Saturday, November 21, 2015

Overflowing with Thanksgiving

He has made me glad.  He has made me glad.  I will rejoice for he has made me glad.

Worship the Lord with gladness.  Come before him with joyful songs.

I will enter his gates with thanksgiving in my heart.  I will enter his courts with praise.

Thanksgiving is a time of joy.  It is a time for our spirits to be uplifted.  Everyone just feels good when Thanksgiving rolls around.  Well, that is, unless they don’t.

What if we feel hard pressed; sometimes it seems like from every direction?

What if we feel perplexed?  We just can’t get any traction.  Our heads are spinning.  We are overwhelmed with what is going on in our lives and the insane world that we live in.

What if we feel persecuted?  It’s not just that we don’t understand the world.  It’s that some in this world don’t’ like us and make a point to do what they can to make our lives miserable.

What if we have actually been struck down, knocked down, and kicked around?  We have lost a job, had a stroke, had our car repossessed, or suffered a death of a loved one.

Can we really sing with thanksgiving? 
I will enter his gates with thanksgiving in my heart.  I will enter his courts with praise.
But what if the words come out.
I lost my job, my uncle died, and all my bills are still unpaid.  What song can I sing today?

That’s a tough challenge.  Can we still be thankful?  All of us have so much to be thankful for in all circumstances but can we muster true thanksgiving in our hearts when the world is pressing in from all sides.

Paul tells us that the strength that he knows is not his.  He is but a clay pot.  He is a common vessel but has this all surpassing power from God.  He is going through trials, but has not yet bottomed out.

The trials have not gone away, but he is still hanging in there.
He is pressed, but not crushed.
He is perplexed but does not despair.
He is persecuted but God has not abandoned him.
He is struck down but not destroyed.

Sometimes it is really hard to be thankful for the things in our lives when it seems that the things in our lives make us hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted, and even struck down.

Sometimes when we just can’t find the blessings that bring our hearts to give thanks to the Lord, we give him thanks in and for our trials, because in them we remain faithful to our Lord.

This faithfulness is our testimony.  Sometimes, perhaps many times, our faithfulness in our trials may not be for our immediate blessing, but it blesses those who witness our testimony.

Sometimes our trials of this age will only bring us glory in the age to come.  Sometimes we have no immediate relief from the world that persecutes us and knocks us down. 

Sometimes it feels like we are wasting away, swimming upstream, or trying to build a paper Mache house in an Oklahoma windstorm. 

Sometimes our life just seems so bad that we must fix our eyes on what we can’t see.  We forgo seeking our relief in the temporary and are content in the eternal reward that awaits us.

Sometimes we just have to tough it out in the here and now.  Sometimes when we say that we have died with Christ, it feels like that is exactly what is happening to us—that we are dying.

We are ready to be raised to life with him but the world is closing in on us and we feel like we are getting too much of this pressed and crushed and persecuted business without any relief in sight.

But we press on towards the goal.  We proclaim Jesus as Lord even in our trials.  Sometimes it seems as if death is at work in us that that life may be at work in others.

Sometimes we just persevere until the day that we are raised to life with Christ.  Sometimes we know how Paul felt as he penned this part of this letter to Corinth.

We persevere to the end, but this is not an endurance test without benefits in this world.  It is just that sometimes, we are called to sacrifice as the benefactors so those around us may be the beneficiaries.

Sometimes we persevere so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

Sometimes we stay the course so that others will see our faith and hope even in the worst of circumstances and come to know the grace of God.

Sometimes being a living sacrifice means persevering through trials and persecution so that others may come to know the Lord.

I will contort Paul’s mantra of selfless utility somewhat to fit this pericope.  We persevere all things, in all trials, so that some might be saved and bring glory and thanksgiving to God.

So that some might be saved.
So that some will give thanks to God.

We sing count your many blessings, but we have days when it is hard to see what we do have because of what is pressing in on us, everything that doesn’t make sense, those who truly persecute us, and even being knocked down in life.

We have days when our trials seem so insurmountable that singing give thanks with a grateful heart just seems impossible.

But we still proclaim Jesus as Lord.  We still strive to be the light that shines in the darkness of this modern world.  We stay the course in spite of our trials and tribulations and in so doing, we will bring some who may be living in darkness to see the goodness of God and come to know him and his grace and give thanks to him.

In those days or weeks or months when life seems to be obscuring our blessings and we struggle to sing with thanksgiving in our heart; we stay the course proclaiming God and his goodness, Christ and his death as verification of God’s love for us, and Jesus raised to life as our hope—even in the worst of times.

Sometimes faithfully staying the course of discipleship will evoke thanksgiving in others.
Sometimes just holding on to hope for one more day will be enough light to lift the blindness of an unbeliever.
Sometimes just taking the next step in faith in the unseen is enough to bring glory to God.

Even if right now, you can’t sing I will enter his gates with thanksgiving in my heart.  I will enter his courts with praise, but you continue to love one another, pray without ceasing, tithe, serve, and faithfully trust God and his goodness, proclaim Jesus as Lord, and do all that you can be to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth; you might just evoke thanksgiving to God in those who witness you negotiating your trials.

You might be doing more than you know in just faithfully staying the course.

Sometimes we give thanks just by trusting in the Lord and acknowledging him every step of the way, even if that way is marked with being hard pressed and perplexed, persecuted, and even knocked down.  Sometimes our trust in the Lord in the worst that the world can throw at us shines brighter than the most melodious song that we can offer.

If at all possible, sings the songs of thanksgiving and praise with all of your heart.  We can trade in our sorrows.  We can have peace that goes beyond our understanding.  We can know the joy of the Lord in the worst of circumstances.
But if the world is closing in on you and you feel hard pressed, don’t be crushed.  If you are perplexed, do not despair.  You may be persecuted but you are not abandoned.  

You may get knocked down but you are not destroyed.  Stay the course of faithfulness to your Lord and Master and you may just evoke thanksgiving from the most surprising people and places.

Your faithfulness in tough times brings glory to God.  You can be thankful with your life even when it is so difficult to be thankful with your lips.

As we grow in grace, we will become thankful in all things and in all ways, but for the time being we are still growing. Some are still struggling to have thanksgiving in their hearts.  When we struggle,  the words of thanksgiving seemed forced.

We want the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts to be pleasing in the Lord’s sight.  We do, but sometimes, the words won’t come.

But we remain thankful in our faithfulness.  This is not stoicism.  This is faith under fire.  This is faithfulness during trial.  This is our living sacrifice and sometimes it feels like a sacrifice.

Faithfulness is how we give thanks to God when we can’t sing the songs—our lives say, Thank you Lord!

Our lives say, thank you Lord.

When I was running a lot, I had a favorite seven-mile route that I did three or four times a week.  Going out was a series of ups and downs, gentle hills.  I loved these.  I would accelerate up the hill, almost to a sprint and then coast down the back side. 

These were short and manageable ups and downs, but on the back side of the run was a one-mile stretch where there was no relief.  It was one long gradual uphill mile.

While on the first part of the route, I could think and compose and even draft orders in my mind; for this one mile, I just had to get up the hill.

There was no dialogue or creative thought going on in my mind while the endorphins took care of my body.  I had to just keep going.

Obviously, I chose this route because I wanted the challenge.  I wanted to push myself.

In our lives, we generally don’t get to pick our long and arduous uphill stretches, and sometimes that abundant life doesn’t seem quite as abundant as we had pictured.

Sometimes we just gut it out through these times, hardly singing I will rejoice for he has made me glad, perhaps with just some repetitive words:  Thank you Lord, thank you Lord, thank you Lord, thank you Lord…

I hope that you can sing songs of thanksgiving and praise and lift up the joy that we know in our hearts right now.  I pray that one day you can do this in any circumstance.

Paul learned to be content in any circumstance, but my hope is that you may be thankful in any circumstance.

But for those times when we are pressed, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down and the words won’t come, keep the faith, follow Jesus, proclaim him as Lord and let your very life be such a light that brings glory to God so that others will lift up songs of thanksgiving for you.

People will see your faithfulness to the Lord in trying times and lift up songs of thanksgiving.


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