Wednesday, January 01, 2014

What does it mean to be thankful in all circumstances?

What does it mean to be thankful in all circumstances?
What do you do when life gets really hard?

Broken life stories can really get to me. Sometimes I am guilty of avoiding movies because someone I know convinced me that it is a real tear-jerker. I do not especially enjoy mourning or being saddened by reading of someone else’s plight. On the other hand, I do enjoy reading about God intervening and strengthening the lives of sometimes needy or desperate Christians. All of that is to say that I have read No Compromise, by Melody Green, and have laughed and cried my way through the all-too short life of her husband. Which, I suppose has led me to attempt these two questions, which do seem to me to be related.

Before I start, I probably should admit that I am a total coward when it comes to pain, and the little pain that I have experienced in life has only dedicated me to being zealous in avoiding any more of it. I think I am like most of my countrymen in that respect, but I do want you to know that I have almost nothing in my life that would qualify me to speak on life-altering or life-threatening pain.

But that is not to say that God has not been teaching me—perhaps through what I would term “less-awful” rudiments. I have experienced the total paralysis of my right side, with my speech being impeded, and that did amount to a life-threatening experience. It was one or two years before I became a Christian, and though I quickly recovered from the paralysis, it certainly did deepen my appreciation of life. After the experience, which but lasted a few months, I found myself both laughing and crying lots more, and life took on a much more precious look than it did when I was snugly in the cradle of adolescent immortality.

I also think my Bible training in college to be somewhat more challenging than most of my peers. God kept me on a short leash, training me to accept his provision often in the most dire of circumstances. Often we would sit down at the dinner table, give thanks, and not know where our next meal was coming from. It was a great time, one of my best life experiences, though I did not know it at the time, and I would not trade it for anything. I did learn to give thanks in difficult circumstances!

So you can see that this piece is not written by a professional sufferer, and I am not at all in the same league as Joni Eareckson Tada, or of Melody Green, for that matter. But I do declare to be on the same team, and there is quite a lot from the Bible that I would like to share, not about suffering or pain, but rather about being thankful, even when circumstances do not seem to warrant thankfulness.

Why does God give us the admonishment to be thankful in everything? Let me share something that occurred to me as I was reading No Compromise. To put it quite simply, I miss Keith Green! I am one of those (I suspect there are many) who knows precisely where I was when I heard that his plane had gone down. I see what most of us see—and if we are wise enough to avoid asking why, still we find ourselves wondering at all of it.

Why in the world should we be thankful for losing one of the churches most talented musicians? In the middle of tragedy, there is one gem promised to all Christians, that if we believe it, will keep us on the thankful path, and I think that one gem is what we must focus on to the exclusion of all else. Simply put, there is more to the Christian than meets the eye. We have the Christ who has promised us that even death will not separate us from his love.

We cannot answer such a question as why Keith, and not me? If you live long enough, and the Lord tarries, you too will take a turn at death. We simply do not know enough to know the why—and speculation as to why does not do us any more good than it did Job. We do not know why. But we do know that we see the painful side from down here. I rather suspect Keith is having the best time of his life now, and maybe finding a venue of singing to his Lord. We look to that side only by faith, and not by sight.

What we see here is therefore the most painful and awful sight we will ever see. The world is full of sin and death, but we are going to a better place that has been prepared for us. What we see as loss and hurt is turned to life and hope, in that day when we shall know even as we are known. What a reunion it will be! At 61, I can tell you of the agony of losing many Christian friends along the path of life. When life gets hard, I think, we need to place our faith in the one who gave himself for us.

Are we not to sorrow? Paul indeed tells us to sorrow, but not as those who have no hope. I look forward to that better place that Christ has prepared for me, and I shouldn’t be surprised to find out that many of us will be going together to hear the latest Keith Green concert.

What is it that Dickens says about faith? Let me see if I can recall it. “Tis a far far better thing I do than I have ever done before and I go to a far far better place than I have ever gone to before.” Faith is our only defense in the face of circumstances, but since it is the Lord who gives us that faith, I judge that it is sufficient. Keith and Melody started a ministry, still going on, called appropriately The Last Days. By faith, we can look ahead and see every one of the promises of God coming true. What was that line Keith sang in Trials Turned to Gold?

Oh Lord, forgive the times
I tried to read Your mind
'Cause You said if I'd be still
Then I would hear Your voice

Instead of trying to explain a rational reason why someone dies, or is hurt, would we not be better off being still before our God, giving him thanks for even the things we cannot understand? Our faith can make us stand tall, even in the worst circumstances, and even when everything goes wrong. Persevere! Look forward to the fulfillment of every one of his promises. In these last days, are we not closer than ever before to the coming of our Lord? In those days, our tears will be wiped away, and we will remember them no more.

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