church, your favourite charity, to child sponsorship, etc.)? Little children showing us what it means to give joyfully, and in abundance, should challenge us to give with trust. We can give as God show us the needs of our community and our world, even when it requires a sacrifice. We can trust God for tomorrow, and to trust Him to fill us with the joy that comes from giving.

3) Give with expectancy: These two little girls give to this mission project with a spirit of expectancy. They expect that their gift will help build a home for the perfect family to whom God will lead us through our partner, Yugo Ministries. They expect that our church will responsibly and prayerfully use their gift to change the life of that family. They give with the expectancy that their lemonade stand run from the end of their driveway can, and will, make a difference for the Kingdom of God in this world.

Jesus promises all who give as we see the need, and all who give as He leads, that the King sees our giving. No matter how big or small the gift, whatever you do for the least of these my brothers and sisters, you are doing it for the King, and the Kingdom.