Blog under construction…

We are in the process of migrating ThInc to a Drupal format and so I hope to resume posting next week.

There should be some great stuff ahead…Matt Ostercamp has offered to submit a few guest posts on Technology & Faith, which I’ll pull up over the next couple weeks.

Rich blessings to you!

When God speaks…are we listening?

It’s fair to say that as Christians, we want to hear from God. We desire His input about what is going on in our lives and around us. We seek his guidance on matters that are close to our hearts and minds. Still, sometimes, we just don’t seem to hear from him about the things we’ve been inquiring for counsel on.

As much as we may find ourselves tempted to say or think, ‘Ahem, Lord Most High, are you hearing me?,’ patterns in scripture suggest that wouldn’t be an appropriate response from us. God does hear. He does care, particularly for those who are listening to him and heeding his commands. When we don’t feel like we are hearing from him, there are some things we need to keep in mind.

We quickly forget who is sovereign. While it’s quite true that he is interested in the details of our lives, he has a grander picture that he’s drawing together. Sometimes the things we’re focused on fall under not now, not at all, or not how you think. Meanwhile, he’s working, but he’s working in the order that brings about the greatest glory and goodness, which might not mean addressing our concerns promptly.

If we want whatever we’ve been asking about more than him, expect to be disappointed. If he gives us that promotion, or that ministry opportunity, or fill in the blank with what occupies your thoughts, it will fall short of our desires if we’ve placed too much emphasis on that person or event filling us. On the other hand, if he says wait or no, until we’ve come to a place where we’ve surrendered it, we’ll feel a measure of frustration and/or confusion about why it is so much on our radar and evidently, last on God’s to-do list.

If we’re ensnared in a pattern of sinful behavior that God’s been pointing out to us, but we’re persisting in it, we shouldn’t be too surprised if our requests are put on hold. This is a tricky one to me because of course there will always be something that still needs to be weeded out of our lives. However, I do think that when we’re patient in our relationship with the Lord, he will nudge us in the direction of our besetting sins. As much as it can be irritating and discouraging to ask for something and keep being redirected to the dark places that we don’t want to see or address, again, it is out of his love that he guides us to deal with these things first. Ask him to help you see past the manifestations of sinful behaviors and down to the root of the problem. That’s the place where he needs to work with you and as that place is cleared away, the Spirit helps you with the outward attitudes or behaviors that you can’t seem to change on your own long-term.

If we aren’t spending much time building a relationship with him, we are less likely to hear answers to our questions. There are times in our lives when we get busy and/or distracted by the things we’re involved in and we allow them to crowd out regular fellowship with the Lord. When this happens, sometimes we lose some sensitivity to his voice. Even when this is not the case, we have to keep in mind that growth and depth in a relationship takes a great deal of time and if we don’t choose to carve out that time, a relationship will lose ground or stagnate. We need to be available to him for his purposes when he’s invited us to come.

Ok. Suppose you know the Lord is sovereign over your circumstances, you want his purposes more than the desires of your heart, you have a clear conscience before him, and you are invested in your relationship with him and…you still find yourself straining to hear a reply. Ask him to help you listen to what he has for you right now. Make every effort to respond to what he is saying. Be willing to accept his words for you might not appear to relate to that which you have been asking him about. Hang in there.

Postlude of thanks

joyful

In wrapping up this series on gratitude, I’d like to highlight a few practical ways to infuse our daily lives with thanksgiving and share some of my own reasons for thanksgiving that have come out of reflection on this year’s thorns.

Opportunities to integrate acts and an attitude of gratitude:

  • Find a time each day (or week) that you can regularly spend recounting what has happened that you can give thanks for
  • Expand your view of gratitude beyond immediate things in ‘your world’…what about nature? what about things in the lives of neighbors, friends, family? what finer details of your life are just a given? anything you’ve been overlooking that is worth thanks?
  • Pray for a heart of thanksgiving
  • Partner with someone to encourage accountability. Check in once a week…send a text, email, or call them to see how it’s going
  • Look for opportunities to write a note of thanks or express verbal appreciation for people around you (friends, family, co-workers, roommates, professors, etc.)
  • Branch out…even to some folks you might not know as well…i.e. sending a letter or email of thanks to one of your church’s mission partners for the work they are doing
  • When you have a situation that would tempt you to complain, examine if there might be some aspect of God’s provision in it…even if you cannot see anything, entrust it to the Lord, letting Him know you are confident He is able to use even that for good.
  • Spend some time reading through scriptures expressing gratitude.
  • Set aside time each week or month to sing some hymns of thanks to God.
  • Journal about your history with God…the ways He’s acted on your behalf and through your life up until this point.

If you have an idea…please add it to the comments section! 🙂

Here are some things I’m thankful for this year:

  • A more comprehensive knowledge of Scripture
  • A deeper sense of God’s sovereignty and His goodness…even when I don’t understand
  • The rich blessing of working in women’s ministry and seeing the harmony of very different ladies coming together for a common goal
  • A spirit of partnership among colleagues at the library
  • My parents and my younger brother…for their quiet moments of support
  • A ‘yes’ from the Lord this semester about attending a class. I missed school.
  • Believers who have been faithful before our generation and recount their stories in books and in music, so we can hold fast to them today
  • People who I might not even realize who have prayed for me this year. I felt their prayers and truly can’t imagine where I would have been without them.
  • A stirring desire to take up ballet again these last few days…it usually brings me joy, but while I’ve been very sad this year, it felt like a weighty burden instead and so I’d let it go
  • His presence in places no one else could enter; His persistence when I wanted Him to go away; His love as I saw so much in me that was unlovely; His confidence that this chapter will not be the end of the story He has written for me

Thanks for reflecting on these things with me. God’s grace to you!

Thanks…for thorns

rose

“Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” Job 2:10

I’ve been working my way up to a post on thanks for things that we didn’t want to happen, or things that we’ve asked for and haven’t received. This morning, I listened to one of Nancy Leigh DeMoss’s podcasts on gratitude that relayed a prayer that is so fitting for this discussion. Here it is:

George Matheson was a 19th-century Scottish preacher who lost his eyesight at a very early age. As he wrestled over this set of circumstances, he eventually prayed this prayer:

Dear God, I have never thanked You for my thorns. I’ve thanked You a thousand times for my roses, but never once for my thorns. Teach me the glory of the cross I bear. Teach me the value of my thorns.

Oh, that we can learn what it means to offer thanks and praise to God even for the things we wish He would change, or fix, or take from us!

Are there any thorns in your life that you’ve prayed for God to take away, that you might serve Him better? Can you find some aspect of that thorn that can be used for His glory?

When I think of thorns in my own life, I rarely think of them as blessings or avenues of God’s provision. I generally view them as limitations and places where I don’t measure up. Nevertheless, thorns keep me humble where I might otherwise be proud. Thorns soften my heart in places where it would be hardened. Thorns permit me to reach the end of self and find I’m desperately lacking and in need of Him.

Perhaps in my most recent wrestling with thorns, I have discovered that true beauty of character seems to be somehow connected to the presence of thorns in our midst and the way that we choose to respond to them when faced with the reality that they won’t simply go away.

Friends, may we be found faithful with the thorns He has permitted, in His sovereignty, through His love, and for His purposes.

Here’s an excellent song for giving thanks in every set of circumstances!

Prayer & marriage

I’d like to make an addendum to my previous post on Christianity Today’s article about Early Marriage.

One good product of the sadness and pain that comes from remaining unmarried in my life has been the call to pray. I have often been drawn to the story of Hannah this past year, mulling over what it meant for the Lord to give her the desire for a son and then permit her to wait year after year, and through the waiting, instill in her an acute awareness of the need for upright leadership in their midst.

If I had not the depth of heart-felt longing that has been deferred, I would not be in as strong of a position to take up the call to pray…for friends’ marriages to be healthy and rooted in Him, for young men and women that I know to seek Him first, for men to have the courage to pursue leadership and marriage, for women to be modest and patient, that older women I know will stay faithful to Him, that younger women I know might not have to wait as long as some of the rest of us so that they will not face temptation and doubt…

Perhaps some of you might also be called to pray, either for marriages in general or for the people you know, married and unmarried, who could truly benefit from God’s divine purposes through the transforming work of prayer.

But, I don’t feel like giving thanks…

What are some of the alternatives to thanks-giving?

Sometimes, we just don’t ‘feel‘ like expressing thanks. Here are a few illustrations of the repercussions when people don’t offer thanks:

Romans 1:21:  “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

Ephesians 5:4 “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.”

Philippians 4:6 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Allow me to summarize a bit, then. Sometimes when our hearts are inclined to be ungrateful, we are more susceptible to the ways of the world and the call of Madam Folly (see Proverbs). Other times, we might find our lips mocking, joking, or condemning instead of offering thanks, praise, and encouragement. Still other times, we are gripped with anxiety when we focus on our circumstances rather than God, who is always greater than our need. Each of these instances tear down our relationship with the Lord and with others.

So, scripture instructs us instead to praise Him, give Him glory, offer up thanks, and pray with anticipation that God provides.

This past week, I’ve been setting aside time each morning on my way to work to give thanks for things God is doing, who He is, and how He has provided. When an upsetting time came up this weekend, I actually thought to myself, ‘Alright, what out of this can I give thanks for?’ Friends, that’s not like me. If nothing else, I could say thanks that the Spirit is working that I would ask such a question when I’m prone to mentally itemizing every detail that is going wrong!

As I was listening to this week’s sermon, I was gently reminded to expect opposition. Here I am, asking the Lord to help me change an area of my life where He hasn’t been on the throne. I’ve let doubt, fear, and complaint take their turns sitting there, instead. That’s not going to be a smooth transition; trials will come and have already arrived. But God has taught us to give thanks anyway. He modeled it through Jesus and He equips us to do so by the work of His Spirit.

Thanks for things great and small

Charles Spurgeon said, “Let us daily praise God for common mercies-common as we frequently call them, and yet so pricelss that when deprived of them we are ready to perish.”

I think that it comes more naturally to us to give thanks for the really big things and the relatively small things, but someone miss that huge chunk of day to day provisions that we come to expect. To illustrate what I mean, consider that when someone comes along and helps you out with an enormous project, you probably offer profuse thanks, right? Likewise, when a coworker takes care of a minor task for you that will save you time, you are likely to express thanks for that as well.

Yet what about the day in, day out things that make up that whole realm of the mundane in our lives? Do you thank your wife for doing the laundry? How about God for providing that job you go to month after month, year after year? Then there’s your church leadership for all of the behind the scenes work they do (often unpaid) to keep things running. What about your roommate for the little things he or she does that make your day brighter or easier? Do you thank your husband for his help with the children?

I venture to say that the folks that make up our routines are likely to get the least thanks from us, especially given the amount of contact we have with them. However, if we don’t express frequent gratitude towards them, what happens? Generally, we come to a point where we marginalize their contributions towards us and they feel it and don’t appreciate it! Further, our relationship with the Lord is affected by our lax attitude.

Perhaps one of the saddest aspects of this lack of gratitude is that it is usually unintentional. We are thankful for all those mundane things at first, when they are new, but as we grow accustomed to them as part of the rhythm of our lives, we mentally (and sometimes emotionally) focus our efforts on other things in life, things that are now new or things that are demanding or things that we are working towards. That’s why the remedy is to be intentional about extending thanks. We have to be reminded that all these things are actually worth the time it takes to recount them as blessings.

May we make every effort to give thanks to God and those closest to us for their daily graces, and through that, may our relationships deepen and abound in joy.