Saturday, November 21, 2020

Thankful in All Things?

 




Thanksgiving is a time when we count our blessings and thank and praise the Lord for them. But it is just one day in the year, and should we not thank our Lord Jesus Christ, Who gave us life, breath, and salvation, every day? (John 10:10; 1 Thessalonians 5:9; 2 Timothy 3:15)
 
Of course we should, but if we are honest with ourselves, we admit it is easier to give thanks on some days than on others. This year, it may be more difficult for many to appreciate God's hand at work in every detail of our lives, working all things together for good for those that love Him, who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

The COVID-19 pandemic, loss of loved ones, illness, political unrest, unemployment, struggling economy, isolation, loss of opportunities we normally take for granted, difficulty celebrating with large gatherings of family and friends -- these have all taken their toll in many households and lives.
 
Songs of praise and thanksgiving easily arise in our hearts and even flow from our lips (Psalm 69:30; 147:7; Ephesians 5:19) when we see our loving family seated around the holiday table to enjoy a bountiful feast, in our beautiful home, perhaps with presents already wrapped and under the shining Christmas tree.

But what if our life is not so idyllic at the moment? What happens if there is an empty chair at the table, filled just last year by a loved one who since stepped out into eternity? What if family members are separated by distance, time constraints, demands of the world, or even lack of caring for one another? What if financial hardship means there are no presents under the tree, or even food on the table?

The writings of the apostle Paul are sometimes difficult to understand (2 Peter 3:15-16) and even harder to live by, for he said to “Rejoice always, and again I say, rejoice!” He warned against vengeance when confronted by evil in others, instead focusing on what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:15-16, 21-22).

We could argue that we can be excused from rejoicing if we are suffering from chronic illness, disability, relentless pain, mental anguish, poverty, danger, or loss of a loved one. But if anyone should know about suffering, it was Paul, who wrote this verse from a cold, dank prison cell, separated from loved ones except by pen, paper and prayer.

Paul had to endure shipwreck, beating, stoning, near drowning, imprisonment, persecution (2 Corinthians 11:23-26), snake bite, and a physical ailment that he had begged God to remove. Three times Paul prayed for God to heal him, only to hear God say three times that he would not, for His grace is sufficient, and His strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Through the instruction of the indwelling Holy Spirit,
Paul learned to be content, or thankful, through bad times as well as good (Philippians 4:12).

In all circumstances, Paul encouraged us to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17), and we can see throughout his epistles that he followed his own (Spirit-inspired) advice. Then he went on to make the most shocking command of all: “In every thing give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Notice that Paul did not say to give thanks for all things, but in all things. We do not have to give thanks for our house burning down in a fire, but in this situation, we can thank God that no one was at home, and praise Him for sparing our life and the lives of our family.  We do not have to give thanks for having cancer, but we can thank Him that it was diagnosed early and that there are excellent doctors and effective treatments.

Perhaps the situation is even more dire, as it was with Job, who lost his sons, his wealth, his possessions in a few moments (Job 1), and his health shortly thereafter (Job 2). Our limited human vision may not see any silver lining in the cloud, for we naturally focus on the obstacles that block our view from the blessings God has in store. Yet Job was able to say, “The LORD gave; the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the Name of the LORD.”

We may fail to understand how God could possibly deliver us from our insurmountable problems, but His arm is not too short to save us (Isaiah 59:1). Nothing is impossible with God (Matthew 19:26), and He will make a way when there is no way! (2 Samuel 22:33; 1 Corinthians 10:13). God is love (1 John 4:8) and has infinite love for us, desiring to shower us with blessings (Ezekiel 34:26). Yet so often we see the menacing clouds and feel the downpour, but we forget that these will bring flowers and bountiful harvest!

Paul writes that we should thank God in all things, for this is His will for us (1 Thessalonians 5:18). In other words, God desires that we thank and praise Him in all situations. Furthermore, whatever befalls His children is His will for us, because He allowed it, working all things together for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28). Praise God that His thoughts and ways are higher than ours! (Isaiah 55:9)

Giving thanks in all things reminds us of God’s mercy, which spares us from punishment we justly deserve for our sins. David, whose fellowship with God was disrupted by the snowballing effect of sin, gave thanks to God for His mercy and deliverance from his enemies. He even wrote that we can no longer give thanks from the grave, which should encourage us to obey and honor God in this way while we still have the breath to do so! (1 Chronicles 16:29-36; Psalm 6; 18:46-50; 30; 136).

Counting our blessings, and naming them one by one, as the hymn writer encourages us to do, is a wonderful way to be thankful in all things. As the Internet meme asks, what if today you had only those things for which you thanked God yesterday? Do we daily thank God for the breath of life, a steady pulse, food to eat, clothes on our back, a roof over our head, friends and family?
 
No matter how severe the trial you may be going through right now, here are a few more blessings that come to mind. If you are reading this, you are alive; you have the precious gift of sight; you are literate; and you have access to the Internet, which places a world of information, Bible resources, and contact with fellow believers at your fingertips.

If you are born again (John 3:3-8) by placing your faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6), you have the greatest reason of all to thank God! You have the gift of abundant and eternal life, forever with Jesus Christ and your loved ones in Him, ultimately in a glorified body (1 Corinthians 15:35-54) that will never age, die, sin, or feel pain, sickness, or sorrow!

Giving thanks and praise to God in all things acknowledges Who He is – our Creator (Genesis 1:1), Sustainer (Colossians 1:17), and Redeemer (Job 19:25; Psalm 19:14; Isaiah 41:14). He is perfect Love, Light (John 1:9), and Truth (Titus 1:2), completely just, righteous, and holy (Isaiah 5:16). Although we deserve eternal punishment in hell, He showers us with mercy, love, and grace in our life here on earth, and everlasting rewards in Heaven (Romans 6:23). In all things, we can thank Him for the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7), joy in His salvation (Psalm 51:12; Isaiah 61:10), and wisdom to follow His lead (James 1:5).  

Even as Jesus drew near to the agony of His crucifixion, He gave thanks as He contemplated the imminent sacrifice of His shed blood and broken body, given to pay our sin debt in full. (Mark 14:23; Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24). We have reason to give thanks even when facing the sting of death, sin and the grave, for He triumphed over these enemies by rising from the dead (1 Corinthians 15: 55-57).

No matter our grave our circumstances, He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5), and He gives us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord! Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15).


© 2017 Laurie Collett
Edited and reposted from the archives 



 

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Answered Prayer

 


Photo by Presearch 2011

Hurricane Eta, with its zigzag path and constantly changing projected path, reminds me of the situation with Hurricane Irma 3 years ago. Although storm Eta itself might not have been as fierce, it came in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, aggravating the tension and risk emotionally as well as physically.
 
Then, as now, we on the west coast of Florida thought we were safe, only to find our homes directly at risk. Then, as now, God mercifully answered our prayers, sparing our family, loved ones and church family from injury and property damage. I therefore thought it appropriate, particularly as we enter the Thanksgiving season, to repost this blog from 2017, as a reminder of God's mercy, love, faithfulness and grace. Continued prayers for all affected by Eta and other storms this season, and for relief from the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
How blessed we are as Christians to come boldly before Christ’s throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16)! There we find His mercy and grace that we so desperately need! He hears our prayer requests 24/7 (Psalm 143:1), provided our heart is right with Him and we are praying in His will (Luke 22:42), rather than to satisfy our foolish lusts (James 4:2-3).

Praise God for prayer warriors who intercede for us in prayer, knowing that where two or more are gathered in His Name, He is in our midst, and that if we agree in prayer, the Father will accomplish it for us (Matthew 18:19-20).

The events of this past week have been a blessed reminder that God answers our prayers, and that He gives Christians the unique privilege of being part of His answer to prayer. He knows what we need before we even ask Him (Matthew 6:8). He is working behind the scenes to bring all things together for good for those who love Him, for their ultimate well-being and His glory to accomplish His purpose for each of our lives (Romans 8:28).

As my husband Richard and I flew from Tampa, FL to Dallas, TX to dance in five shows in a major theatre production as part of our dance ministry, the airport was already packed at 5AM and there was no empty seat on our flight. Many in Florida left the state because of concerns regarding Hurricane Irma. When we took off, the projected path was up the east coast of Florida, so we had not prepared extensively as we live on the west coast.

But by the time we landed, the storm path had shifted and was headed straight for Tampa! On its way, it was forecast to pass through a coastal city where Richard’s sister lives on the water, and our son’s home was projected to be at least six feet under water if there were any storm surge.

While praying fervently, we wondered if we should return home to help our family and secure our property. But then we realized that God had long before planned and arranged for us to be exactly where we were, not only safe from the storm, but going obediently through the door He had opened to bless others through our dance ministry.

To abandon His plan would be to give the victory to Satan, when we know that the battle is the Lord’s (1 Samuel 17:47; 2 Chronicles 20:15) and that we have sure victory in God’s Son Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:57).

Our hearts sank as we discussed constantly changing evacuation plans with our son and Richard’s sister. We invited both their families (and pets!) to stay at our house, further inland and at a higher elevation from their homes, but the congested traffic and unavailability of gas prevented Richard’s sister from doing that. Our son’s wife was traveling out of state, but our son agreed to weather the storm at our house with his dog and cat.

Although our minds and bodies were very active with constant rehearsing in Dallas, our hearts were with our family and home. Yet what a blessing as Christians in our midst bathed us in prayer, both in our presence and also by enlisting their churches, choirs, and prayer chains to pray for us.

They were bearing our burden (Galatians 6:2) and helping us to lift up our arms in prayer when we felt we could not do it alone (Exodus 17:12). Despite the constantly worsening weather reports, we were able to experience the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7) and joy in His salvation (Psalm 21:1; 35:9; 51:12; Isaiah 61:10; Habakkuk 3:18).

One of our dear friends in Dallas told us that he prayed specifically that our son would not have to spend the night of the storm alone, as he knew from personal experience how frightening that can be. Later that afternoon, our son texted us that he had gone to a friend’s house that was newer and more storm-resistant than ours, and that he and the pets would stay there with his friend’s family. Praise God for this very specific answer to prayer, and for our friend’s discernment to ask for this in faith!

Hurricane Irma was still headed directly for Tampa with winds in excess of 100 mph and predicted storm surge of 10-12 feet all along the west coast of Florida. We feared the worst but knew that God is in control, that His ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9), and that He would not allow any harm to befall us unless it was part of His perfect plan (Job 1:12).

At what seemed to be the last minute, but was in fact in God’s perfect timing, the storm veered off slightly to the east, making a small circular detour around the heavily populated city of Tampa. In general, the winds and storm surge were far less than had been predicted.

What a relief to learn that our son, his friends, and Richard’s sister and her family were all safe; that our home and our son’s home experienced no harm other than a few tree branches down; that our church and all those it sheltered were unharmed; and that our business had no flooding or even loss of power!

Our hearts and prayers are with those who did not fare as well with Harvey and Irma, and especially with those in Puerto Rico and still in the path of Maria. We can’t pretend to understand why God allows such devastation, but we can trust Him to provide, protect and restore.

Whatever befalls us here on earth, we who have trusted in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6) have the blessed hope (Titus 2:13; 1 Peter 1:3), meaning sure anticipation, of eternal joy with Him and our loved ones in Him! Meanwhile, He has appointed each of His children to be His ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20), His hands, feet and voice in this troubled world (Romans 10:15; Luke 12:11-12).

We were humbled and blessed by our brothers and sisters in Christ ministering to us through prayer and encouragement in this trial. We felt that we were in the midst of a loving family, even though we had met most of them only twice before, for a few short days a year apart. Yet their ministry continued in surprising ways, as did God using them to answer prayer!  

May we learn from the example of our fellow prayer warriors to lift one another up in prayer, bear their burdens (Galatians 6:2), and so fulfill the law of Christ! 


© 2017 Laurie Collett
Reposted from the archives



Saturday, November 7, 2020

Stargazing

 

Photo by Vian 2014

The more you look, the more you see. This thought entered my mind as my husband and I sat on the balcony of our beach house getaway, gazing upward at the vast, starry sky.

As we first went outside, the sky appeared overcast, with few discernible points of light. But the longer we sat there, the more dark-adapted our eyes became. Gradually more stars appeared, and even recognizable constellations. After several minutes of our evening prayer, a meteor even streaked across the horizon, leaving a shining trail before it vanished!

If we are to fully appreciate the night sky, we must spend time in hopeful anticipation that our patience will be rewarded. It is much the same for prayer. We can rush through it, like the hastily recited grace in a restaurant, squeezed in before the server returns to take the order. Or we can wait quietly in our prayer closet, not so that we can remember and ask for every last wish cluttering our mind that day, but so that we can hear God speak (Psalm 46:10; 1 Kings 19:12).

Before we reclined in the patio chairs, our view was restricted to what was immediately before and below us. The horizon and waves were mesmerizing and soothing, yet had we not changed our perspective to the heavens above, we would have missed the main event!

I wonder how many times God wants to direct our attention upward, to remind us that our home is in Heaven once we are saved by trusting in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), and that we are already seated in heavenly places in Him (Ephesians 1:3; 2:6). Yet if we stubbornly look downward or even straight ahead, how can we set our minds and hearts on things above and store up heavenly treasure (Matthew 6:19-20) that lasts forever?

The stargazing on that particular night was spectacular, with little light pollution from the quiet beachside development, and a new moon reflecting no light to Earth. Jesus Christ Himself is the Light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5), just as the sun is the physical source of light on our planet. Sunlight reflected from the moon, which has no intrinsic light source, illuminates the night sky. Similar, we as believers are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14; Philippians 2:15), reflecting His light to others.

But in certain phases of the moon, sunlight reflected from the moon is not visible from our location on Earth, and the brilliance of the stars is our only nocturnal illumination. I believe there are seasons when Christ’s glory reflects brightly from His children, to His glory, and other seasons when His light is not reflected from us, lest we be consumed by pride and wrongly assume that we shine brightly without His power. As John the Baptist said, “[Christ] must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

The heavens are filled with countless stars, most of which are brighter than earth’s sun, yet they are impossible to see during the day because light from the sun is so much closer. They are even difficult to see at night, particularly when there is a full moon or many street or porch lights.

Jesus Christ is now seated at the right hand of God the Father (Mark 16:19), in the third heaven, even further away from the second heaven where the stars reside (2 Corinthians 12:2). Yet He sent His Holy Spirit to live within the heart of every believer (2 Corinthians 1:22), so He is very near to us (Acts 17:27; James 4:8). But if we allow His light within us to be eclipsed by the false lights of the world or by our own self-glorification, we will miss His lamp to our feet and light for our path (Psalm 119:105).

Thinking I could enhance our stargazing experience, I had surprised my husband on his birthday with the gift of a telescope! My intentions were good, but after more than an hour of fiddling with knobs, lenses, screws, and viewing angles, the image we could see through the viewfinder was blurred and actually inferior to what we could see with our naked eyes!

It may have been operator error, or faulty equipment, but in any case it made me think that God often wants to communicate with us directly through His Word, and not through an overly analytical approach that may actually distance us from His message or obfuscate His truth.

Bible study and meditation on His Word are good, desirable, and commanded by God (Psalm 119; John 5:39; Acts 17:11). Often Scripturally sound commentaries, sermons, and teaching can be illuminating, yet the best commentary on the Word of God is the Word of God. Reading books about the Bible are no substitute for reading the Bible itself.

If we attempt to view the stars through a telescope lens, we may succeed in getting a closer glimpse of a particular star, but we may lose sight of the forest for the trees and fail to appreciate the overwhelming glory of God through the vastness of His creation. The glory of the stars is different from that of the sun and the moon, and each star differs from the others in its glory (1 Corinthians 15:41)

I am reminded of a speaker I once heard at a funeral, who gave a most erudite, detailed presentation about Joseph of Arimathaea (Mark 15:43), his history, his family history, and his provision of the tomb for Jesus. Yet he failed to preach the Gospel, to mention that the tomb is empty (John 20), and that through Jesus’ resurrection, all who trust Him have eternal life!

The starry sky is not only beautiful and awe-inspiring, but it also calls to mind God’s many promises recorded and fulfilled in His Word. He promised to make Abraham the father of a great nation with descendants as innumerable as the grains of sand in the desert, or as the stars in the sky (Genesis 15:5; 22:17; 26:4; etc.). He kept and is still fulfilling this promise through the birth of Isaac even when his mother Sarah had been barren and was then decades past her childbearing years (Genesis 17:17).

God not only created all the stars by His Word (Genesis 1:16; Psalm 8:3; 136:9) and arranged them into constellations (Job 9:9) but knows each of them by name (Psalm 147:4), just as He knows each of us intimately and knows our needs before we even ask Him (Matthew 6:8). Bible prophecy foretells that during the Great Tribulation, which no believer will experience, a third of the stars will fall from the sky (Revelation 8:12; 12:4; Matthew 24:29), and the stars will no longer give their light (Isaiah 13:10; Joel 2:10; 3:15).

It has been said that looking at the star-filled sky is like hiding under the front porch as children, peering through the cracks between the floorboards, and seeing pinpoints of light among the cobwebs, dirt and rusty nails. We caught a glimpse of something better, yet we could not appreciate that on the other side of those floorboards was a stately mansion. Now we contemplate the stars but as of yet cannot imagine the glory Heaven holds (Isaiah 64:4; 1 Corinthians 2:9), including the special mansions Christ is preparing for us (John 14:1-3).

Jesus Christ Himself is the bright Morning Star (Revelation 22:16) Who will come again (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17), I pray soon, just when all is at its darkest. May the eyes of our understanding (Ephesians 1:18) be enlightened! Till He returns may we keep looking up (Luke 21:28), for our ultimate redemption into glorified bodies (1 Corinthians 15: 42-57) draws near!

© 2020 Laurie Collett