Trying To Be Thankful

Trying to be thankful during hurt is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Whether it is the hurt caused by another, rejection, loss, depression, or failure, stepping out of the hurt long enough to recognize that God is sovereign and always has what is best for me and being thankful, is hard.

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:11)

I don’t want to suffer hurt because, well, it hurts. Being rejected over and over makes me feel like a failure. The loss of a job or an expectation can feel like the loss of a friend or family member. I just want to hide in the closet (or shower) and cry. Grieving is not just for the loss of a loved one. Sometimes we have to grieve the loss of an expectation because things didn’t happen as we expected them to.

These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Our plans, however, are not the plans that drive the universe. The Bible tells us over and over again that we can make all the plans we want, but that God is in control. I might not “feel” like being thankful but I am commanded to. Besides that, I should WANT to be thankful. Even if God never did another thing for me, look what He has already done! Salvation, sanctification, justification, and I could go on and on!

We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps. (Proverbs 16:9)

I may not like the situation I am in now, but I still have reasons to be thankful. It may not be what I wanted, but I wasn’t promised that anyway. When I surrendered to Christ, my life became His to do with as HE pleased. He owns me as a slave yet he treats me like a son. He could do anything He wishes with His property yet He chooses to bless me and be in a relationship with me.

How can I not be thankful?

Practical application:

When you feel rejected or hurt, encourage yourself in the Lord. Make a list of everything you are or can be thankful for. Life, breath, salvation, whatever the Lord brings to your mind. Focus on what He has given you, not on what you’ve been coveting. Repent for anything you have been coveting over Him. Tell God ‘thank you’ for all He has blessed you with and all He has saved you from. Find scripture that encourages your heart to trust Him to provide what is best for YOU.

And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the LORD his God. (1 Samuel 30:6)

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7)

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the [a]author and [b]finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)

God’s Answer

“You can go to all of the church services you want, read all the spiritual books you want, even do all the Bible studies that you want, but experiencing all God has planned for you comes only through aligning yourself under and abiding in the one who reigns over all, the exalted Lord Jesus Christ.” –Tony Evans

What does aligning yourself under and abiding in The Lord Jesus look like practically? If it’s not church attendance, Bible studies, and reading spiritual books, what is it? How is it accomplished? How do you know that  you are doing it right?

I like and want to read my Bible. I love to read about the stories of the old testament and try to learn from them. I love to read the promises of the new testament and I long to believe and trust in them fully. In my mind I think I do but in my actual movements, conversations, thoughts, decisions, reactions, and choices, it doesn’t appear that I do.

It appears that I don’t really trust God with my everyday details.   How do I change that?

I’ve recently been struggling with my circumstances. Problems have arisen that need solutions. I want to trust God and align myself with Him. I want to make sure that I am walking according to His plan. However, because I did not see any resolution, I’ve been worrying. I reached out to a trusted organization with a few questions and I feel like I have received God’s answer.

In response to a devotional I receive, I had some questions, so I contacted the ministry. A wonderful pastor, Rev. Leighton Smith, replied and God used him to tell me just what I was longing to hear. My questions were:

What does aligning yourself under and abiding in The Lord Jesus look like practically? If it’s not church attendance, Bible studies, and reading spiritual books, what is it? How is it accomplished? How do you know that  you are doing it right?

I have searched for these answers for quite some time. I had asked teachers and pastors I know but until now, none have been able to answer in a manner that I understood and made sense. I am not maligning them, perhaps God was waiting until I was ready to understand. Whatever the reason, I am thankful to finally have an answer.

So, what does aligning yourself under and abiding in The Lord Jesus look like practically?

Aligning yourself under and abiding in The Lord Jesus is the why behind what you do.

  • Do you attend church? Why?
  • Do you read your Bible? Why?
  • Do you follow God’s commandments and precepts? Why?
  • Do you seek to live a life that glorifies God? Why?

It is truly a question of motivations. What motivates you to do these things? Are you seeking God’s face or His favors? Do you want to know Him or use Him? What changes do you need to make in response to your truthful answers to these questions?

Now, how is aligning yourself under and abiding in The Lord Jesus accomplished?

Practically speaking it is:

  • Choosing to obey His guidelines even when it doesn’t make sense or you don’t understand
  • Learning the Word of God – not just memorizing scripture – but what it means. What principle is it teaching?
  • Applying the principles learned in decision making (scriptural decision-making, not emotional decision-making)

You cannot obey guidelines that you don’t know. You cannot know the guidelines if you are not learning the Word of God. You cannot apply the principles when making decisions if you haven’t invested the time necessary to learning the principles and the reasoning behind them.

Finally, how do you know that you are doing it right?

  • When you begin to solve problems and they do not return. (We all will experience problems. Applying God’s wisdom instead of man’s wisdom allows the problem to be permanently solved and spiritual growth to occur.  Applying man’s wisdom will only result in a temporary solution.)
  • When you start seeing victory in your life problems. (Some things will be resolved quickly. Some things will take longer. However, there is steady evidence of progress.)
  • When it causes you to change in your thinking. (When your mindset is changed, your life changes.)

This was my favorite part because I desperately needed to know that I was going in the right direction. I needed some confirmation and encouragement that I was on the right track. When you are doing things God’s way, you are changed. There is peace, hope, and a joy in your heart that lifts you above your circumstances.

I hope that this has helped you as much as it helped me. I pray that this will bring you into a closer relationship with Jesus.

Shifting Focus

What is God doing in your life? Are you focused on what He’s doing or what He’s NOT doing?

It’s a simple question but it doesn’t have a simple answer. If you are like me, then it is incredibly easy to focus on the negative instead of the positive. We get so busy fighting fires that we can quickly get overwhelmed by negativity.

So, am I focused on what He IS doing in my life or what he’s NOT doing. Honestly, more times than not, I am focused on what He’s NOT doing. He’s not answering my prayer the way I want, when I want it. Doesn’t He know? Is He not listening?

I need a shift of focus.

It is not about ME. It’s really about HIM. Am I doing what I am supposed to? Am I being obedient? You mean I am expecting to be blessed without submitting to God and behaving in obedience?

God does that sometimes because He loves us yet we can’t expect that to be the norm.  Who am I to treat God like an on-demand vending machine? God gives us SO many promises in His word, and they are available to us, however, many of those promises are conditional.

“And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart14 I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back from your captivity;” Jeremiah 29:13,14 (emphasis mine)

He doesn’t attach those conditions because He wants to punish us or make our lives legalistic. He attaches those conditions because He wants us to WANT to be like Jesus. In order to be like Jesus, we need certain characteristics that come through struggles when we are living and choosing to be obedient.

So, what is YOUR focus on? Do you need a shift in your focus? Begin by repenting. Move on to praising. Tell God how THANKFUL and GRATEFUL you are for what you have and where you are and MEAN it.  Then finally make a move toward obedience. It won’t be easy. It’s not supposed to be. Anything worth having is worth working hard for.

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

“Then it shall come to pass, because you listen to these judgments, and keep and do them, that the Lord your God will keep with you the covenant and the mercy which He swore to your fathers.” Deuteronomy 7:12

 

In The Eye of The Storm

Continue to remember the family and friends of the victims in Parkland, Florida.

There are no words.

No words can comfort more than God’s Word.

We pray, Father that you would pour out your comfort and healing on all those affected by what has occurred. Thank you Lord that you are trustworthy and faithful to provide peace and comfort to those hurting.

Ryan Stevenson has a song called “In The Eye of The Storm”. The opening lyrics are below along with a scripture reference and a reminder that God is sovereign.

In the eye of the storm

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life. You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes; with your right hand you save me. Psalm 138:7

You remain in control

I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’ Isaiah 46:10

And in the middle of the war

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4

You guard my soul

O keep my soul, and deliver me: let me not be ashamed; for I put my trust in thee. Psalm 25:20

You alone are the anchor

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and steadfast. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, Hebrews 6:19

When my sails are torn

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1

Your love surrounds me

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Psalm 33:22

In the eye of the storm

 

(Songwriter(s) Ryan Stevenson and Bryan Christopher Fowler)

Where You Are Now

Where are you right now? Are you in the middle of cleaning the house? Are you at work? Are you the caretaker for someone? Are you trolling the internet looking for something? Maybe you are stressed out or overwhelmed. You might possibly be lonely or bored. You could be hungering for something but you don’t know what it is.

What are you “in the middle of”? Where are you right now? What is stopping you from starting where you are now and beginning again? Each day that you wake up is a new day and the Bible promises us that we are new creations. Therefore, each day is a new beginning.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 2 Corinthians 5:17

God gives us all a set number of days that only He knows. Are you using each day to glorify Him? You don’t have to be on the mission field or in full time ministry. YOUR mission field might be your classroom (as the student or the teacher), your workplace, at the grocery store or gas station,or out driving on the highway. Seek to glorify him in all that you say, think, and do.

Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. 24 Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ. Colossians 3:23-24

Coram Deo

Our youth group has been studying the concept of Coram Deo. Coram Deo, a Latin phrase, is translated as “in the presence of God”. It’s the idea that all life is lived in the presence of, under the authority of, and to the honor and glory of God. As our youth pastor explains, before the face of God. Nothing is hidden from Him.

“For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor anything hidden that will not be known and come to light.” Luke 8:17

How many of us feel as if we can hide things from God? For some crazy reason, we think if no one else saw us, then God didn’t see us either. We can very easily get into the bad habit of thinking and acting like we are hidden from the eye of God.

“But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

“The Lord looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men.” Psalm 33:13

“Woe to those who seek deep to hide their counsel far from the Lord, And their works are in the dark; They say, “Who sees us?” and, “Who knows us?” Isaiah 29:15

This also applies to the things we think and say and do in our mind. God knows it all. We cannot just be accountable in our actions and words. We must also be accountable in our thoughts. Thankfully, God is for us and has provided. He has provided help, grace, and mercy.

O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, And are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, But behold, O Lord, You know it altogether. You have hedged me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain it. Where can I go from Your Spirit?Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me. Psalm 139:1-10

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer. Psalm 19:14

God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1

In Christ Alone

If you’ve heard the popular song “In Christ Alone” by Keith Getty and Stuart Townsend you are familiar with the theme that Christ alone is all we need. He alone is the answer to every question or cry. We can find our hope, strength, peace, comfort, salvation, and victory in Him.

We can.

So why do we try to find it in other places? We look for hope in the arms of imperfect people just like us. We look for strength in self-help books and the gym. We look for peace and security in money and things. We look for comfort by self-medicating with all kinds of substances and situations. We look for salvation within our own power. We look for victory at any cost. Can we find true hope, strength, peace, comfort, salvation, or victory anywhere apart from Christ?

We can’t.

All people crave three things: love, acceptance, and security. All of our pursuits and cravings center around these three things. Only in Christ alone can these longings and cravings of our souls be satisfied.

“You open Your hand And satisfy the desire of every living thing.” Psalm 145:16

“Why do you spend money for what is not bread, And your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance.” Isaiah 55:2

“The Lord will guide you continually, And satisfy your soul in drought, And strengthen your bones; You shall be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.” Isaiah 58:11

“For He satisfies the longing soul, And fills the hungry soul with goodness.” Psalm 107:9

“My soul breaks with longing For Your judgments at all times.” Psalm 119:20

“Oh, satisfy us early with Your mercy, That we may rejoice and be glad all our days!” Psalm 90:14

 

Breaking Away

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Recently we returned from a Breakaway conference which challenged us all, adult leaders and students alike, to breakaway from traditionalism and compartmentalizing Christ and to step into living, loving and serving like Christ.

We discussed what some of the barriers might be that kept us, and the students, from stepping out and stepping up. Fear, of course, was number one. One of the things I took away from the conference was that the church we were returning to wasn’t expecting us, the adults, to come back all fired up to live, love and serve like Christ. They would be expecting movement from the students, but not us.

Why? We were participating in the worship, Bible study and small groups. Why were we not expected to come back “on fire”? How sad that it was probably true in most cases! When did we stop? Was there a certain time or event that marked the end of our “fire”?

During our last meeting together, I encouraged the students not to waste any more time. I had wasted so much time not being committed to Christ and I didn’t want them to have that regret. I also encouraged them not to be a douse when they returned. If one of their peers stepped out or made some hard choices, I explained that they should support each other instead of throwing water on (or dousing) the spark their friend had for Christ.

We can be guilty of that too. How many times have we doused each others spark or the spark of a young person because of our cynicism? How many times have we doused our own spark with doubt?

And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” Galatians 6:9

“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.  For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.  But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.  For each one shall bear his own load.” Galatians 6:1-5

Let us enter into this new season with a fire in our hearts to spread the Gospel of Christ. Let us commit to living, loving, and serving like Christ so that He may be glorified.

Interested in Breakaway? (http://eddie-nichols-s4jj.squarespace.com/)

Decluttering the Throne Room

Sometimes I get behind in the devotional I am reading. Rather than skip to the appropriate day, I like to read the ones I missed and think about how that day went. I think about what might have changed if I had read my devotion that morning and meditated on it instead of just running to start the day. Since I have the book on my phone so I can read during the day anywhere I am so, while  lying in bed the next morning, I went to pull up my devotion and noticed that I was a day behind.

The day I missed was a busy one and I didn’t realize that I had not read my devotion. However, it all worked out because the devotion I missed was the devotion I needed. It reminded me not to be weighed down by the clutter in my life. Chores, errands, and insignificant tasks that only seemed to be important.

While Jesus and his followers were traveling, Jesus went into a town. A woman named Martha let Jesus stay at her house.  Martha had a sister named Mary, who was sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to him teach. But Martha was busy with all the work to be done. She went in and said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me alone to do all the work? Tell her to help me.” Luke 10:38-40

The only true task I have is living as close to God as I possibly can. Spending time in His presence and communicating with Him is to be my number one goal and priority. If I let all of those other tasks, chores and errands clutter up the throne room of my heart, I have to “clean out the closet” just so that I can have room to spend time with my Savior.

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things. Only one thing is important. Mary has chosen the better thing, and it will never be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41-42

When I seek God first and commit my day and plans to Him, even if the day isn’t smooth, I have peace. Peace is precious. Peace only comes with the Presence of God. So clean out that throne room and spend some time with the Savior. Your day may not be easy but you won’t be bearing your burdens alone.

Commit your work to the Lord, then it will succeed. Proverbs 16:3

Seek first God’s kingdom and what God wants. Then all your other needs will be met as well. Matthew 6:33

Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

Caution: Work In Progress

I have been reminded recently that I am still a work in progress. I feel like there should be a caution sign hanging around my neck. Not only to warn others about what they might encounter with me but also as a reminder that I need to use caution when interacting with others. It is so easy to let my emotions take control, especially when I’m tired. Or hungry. Or sick. Or tired. Oh wait, I mentioned that already, right?

How thankful and grateful I am that I AM a work in progress. Jesus doesn’t give up on us when we make mistakes. He uses those opportunities to teach us something. It may be forgiveness, it may be perseverance, it may be humility, or it may be patience.

“The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you.  “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8

We know that in everything God works for the good of those who love him.They are the people he called, because that was his plan. Romans 8:28

These lessons can be hard to swallow, especially if our sense of fairness is offended. However, God may be trying to get our attention in order to readjust our sense of fairness. Some of the things we are offended over are not really issues that are unfair. We only see them as unfair because we are operating in a selfish manner. (Ouch!!)  

Where jealousy and selfishness are, there will be confusion and every kind of evil. James 3:16

Do you know where your fights and arguments come from? They come from the selfish desires that war within you. James 4:1

When you’ve had a challenging day and everything seems to be rubbing you the wrong way or ruffling your feathers, take a step back and reassess the situation from God’s perspective. Do you need to apologize for anything? Do you need to repent for anything? What changes can you make today to make tomorrow smoother? What is God trying to tell you?

The Lord says, “Listen to me, those of you who try to live right and follow the Lord. Isaiah 51:1

He wants a relationship with you. A real, close, relationship. He wants you to tell Him all about your day, how you feel, what your hopes and dreams are, and He wants you to trust Him to provide what’s best for you. Lean into Him. He can support you. Draw closer to Him. I know it can be hard to focus sometimes, especially when you feel overwhelmed, but that is the exact time when you NEED to stop and focus on Him.