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10 Benefits of Giving Thanks by Charles F. Stanley

“Give Thanks in Everything”

Why this tough but life-giving command can change your entire outlook.

Reading the Bible isn’t always easy.

If you’ve ever thought those words but were embarrassed to speak them, you’re not alone. Sure, there’s plenty within Scripture that we comprehend without much difficulty. But at times we come across a passage that baffles us—or worse, makes us feel angry or annoyed. Sometimes it’s because we simply don’t understand what the Lord is saying through the text. But often the reason for our discomfort is that we don’t like what we’re reading. It’s easier to ignore those verses and move on to more appealing topics than to hash it out with God and do what He says. Reading the Bible is hard because, in the end, it challenges us to change.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 is one of those verses that can really get under your skin: “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” But what about those difficult and painful situations? Being grateful for suffering seems to make no sense.

If I were writing Scripture, I would say, “In most things give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” It’s easy to be grateful for the good things in life—a newborn baby, a raise, a new house, or encouraging news from the doctor. But what if you lose your job, discover your child is on drugs, or are told by the doctor that you have only have six months to live? How can God expect you to be grateful then?

I faced this dilemma some time ago when I hurt my shoulder and experienced excruciating pain. I read this verse and told the Lord, “I know You said this, but it’s not reasonable when I’m hurting so badly. I just don’t feel thankful.” But then I noticed that it didn’t say, In everything give thanks when you feel like it. This command has nothing to do with feelings. It’s a choice to do what God says. Whenever He gives us a command in the Bible, it’s for our benefit.

Gratitude impacts every area of our lives.

By giving us the command to always give thanks, God is not rubbing salt in a wound or calling us to set aside reason. He knows that being thankful in all circumstances has a powerful impact on every area of our Christian life. Here are ten lessons I’ve learned:

1. Gratitude keeps us continually aware that the Lord is close by.Even though gratefulness doesn’t come naturally in difficult circumstances, a decision to thank God for walking with us through life makes us more sensitive to His comforting presence.

2. It motivates us to look for His purpose in our circumstance. Knowing that the Lord allows hurt and trouble for His good purposes takes the edge off the pain. Even if we don’t understand why we’re going through suffering, we can thank God because we know that in His time, He’ll work it all for good. In the meantime, we can rest in the knowledge that He’s using every hardship to transform us into the image of His Son (Rom. 8:28-29).

3. Thanksgiving helps bring our will into submission to God.When the situation we’re experiencing is the last thing we’d ever want, thanking the Lord is a giant step toward being able to follow Christ’s example and say, “Not my will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Gratitude helps us acknowledge that God’s will is best, even if it’s hard; in that way, we are able to release our hold on what we want. Although the circumstances may remain the same, submission changes our heart.

4. It reminds us of our continual dependence upon the Lord. Pride, adequacy, and independence evaporate whenever we’re trapped in a situation that leaves us helpless and hopeless. If there’s no way out, thanking God for His control over all things reminds us that He alone is our strength.

5. Thankfulness is an essential ingredient for joy.There’s no way to “rejoice always” (1 Thess. 5:16) without giving thanks in everything (v. 18). That’s why ungrateful people are so grumpy. Joy is an inner sense of contentment, which flows from a deep assurance that all God’s purposes are good and He’s in complete control of every situation. With that kind of supernatural joy, it’s easy to be thankful.

6. A grateful attitude strengthens our witness to unbelievers.The world is filled with people who are angry, frustrated, and overwhelmed with the difficulties of life. But a believer with a grateful attitude is like a light shining in a dark place. The people around you will want to know why you don’t grumble and complain the way everyone else does. Then you can tell them about your amazing Savior.

7. Thanking God focuses our attention on Him rather than our circumstances. The key to a grateful heart begins with understanding the Lord’s character because knowing His awesome attributes motivates trust and gratitude. He knows exactly what you’re going through, loves you unconditionally, and understands you perfectly. When you thank Him in tough times, He gets bigger, and the circumstances become smaller.

8. Gratitude gives us eternal perspective. The apostle Paul is an amazing example of a man who suffered extreme hardship yet remained thankful. That’s because he was able to see life from God’s perspective. In 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, he says our present suffering is “momentary light affliction.” If you’re going through a really hard time, those words may sound ridiculous. Maybe you’ve been dealing with pain your entire life, or a difficult trial has dragged on for decades. It hardly seems momentary or light.

But Paul is comparing our situations here on earth with what’s awaiting us in eternity. For him, a 40-year stretch of pain and hardship was no match for the “eternal weight of glory” awaiting him (2 Cor. 4:17). What an amazing thought—your present pain has the potential to produce incomparable glory for you in heaven. Now that’s a big reason to thank God!

9. When we’re wearied by our circumstances, thanksgiving energizes us. Most of us can handle short trials, but if they continue for a long period of time, the emotional and physical strain is exhausting. Should ongoing illness, unresolved relational problems, or continued financial pressures become more than we can bear, it’s time to start thanking God because He has promised to give strength to the weary (Isaiah 40:29). He’ll release His supernatural energy within us so we can patiently endure the trial and come out victorious on the other side.

10. Gratitude transforms anxiety into peace, which passes all understanding (Phil. 4:6-7). I learned this principle through a very difficult experience. When I was feeling anxious about the situation, I discovered that complaining, getting angry, and arguing with God didn’t change my circumstances. Finally, in desperation, I began thanking Him. Only then did I receive His incomprehensible peace. My situation didn’t change for quite a while, but God’s peace guarded my heart all the way through that trying time.

What will you choose?

The choice isn’t always easy. Most of the time, we’d rather get out of difficulties than thank God through them. But have you ever considered that He may actually want you to stay in a painful situation for a time? I know this may not sound like something a loving God would ever do, but remember, His goal is to do what is best for you, not what’s comfortable, convenient, and enjoyable.

The Lord’s purposes for your life extend beyond your days on earth. He’s working for your eternal good. Begin thanking God today, in whatever circumstance you find yourself. After all, what’s the alternative—bitterness, resentment, and grumbling? God made you for something far better: eternal, sustaining joy. The transformation starts with two simple, small words offered from the heart: thank You.

Say them over and over. And then say them again. Your joy will be radiant—a light shining in a dark and desperate world.

 

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John Piper on “Thanksgiving Toward the Past, Faith Toward the Future”

Piper J famous quote

A Parable: The Anvil

Isaiah 40:8, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”

Let’s begin with a parable today. Once upon a time in land before there were any cars or modern machines – a time when horses and carriages and wagons were common on the dirt roads – there was a blacksmith shop with a large, heavy, well-worn anvil. One day a little farm boy, who had never left the farm, came with his father to town for the first time. Everything was new and different. As he walked with his father down the unpaved main street, he heard a loud clang . . . clang . . . clang. He said to his father, “What’s that?” His father said, “Come, I’ll show you.” He took his son to the door of the blacksmith’s shop. And there the boy saw a huge man, a strong man, lifting a big, heavy hammer with a long handle and a large head on it high in the air, as if to chop down a tree, and then crashing it down on a glowing piece of metal on top of the anvil. He hit the anvil so hard that it made the boy wince with every blow. His father explained to him that this was a blacksmith who made all kinds of metal pieces for wagons and carriages and plows and tools and horseshoes.

But the little boy was fixed on one thing: the long, heavy hammer and the great metal anvil. They met each other with such a loud sound and with such a force that he thought surely this anvil could not last long. The big, strong blacksmith paused for a moment to catch his breath, and saw the boy standing in the doorway. “Aren’t you going to break that thing?” the boy asked, pointing at the anvil. But the blacksmith smiled and said, “This anvil is a hundred years old and has worn out many hammers.”

The Bible: Forged in the Furnace of Truth

Here’s the point of the parable. The Bible is an anvil that has worn out a thousand hammers. In every generation, new, huge, heavy hammers are forged against the truth of the Bible. And strong men lift the hammers and pound on the Scriptures. People with no historical perspective – like little boys who’ve never been to town – see it and say, “Surely the Bible will be destroyed.” But others who know their history a little better say, “This Bible was forged in the furnace of divine truth and has worn out many hammers.”

In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah said, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8). And Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35).

Why is this? Why has the Bible worn out a thousand hammers? Why does the Bible survive generation after generation as a living and powerful book in the lives of millions of people? The answer can be found in two observations: one is that God endures from generation to generation. And the other is that the Bible is the Word of God.

In Psalm 90:1-2 Moses says, “Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were born, or You gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.” And in the New Testament, Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” The reason the Bible has worn out a thousand hammers is because it is the Word of God who endures from everlasting to everlasting, and because its central character is Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Bubbles and Fads

There are two reasons why I point this out. One is that I want to build my life on something that lasts. And I think most of you would share this desire. I don’t want to build my life on sand. I don’t want to spend my life chasing bubbles that shimmer with beauty and pop as soon as you catch them. I want to build my life on something durable – something like an anvil that breaks a thousand hammers.

The other reason why I point out the indestructible toughness of the Bible is to contrast it with the incredibly short shelf-life of the ever-changing remedies and treatments and schemes of hope in our day. Schemes of hope that leave out of account God and Christ and sin and salvation and repentance and death and heaven and hell. They leave these great realities out of consideration as if they were non-realities or inconsequential, like unicorns and Cyclopses and flat-earth theories. These treatments and remedies and schemes of hope put themselves forward with great forcefulness. But how many people notice how short is the life of God-neglecting promises of hope?

Let me illustrate what I mean, and I give credit here to David Powlison in an article titled “Biological Psychiatry” (The Journal of Biblical Counseling, 17/3, Spring, 1999, pp. 2-8). I don’t know if you have noticed yet, but there has been a sea change in the world of mental health in the last five years or so. When was the last time you heard anybody talking about codependency? Just twelve years ago this was all the rage. Melody Beattie’s Codependent No More and John Bradshaw’s Homecoming were best-sellers. Wherever you turned, from books to talk shows to seminars, the diagnosis of our problems was the same: dysfunctional families of origin. Past emotional pain and emptiness were the primal causes of our present misery and misbehavior. And the remedy? Psychotherapy with sensitive non-judgmental counselors and support groups with those who felt your pain and understood your woundedness.

That was in its heyday of the eighties. But then something changed. Something always changes. Diagnoses and remedies that are not built on the full embrace of God’s Word must always fade. These things slip up on you. And you suddenly realize: hmm, those kinds of books aren’t being written any more. People don’t seem to be talking with the same confidence they used to about the dynamics of the wounded soul. What ever became of codependency?

What’s happened? Well, there’s a new excitement, a new scheme of hope. The new scheme is more biological and less psychological. In the place of the needy, hurting, wounded soul has now arisen the dysfunctional brain. It’s not the family of origin now that has center stage, but hormones and genes and chemicals and neurotransmitters. And what are the new books today? Harold Koplewicz’s It’s Nobody’s Fault, that explains the problems of human life in terms of neurotransmitter shortages; and Peter Kramer’s Listening to Prozac, that says we have entered an era of “cosmetic psychopharmacology.”

Here’s the way David Powlison describes the shift:

The world did change in the mid-90s. The action is now in your body. It’s what you got from Mom and Dad, not what they did to you. The excitement is about brain functions, not family dysfunctions. The cutting edge is in the hard science medical research and psychiatry, not squishy soft, philosophy-of-life, feel-your-pain psychologies.

Psychiatry’s back. . . . Biology is suddenly hot. Psychiatry has suddenly broken forth, a blitzkrieg sweeping away all opposition. The insurance companies love it because drugs seem more like “medicine,” seem to be cheaper than talk, and promise more predictable results. Psychotherapy professionals are on the defensive. (Powlison, “Biological Psychiatry,” p. 3)

The point is this: I want my life to be built on something more durable than a 15-year-long therapeutic fad. And make no mistake: the present craze with genes and hormones and neurotransmitters and the Human Genome Project and genomic mapping and chemical therapies – this excitement too will fade and we will move on to something else. And in its wake will be left vast disillusionment. No fulfilled life. No fountain of youth. No utopia. No comfort at death. And millions of people will be left with the question: is there a more durable hope to build my life on? Is there a diagnosis of my condition and a remedy for my flaws and a promise for the future that will not pass by like a fad in one generation, and leave me feeling like an out-of-date fool using leeches to cure my headache?

Or to ask it another way: When Ritalin has calmed you down and Prozac has cheered you up, then what? The promise of these things seems so big, when it fact the pay-off is so small. All the things that never change, all the things that last, all the really big things in life and eternity still wait to be addressed: God, Christ, sin, redemption, repentance, faith, forgiveness, death, heaven, hell, eternal life.

The Eternal Realities of the Bible

Which brings us back to where we started: there is a rugged, unchanging, solid anvil called the Bible. It has outlived all fads and broken a thousand hammers of criticism. It doesn’t sweat the small stuff very much; its message deals with the big things that never change from generation to generation. And what is the message?

The message of the Bible is this. It has to do with four great realities: God, sin, Christ, faith.

1. God

“In the beginning God . . .” – the first verse of the Bible: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). There is a personal, infinite, eternal, just, loving, holy God who made this universe and everything in it to reflect his glory – his greatness and beauty and power and wisdom and justice and mercy. He had no beginning. He is absolute Reality. He depends on nothing. He says that his name is simply, “I am” (Exodus 3:14). This great, personal, eternal God made you to know him and to enjoy him and display him in the world. The prophet Isaiah said, “Bring My sons from afar and My daughters from the ends of the earth, everyone who is called by My name, and whom I have created for My glory, whom I have formed, even whom I have made” (Isaiah 43:7). The first great reality is God, who made us to enjoy and display his glory.

2. Sin

But the second great reality that the Bible teaches us about is sin. If the purpose of our existence is to know and enjoy and reflect the glory of God as our highest value, then sin is our failure to do that. The apostle Paul puts it like this in the greatest letter ever written, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Notice two things: sin is about everybody and sin is about God. All of us have sinned. There is no exception. And sin mainly has to do with our relationship to God, not man. Sin hurts people. But that’s not the main reason it is evil. The main reason is that God is worthy of our trust and obedience and worship and our joy, but we treat him like a raincoat, leaving him in the closet forgotten until it rains hard enough outside. God is not a raincoat for bad days. He is the Giver of the sunlight and the Creator of the clouds and the Sustainer of every breath you take and the Judge of all the living and the dead.

Therefore, our neglect of God is a great evil and we are guilty of sin in his presence. The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). We are under the sentence of God’s eternal judgment. And we will perish unless God himself provides a Redeemer to save us from our sin and from his wrath.

3. Christ

Which brings us to the third great reality of the Scriptures: the central character of history, Jesus Christ. O for a thousand tongues to describe the greatness of the God-Man Christ Jesus! “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:1-3, 14).

Jesus Christ is the Son of God, eternal, without beginning, but with the Father from everlasting to everlasting, truly God. And yet, he was made flesh, that is, became human. Why? Because without a human nature he couldn’t die. But his aim in coming was to die. He lived to die. Why? Why would God send his Son to die? Because God’s heart toward us is not only wrath flowing from his justice, but also mercy flowing from his love. And to satisfy both justice and love, God substituted his Son to die in our place. Jesus said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). He came to give his life as a ransom to rescue sinners from hell.

This is the center of Christianity. God sent his own Son to provide a substitute for all who would be saved from sin. A substitute life, and a substitute death. Jesus Christ lived a perfect life of faith and obedience to God. And he died a totally undeserved, horrific, and obedient death by crucifixion. Therefore, all of us who are saved by him from the wrath of God are saved because our sin is laid on him, and his righteousness is credited to us. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). “For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

This is the center and heart of Christianity. This is the deepest need of every human being that no medicine and no therapy will ever touch.

4. Faith

Which leaves one last great Biblical reality to mention. What must I do to be saved by Jesus Christ from my sin? How can I obtain forgiveness and acceptance with God? How can I prepare to die so that on the other side of this life I will have everlasting joy in the presence of God – and in that hope become the kind of risk-taking, humble, loving, sacrificial person that the world so desperately needs?

The answer of the Bible is: Trust Christ. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him [that is, trusts in him] should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Trust him that everything he says he has done, he has done; and everything he says he will do, he will do; and everything he says he is, he is. Trust him, and you will be saved.

And you will live the rest of your life in the place of greatest healing. Where is that? It is the solid, durable, invincible, anvil-like place between thankfulness toward the past and faith toward the future. The aim of psychotherapy and the aim of medicine is to give us healing. But there is no place of greater, deeper, more lasting healing than to be in Christ with sins forgiven and heaven secured, living moment by moment looking back with thankfulness on all that God has done for us, and looking forward at all God promises to do for us because of Christ.

It’s a great place to live. I invite you, I urge you, trust Christ and take your eternal place between bygone grace and future grace where gratitude and faith, thankfulness and confidence fill the soul and make it well.

©2013 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission. SERMON PREACHED ON NOVEMBER, 21, 1999

SOURCE: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/thanksgiving-toward-the-past-faith-toward-the-future

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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2013 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org

 

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“Living Gratitude” by Ellen Vaughn

RG Vaughn

On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, making up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ hats and straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets! Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return. Annie Dillard

Having considered gratitude’s surprising blessings, as well as some of the obstacles that can block its flow, how then to develop a perpetual mindset of thankfulness? Is gratitude yet another discipline to be mastered, a potential source of guilt, another daily check box goal that grinds and binds us? No.

After a chat with Chuck Colson one day, off I went to the dentist. Chuck and I had been talking about gratitude, and in passing I mistakenly used the word “discipline” to describe it. Memo to self: Never use an imprecise word with Chuck Colson.

“Gratitude is not a discipline,” he growled, straightening his Prison Fellowship tie pin. “It is the response of the believer to the Spirit’s work.”

Soon after this I left Chuck’s office, arrived at the dentist’s, and settled into the chair. Dr. Funk injected Novocain in my front gum under my nose and in my jaw near my ear. Within a few minutes I couldn’t smell or hear, but I was feeling no pain. Then the doctor called in a dental assistant, and the two of them commenced military operations in my mouth. To remove myself from the stress of the immediate situation, my brain and I entered a deep and reflective meditative state, pondering Chuck’s words.

“He’s quite right,” we thought. Dr. Funk ground away. Tooth fragments flew through the air and settled in a fine dust on my soggy bib. “Gratitude is not a discipline. You can’t fall into the trap of treating it like one. You can’t resolve to be more grateful. Can’t conjure it up by your own determined effort, or it will blow away in the first strong breeze. Can’t go around telling yourself and others that we all must be grateful, we just really must, or you become a nag and no one invites you to Thanksgiving dinner.

“No, if grace is the gift of God, so too is the gratitude that grace creates.”

Ah. My dental-chair epiphany was quite freeing, even after the Novocain wore off. But while a perpetually thankful heart is a gift, receiving it does depend on a discipline or two. Four, actually.

There are four things that we can do to practice the presence of gratitude. When we do, we find that God further uncorks a flood of thankfulness. The four things are quite simple. Any child can do them. So can most adults. First, we remember. Second, we forget. Third, we look up to God. Fourth, we look around to His people.

Adapted from Ellen Vaughn (2009-05-19). Radical Gratitude: Discovering Joy through Everyday Thankfulness (Kindle Locations 1604-1624). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

 
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Posted by on December 17, 2012 in Attitude, Book Excerpts, Spiritual Life

 

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The Art of Cultivating a Heart of Gratitude in the Character of Christ by Dr. Ken Boa

Ken Boa

Our culture teaches us that people are basically good and that their internal problems are the result of external circumstances. But Jesus taught that no outside-in program will rectify the human condition, since our fundamental problems stem from within (Mark 7:20-23). Holiness is never achieved by acting ourselves into a new way of being. Instead, it is a gift that God graciously implants within the core of those who have trusted in Christ. All holiness is the holiness of God within us—the indwelling life of Christ. Thus, the process of sanctification is the gradual diffusion of this life from the inside (being) to the outside (doing), so that we become in action what we already are in essence. Our efforts faithfully reveal what is within us, so that when we are dominated by the flesh we will do the deeds of the flesh, and when we walk by the Spirit we will bear the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26).

A Process from the Inside to the Outside

Holiness is a new quality of life that progressively flows from the inside to the outside. As J. I. Packer outlines it in Keep in Step with the Spirit, the nature of holiness is transformation through consecration; the context of holiness is justification through Jesus Christ; the root of holiness is co-crucifixion and co-resurrection with Jesus Christ; the agent of holiness is the Holy Spirit; the experience of holiness is one of conflict; the rule of holiness is God’s revealed law; and the heart of holiness is the spirit of love. When we come to know Jesus we are destined for heaven because He has already implanted His heavenly life within us. The inside-out process of the spiritual life is the gradual outworking of this kingdom righteousness. This involves a divine-human synergism of dependence and discipline so that the power of the Spirit is manifested through the formation of holy habits. As Augustine put it, “Without God we cannot; without us, He will not.” Disciplined grace and graceful discipline go together in such a way that God-given holiness is expressed through the actions of obedience. Spiritual formation is not a matter of total passivity or of unaided moral endeavor, but of increasing responsiveness to God’s gracious initiatives. The holy habits of immersion in Scripture, acknowledging God in all things, and learned obedience make us more receptive to the influx of grace and purify our aspirations and actions.

“Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God” (1 John 3:21). It is wise to form the habit of inviting God to search your heart and reveal “any hurtful way” (Psalm 139:23) within you. Sustained attention to the heart, the wellspring of action, is essential to the formative process. By inviting Jesus to examine our intentions and priorities, we open ourselves to His good but often painful work of exposing our manipulative and self-seeking strategies, our hardness of heart (often concealed in religious activities), our competitively-driven resentments, and our pride. “A humble understanding of yourself is a surer way to God than a profound searching after knowledge” (Thomas A Kempis, The Imitation of Christ). Self-examining prayer or journaling in the presence of God will enable us to descend below the surface of our emotions and actions and to discern sinful patterns that require repentance and renewal. Since spiritual formation is a process, it is a good practice to compare yourself now with where you have been. Are you progressing in Christlike qualities like love, patience, kindness, forgiveness, compassion, understanding, servanthood, and hope? To assist you, here is a prayer sequence for examination and encouragement that incorporates the ten commandments, the Lord’s prayer, the beatitudes, the seven deadly sins, the four cardinal and three theological virtues, and the fruit of the Spirit. This can serve as a kind of spiritual diagnostic tool:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts;

And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way. (Psalm 139:23-24)

Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life. (Proverbs 4:23)

The Ten Commandments

  1. You shall have no other gods before Me.
  2. You shall not make for yourself an idol.
  3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
  4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
  5. Honor your father and your mother.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  10. You shall not covet.

The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father who is in heaven,

Hallowed be Your name.

Your kingdom come,

Your will be done,

On earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

And do not lead us into temptation,

But deliver us from evil.

For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.

The Beatitudes

Poverty of spirit (nothing apart from God’s grace)

Mourning (contrition)

Gentleness (meekness, humility)

Hunger and thirst for righteousness

Merciful to others

Purity of heart (desiring Christ above all else)

Peacemaking

Bearing persecution for the sake of righteousness

The Seven Deadly Sins

Pride

Avarice

Envy

Wrath

Sloth

Lust

Gluttony

The Four Cardinal and Three Theological Virtues

Prudence (wisdom, discernment, clear thinking, common sense)

Temperance (moderation, self-control)

Justice (fairness, honesty, truthfulness, integrity)

Fortitude (courage, conviction)

Faith (belief and trust in God’s character and work)

Hope (anticipating God’s promises)

Love (willing the highest good for others, compassion)

The Fruit of the Spirit

Love

Joy

Peace

Patience

Kindness

Goodness

Faithfulness

Gentleness

Self-control

Letting Loose of Control and Results

One of the great enemies of process spirituality is the craving to control our environment and the desire to determine the results of our endeavors. Many of us have a natural inclination to be manipulators, grabbers, owners, and controllers. The more we seek to rule our world, the more we will resist the rule of Christ; those who grasp are afraid of being grasped by God. But until we relinquish ownership of our lives, we will not experience the holy relief of surrender to God’s good and loving purposes. Thomas Merton put it this way in New Seeds of Contemplation:

This is one of the chief contradictions that sin has brought into our souls: we have to do violence to ourselves to keep from laboring uselessly for what is bitter and without joy, and we have to compel ourselves to take what is easy and full of happiness as though it were against our interests, because for us the line of least resistance leads in the way of greatest hardship and sometimes for us to do what is, in itself, most easy, can be the hardest thing in the world.

Our resistance to God’s rule even extends to our prayerful attempts to persuade the Lord to bless our plans and to meet our needs in the ways we deem best. Instead of seeking God’s will in prayer, we hope to induce Him to accomplish our will. Thus, even in our prayers, we can adopt the mentality of a consumer rather than a servant.

Perhaps the most painful lesson for believers to learn is the wisdom of being faithful to the process and letting loose of the results.

Opportunity Obedience Outcome
Divine Sovereignty Human Responsibility Divine Sovereignty

We have little control over opportunities we encounter and the outcomes of our efforts, but we can be obedient to the process.

Distorted dreams and selfish ambitions must die before we can know the way of resurrection. We cannot be responsive to God’s purposes until we abandon our strategies to control and acknowledge His exclusive ownership of our lives. At the front end, this surrender to the life of Christ in us appears to be the way of renunciation, but on the other side of renunciation we discover that it is actually the way of affirmation. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it” (Luke 9:24). The better we apprehend our spiritual poverty and weakness, the more we will be willing to invite Jesus to increase so that we may decrease (John 3:30).

Another key to staying in the process is learning to receive each day and whatever it brings as from the hand of God. Instead of viewing God’s character in light of our circumstances, we should view our circumstances in light of God’s character. Because God’s character is unchanging and good, whatever circumstances He allows in the life of His children are for their good, even though they may not seem so at the time. Since His will for us is “good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2), the trials, disappointments, setbacks, tasks, and adversities we encounter are, from an eternal vantage point, the place of God’s kingdom and blessing. This Romans 8:28-39 perspective can change the way we pray. Instead of asking the Lord to change our circumstances to suit us, we can ask Him to use our circumstances to change us. Realizing that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18), we can experience “the fellowship of [Christ’s] sufferings” through “the power of His resurrection” (Philippians 3:10). Thus, Blaise Pascal prayed in his Pensees:

With perfect consistency of mind, help me to receive all manner of events. For we know not what to ask, and we cannot ask for one event rather than another without presumption. We cannot desire a specific action without presuming to be a judge, and assuming responsibility for what in Your wisdom You may hide from me. O Lord, I know only one thing, and that is that it is good to follow You and wicked to offend You. Beyond this, I do not know what is good for me, whether health or sickness, riches or poverty, or anything else in this world. This knowledge surpasses both the wisdom of men and of angels. It lies hidden in the secrets of Your providence, which I adore, and will not dare to pry open.

We are essentially spiritual beings, and each “today” that is received with gratitude from God’s hand contributes to our preparation for our glorious and eternal destiny in His presence. In “the sacrament of the present moment” as Jean-Pierre de Caussade described it, “It is only right that if we are discontented with what God offers us every moment, we should be punished by finding nothing else that will content us” (Abandonment to Divine Providence). It is when we learn to love God’s will that we can embrace the present moment as a source of spiritual formation.

As we grow in dependence on Christ’s life and diminish in dependence on our own, the fulfillment of receiving His life gradually replaces the frustration of trying to create our own. It is in this place of conscious dependence that God shapes us into the image of His Son. Here we must trust Him for the outcome, because we cannot measure or quantify the spiritual life. We know that we are in a formative process and that God is not finished with us yet, but we must also remember that we cannot control or create the product. Furthermore, we cannot measure our ministry or impact on others in this life. If we forget this, we will be in a hurry to accomplish significant things by the world’s standard of reckoning. Frances Felenon noted that “the soul, by the neglect of little things, becomes accustomed to unfaithfulness” (Christian Perfection). It is faithfulness in the little daily things that leads to faithfulness in much (Luke 16:10). Henri Nouwen used to ask God to get rid of his interruptions so he could get on with his ministry. “Then I realized that interruptions are my ministry.” As servants and ambassadors of the King, we must be obedient in the daily process even when we cannot see what difference our obedience makes.

Cultivating a Heart of Gratitude

A young man with a bandaged hand approached the clerk at the post office. “Sir, could you please address this post card for me?” The clerk did so gladly, and then agreed to write a message on the card.

He then asked, “Is there anything else I can do for you?” The young man looked at the card for a moment and then said, “Yes, add a PS: ‘Please excuse the handwriting.’”

We are an ungrateful people. Writing of man in Notes from the Underground, Dostoevsky says, “If he is not stupid, he is monstrously ungrateful! Phenomenally ungrateful. In fact, I believe that the best definition of man is the ungrateful biped.” Luke’s account of the cleansing of the ten lepers underscores the human tendency to expect grace as our due and to forget to thank God for His benefits. “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they? Was no one found who turned back to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:17-18).

Remember: God’s Deliverance in the Past

Our calendar allocates one day to give thanks to God for His many benefits, and even that day is more consumed with gorging than with gratitude. Ancient Israel’s calendar included several annual festivals to remind the people of God’s acts of deliverance and provision so that they would renew their sense of gratitude and reliance upon the Lord.

In spite of this, they forgot: “they became disobedient and rebelled against You . . . . they did not remember Your abundant kindnesses . . . . they quickly forgot His works” (Nehemiah 9:26;Psalm 106:7, 13). The prophet Hosea captured the essence of this decline into ingratitude: “As they had their pasture, they became satisfied, and being satisfied, their heart became proud; therefore, they forgot Me” (13:6). When we are doing well, we tend to think that our prosperity was self-made; this delusion leads us into the folly of pride; pride makes us forget God and prompts us to rely on ourselves in place of our Creator; this forgetfulness always leads to ingratitude.

Centuries earlier, Moses warned the children of Israel that they would be tempted to forget the Lord once they began to enjoy the blessings of the promised land. “Then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. . . . Otherwise, you may say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth’” (Deuteronomy 8:14, 17). The antidote to this spiritual poison is found in the next verse: “But you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth” (8:18).

Our propensity to forget is a mark of our fallenness. Because of this, we should view remembering and gratitude as a discipline, a daily and intentional act, a conscious choice. If it is limited to spontaneous moments of emotional gratitude, it will gradually erode and we will forget all that God has done for us and take His grace for granted.

Remember: God’s Benefits in the Present

“Rebellion against God does not begin with the clenched fist of atheism but with the self-satisfied heart of the one for whom ‘thank you’ is redundant” (Os Guinness, In Two Minds). The apostle Paul exposes the error of this thinking when he asks, “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). Even as believers in Christ, it is quite natural to overlook the fact that all that we have and are—our health, our intelligence, our abilities, our very lives—are gifts from the hand of God, and not our own creation. We understand this, but few of us actively acknowledge our utter reliance upon the Lord throughout the course of the week. We rarely review the many benefits we enjoy in the present. And so we forget.

We tend toward two extremes when we forget to remember God’s benefits in our lives. The first extreme is presumption, and this is the error we have been discussing. When things are going “our way,” we may forget God or acknowledge Him in a shallow or mechanical manner. The other extreme is resentment and bitterness due to difficult circumstances. When we suffer setbacks or losses, we wonder why we are not doing as well as others and develop a mindset of murmuring and complaining. We may attribute it to “bad luck” or “misfortune” or not “getting the breaks,” but it really boils down to dissatisfaction with God’s provision and care. This lack of contentment and gratitude stems in part from our efforts to control the content of our lives in spite of what Christ may or may not desire for us to have. It also stems from our tendency to focus on what we do not possess rather than all the wonderful things we have already received.

“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). We cannot give thanks and complain at the same time. To give thanks is to remember the spiritual and material blessings we have received and to be content with what our loving Lord provides, even when it does not correspond to what we had in mind. Gratitude is a choice, not merely a feeling, and it requires effort especially in difficult times. But the more we choose to live in the discipline of conscious thanksgiving, the more natural it becomes, and the more our eyes are opened to the little things throughout the course of the day that we previously overlooked. G. K. Chesterton had a way of acknowledging these many little benefits: “You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.” Henri Nouwen observed that “every gift I acknowledge reveals another and another until, finally, even the most normal, obvious, and seemingly mundane event or encounter proves to be filled with grace.”

Remember: God’s Promises for the Future

If we are not grateful for God’s deliverance in the past and His benefits in the present, we will not be grateful for His promises for the future. Scripture exhorts us to lay hold of our hope in Christ and to renew it frequently so that we will maintain God’s perspective on our present journey. His plans for His children exceed our imagination, and it is His intention to make all things new, to wipe away every tear, and to “show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” in the ages to come (Ephesians 2:7).

Make it a daily exercise, either at the beginning or the end of the day, to review God’s benefits in your past, present, and future. This discipline will be pleasing to God, because it will cultivate a heart of gratitude and ongoing thanksgiving.

The Secret of Contentment

“We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the Present.” Uncle Screwtape’s diabolical counsel to his nephew Wormwood in C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters is a reminder that most of us live more in the future than in the present. Somehow we think that the days ahead will make up for what we perceive to be our present lack. We think, “When I get this or when that happens, then I’ll be happy,” but this is an exercise in self-deception that overlooks the fact that even when we get what we want, it never delivers what it promised.

Most of us don’t know precisely what we want, but we are certain we don’t have it. Driven by dissatisfaction, we pursue the treasure at the end of the rainbow and rarely drink deeply at the well of the present moment, which is all we ever have. The truth is that if we are not satisfied with what we have, we will never be satisfied with what we want.

The real issue of contentment is whether it is Christ or ourselves who determine the content (e.g., money, position, family, circumstances) of our lives. When we seek to control the content, we inevitably turn to the criterion of comparison to measure what it should look like. The problem is that comparison is the enemy of contentment—there will always be people who possess a greater quality or quantity of what we think we should have. Because of this, comparison leads to covetousness. Instead of loving our neighbors, we find ourselves loving what they possess.

Covetousness in turn leads to a competitive spirit. We find ourselves competing with others for the limited resources to which we think we are entitled. Competition often becomes a vehicle through which we seek to authenticate our identity or prove our capability. This kind of competition tempts us to compromise our character. When we want something enough, we may be willing to steamroll our convictions in order to attain it. We find ourselves cutting corners, misrepresenting the truth, cheating, or using people as objects to accomplish our self-driven purposes.

It is only when we allow Christ to determine the content of our lives that we can discover the secret of contentment. Instead of comparing ourselves with others, we must realize that the Lord alone knows what is best for us and loves us enough to use our present circumstances to accomplish eternal good. We can be content when we put our hope in His character rather than our own concept of how our lives should appear.

Writing from prison to the believers in Philippi, Paul affirmed that “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need” (Philippians 4:11-12). Contentment is not found in having everything, but in being satisfied with everything we have. As the Apostle told Timothy, “we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content” (1 Timothy 6:7-8). Paul acknowledged God’s right to determine his circumstances, even if it meant taking him down to nothing. His contentment was grounded not in how much he had but in the One who had him. Job understood this when he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). The more we release temporal possessions, the more we can grasp eternal treasures. There are times when God may take away our toys to force us to transfer our affections to Christ and His character.

A biblical understanding of contentment leads to a sense of our competency in Christ. “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). As Peter put it, “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God” (2 Corinthians 3:5). Contentment is not the fulfillment of what we want, but the realization of how much we already possess in Christ.

A vision of our competency in Christ enables us to respond to others with compassion rather than competition, because we understand that our fundamental needs are fulfilled in the security and significance we have found in Him. Since we are complete in Christ, we are free to serve others instead of using them in the quest to meet our needs. Thus we are liberated to pursue character rather than comfort and convictions rather than compromise.

Notice the contrast between the four horizontal pairs in this chart:

WHO DETERMINES THE CONTENT OF YOUR LIFE?

SELF

CHRIST

Comparison

Covetousness

Competition

Compromise

Contentment

Competency

Compassion

Character

As we learn the secret of contentment, we will be less impressed by numbers, less driven to achieve, less hurried, and more alive to the grace of the present moment.

Article adapted from several sources on the Internet – most likely originally from Bible.org or Monergism.com. Dr. Ken Boa is an outstanding Bible scholar, and Spiritual director, and author of numerous helpful books including the Outstanding Textbook on the Subject of Sanctification and Spiritual Formation: Conformed To His Image.

 

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Pastor Geoff Thomas On Why We Should Give Thanks To God for Everything

GIVING THANKS TO GOD FOR EVERYTHING

Ephesians 5:19-21 Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

We often hear that the Bible is a gloomy book, and we’re regularly told that a religion based on it, and worship that comes out of it is bound to be gloomy and sorrowful. So the Puritans are normally portrayed as melancholic, severe people, and Calvinism is especially targeted as a faith that tends to depression. Yet we come across this exhortation in this extraordinary letter with its immense theology. It is an exhortation to Christians, Sing!” and, Make music in your heart to the Lord.” The apostle tells us that our lives are to be characterised by constant doxology – always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

These exhortations are not rare in the Bible. In the heart of the Old Testament the Psalter is full of psalms of rejoicing, psalms of hopefulness, and psalms of abundant joyfulness. They are concerned with people singing to God, possessing an inward serenity, knowing a profound joy and peace. We are faithful to biblical religion not only if we knows its truths and live by its immensely stringent ethic but if we also reflect its praise.

Here is a Christian church in Ephesus, the first generation out of paganism, in a city dominated by the temple of Diana, and the congregation hear this mighty letter read to them explaining the glorious grace of God. They are urged to live in a vitally new way unheard of in Greek or Roman circles before – “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (v.21) – and they are being told to sing to one another in their homes and churches and places of work and to make constant melody in their hearts to God. That is the impression they are to make on their neighbours of sustained happiness. This is one of the ways they triumphed over Rome; they out-sang Roman philosophy and religion. They were singing because as they saw things, they had good reason to sing. In the great objective universe around them there were facts and entities, and there had been events; there were great concrete promises unfolding in their own experience day by day, and it was upon the basis of these realities that there was in their hearts music to God and songs of praise to one another.

You will find in the entire Bible this emphasis that this is the heart response of authentic Christianity. If you read this letter you will discover the rational for these emotions. We’re not only told to rejoice and sing but we’re shown why we should. We’re not simply told to exert feelings of delight and contentment; we’re pointed to certain great reasons why we must be gripped by them. In other words, the exhortations to a different kind of life in chapters 4, 5 and 6 are built on the glorious truths of chapters 1, 2 and 3, and within these chapters Paul is presenting us with the glories of God’s love and then exhorting our behaviour to reflect that love.

 1. HOLY SPIRIT FILLS US.

Here we are told of the third person of the Godhead, God the Holy Spirit, and that he doesn’t just touch our lives, but that he fills every part of our beings, and that we under an obligation to ensure that he does, more and more. God stands pledged to be within his people, to make them his abode; the church is the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, and as long as we continue as an authentic Christian church, so long as this particular congregation remains faithful to its divine mandate, just as long as it continues in its testimony to the glory of God’s salvation then we will continue to know the Spirit glorifying Jesus Christ in our midst.

We may go beyond that fact; we will know in the depths of our hearts, in the profoundest realities of our own personal experience, that the mighty Creator of the universe is our God. He is the one who is supplying all our need. He has committed himself not only to the cause in general, not only to particular churches, but to us as individual Christians so that we can say from hearts as Paul said, He loved me and gave himself for me.”

We sing and make melody in our hearts because God has come to us in his eternal and unconditional sovereign love. He has sent his Son into the world to bear my sin. He has sent his Spirit as the Spirit of consolation and courage into my soul. He is totally determined to present me faultless in the presence of his glory with exceeding joy. My God is a committed God. All his resources, and all his attributes, and all his grace and power he has dedicated to my salvation. There is a love that will never let me go. I am caught up, not in something visible and physical, and not in something temporal and terrestrial, but I am caught up in something eternal, something invincible, and something infinite. I am saying that in my heart there is music going out to the Lord, and on my lips are psalms and hymns and spiritual songs because the mighty God is not simply committed to his cause in the world, or in Wales, or even to this congregation’s testimony, but God is committed to each believer in particular. God is committed personally by his Spirit who indwells us so that we can know “He is my God; he is love; he has given himself for me; he has filled me with his Spirit.” I know that Almighty God is totally committed to my salvation, and that the work that he has begun is a work from which he will never desist until we are presented without spot or wrinkle before the throne. The Spirit of God fills his people. “Make sure you go on being filled with him,” Paul says, “and sing and make music in your heart to God.”

 2. THE HOLY SPIRIT IS WITH US TODAY.

Where can I go from your Spirit?” asks the psalmist (Psa. 139:7) because of the sheer naked fact of his omnipresence. He is everywhere in this universe and beyond. I take the wings of the morning and fly to the uttermost parts of the ocean but when I arrive there the first thing I discover is that the Spirit of God is already there. Paul and Silas were thrown into the darkest deepest dungeon in the jail of Philippi, but the first discovery they made in that stinking blackness was that the Holy Spirit was there. So they could sing to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs and all the other prisoners listened to them. It is his presence in us in grace, in all the consolations of his personal love, in all his enabling resourcefulness that make us songsters. He is in us to help, and sustain, and guide, and encourage, and bless. It is not his universal cosmic presence that makes us sing so much as his presence in redeeming pity and encouragement.

You remember how the Spirit is with us, in every challenging phase of our lives. God has sent us individually on a mission. We leave this church today and enter our own mission field. We are to go and teach the nations. We are to hold fast to our confession, and we are to point men to the glory of God in Christ. And for us to fulfil this task God provides us with the indwelling Spirit. In every congregation which today is pointing men to that Lamb who bears away the sin of the world the Spirit is present and working. In every pulpit which declares the truths of the gospel – that we deserve eternal death because we are sinners, but Jesus because he loved us died for us – in every such pulpit the Holy Spirit is present steadfastly and consistently and unadornedly. In the life of every single believer who is holding fast to his confession then there is this great reality, the presence of God the Spirit, and as you go and stammer and speak and serve, and as you maintain the integrity of your own Christian witness then this is your privilege, the Holy Spirit’s presence in and with you.

I can put it like this, where two or three are gathered together in the Lord’s name then the Spirit is present, not only in our evangelism and outreach and our witness and testimony but as we meet at a prayer meeting for our own comfort and edification. Then we show forth the glory of our God and Saviour and we have the assurance that the Spirit is there, indeed that the Spirit is here now. He is blessing this sort of gathering right now; he is applying his word to every need of our souls; he is alongside us as we write that difficult letter, or as we turn the other cheek, or as Paul says here, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (v.21). We must know that we are indwelt by God’s Spirit permanently and irreversibly, no matter where we are or what we are doing. It is the greatest reality of this Christian life that we are temples of the Holy Spirit, that we have been baptized by one Spirit into one body. We cannot be, without the vitality of the Spirit coursing through our hearts and souls and spirits. We cannot be, and not be temples. We cannot be, and not have the presence of the Spirit. No matter what we are relating to, and no matter what we are confronting, and no matter what we are experiencing, and no matter what we are doing, we are doing it as those energised and motivated by the indwelling Spirit of God. I am saying that God the Spirit is present with us not only in the great evangelistic movements, and not only in the large worshipping congregations with their meetings every night of the week and their huge staffs, but the Spirit is in the heart of each individual believer. He is there with her private sorrows; he is there with her individual stresses; he is there with her personal temptations. The Spirit is there.

Yet, you remember this truth that you never take the Spirit for granted. “Go on being filled with the Spirit,” says Paul. His presence is, in some respects, an irreversible reality, and yet we know from the church of Laodicea something was missing. There was a curious and peculiar relationship to the Lord which they professed. He was very near that church, but he was only near it in so far as he was at the door. It is true that he was knocking; he was claiming admission and begging entry, but none of that alters the fact that he was outside. That church had no right to claim that is was a Spirit-filled congregation. She had the name of a church; she had all the machinery of a church; maybe she had the authentic message of a church, and yet the Lord was outside.

There may be moments in our own individual lives when we have given such offence to the Spirit that we have grieved him, and he has turned away and hidden his face from us. Though his preservation is not withdrawn yet his saving and comforting works are not present. There are Christians today – there may be even some at this meeting – and the Spirit is not filling them. Certainly God will never let them go; they will not fall utterly. Yet they do not know his consolation. They do not know his help. They do not know his guidance because for one reason or another they have grieved him. They are not singing and making melody in their hearts to God.

There is this whole emphasis on the presence of the Spirit with the Christian. It is a reminder to us of how accessible God is to us. He is within such easy reach. Let’s imagine for a moment that we are in trouble and need help. Where do we get it? We have illimitable access to the indwelling Spirit. Paul is saying, “You don’t have to go miles to look for him. You don’t need some special code. You don’t need outriders and guides to take you to him. He is in you and you talk to him.” Or to put it better, using Paul’s words in Romans, you just send him a message by means of a groan that cannot be uttered. He is so near that he hears that. We sometimes cannot sing a hymn with our voices; we sometimes cannot shout; we cannot send eloquent prayers or beautiful petitions to the Lord, and yet he is so near that if only we mutter a few words he can hear us. Just a wordless groan and the Spirit is so near he understands and cares.

3. WE RESPOND IN SINGING GOD’S PRAISE TO ONE ANOTHER.

We enjoy the blessings of God each day. Success in our exams, the joy of our families, food in our refrigerators, long life, happy relationships, all such temporal mercies from God call for songs of loudest praise. There are also the blessings that the gospel brings in this life and the life to come, justification, full forgiveness, adoption into the family of God, the end of the reign of sin, union with Christ and glorification. How do we respond to all God’s goodness? The world celebrates everything with its drinking, but in our hearts there rings a melody of love, and on our lips there is a song of doxology:

“Praise God from whom all blessings flow

Praise him all people here below.

Praise him above ye heavenly host;

Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”

We respond to all that the Spirit of God applies to our lives by great praise. Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised. We have to make sure that each one of us praises God. “I am going to sing to him.” We are not going to leave it to others. We are not going to say, “Let all the world praise God.” I’ll praise my Maker while I’ve got breath. I will do it. My old, cracked, weak voice that is tone-deaf will sing to him, with my own powers and initiative, because I am not standing before the Force, or an abstraction, or a memory, but I am standing before the Jehovah Jesus who is “My God.” I will praise my God for myself.

Have you ever been struck by the opening words of the 108th psalm. It says this. “A song. A psalm of David. My heart is steadfast, O God.” A psalm of David . . . my heart is steadfast O God. There seems to me such irony in those words. This is David writing these words, the man who once could babble away outside the gates of a city of the Philistines to give them the impression that he was mad. This is David who could walk on the roof of his palace and spot Bathsheba washing and then draw himself and her family into evil tragedy. Think also of David as he begins Psalm 69, Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold. I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me. I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God (Psa. 69:1-3). We say, “That’s David, so like me!” and we are glad to know someone as wobbly as David was in the kingdom; then there is hope for me too.  If ever there was a man who was not steadfast it was David, and yet he begins Psalm 108, My heart is steadfast O God.” He has enjoying a day of gospel assurance; he is expressing his highest confidence in God; he has grown in grace; through all his great falls he has kept coming back to God; a new maturity has come into his life. David’s heart is steadfast, and how does he show it? See what he goes on to say in that psalm, I will sing and make music with all my soul. Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn. I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, higher than the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, and let your glory be over all the earth.” (Psa. 108 2-5). David is steadfast in praising God. This is what must characterise the Christian.

Aren’t we in many ways a strange gathering? We are a company of men and women who say that for them to live is Christ. So the challenge comes to us that if that’s our profession and privilege then are we determined to sing our God’s praises? “I for myself will make melody in my heart and on my lips to my Lord.” It is simply marvellous that in this universe there are two such different existences. There is the unsearchable God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and there is puny man, a mere speck. Yet these two can come so close together, “I . . .  and  . . . Thee.” I may sing to Thee; Thou art pleased with my singing. There is this amazing proximity of us and him. My soul can be totally involved with God. I can sing, and he is listening. I can be making music in my heart with no one around able to hear my praise, but to God my heart-song of thankfulness sounds like a huge cathedral organ with all the stops pulled out.

The great challenge is to be doing it for ever and ever. We will praise him on special occasions when we are members of a vast congregation when every seat in the church is taken. We will praise him when the preacher happens to choose our favourite hymn on a Sunday. We will praise him, on every good day we have; at every gathering of the Lord’s people we will sing to him. “Always giving thanks to God the Father.”

Then there is something else, that it is to one another that we sing our psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs. Often we are told of the existence of a ‘generation gap,’ but we cannot allow a generation gap in the church because in the church there is neither young nor old, but all are one in Christ Jesus. And this is one way that the gap between old Christians and young Christians is crossed; the old praise God’s works to the young. The old commend God’s works of creation and providence and also God’s works of redemption to the young. They do it in the words of their hymns. We have to be sure that we don’t compartmentalise the age groups of the church so that the young never hear the old, never hear them speaking of God’s faithfulness, and shepherding and love. The trend today is for larger churches to have two kinds of services. There is the so-called ‘contemporary service’ and all the young people go to that, and there is the so-called ‘traditional service’ and all the old folks go to that. What a tragedy. What a tearing apart of the body of Christ. The older generation has to praise his works to the younger and declare his mighty acts. We do this by demonstrating their reality in our lives. We believe these things.  We commend these things. We praise God for these things, and of course, best of all, we live them. We live them out. As we grow older and become more feeble, death coming nearer, then God’s works are our theme. His mighty acts are the theme of our psalms and hymns and songs.

4. FOR EVERYTHING WE WILL GIVE THANKS TO GOD.

You notice Paul’s insistence on this, Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything.”Not all days are holy days; not all days are good days, but whatever its character, and whatever my circumstances may be I’m to be Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything.”Some days are simply dreadful; there are great dark weeks which come into the lives of some of God’s people, and for some of you, today, it may be one of these times. You ask your best friend how things are going, and she says, “Not a good day today.” There is darkness and no light; the waters are rising and going over my soul; deep is calling unto deep. Yet on these days too I am to be giving thanks to God the Father for everything, whatever the storms, whatever the pain and privations, however desolate I may feel, whatever burden is crushing my spirit, thanks . . . always . . . for everything.

Matthew Henry was once robbed; how can you possibly give thanks to God the Father for a robbery in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ? That night Matthew Henry wrote these words in his diary: “Let me be thankful. First, because I was never robbed before. Second, because although they took my wallet, they did not take my life. Third, because although they took my all, it was not much. Fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.”

Let our minds for a moment contemplate the grandeur of such a spirit. We can recall, I’m sure, some homes and some hospital beds where a word about thanksgiving has a special poignancy – “Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything.”Men and women suffer intensely, and suffer helplessly, and suffer hopelessly, and suffer pathetically with their grieving families gathered around them; they are men and women of faith, but they have no hope of healing or of their lives being prolonged. These are the last months of their lives. What does this “always giving thanks” mean to them? What kind of day is it to them? It is a day the Lord has made. It is his workmanship and from their hearts they can affirm, “We will be glad and rejoice in it.” The Lord has made everything in it and suited grace for this day. You existentialists and atheists – none of you can say that!

Think of the despair of the unbelieving world. Its greatest hope is that men will be annihilated and cease to exist. They don’t want an eternal sleep with nightmares of memories of their lives eternally haunting them. They prefer non-existence, and they dread non-existence. What a life – a life without loving the living God! What a journey into darkness! Think of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and the character called Lucky (!) Pozzo’s slave, as he makes his final, long, anguished, monologue. In spite of philosophy, invention and progress what is his life without God(ot)? We “shrink and dwindle, waste and pine,” Lucky intones. Ours is the generation who put its faith in Caesar, that is, in the power of the state to regulate and control and provide for our lives from cradle to grave. This generation is now realising that Caesar’s promises to comprehensively help them are vain. This is the generation who have lived through the political confidence of their twenties but are now sandwiched between young children and ageing parents, burdened with mortgages and fears of dirty bombs and Islamic terrorism. The trust their parents had in the institutions of Caesar they themselves have lost, but there is no other object for their trust. The local maternity unit is so overstretched that new mothers have been turned away to have their babies on the kitchen floor. The neighbouring streets are clubbing together for private security to replace the non-existent police. The Old Age Pension seems to be shrinking as they approach pay day – like the pot at the rainbow’s end. What do they have to praise and worship?

There are those who think that being a Christian is something instinctive, simple and automatic. Now they ought to contemplate the glory of the notes of praise which run through a mere Christian’s life. You know how you can recognise someone who is full of the Spirit. It is not by glossolalia; it is that when he is in the depths and his heart is breaking he is still able to give thanks to God the Father for everything. Whatever kind of day it is he won’t be quarreling with God; he won’t be questioning the will of God he will be humbly praising giving God.

It is a description of the Spirit-filled life, and it is a commandment, and so by the grace of God it becomes our experience for whatever God commands to do he enables us to perform. We can give him thanks always for everything not because we force ourselves but because on every day there are subjects of new praise and fresh gratitude. Morning by morning new mercies I see. There are times when faith must concentrate; it must focus its attention; it must screw up its eyes; it must scan the horizon; it must look to the short distance, to the middle distance and to the distant horizons. Look every which way and consider every sign of God’s blessing. The apostle says that there will be a cause for thanksgiving always. Every day will I bless thee! Where is today’s reason to be grateful? I ask you.

Some of us have come out of comfortable, affluent, marvellously benign providences. I’ve come from such a background. I often think that I’ve had the easiest and most trouble-free life of anyone. Yet how often do we come to God with complaints? We have a sense of deprivation instead of this great alertness to the marvelous goodness of Almighty God. We grumble and complain; our spirits are hard, and I am saying that at such times, in the midst of so much human grief, could I suggest that you and I might have the discipline and self-possession by the grace of God to look all around and say to ourselves, “Well, God has said that there would be blessing every day, so where is today’s cause of thanksgiving? There must be blessings today because God said there would be. Then when I see it I think, “How good God is in providing this for me,” and I praise him, and bless him for today’s blessing – always giving thanks to God the Father for everything.

“Always”! I will never stop being grateful, even on the darkest days. You know how on many a dark day your prayers had stopped, but Paul tells us that we should never stop being thankful. Paul knows, as you and I know, that one day soon this poor lisping stammering tongue will lie silent in the grave, but when that happens the voice of thanksgiving will not be silent.  I shall see the once crucified Saviour; he will bear the marks of my redemption and he now has all authority in heaven and on earth. That day will be the day of the fierce indignation of God, for the great day of his wrath is come and who shall be able to stand? Men will cry to the rocks and mountains to fall on them and hide them from his face.

We shall bow before him – we Christians, lost in wonder love and praise, for through the blood of Christ a sinner is justified, the Father is reconciled and all our sins are pardoned. Doesn’t that give us much to be thankful for? Then in a nobler sweeter song won’t I be grateful for God’s power to save? When I stand before Thy throne, dressed in beauty not my own, then I’ll be so grateful for the robes of righteousness. When I see the Lamb and his fair army standing on Mount Zion then I’ll praise him who loved me and washed me from my sins in his own blood. For ever and ever – “Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything.”

 5. WE WILL NEVER CEASE GIVING THANKS TO GOD.

Now, you see it’s a sad world; it’s a very empty world; it’s full of bitterness and resentment. “What have I got to give thanks to God for?” people say. I want to say to you that out there, objectively, really, sovereignly, there is the only God there is. You might think that he is tremendously august, and wholly other, a God of majesty and righteousness and unimaginable power to have made this whole universe. He is a God who speaks with such awesome holiness in his law and to our consciences, and all of that is true. But out there, I tell you, there is a heart so tender and loyal and generous and forgiving that the man or woman who is reading this and whose life is in the biggest shambles conceivable may go to this God, and ask him to forgive it. He or she may go to God and ask him to bless it with his own generosity. He may go and expect God to be true to every promise he has made.

I have a great problem and that is this, that I speak to such ordinary people, and I have the impression sometimes that so many are trying to make themselves different. You are trying to make yourselves special, and if you achieve that then you think perhaps you may be converted. There are some very odd people and they’re afraid of being saved. They are afraid of some outburst of emotion and embarrassment. They don’t want to make fools of themselves. They are more afraid of missing a dance because they imagine being converted means missing a dance. That worries them far more than losing out on the love of God and experiencing a lost eternity. So you are doing all you can to avoid being converted.

There are others of you and I believe that you are very anxious to be converted, but you want to make yourself special first. You don’t want to come to God ordinary; you want to come to God standing. But everyone I’ve known who’s come to God has come kneeling. He has come to God ordinary, feeling unqualified and unprepared, wishing he was more sincere and with more conviction, hungering and thirsting for that. Some of us try to come breaking our hearts from guilt, but in spite of all this when we come to God we feel terribly unprepared. Yet many of you are playing with your souls because you are trying to prepare first, and you won’t come ordinary. I am saying, let’s come just as we are, with many a conflict and many a doubt.

That’s not a bad thing, as all of us can testify, to come to God saying, “Nothing in my hands I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling.” That’s not a bad way to come, and all who come that way say, “God met all my desires.” Why shouldn’t Christians go and tell people that? The world thinks of all that it will have to give up, and the difficulties it would face and how narrow the road would be. Well, let us go and tell the world we are so thankful to God for all he has given us every day. We are abundantly satisfied with him. What glory it has been to have Jesus Christ as our Saviour, and what hopes we have of eternal life.

Where is your music? Why is your heart silent? Where have your convictions gone? If the Lord is your salvation, and if you feel convinced by the great gospel themes of our preaching then where is the melody? Bring your heart under the control of your theology. My heart is steadfast O God.I will sing and make music with all my soul”(Psa. 108:1&2).

You are seeing the enormous pressures coming on the Christian church. There is militant Islam and militant humanism. Two mighty threats. And yet throughout human history the church has faced such challenges. In the Old Testament there was Egypt and Assyria and Babylon. In the New Testament there were terrible attacks on the church of Jesus Christ, and where are those enemies now? Some of them seemed so mighty that they were the occasion for the writing of New Testament epistles. Yet where are they now? We don’t even know what Gnosticism was, and yet at one time it threatened to destroy the Christian church. Where is it now – Gnosticism? Where has it gone? All those enemies that emerged for a while, look what the Lord did to them. Today where is Hume? Where is Rousseau? Where is Voltaire? Where is Bertrand Russell? They are all dead, but the church lives on, as Christ lives.

In other words the gates of hell have not prevailed against the church. Is that not cause for praise? Time and again men have written the church’s epitaph; they have described the world as ‘post-Christian’; they have said that the influence of the church is gone never to return, and yet the men who wrote those epithets are forgotten and the church lives. In the 1950’s I remember the fuss George Orwell’s book and play called ‘1984’ made. What a bleak world it portrayed. No singing; no music in the heart; no church and no gospel would exist in 1984. There were the common prophesies of science fiction, that life in the 21st century would be a bleak dictatorship. We boys in school asked ourselves, “Is that what it will be like in 30 years’ time?” But the year 1984 has come and gone and another twenty years have passed, and the church is, and the gospel is, and there is still melody in our hearts. “Come, behold the works of the Lord!” The very facts are saying to us that our labour in the Lord is not in vain. We are not whistling in the dark to keep our spirits up. We are singing and making melody in our hearts to the living God. Of course we would be facing enormous difficulties even if we gathered here in Aberystwyth all the Christians of mid-Wales with all their gifts and resources. Even then it would still be a huge battle, but is it an impossible one? Does any Christian here today hold to the principle that labour in the Lord is in vain? Not one. How can we possibly hold to such despairing ideas if the living God is our Shepherd, and Rock, and Teacher, and the Sovereign Ruler of earth and heaven? Then we will sing our praises to him and to one another. Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised.

About the Preacher of this Sermon:

Geoffrey was born in Merthyr Tydfil and became a Christian in Tabernacle Baptist Church in Hengoed. He went to University in Cardiff to study Biblical Studies as did his wife Lola one year behind him. Geoff then went to Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, PA. In 1965 he was called to pastor the Baptist Church in Alfred Place, Aberystwyth where he has been ever since. Geoff and Lola have three daughters, eight grandsons and one granddaughter. His activities include maintaining the Banner of Truth website.

Geoffrey’s books include Daniel, Servant of God under Four Kings (Bryntirion), The Life of Ernest Reisinger (Banner of Truth), Philip and the Great Revival in Samaria (Banner of Truth), Preaching: the Man, the Method and the Message (Reformed Academic Press), and The Sure Word of God (Bryntirion). The full text of 550 of Geoff’s sermons has been published on the Alfred Place website @ http://www.alfredplacechurch.org.uk/ The sermon above depicts the original Welsh/English spelling of the preacher. It was delivered on August 29th in 2005.

 

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