Being thankful to God is the essence of worship. To be specific and thoughtful about our gratitude is not only well-received by the Godhead, it is expected (Luke 17:17). We owe him nothing less than to catalog our blessings and prompt our own hearts to recite them in thanksgiving. We see this discipline in the lyrics of the Psalmist as he calls his own soul to "Praise Yahweh!" and "forget not all his benefits" (Psalm 103:2). It may sound elementary to remind yourself to "count your blessings and name them one by one," but nothing would capture the essence of spiritual maturity more than doing just that (1 Thessalonians 5:18). And unlike the non-directed "thanksgiving" of our world, we must be careful and clear in our minds about the ultimate recipient of gratitude. It is not enough to passively feel thankful, we must actively direct our earnest expressions of thanks to the Giver of all good things (James 1:17). Though he has blessed us in countless ways, it is our responsibility to start counting anyway. As we do, God is honored, we are refreshed, and Christ's Church is adorned with the worshipful hearts that befit his children.
Thankfulness should not be just for those times that are going well, but should be our attitude regardless of our present pains or disappointments. The Bible assumes that if we are recipients of his grace and mercy, we have a lot to sing about as Psalm 96 would indicate. This Psalm calls us to "Sing to the Lord" (Psalm 96:1a). And the focus should not only be historical (i.e. what God did for us in years past), but our attention should also be on God's merciful involvement that is observed to be "new every morning" (Lamentations 3:23). That is why the psalmist calls us to sing to him "a new song" (Psalm 96:1b). The "newness" in view is not the modernity of the melody (necessarily), but it clearly has to do with the recent awareness of God's "marvelous deeds" and manifestations of his "glory" among his people and in our lives (Psalm 96:3). We could consume all of our time and attention focusing on the difficulties of the Christian life, but the Bible says that would be a mistake. Because God "is great" and "most worthy of praise" (Psalm 96:4), there are many good and awesome things of which we should take note, and then, in obedience to God's word, we must turn our hearts and our voices to him in joyful song. Psalm 96 ends as we might expect, looking forward to the day when God makes everything right (Psalm 96:13), but in the meantime we should never fail to find the "right" that he is doing right now and celebrate it with glad and sincere hearts.
While pain hurts, and few of us would choose it if we had a choice, God often chooses it for us, so we can experience his strong deliverance and learn to praise him more perfectly. Consider Psalm 102 (a psalm with a preface that reads "the prayer of an afflicted man") where we discover that amid the psalmist's pain he has learned to recognize God's providential rescue. More than that, he is resolved to utilize God's answer to his prayers as a springboard for liberal amounts of thanksgiving and celebration. He even directs it to be written down and memorialized so that others can join with him in worshipping God for his gracious relief. So when your stormy trial encounters those respites of peace and calm, let us follow this inspired example and share our incremental victories so that together many can rejoice in the deliverance that God is providing!
When the storms of life sweep in and we become tossed about by things like cancer, unemployment, divorce, or foreclosure, it is absolutely vital we have something strong and reliable to grasp onto. In these critical moments we need a lifeline.
As a pastor who comforts and counsels people through difficult times, I have seen a number of these turbulent storms. And I have also weathered a few myself. I’ll never forget the day the doctors informed my wife and me that our unborn daughter Stephanie had a congenital disorder called Spina Bifida. That day would mark the beginning of a whirlwind of emotions, questions, surgeries, tough decisions, and close calls.
The reality is we all go through difficult times and I recently wrote a book on this topic titled Lifelines for Tough Times: God’s Presence and Help When We Hurt. In this brand new release, I share my own story of the difficult months and years following Stephanie’s diagnosis, and more importantly, I examine the biblical lifelines we can cling to in any storm we face. I truly hope you will read this book and be encouraged. For a limited time, you can request Lifelines for Tough Times when you give a donation of any amount in support of Focal Point.
1 Corinthians 13 is subtitled "The Way of Love." In this chapter, Paul tells the Corinthians that love is the greatest of the enduring Christian characteristics and without it we are nothing. However, love is not as easy or pleasant as it sounds. It is effortless to say "I love you" but so hard to demonstrate in real life. The Bible calls Christians to love "not with words or speech but with actions and truth" (1 John 3:18).