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Posts Tagged ‘thankfulness’

A number of my friends are going through some really difficult times. And I’ve had my share of late. These thoughts came up–sorry if they sound preachy. If they do, rest assured I’m preaching mostly to myself.

They say weeping may last the night, but joy cometh in the morning. True, and one of the only reasons to wake up and try again. But they never tell you that along with joy you still have to put up with puffy eyes.

Pain often infuses the path of this life; surely God knows this, for why else would He describe Heaven as the place where He wipes away all our tears? We all like Odysseus sit sometimes by the side of the sea with salt-rimmed eyes. God haste the day we wake up on the farther side of that shore and find we have, we are, all we need. And God help us somehow see that shore even today.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the visions of Heaven we find in the Scriptures and feel (sometimes) in our hearts are simply picture-postcards: “the weather is fine; wish you were here” maybe translates loosely into “all manner of things shall be well” and “even so, come Lord Jesus!” So today we struggle to agree with John and Julian.

A friend recently noted that weeping precedes resurrection, at least in Jesus’ life. Feeling deep despair comes at the verge of new life sweeping in, taking us by surprise, and catching us all off our guard.

And so as we pick our imperfect way through the rest of this Lent, maybe we might try to embody once more some of the paradoxes of our faith–we put ashes on our heads and think of the death of the body as spring bursts forth all around us. We mourn, though not as those without hope. We give thanks in ALL circumstances. And we weep through the night, and wait, puffy-eyed, for steadfast love, and new mercies every morning.

Lift up your weary heads, friends, if only for a moment (or a few moments at a time). Look to the hills. Help comes from on high. Remember that old prayer found in many traditions, “Oh God make speed to save us, Oh Lord make haste to help us.” How refreshing, because it says essentially what so many of us cry as we wrestle with our angels in the dark: “Hey God? Hurry UP!”

Keep crying. Run to the strong tower of the Name of the Lord. Grapple, give up, and then stumble to your feet and try again, a weather eye to the hills whence help comes. And let the tears fall, for none are in vain, and God catches them all and treasures them up like diamonds against that great and glorious Day.

They say that joy cometh in the morning. Given how I need it now, I hope that it’s all true.

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Have you ever wondered what God’s will for your life is?  Believe it or not, the Bible makes it perfectly clear–no need for tea leaves, oracles, or $20 psychic advisors.  But you may find it nothing like you expect.

A few years ago I discovered that the Bible spells out quite clearly what God wants of all of us.

With deceptive simplicity, I Thess. 5:18 says, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  There it is.  God’s will in Christ simply requires that we say:

“Thank you.”

That’s it.

Sounds too easy, yeah?  Well, it almost is.

But please watch very carefully what the verse says (and doesn’t say).  First of all, you’ll find nothing in it at all about how to feel.  Which makes me glad, ’cause  honestly? the next time I hear someone tell me to ‘develop an attitude of gratitude,’ I’m gonna smack ’em.  Forty-odd years in, and much effort in the matter has left me with no idea how to change my attitude.  And this verse, which spells out the will of God, fortunately has nothing to do with my attitude.  It has nothing to do with FEELING thankful.

It DOES however have everything to do with the words of my mouth.  If I understand this passage correctly, God’s will means simply for me to say “thank you.”  Not to feel gratitude, but actually to say out loud those words.  Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.

Give it a try, even if, especially if you don’t feel it or even mean it.  Try it right now.

Did you?  Good.

Now, secondly, please notice that the verse tells us to give thanks  “in all circumstances.”  This clearly implies that the charge to say “thank you” does not depend in the slightest on the circumstances we face.  In other words, God commands us to give thanks for everything, even the ugly, difficult, sad things in life.

A word of caution.  I don’t believe that God intends to raise up for Himself a masochistic people who senselessly celebrate all of the awful things that occur.  I know all about the dangers of denialhooo boy do I. Nor do I think that the scripture perversely urges us to celebrate the evil in this world that befalls us and those we love.

Instead, I firmly feel that by commanding us to say “thank you” in order to follow His will, God subtly tries to teach us to see things from His perspective.  Behind that decidedly small phrase, a whole weight of glorious promises awaits us:

That He will never leave or forsake us.  That perfect peace will wrap us round.  That, circumstances decidedly notwithstanding, God yet has plans for us, plans to prosper us, to give us a hope and a future.  That He continues to rejoice over us with singing, not matter how dark the night or bitter the tears.  Than nothing, nothing, NOTHING can separate us from the love of God in Christ.  Nothing.  And oh, thank God for that.

To me, saying “thank you,” especially when I hardly feel or believe the words coming out of my mouth, serves me as a way to write a check with my lips that only the love of God can cash.  It helps me to create with my words a heart at least clean enough to acknowledge aloud that loving hands hold me, that Someone knows my name and my circumstance, and that He truly will make all things well, makes all manner of things most well.

I discovered one more helpful thing about this deceptively powerful command.  In Eph. 6:16, St. Paul exhorts us, “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one.”

Did you catch it?  “In all circumstances,” again.  I looked up the Greek–it’s the same phrase.  And as I’ve tried to put into practice the habit of saying “thank you” out loud, I’ve come to see that doing so actually serves as a quite literal shield of faith; that meeting each temptation or setback or grief great or small with “thank you” serves me to turn aside a thousand little burning darts that dig into my soul.

“Thank you” forces me use my faith, makes me to say aloud that this is my Father’s world, and that I shall rest me in the thought.  It requires my implicit agreement that He made me, and that He hasn’t stopped the making.  That if I turn my eyes to the hills, I shall find help already on the way. That if with Milton “I only stand and wait,” then I shall find my strength renewed, I shall mount up, mount up, on wings like eagles.

So I suggest you try it.  Right now, and perhaps for the rest of the week.  Just keep meeting whatever comes your way with the murmur, “thank you.”  Make it a mantra or a prayer.  Whisper it softly when you have no leisure to do it louder.  Do it especially when you face grief or unexpected unpleasantness.  Perhaps you’ll not consider me glib for saying so, but I can tell you first-hand that it works.  In so many pains, whether old aches or brand-new bitterness that steal my breath (and hope) way, I find that it works.

He’s here. He neither slumbers or sleeps, He whose love watches over us and restores our souls.  Our times are ever in His hands.

Thank You.

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