Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving—Living Life with Gratitude in Our Hearts

Reading: Colossians 3
What motivates us to be thankful? What prompts us to live lives filled with gratitude? Sometimes I hear people speak of why we should be thankful and think they have it backward. For instance: Are we to be thankful because it makes for a much more peaceful life, or because in doing so, we can't be disappointed? Is gratitude a trait to be developed because it is a part of good character? Indeed it is, and while these things are most likely true, but I don't think real gratitude can be motivated by these.
15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  (Colossians 3:15-17)
On more than one occasion, Paul instructed the church to live lives filled with thanksgiving. Why? Was it because it is good for us emotionally, or because such a positive attitude makes for happier people, or because God prospers the one who is thankful? I can't imagine Paul using any of these pragmatic reasons for motivating thanksgiving.
For Paul, thanksgiving should always flow out of what God has done for us in Christ and what God is doing in the lives of others through the Gospel of His grace. Do we need any greater reason? Isn't that what is at the heart of thanksgiving anyway? Thanking God for the great things He has done. Leave out the “whats in it for me” American pragmatism and have genuine Godward gratitude. Thanksgiving isn't about what we get, but about what we've already received.
This thanksgiving grows as the word of Christ dwells in us richly. Notice just how prominent it is in Paul's own life:
Romans 1:8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.
1 Corinthians 1:4-5 I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5For in him you have been enriched in every way...
Philippians 1:3-7 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now... 7It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart...
Colossians 1:3-4 We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints...
1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. 3We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Thessalonians 1:3 We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing.
Paul was a man with a lot of gratitude. As the word of Christ dwells in us more and more, we too will be people with overflowing gratitude. On Tuesday of this week, I made it a matter of prayer, actually writing it down in my daily planner along with a few other lines of prayer, “May I do all in the name of our Lord Jesus giving thanks to the Father through Him. May my life today be a thank offering acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” The next day, just after I woke up and had begun praying, I found myself thanking God for all He did the day before. And it was suddenly brought to my attention just how often I had found myself pausing to thank God throughout the course of that day before.
Living life with gratitude in our hearts is a work of God and must be a pursuit of ours. This gratitude is a response to what God has done and is doing in and through our lives and the lives of others. It will grow as we let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly. That means we don't work it up, rather we are careful what we are hearing, and as we hear Christ's word gratitude grows in our hearts toward God. We should ask God to make our lives a thank offering acceptable to God through Jesus Christ, and He will answer that prayer. It is definitely a prayer prayed according to His will.
And when we live lives of gratitude, we will grow in worship, we will grow in our ability to encourage others, and we will be more effective in evangelism. Note the connection in Psalm 105:1-3, between giving thanks and calling on God, singing to God, telling others about God, and a heart that rejoices in God.
Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. 2Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. 3Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice. (Psalm 105:1-3)
Living life with gratitude in our hearts is a work of God and must be a pursuit of ours.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Are We Watching?

Reading: Mark 13 – 14
It's like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. 35Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back— whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37What I say to you, I say to everyone: “Watch!” (Mark 13:34-37)
As I was reading this morning I was struck by the command to watch. Christ is calling us to a specific duty. No, he doesn't have a particular problem with sleeping. (Remember He slept on a pillow in the storm.) The picture is one of standing guard (some translations miss this point by translating, “stay awake”.) This is a duty. A soldier given guard duty must watch. Why? So the others can sleep safely. The idea is to be on guard against something. Christians are called to stand guard, to stay awake through all hours of the darkness in order to guard against something...presumably the evils of darkness.
How do we watch?
Admittedly, by itself this command seems a bit vague. However, I cannot help but think, as I read on, that there is a clear connection between this command and the narration it precedes. This command immediately precedes the account of passover week, the week Jesus was crucified. On the evening of passover, the disciples went out to the Mount of Olives and in the dark of night are in a private garden called Gethsemane. There Jesus tells the disciples,
"Sit here while I pray." 33He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 34"My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. "Stay here and keep watch.” 35Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36"Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”   37Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. "Simon,” he said to Peter, "are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?  38Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” (Mark 14:32-38)
First, I note that when Jesus told them, “Stay here and keep watch,” the expectation was that they should be praying. Second, the purpose is clarified, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” Watching is for the purpose of guarding against temptation. The evil of darkness is the temptation to sin. In this particular case, we find the temptation to deny Christ, to flee in the hour of trial from Christ, is the particular temptation they would all face, and Peter in particular (14:50-51, 66-72).
How are you doing with regard to watching?
Are you on guard against temptation through prayer? Are you guarding your brother or sister in Christ in prayer against the attacks of the enemy? From Sunday's message in 1 John 3:11-18, we know we are called to be like Christ and not like Cain: we are called to be our brother's keeper. One place we do this is in the place of prayer.
Take time today...take time this week... to pray for one another, to pray that “out of His glorious riches He may strengthen [us] with power through His Spirit in [our] inner being.” Pray this in order that Christ would be formed in us, that we would live by faith, not succumbing to the temptations to live for the reward of instant pleasure this fallen world offers over eternal life. This world we live in is the darkness. As Christians we are called to stand guard, to stay awake through this darkness, guarding one another against the temptation of evil.
[The prayers of Paul in Ephesians are particularly helpful to me in this regard. See Ephesians 1:17-22; 3:14-21; 6:18-20. These are prayers according to God's will.]
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,