By Still Waters I

From a devotional I recently gave at the Laramie Reformed Presbyterian Church Ladies’ Tea. I hope it is a blessing to you.

A Life of Giving Thanks

Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Definition of Thankfulness: “A whole-hearted worshipful belief and acknowledgement that God is Good in everything He is, in everything He says, and in everything He does.”

Do you struggle to give thanks to God? Do you sometimes look at another believer’s life and think to yourself – it must be easy for that person to give thanks – they seem to have no problems. I know I have thought these things. But, if we were to have a heart-to-heart with that person, we would find that they, too, struggle to give consistent thanks to God.

The fact of the matter is: most, if not all, believers struggle to be thankful in all things. This struggle stems from our old nature and from the fact that we live in a fallen world. In this fallen world, when we experience something bad, either physical or spiritual, we feel it and acknowledge it, which, in and of itself, is not wrong. We would be stoics if we did not acknowledge the reality of suffering, and this would be dishonest. The psalms are full of heart-wrenching descriptions of the reality of this fallen world, and of the psalmists’ real, human reactions to them. We can certainly find ourselves in the psalms as we walk on our pilgrim journey.

So, we can safely say that when we acknowledge that something is hard, or difficult for us, we are not necessarily being unthankful. It is how we see God in relation to this hard or difficult thing that determines whether or not we are thankless or thankful people. Let’s listen to the holy complaint of the Psalmist and then how He ends his prayer with thankfulness to God:

Psalm 13:2-6
How long wilt thou forget me, O LORD? for ever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? how long shall mine enemy be exalted over me? Consider and hear me, O LORD my God: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death; Lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him; and those that trouble me rejoice when I am moved. But I have trusted in thy mercy; my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation. I will sing unto the LORD, because he hath dealt bountifully with me.

Being thankless is a temptation for all believers. We do live in a fallen world and are reminded of it every day: Our bodies get tired after a hard, busy day of working. Our emotions can get raw after intense moments or conversations with family or friends. We wake up in the morning with tired bodies after a short or restless night of sleep. Or we wake up experiencing some other discomfort – either of body – like chronic pain – or of the mind – like depression or perhaps just plain old discouragement. School deadlines are overwhelming. Family members get ill. Friends and loved ones die. Financial strains can be ever present. And these are just the physical things. I haven’t talked about the sins that seek to cling to us or to our loved ones, or the suffering we can experience as the result of the sins of others. CAN we be thankful in these difficult moments? What does the word of God say:

Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Giving thanks in these situations is the LAST think we want to do. Our old nature says that we should not and cannot give thanks in these situations. For fatigue? for pain? for heartaches? For difficult relationships? For depression? For death? Well, don’t believe your old nature. Our old nature, which we sometimes call the Old Man of Sin, CANNOT see our life in any other way.

The Old Man of Sin lives inside of everyone, whether a believer or an unbeliever. But for an unbeliever, this is the only nature they have living in them. This nature rules them. It controls them. It will kill them. But the believer has a new nature living in them, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is this indwelling of the Holy Spirit that makes it possible to live a life tuned more and more to thankfulness.

As I move forward in this devotional, I want to focus on 4 things:

The possibility of living a thankful life
Being thankful in all things
How we can live a thankful life.
What a thankful life looks like

The possibility of living a thankful life

Is it possible to live a thankful life? For what ought we to be thankful? For needs that are met? For wants that are met? Can perceived needs be wants in reality? It can become important at some point in our lives to examine how we fundamentally view what we have, and what we don’t have – what we think we need, and what we want. Are we only thankful when we have needs and desires fulfilled? And for how long does this attitude of thankfulness last? Are we grouchy soon after because something else has not gone our way? And how often do we desire something, whether a need or a want, and when we are given that desire, our hearts are in such a state of presumption, or such spiritual dullness that being thankful is not at all on our hearts?

What if all earthly things are taken away from us – needs and wants? Can we still be thankful? The answer to these many questions can only be found after an examination of our souls in relation to God’s word.

First, we have to ask ourselves: what is our greatest need? A person can have all earthly things in their life going well, but still not have their greatest need met – the need for a mediator between himself and the wrath of God. I tell you, this person cannot be truly thankful. Just like everyone else, this person will be laid in the grave someday, leaving behind all associated earthly pleasures. But their greatest need will now be staring them in the face. However, by this time, this is a need that cannot be met. The Scriptures tell us that the time to seek forgiveness through the mediator, Jesus, is during the time He gives us on earth: Now is the day of salvation, and it is in the land of the living where God calls you to come to be reconciled to Him through the saving work of Jesus on the cross. 2 Corin 6:2 says: (For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I helped thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.)

Thankfulness can only be born of salvation. If God has called you to Himself, to seek His mercy and forgiveness of your sins through the death, burial, and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ, and then by His grace, you have come to Him and found your life in Him, you CAN TRULY live a thankful life – thanking God first and foremost for His salvation. JESUS is truly all you need. Let this be your first thought as the temptation to be unthankful creeps in. Here are several Scripture verses that teach us of the sufficiency of Jesus: These are good verses to memorize and meditate upon frequently:

Psalm 16:4-6 Their sorrows shall be multiplied that hasten after another god: their drink offerings of blood will I not offer, nor take up their names into my lips. The LORD is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot. The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.
Psalm 73:25,26 Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.
Psalm 119:57 Thou art my portion, O LORD: I have said that I would keep thy words.
Psalm 142:5 I cried unto thee, O Lord: I said, Thou art my refuge and my portion in the land of the living.

Being thankful in all things

Thankfulness to God begins with thankfulness for His Great Salvation, but it doesn’t stop there. Because of Who God is, we can be thankful in all things as the Holy Spirit instructs us to do in the letter to the Thessalonions. Our thankfulness in all things requires trust, faith, and knowledge of God, but it is in the knowledge of God that faith and trust find their moorings.

Knowing Who God is is crucial to living a life of thankfulness. We all have earthly fathers. Most, if not all of us, have lived with our earthly fathers and therefore have some knowledge of who they are. We know them because of the time we have spent with them. We know their ways and habits. To some degree of predictability, we know how they would respond to different situations. We have some sense of their level of love for us. All of these things we know because of the time we spent with them.

Just as we come to know our earthly fathers through the time we spend with them, so it is true that we can know our Heavenly Father by spending time with Him. We learn Who God is by spending time in His Word and this is through hearing the preaching of His word, through group Bible study and through personal devotion time. And although we are unable to fully comprehend God on this earth, He has graciously given us the ability to know much of Him through His word. We see what He does, what He says, and what He thinks. We are blessedly supplied with His own revelation of Who He is. Who God is often described in terms of “attributes”. It is the trust in and belief of these attributes that spur us on to give thanks in all things.

How to live a thankful life

Let’s talk about some of these attributes and see how they relate to living a thankful life:

The Westminster Shorter Catechism: Q & A 4: say: What is God? God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.

One of the attributes of God on which I really love to rest is His unchangeableness. Humans are never consistent. We are always changing, depending on our mood, or on our circumstances. God NEVER changes. He is always Who He has always been, and that will never change. If God is in control of all things, He is always in control of all things. If God says He has saved us, our salvation is never lost. If God says that He loves us, He will always love us. If God says He will never leave us nor forsake us, He will never leave us nor forsake us. If God says He is truth, He will never lie to us. If God says all things work together for good for those who love God and who are called according to His purpose, then all things will work together for good to those who love God and who are called according to His purpose. If God promises to conform us to the image of His Son, then God will conform us to the image of His Son.
A firm belief in these truths about God will cause us to live thankful lives in the midst of all kinds of circumstances.

A life of giving thanks recognizes and believes that since God always loves us, we can give thanks in all the difficulties He has Sovereignly given to us because He is going to do something good for us as the result of these difficulties. In other words, because God always loves His children, we can truly be thankful in all things because God causes all things to work together for good for us.

Here is where spiritual discipline must be inculcated in our hearts and souls. Here is the “How” of a thankful life of a believer. Here is where we engage in the battle against the Old Man of Sin who says to us: be in despair, don’t trust God, there is no hope. Here is where we need to take every thought captive. Here is where we must constantly remind ourselves of God’s unchanging attributes. Philippians 4:8 says,

“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”

What a thankful life looks like

Though only God can see what is truly in our hearts, a life of thankfulness will mostly manifest itself in our words. We will speak of God’s constant goodness to us. And we will refrain from speaking disparagingly of our circumstances. Though we may need to vent out our frustrations and hardships, we ourselves will also speak of the ultimate goodness of God, or else we will willingly assent to the counsel of others encouraging us to trust God in what He is doing. But thankfulness will also manifest in our actions. If we are thankful in all situations, we will not be paralyzed with doubts or fears, but instead we will go about what God has for us to do in a trusting manner.

I would like to close this devotional with the Holy Spirit’s words in Philippians 4:4-7:

Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Advertisements

A Life of Giving Thanks

Aside
By Still Waters I

I forgive you.
Thorns.
I forgive every sin,
Every sinful action,
Every sinful word.
Nails.
Every sinful omission,
Past sins,
Present sins,
Future sins.
Blood.
I know you don’t deserve my forgiveness.
You have truly sinned against me.
And there’s the point – you don’t deserve it!
Forgiveness is not something deserved.
It is something given.
If it was deserved,
It would not be forgiveness.
How plain.
And yet,
We are blind
Until we understand in our hearts,
And obey,
Remembering we have been forgiven
By an offended God,
Who looked past the offense
And saw
Thorns,
Nails,
Blood.
Because He was heart-generous,
He forgave.
Because He loved us.
He forgave.
Therefore, we die to self
And forgive.
And it is beautiful.
And freeing
You shall know the truth,
And the truth shall set you
Free.

Forgiveness and Freedom

Aside
By Still Waters I

Murder: What It Is and Why We Do It

The gun is raised, the trigger is pulled. The knife flashes and is plunged into the flesh. The fist is clenched and the blow fatally applied. Death by murder. What is murder? And why do we do it? Should we ban the instruments of murder? Remove from our society all things used in murder? The gun, the knife, the fist? Careful. Just as Adam and Eve in the garden pointed the finger at others for what they themselves did, so we can point to others and to things, for blame.


A man lies dead in a field. Murdered. Another man walks away, thinking no one saw him kill his brother. Yes, his brother. The first murder occurred, tragically, between brothers. What did Cain use to kill his brother? The Bible does not tell us, but we can be sure that it was not any modern device. Perhaps it was a stone, a large stick, a knife, or his bare hands. But can we be sure that the only instrument Cain used was a tangible one? Listen to what the Bible says about this first murder, “And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell. And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him. And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother, and slew him. And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper? And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.”

It is perhaps significant that the Bible does not relay to us what physical instrument Cain used to murder his brother, but it rather stresses the condition of Cain’s heart toward God. Cain was wrathful toward God. He was angry. And he took his anger toward God out on his brother.

The Word of God tells us that the instrument used in murder is not of great significance. What is significant is the heart. Jesus tells us: “ For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:” Matthew 15:19. I think that we can all assent to that. We may say it in different ways, but if we are honest with ourselves, we are going to come up with the conclusion that physical murder starts in the heart. It doesn’t start with a gun, knife, a fist, etc. Banning items used in murder is not practical or logical. If we are going to ban all items that folks use to murder others, we are going to have to ban not just fire arms, but knives, cars, alcohol, ropes, etc. That still leaves fists, hands, feet, and yes, the heart. Even if we could ban the heart, if the heart wants to murder, it finds a way.

But have we addressed fully what murder is? Murders are brought to our attention in the news. Some murders do not receive this media attention. Regardless, murders happen every day. Though this is true, we usually do not dwell on them unless the media does, or unless, tragically, someone we love has been murdered. I would be remiss if I did not bring up the murders of babies through abortion. Just like Abel’s blood, their blood cries out from the ground. To further complete the picture, we also need to mention the murders committed through genocide that happen throughout the world.


But still, is that all there is? Is the picture truly complete? Have we completely fleshed out what murder is? No. We came close to it when we said that murder starts in the heart. But is murder always physical? Again, the answer is no. The Word of God says that when we have hatred in our hearts toward others, we are murderers. “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him.” 1 John 3:15. So just because we have not broken the sixth commandment – Thou shalt not kill (Greek, apokteino, meaning “murder”) in a physical way, Jesus says that when we are unjustly angry toward someone, we are in danger of being judged by this commandment as a murderer, “Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment:” Matthew 5:21, 22.

Sometimes this anger toward others plays out in physical murder, as in the case of Cain and in the case of many others throughout all time, and sometimes it produces the hidden murder of the heart. We are all guilty of at least the second scenario.

Physical murders in society should be addressed. Some are addressed properly in this world, and some are not. Some are not addressed at all. In any case, the blood of the victims cry out from the ground, and God hears it and will address physical murders in His own time and way.

God also hears the murder in our hearts. If we listen very carefully, we can hear it, too. We should tremble when we realize that simply the thoughts of our hearts condemn us. God, the judge, looks not on the outside, but on the inside, “for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

Yes, we can point the finger at the young man who sinfully pulls the trigger, at the drunk who abuses his wife, at the bully who beats up the small kid, and at those who murder their babies through abortion, but we must stop pointing to the instruments of death (guns, alcohol, knives) as the culprit, but rather point to the heart of those who wield these instruments. Furthermore, we must point to our own hearts, as we are guilty as well. Who or what can change our hearts? Can regulations and laws? As Paul, the apostle, cries out: “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? Romans 7:24


A man hangs dying on the cross, the victim of hearts of hatred. The instrument was the cross, but the source of hatred was the heart – the hearts of those who cried out for him to be crucified and the hearts of all of us, “Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers:” Acts 7:15

Ever since the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden, our nature is to hate God and His ways. Just as Cain took out his wrath toward God on his brother, so, too, we took out our hatred toward God on His Son. Is there deliverance for this heart of hatred toward God and His Son? Yes. It is in the death of His Son, foreordained by God, that we find life and forgiveness. We meant His death for evil, and God meant it for Good. God does indeed work all things together for good for those who love God and who are called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28. The sin that dwells within us was crucified with Jesus on the cross. Jesus took these sins upon Himself, paying the penalty that we owed to God for our sins. We are no longer guilty for our sins, and are re-born into a new life through His resurrection. We are washed and made clean and given a new heart, one that desires to love God and walk in His ways.

Murder. It is heavy business. It weighs on the heart and controls our actions, and puts us in hell. Jesus says: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30


May you flee to Jesus for relief of your heavy sin burden. He is faithful and just to forgive those who come to them seeking His mercy. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9

Murder: What It Is and Why We Do It

Aside
By Still Waters I

Let Nothing You Dismay

When I was a very young girl, my family at Christmas time would gather ‘round our piano under the big mirror in the living room and sing Christmas carols. One carol in particular made an impression on me. It was not a good impression. The carol was “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.” I didn’t know what the words meant, but they seemed to me to be dark words, and the tune seemed just as dark. Perhaps this was because hearing it invoked a depressing visual image of carolers sadly (it seemed to me) singing this carol on a dark and dreary wintery street in the old version of the Charles Dickens’ movie, “A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost-Story of Christmas” (Yes, that is the full name.) But God, after saving me, gave me eyes to see and a heart to love the words (and the fitting tune) of this old Christmas carol. Ponder these powerful and beautiful words: “God rest ye merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay. Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day. To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray. Oh, tidings of comfort and joy. Comfort and joy. Oh, tidings of comfort and joy.” Here is good news for those who know their burden of sin. Here is safety for those who have been in the grip of Satan. Here, the answer to the greatest need of men is presented in beautiful words. And, indeed, for those who have this comfort and joy, there truly is nothing to dismay. Praise God, the Savior!

 

Image by Dean Morrissey

Let Nothing You Dismay

Aside
By Still Waters I

Fighting

A dear friend of mine is fighting. She has been fighting all her life. She is not a stranger to war. Weapons are daily raised up by her against formidable foes. Her strategies are often the pulling down of that which is offensive and dangerous to her. Some of her battles are so intense, they are hand-to-hand combat. Someone always gets hurt. Her battles are not reported on in the media. No one posts them on Facebook, inviting heated and often hurtful debates. There are no tweets provoking angry responses and self-righteous reactions. No one would label her battles current events. Special interest groups don’t eye them as potential political vehicles. In fact, most of her fighting is done in secret. Even her closest loved ones and friends only see the fringes of her battles.

My friend is fighting the good fight of faith. Her enemies? They are three-fold: Her sinful self, the devil, and worldly temptations. Her weapon? “The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Eph. 6:17) How intense have been her battles? Only she really knows. But does several miscarriages, a daughter’s battle with cancer, a grandchild lost to cancer, a daughter-in-law lost to cancer, and a fast-approaching death – her own – by cancer, sound like someone who is intimately familiar with battlefield warfare? And these trials, in and of themselves, have not been the objects of her fierce retaliation. Rather, she has aimed her Weapon at her sinful nature that demands a rebellious allegiance and approach to her trials. Where are her battles fought? My friend’s battles are fought within her. Who then gets hurt? Her old nature. Her old nature that, from her youngest years, and in all her trials, both small and great, has lied to her just as Satan lied to Eve in the garden. The lies sound like this: “God doesn’t love you. God cannot be trusted. You know better than God.” Her old nature constantly demands worship and ownership of these lies. Oh, this battle is fierce. It makes world wars look tame, and the clamoring, violent crowds of current events seem foolish. And no one sees this fierce conflict.

This same battle has been experienced by thousands and tens of thousands for over 6,000 years now. And by God’s great grace, each battle has ended ultimately in victory. Heaven is full of victorious soldiers – all of whom are casting down their crowns and giving glory to the One Who gave them the victory by His Own Triumph over sin and death.

Oh, the world is filled with battles and conflicts, riots and rebellion. People want this and people want that, and they make it clearly known by their angry fists, signs, policies, words and armies. Don’t be fooled. The real battles are being raged quietly all around you, in the hearts of those who are seeking to put to death the sin of their old nature, that they may be conformed more and more to image of God’s Son.

When my friend is finished with her last battle, and can lay down her sword, she will be able to say, by God’s grace, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. (2 Tim 4:7). And her quiet battle will be over.

“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;” 1 Corinthians 10:3-5

“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” Ephesians 6:12

“Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.” 1 Tim 6:12

Fighting

Aside
By Still Waters I

New Morning Sonnet

Today the sun came up with sharp hellos.
My eyes, surprised, oh my, they looked away.
And then, with awe and sweet shy aglow
Within the room, behind the glass, I gazed.
Horizon dim, so far away, bespoke
Of fleeing night and coming day.
Across the field, all sleeping things awoke
As darkness lifted and flung itself away.
And now the life is at the sill for me
And enters in the cold and early room.
The sleep is gone but leaves no vacancy,
The birth of day so like the empty tomb.
I pondered newness that repeats itself,
Like spring that shouts for praise unto Thyself.

New Morning Sonnet

Aside
By Still Waters I

We Will Not Be Silent

Make a path, Oh, LORD.
Baptize us on our way through.
The dead rock
Split, to release life.
The torrent of blood
Stop, that healing
May be.
The young hand lift up, that
The maiden may arise.
The fish and bread
Multiply, that there may be
Leftovers.
Skin put back on skin
That the ear may again
Hear.
Work, LORD, work, as in the
First six days.
We are standing at the
Barrier
Of the sea.
We will stand still and
We will see
The power of the LORD.
We will not be
Silent, but clamor
To be heard,
As the woman
Who lost her husband.
We will grab onto
Your hem.
We will raise holy hands.
We will climb a tree.
We will wrestle with You.
We will come down through
The roof.
We will seek You out
To turn our water into Your wine.
We will not
Be silent skeptics.
The blessings…
They belong to us.

We Will Not Be Silent

Aside