Posts Tagged With: 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Thanking God on New Year’s Day

Twelve months ago today, I published an article entitled “2020: A Year of Vision.” Think of all the things we did not expect at that time! Even though there were minor rumblings in the media about a new coronavirus, few people anticipated how it would disrupt our lives and set the tone for the year. I usually quip about New Year’s resolutions (I often resolve to make no New Year’s resolutions, thereby ensuring success and failure at the same time), but this year I feel sorry for those who seriously resolved to work out regularly at the gym.

An Irish shillelagh. Too bad we cannot really use it to teach 2020 a lesson! Photo by Schurdl, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

As a result of the chaos, negativity reigned in popular culture and social media throughout 2020. Many people responded to the world with a new breed of sarcastic humor about current events and daily life. I recently saw a meme on Facebook that read, “On New Year’s Eve, an old Irish tradition is to open the door at midnight and let the Old Year out and the New Year in. I think 2020 deserves to have all the doors, windows, and garage door to be open.” I proposed taking it a wee bit further: I should have bought a shillelagh (an Irish walking stick that can also be used as a club) at a local Irish gift shop so I could mercilessly beat 2020 as it left. Let’s make sure 2021 sees this so that it knows we mean business!

However, on a serious note, the Bible offers a better defense against negativity, hopelessness, depression, and despair.

“{In} everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, New American Standard Bible).

Image from YouVersion Bible app.

We do not give thanks for all things but in all things. 2020 brought sorrow, frustration, and even anguish to many. As of December 31, 2020, over 350,000 Americans have died as a direct result of COVID-19. Many others died of “normal” causes this year; perhaps some of those may have survived if the healthcare system was not strained. (My last two uncles died this year of non-COVID-related medical conditions.) Businesses closed their doors for government-mandated shutdowns, never to reopen, and their employees are unemployed.

It was a difficult year, but if we look for positive things, we can find them. There is a slogan in some 12-Step programs that says, “Look for the good.” If we look for it, we will find it. Here are a few examples from my own life:

  • Readership of Darkened Glass Reflections continued to grow. This blog experienced almost a 65% growth in the number of page views over the previous year, and its five biggest months ever took place during the second half of 2020. The “Year of Vision” revealed that I should take a closer look at my writing ministry and ask God where He would like to lead it.
  • My wife and I fared well financially. Since I work for a publishing company, I was able to work full-time from home and earn my full salary while we had lower expenses. I spent a lot less money on gas, car maintenance, and other expenses that accumulate while driving to and from work every day.
  • We are healthy. My wife and I both had minor cases of COVID-19 early in the pandemic but recovered fully. While we continue to respectfully follow social-distancing guidelines and take other reasonable safety precautions, we do not live in fear.
  • We survived the initial shutdown in March and a two-week self-quarantine period after visiting Missouri in August without killing each other. Apparently, our marriage is strong enough to withstand such challenges and equips us to face crises together.
  • Jesus Christ is still King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and Savior of my soul.
  • Finally, we were blessed with grandchild #4. Leo was born in May and continues to bring joy to the family and everybody else who knows him.

I share these testimonies while fully aware that some people were less fortunate. Some friends lost jobs. Others faced other hardships. Most found something positive amid the mayhem. However, most people have something to thank God for in 2020. We can find ourselves focusing so much on the negative things that we forget the good things God has done for and in us.

Photo from PxHere.

Yes, there were hard times in 2020. Problems will not disappear overnight merely because we replaced our wall calendars. The virus is still spreading. America is still deeply divided sociopolitically (probably more so than ever). Questions regarding race and justice that emerged after George Floyd’s death remain unresolved. Perhaps 2021 will bring an end to the pandemic and we can improve in the other areas. However, whatever the year may bring, let us look for the good. Let us thank God for the good things that happen in our lives and the lessons and hidden blessings that come with hardship, and let us share them with those who need a word of hope and encouragement.

Happy New Year! Let’s look forward to good things in 2021.

What can you thank God for as we begin a new year? Share your thoughts by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2021 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Current events, Holidays | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Give Thanks In All Circumstances

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, ESV). Sometimes, this can be the hardest command in Scripture to obey. Thankfulness can easily drown in a whirlpool of self-pity when life’s circumstances cloud our view.

About 15 years ago I was in a meeting where everybody wrote a “gratitude list.” We all brainstormed things for which we were thankful, trying to see how many blessings we could write. As I recall, I filled a page rather quickly and was making substantial headway on the other side of the sheet of paper. There were not too many glamorous or exotic items on that list; it was mostly rather basic, ordinary things to appreciate, like health, family, a job, etc. Although fame and fortune were not on the list, there were many little things that I was grateful to have in my life.

About nine months later, I stumbled upon that list again. It still said  “Gratitude List” at the top of the page, but this time the title should have read “Emotional Kick in the Face.” Almost every item on that list was gone. Marriage? My wife and I were going through a bitter separation, child custody battle, and divorce. My son? I had not seen nor spoken to him in months. My job? Nah; I only found the list because I had just been fired.

I realize this is not the standard lead to an article about thanksgiving. However, thankfulness demands a right perspective. If we base our sense of security on things that can change or disappear, we have little reason for gratitude. We need to cherish things that last instead of those that are temporary or unreliable.

Saint Paul wrote often about the attitude of gratitude in his New Testament letters. Yet, he did not have an easy life. When he would discuss his credibility as a minister of the Gospel, he did not whip out a diploma from an esteemed seminary or point to his popular television show and huge megachurch. Instead, he validated his apostolic ministry by writing, “I am a better one—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea” (2 Corinthians 11:23-25). It does not sound like he had much reason to give thanks, but his perspective was vastly different from that of most men. He had written, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

Situations and circumstances are temporary. If your life and joy are tied to things that are temporary, your gratitude will lack security. There will be no foundation. Temporary blessings bring temporary gratitude. However, the opposite is true as well: temporary hardships bring temporary sorrow: “For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

This life is temporary, but eternal life last forever. People may change, fail, or betray, but Jesus will never fail us.

Within five years of that gratitude list experience, I could write a newer, better one. In 2000, I celebrated Thanksgiving with a new wife, who has been one of the greatest blessings in my life. I have spent the last 14 years working in publishing (I had always wanted to do something with books or magazines; scientific journals will do). While the workplace has been stressful in recent years, thanks to economic challenges in the publishing industry, it still beats every other job I had before. A few months after finding the gratitude-list-turned-kick-in-the-face, I gained some fairly generous visitation rights with my son. Today, I enjoy chatting with him once or twice per week over the phone, and during part of those conversations I get to talk to my 2-year-old grandson (the 7-month-old is usually too busy to chat). I have obtained some great blessings over the years, but I had to go through some painful times before I received them.

Perhaps it was the hard times that enable me to appreciate the good things I have now. James 1:2-4 says, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” God often prepares us to receive a blessing by allowing us to grow through trials. Even on Thanksgiving Day in 1996, when I felt like my entire world was collapsing around me, I could thank God that He still had a plan and purpose for my life.

When I was an assistant pastor, our church would occasionally sing a worship song with these lyrics: “Give thanks with a grateful heart / give thanks to the Holy One / give thanks, for He has given Jesus Christ, His Son.” No matter what else God may give us, He has already given us a great blessing by sending His Son Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. He has given us a gift that allows us to call upon the name of the Lord and be saved (Romans 10:9,13). No job, earthly blessing, or human relationship can compete against such a great gift.

Thanksgiving is a very appropriate climax to the month of November, as it leads to the conclusion of the church year. We begin November by observing All Saints’ Day. This feast day, observed by most traditional denominations, gives us the opportunity to thank God for the example of great men and women who served Christ faithfully. It encourages us to follow their example, which included maintaining an eternal perspective. It also reminds us that, like the great saints and martyrs of ages past, we have been offered an eternal home that far surpasses anything we have on earth. We end the month by thanking God for all the blessings He bestows on us throughout the year. Immediately after Thanksgiving, we begin the season of Advent, as we thank God for sending His Son Jesus into the world for our salvation.

Categories: Bible meditations, Holidays, Spiritual reflections | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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