What’s it like to be divinely inspired? From what source do we draw inspiration and strength if not from God? To whom do we offer gratitude and thanks for what we do have in life if that person–that entity–is not God? What does it feel like to know that true gratitude and an enveloping sense that prayer and faith are all that is needed to move mountains? Is it disconcerting because we are used to resistance and a constant fight—no matter our cause, no matter our audience? Or, is it completely satisfying to know that staying the righteous and faithful path is the right way to go?
We have had a big start to 2017. We’ve seen the peaceful passage of power in this country and said goodbye to our elegant and gracious President of the past eight years. We have watched continued fascination over the opening of the African American History museum in Washington D.C. We have watched marches for women, heard the latest Oscar nominations–one of which features a movie shot here in Pittsburgh and was based on a book written by the city’s own August Wilson. No matter what we view, participate in, or read, as Christians we are rooted in our faith, secure that God has a purpose for us and will make known to us our purpose in the world.
Proverbs 19:21 tells us, “Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the LORD's purpose that prevails” (NIV).
Having just passed our Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday, many of us are filled with the spirit of unity and peaceful progression. Whether we use that to move anything in our worlds in a positive direction is up to us. As the scripture here tells us, God and our sense of our service to Him should guide us in our endeavors. What feels right as a Christian? What does God ask of us? Sometimes, in these cases, the old adages hold true. “God helps those who help themselves” definitely paints a picture that is certainly relevant in today’s turbulent world. After all, you can sit and complain about your circumstance or you can do something to change it. This is Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy–and it is one brimming with hope. It is the bright core of what unites us when we need it most–and when our churches, communities, the country, and the world also need it most.
2 Timothy 2:15 (NIV)
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.
We talk a lot about doing right by others, all year long. Recently, I’ve talked and blogged frequently about doing right by ourselves so that we can move forward with confidence.
The new year is always full of resolutions and promises to be a better husband or wife, to eat better, to visit your elderly parents more, to stop procrastinating in school or work, and more. The first week of the year always has record numbers of people showing up at gyms, and banks report that a lot of people show up to discuss finances, set up savings accounts, and get their personal affairs in order. Of course, none of this lasts into the rest of the year. And why? Why don’t people keep up personal disciplines? It feels good. It sets the right path for more improved behaviors. Yet, knowing all that, most of us can’t maintain it.
Spiritually, we often do feel centered most of the time with little to no issues with how we feel about God or with very few breaks in our worship patterns and schedules. If we are churchgoers, we stay churchgoers. What does happen, however, is a sort of stagnation. While we might be involved in ministry or in outreach through the church, we only go so far in terms of truly reaching a level of edification—of bettering our fellow man or woman—of taking the outreach a step further to actually understand what people need from the church or from others involved in ministry.
As a pastor, people come to me for many reasons. I see a lot of desperation, and I hear a lot of “I didn’t know what else to do,” “This has gone on long enough,” or “I need some outside advice.” This is all pretty common. People seek advice when they have nowhere else to go. We can’t always see what is good for us, so sometimes we need to bounce ideas off others.
But like Timothy says, we have to present ourselves to God and to others as those who are not vain, insensitive, or on a destructive pathway. So rather than strictly relying on advice from others and staying stagnant with the same old routine, we need to remember the ways we can raise up those who are down. We can edify people in need of support, reassuring them that they are talented, needed, and desired contributors to the church, family, or community. We can reassure them they mean something in God’s Plan. As individuals and as a church, we can do more than reach out. We can do more than get our personal affairs in order and help others to do the same; we can show, by example, the Way of the Lord and the pathway to all that is good in life. Now, these are some substantial New Year’s Resolutions!
He changes times and seasons;
He deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to the discerning.
Lately, I’ve been focusing on helping us stand up and believe in ourselves so that we can help carry out God’s plans. Today’s scripture reference reminds us, too, that as we prepare for the assignments that God has planned for us, we also have to prepare for change and how to adapt to that change.
We aren’t always the instruments of change in our lives and in the world. Many times, God is that instrument of change. He shows us the way in how He transfers knowledge, allows for movement in our stations in life, and moves successful people aside to allow room for others to succeed too.
As we gather for the holidays and as we evaluate what we need to improve on or what we need to highlight in 2017, we should also focus on our adaptability. While we can’t be prophetic in how we approach what we hope and dream for in 2017, we can be prepared for whatever life might send our way. As Christians who attempt to honor God by rising to the challenge in our assignments from Him and in what may arise in terms of challenges for our family and friends, we owe it to our faith communities and to ourselves to understand that life is dynamic and many things can surprise us. Our season for success might slow down, our time to be challenged and rise might be on the horizon, or our life may remain even keel and “boring” for a time.
God is strategic in his recommendations for us and for how we live our lives. He gives us what we need when we need it. We can’t always decide what that is going to be, but we can be prepared for whatever He sends us.
For the LORD will be at your side and will keep your foot from being snared.
The great boxer, Mohammed Ali, was frequently interviewed by the media after his victorious matches. A favored public figure for his personality and confidence, he was repeatedly asked, “How do you win so often?” He would always answer with confidence: “I believe in myself!”
In this holiday season of being asked to believe—from believing in our ability to make it through work and the financial strain of the Christmas season, to children believing in Santa Claus, or believing that God is present in our lives—sometimes the last thing we believe in is ourselves.
Trusting ourselves is paramount to doing well in all other areas of our lives. Believing that we are making good decisions and following God’s plan for us is part of the key to confidence and self-assured behavior in the face of any challenges and any triumphs. The way we handle our families, our jobs, and our own personal disciplines has everything to do with how we see and trust ourselves.
There are many people who will try to undermine your confidence. At work, you may be criticized for minute details on a job otherwise well done. At church, you may be left out of gatherings by well-meaning people who don’t think to ask if you’re free, or worse, by people who may not know you at all and judge before they ask or engage. Whatever the blows to your confidence are, rest assured that in God, you are prepared to field them and move past them.
While we can allow ourselves that moment to reflect and to respond to what we’re experiencing—by getting upset or feeling bad—we need to pick ourselves up, evaluate the damage, determine the reason for it, and move on. If we can improve or make a situation right, we should. And if we have to look at the setback for what it really is—a minor learning opportunity or a moment of hurtful reflection from which we can recover—we should do that, too, and grow from what it taught us.
The danger in losing confidence is losing sight of what is important, be it your family, work, spirituality, or all three. Confidence helps to keep you from worrying yourself into inaction or questioning what you know is right. This season, trusting in your faith will keep you from stalling in doing God’s work in the community, the home, and the church. Understanding that He is always with us keeps us from stagnating in faith and drives us to what is important as members of a faith community during the holiday season.
Psalm 118 tells us: “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever.”
Gratitude is a prayer to God. After all, as Christians, we should get more from thanking Him than we do from asking Him for things. And, if gratitude is nurtured appropriately, it will grow and our focus on it will too. What happens when we obsess about something—pizza when we’re dieting, a television show when it has ended for the season, the warm weather when it’s gone? We think about the missing component constantly. What if we try to focus on gratitude this season?
I’m not saying it is missing from our lives, but we have been through a lot lately as Americans— terrorist attacks, a grueling presidential election, and natural disasters from our own coastline to Italy and beyond. Maybe, in our “survival mode” these past few months, we have forgotten how to give thanks. Or maybe we remember how to give thanks but still focus on the negative, which takes us away from the positive aspects of our lives.
Let’s face it, giving thanks and feeling a generosity of spirit is something that we know is good for us—better than dwelling on bills, fighting with a neighbor, or reading sensationalistic news stories daily. Yet, we don’t often do it. If telling others how much they mean to us feels good and helps another, why not make that a daily initiative? If working hard and remaining disciplined about bills, health, and family responsibilities allows you a good night’s sleep and puts you on the path to being more organized and successful, then why can’t that be part of an easy weekly “to do” list? If you find that focusing on only positive news or taking action when you see the things you want to change is rewarding, why not make that a personal habit too?
This season, around our Thanksgiving dinner tables, at church over the holiday weekend, and in our daily interaction with co-workers, I want us all to take stock of what we have to be thankful for. Focus on what fills our hearts with gratitude. Maybe we’re not millionaires, but we can make a good living. Maybe we are disappointed with the world or the way our job is going, but we have our own personal goals, and we can make a difference when we put our minds to it. And maybe we don’t get turkey, stuffing, and potatoes with gravy every day, but on Thanksgiving, we might. All of this is deserving of thanks—of long-term gratitude and a shift in focus.
God does love us regardless of our thankfulness, gratitude, or whatever you want to call it. In His eyes, gratitude and practicing thankfulness can only lead to strength of character and a renewed sense of love for Him and love for our fellow humankind.
Let’s go back to Psalm 118 6-7 and see what it tells us once we get past the initial need to give thanks to the Lord: “When hard pressed, I cried to the LORD; He brought me into a spacious place. The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? The LORD is with me; He is my helper. I look in triumph on my enemies.”
In further analysis, we find what we should be obsessing on: No fear when we love and honor God—only victory over challenges and a push to have gratitude for the life we are all given.