Posts Tagged With: thankfulness

Sacrifices of Praise

“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (First Thessalonians 5:16-18; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Image created by the YouVersion Bible app.

Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks. Praise God in all circumstances. If you have been a Christian for any length of time, you have heard these words of counsel. Maybe you have given this advice to others. It sounds like a few simple steps to become a spiritual giant.

That is not how Paul meant it. This was not advice for prosperous people with great health, social standing, high-paying jobs, and a comfortable lifestyle. This was written for people facing persecution. Some Thessalonians probably wondered if God had abandoned them. These were the people whom Paul urged to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in every circumstance.

The Thessalonian church had a brief but colorful history before Paul wrote his two letters to it. It was formed when Paul visited the city, with his partner Silas, on his second missionary journey. Not long before, they had been imprisoned in Philippi (Acts 16:16-40). Their ministry in Thessalonica got off to a good start: Paul preached in the local synagogue, and several people received the good news. Soon thereafter, though, persecution broke out against the young church, and the new Christians persuaded Paul and Silas to flee for their lives to Berea (Acts 17:1-10).

The church continued to grow, but persecution continued. Furthermore, false teaching arose in the church as some preachers claimed that the second coming of Jesus had already occurred. Some scholars think they were teaching that Jesus was not literally coming back and that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was His “second coming.” It would be easy to lose heart.

Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks. Even when times are hard. Even when you are suffering. Even when tempted to think God has forgotten about you. Do not give up.

I recently published my wife’s healing testimony on this site. In that, she shared how she had developed a habit of “memorizing scripture about healing, spending time praising God, thanking Him, and praying.” While her church was having a prayer meeting devoted to her healing, she was at home “worshipping and praying while listening to praise music.”

We might be tempted to think that 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 is a message to act upon when life is going well. That is not correct. It is easy to be happy when life is going well; rejoicing takes effort when sickness controls your life. It is easy to pray regularly when God seems to be taking care of you; it is difficult when marital difficulties and financial problems linger for years. It is easy to give thanks when your refrigerator and bank account are overflowing; it takes a lot of effort when you do not know how you will get your next meal or feed your children.

A statue of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus did not give in to despair or depression, but He prayed fervently during the hardest night of His life. Statue at the Malvern Retreat House, Malvern, PA. Photo by Michael E. Lynch.

Yet, this is when 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 becomes a power passage. This is when it becomes spiritual warfare. The real blessing and real spiritual power are when we follow these instructions when our circumstances and emotions tell us it is time to quit.

There are times when it is easy to get angry at God. Do not deny it. If you are angry, tell Him so. Feel free to yell at Him. Tell Him how furious you are. Tell Him how you really feel. Be honest. Be brutal. God knows how you feel. In fact, the Book of Psalms has several prayers/songs that are perfect for times like this. David and the other writers did not avoid expressing their anger, fear, or dismay in their songs and prayers. Jesus quoted Psalm 22 on the cross when He cried out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46). He probably recited the entire psalm, including its expression of faith at the end (Psalm 22:25-31). When we bring our burdens to God—even when we think He is the burden—He takes our cares from us and brings comfort, hope, and healing.

No matter what happens, do not avoid Him. No matter how angry you are, God is big enough to handle it. He is also merciful enough to forgive you.

When your life hits bottom, it may be at that point that you will realize that God is all you have to hold onto. No matter what you are going through, hold onto Him with all that is within you. He will hold onto you with all of His power.

Rejoice always, and soon your joy will not just be an act of the will; it will be genuine and unstoppable. Pray without ceasing, and eventually, it will flow as you see God turning your life around. In everything give thanks: Before you know it, you may realize that you have had reasons to be thankful all along.

Scripture often urges us to offer up a sacrifice of praise to God (Hebrews 13:15; Psalm 50:23). Sacrifices can hurt. True faith worships God not only when it is easy, but even more so when it is a sacrifice—when we choose to worship God when it would be easier to ignore Him.

I would like to hear from you. How do you worship God in hard times? What helps you to worship Him when it is not easy to do so? Share your thoughts or suggestions by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

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

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Spiritual disciplines | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Spiritual Warfare XV: Thanksgiving, Prayer, and Spiritual Warfare

{Pray} at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak (Ephesians 6:18–20; all Scripture quotations from ESV unless otherwise indicated).

writing-hand-book-leg-love-finger-742682-pxhere.com

Image from pxhere.com. Published under a Creative Commons 1.0 Public Domain license.

As we pray in the Spirit, our attitude matters. Although one can list a host of proper attitudes for prayer (submission to God’s will, obedience, forgiveness of others, faith, and so on), one is especially important to mention in the context of spiritual warfare: thanksgiving.

Supplication often leads us to focus our attention on a problem. We pray for more finances because we cannot pay our bills. We pray for healing because we are ill. Financial problems, illness, strife, or other problems can easily become the center of our attention. The very attack of Satan—yes, even Satan himself—can suddenly become our focus. Prayer should not focus on Satan. It should focus on God and His goodness and against Satan and his attacks. Thanksgiving brings God back into our focus.

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak (Colossians 4:2–4).

Even as we intercede on behalf of others, we pray with thanksgiving. The command to connect prayer and worship with thanksgiving occurs several times in the New Testament:

{Be} filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ… (Ephesians 5:18–20).

{Do} not be anxious about anything, 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 your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6–7).

These are just a few examples. Thanksgiving is essential to prayer. Yet, sometimes, it is not easy. Perhaps we need to know how to find reasons to be thankful. Sometimes, it is tempting to merely thank God that “It could have been much worse.” While that is often true, we usually need more encouragement than that when in the midst of battle.

We can thank God for what He has done in the past. If your current dilemma is a physical illness, you can thank God for times He has healed you in the past. If it is a financial crisis, you can thank Him for times He has provided in the past. If it is a problem with a relationship, you can thank Him for the good relationships and positive people He has placed in your life.

Next, we can thank God for who He is. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). The God Who has answered prayer in the past—or may even have blessed you when you did not pray—has not changed. He is the same loving, merciful, forgiving, all-powerful, all-knowing, and always present Lord and Father. He is always able and willing to bless, preserve, save, heal, restore, and empower His children. You can thank Him for being Who He is. As the psalmist says,

For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations (Psalms 100:5).

This is praise not so much for what He has done for us, but for Who He is. We can trust Him because He is now and always will be faithful, loving, and good. Keep thanking Him for Who He is. If we forget how good God is, Satan will have the upper hand in our lives. To win our victories in spiritual battle, we must remember that the Lord is good, His steadfast love endures forever, and that His faithfulness never ends.

Next, we can thank Him that He is able to accomplish what we ask Him to do. If you are in a financial crisis, you can thank God that He is able to meet your needs. You can thank Him that He is able to heal you when you are sick.

Finally, we can thank Him for His promises. God has promised to answer certain prayers for His people:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him (James 1:5).

God has promised to provide wisdom to those who ask Him for it by faith.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:33).

Can you believe that promise? Are you willing to believe that God can meet your needs? Will you thank Him in advance that He has promised to do so, and then thankfully pray and trust until He brings it to fruition?

Life can bring discouragement and disappointment. As we fix our eyes on God, learn to give Him thanks and praise as we pray for our needs, and trust in His love and mercy, we can see Him answer our prayers and protect us from every spiritual attack.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Spiritual disciplines, Spiritual Warfare | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Unceasing Devotion

In First Thessalonians, Paul wrote to a church that eagerly awaited Christ’s return. The church in Thessalonica had sprung up suddenly when Paul preached there. Persecution arose shortly thereafter, and Paul had to flee to Berea. In spite of persecution, the church grew. The members struggled, enduring hardships and wondering what will happen to the church’s deceased members when Christ returns. They loved the Lord, but they needed reassurance that their faith was not misguided.

Today, our society can create confusion for Christians as well. Legislators pass laws in defiance of God’s edicts, and judges “legislate from the bench” in opposition both to God’s law and our nation’s Constitution. The media depict Christians as a flock of bigoted, narrow-minded, ignorant fanatics; many of our friends and co-workers are brainwashed to believe these stereotypes. As we await Christ’s second coming, we must be prepared to face whatever challenges may come. Outright persecution may arise. Religious freedom is gradually disappearing, even in America, despite the First Amendment. Our nation’s fountain of prosperity seems to be drying up. We need to learn how to follow the Lord so that we may not falter in hard times. We also need to wait patiently in hope for the return of our Lord.

How shall we live and act as we prepare for Jesus’ second coming? A familiar passage in First Thessalonians 5:16–18i provides some insight:

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

This can look like three separate commandments. However, the passage bears a parallel structure, much like the Hebrew poetry found in the book of Psalms. This parallelism suggests that this passage is one command in three parts. To follow God’s will for us, we must rejoice, pray, and give thanks continually.

These three attitudes work together. When we pray, we give thanks, and such thanksgiving brings us joy. Such joy encourages us to pray some more, increasing our reasons to give thanks. Prayer, thanksgiving, and rejoicing become a cycle.

The most significant message here is that we should continually worship God. The emphasis is on the continual nature of this command. In the original Greek, these three adverbs—”always,” “without ceasing” (or “unceasingly”), and “in all circumstances”—appear before the verbs. Paul emphasizes the continual nature of these actions. This passage does not encourage us to rejoice occasionally, pray periodically, and give thanks on the fourth Thursday in November. We should do these things continually. They should be more than activities: they should be part of our very character.

That can be difficult. It is easy to rejoice when your favorite sports team is winning, your checking account balance keeps growing, and you have a productive day at work. It is not as easy, though, when your favorite sports team is on a prolonged losing streak, your checking account balance approaches $0, and work equals drudgery. If we cannot accomplish God’s will for us in Christ Jesus at these times, though, how will we fare during full-fledged government-sponsored persecution?

Galatians 5:22 tells us that joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Spiritual fruit grows from spiritual seed. How do we grow joy? By keeping our eyes on spiritual blessings. In Matthew 5:11–12, Jesus said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Elsewhere, Jesus told his disciples to rejoice, not because of the supernatural power he gave them, but because their names were recorded in heaven (Luke 10:20). Therefore, we grow eternal joy by reminding ourselves of our eternal rewards.

We can get so addicted to this world that we forget about heaven. We may get dangerously comfortable here. If Jesus were to ask our permission to rapture us into heaven tonight, many of us may balk because of all the things we would have to leave behind! “Lord, I need my TV; I never miss an episode of ‘American Idol.'” “You mean to tell me there’s no football in heaven? What am I supposed to do on Sunday afternoon there?” “I’m still making payments on that car! I can’t leave it here!” Perhaps if we truly considered our heavenly treasures, and all that awaits us there, we would not cling so tightly to the things we have here.

Perhaps that is why Christians in some Third World countries receive the word of God with such enthusiasm. They are not enslaved by possessions. They count themselves blessed if they eat enough to stay healthy, own two changes of clothing, and have a roof over their heads (even if that roof is made out of mud or tin). Their only treasure is whatever they are storing up in heaven. They realize just how temporal earthly pleasures are.

Praying without ceasing is central to rejoicing and giving thanks. Unfortunately, it is easy to make excuses to disobey this command. There are times when conscious prayer might hinder us from fulfilling our other duties. As an editor, when I am working on authors’ proofs, I need to concentrate on the pages in front of me. Most of us encounter similar circumstances, where our full attention must be directed to a task at hand. However, this should not become an excuse for spiritual laziness.

Are you at least consistent in prayer? Do you pray every day? Do you set aside time for prayer and then stick to it, or do you wait until you have nothing else to do before praying? In the Old Testament, the Israelites were often commanded to offer their first fruits to God. In other words, they sacrificed to him first. Likewise, we should set aside time for prayer as a top priority. If we wait until there is nothing else to do, we will never pray until we are in a crisis.

Perhaps many of our lives are too cluttered. It is difficult to pray while listening to the radio or your IPod. It is even harder to pray while watching television. We need to decide whether prayer or worldly pleasures are more important for us.

Prayer is our spiritual lifeline. We need constant spiritual protection. In First Peter 5:6–9, we read the following:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.

Satan prowls as a vicious predator seeking souls to devour. Everything can be flowing smoothly in your life. You can be walking in victory. You might feel like you have finally overcome that addiction or life-controlling sinful habit. Suddenly and unexpectedly, life throws you a major crisis. In the midst of that stress, you are tempted in your weakest area. Maybe that sin, which you thought you had overcome, suddenly crops up as an overwhelming urge. If you have not tapped into the Lord’s power through prayer, you will be at Satan’s mercy until you call on the Lord. By the way—Satan has no mercy.

Remember to give thanks in all circumstances. If we pray continually, thanksgiving will flow. It is hard to thank God in hard times. However, when we recognize that in all things God is working for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purposes (Rom. 8:28), we can thank him for what he is doing, even if we are not currently comfortable in our circumstances.

Let us take these exhortations to heart. Rejoice always, even when you should feel like crying. Pray without ceasing, especially when you feel like God is ignoring your situation. Give thanks in all circumstances, even if you are not sure what God is doing. You may not see the blessing now, but if you remember that God loves you and is in control of all situations, you can rest confident in the hope that he will produce a good outcome in your circumstances.

Most importantly, remember that God is the One who will sanctify you and declare you blameless. His power strengthens us. His love encourages us. His guidance leads us. His Holy Spirit seals us. He holds us in His hands, and he will not let go of us. We are precious in his sight, so he will preserve us against any trial as we draw closer to him.

iScripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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

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