Thanksgiving always brings bittersweet flavors. My mother died ten years ago this week. The loss was huge. In fact, we got the phone call on Thanksgiving morning.
Mom’s untimely death was tough enough, but having the memory perpetually linked with Thanksgiving has forced some reflection I never would have considered otherwise.
I’ve come to understand how loss in life is one of God’s greatest ways to cultivate a grateful heart.
Thankfulness comes from one simple word.
There’s not much we can be sure of today. We live in a world of broken promises, broken families, backstabbing friends, and personal failures. And that’s just at church.
After a lifetime of disillusions, we’ve come to expect little else. We often hope for nothing in hopes we won’t be disappointed.
It’s easy to get sucked into the black hole of hopelessness. It happens because we live in an a culture that keeps God at arm’s length, one that claims His name but declines His Lordship.
God is a package deal. And when we refuse all of God then we miss all of what He has to offer. In refusing all of God we’re forced to fill those gaps with substitutes that disappoint and fail us.
But with God . . . ah, now that’s a worldview of a different color.
The Sovereign Lord, the Creator of the universe, offers true hope—and here’s why: He is the only one able to make good on His promises.
Here are 4 promises of God—cleverly disguised by the Apostle Paul as questions—that give you hope for your life.
Dawdling service at restaurants gets under my skin. (The only thing worse is fast food at a slow drive through.) At lunch not long ago we got dawdling service from our server. Here’s what happened.
I never let on to the waiter that I was miffed, yet inside my fuse was burning. Here’s why:
- The table next to us ate and left before we did, though we arrived at the same time.
- Our water glasses were often empty and the food order came out wrong.
- The waiter fouled up the bill.
- I was late getting back to work.
But then, just before we left, I felt like a complete idiot. The waiter made mention that it was his first day. You see, the problem wasn’t his incompetence.
It was my impatience.
Life hands us a line of slow servers. God shows us the best way to disarm our short fuse.
I had to smile when I read what Jason Kidd said after the Dallas Mavericks drafted him years ago: “We’re going to turn this team around 360 degrees!”
Life often feels like that, doesn’t it? A lot of effort with nothing gained.
At times, the Bible seems like a history book in which God makes and fulfills promises to the ancients, but the words somehow lack immediacy to our struggling lives. And yet, it’s funny how the anxieties that overwhelm our lives seem identical to those that biblical people struggled against.
Even though Scripture provides assurance of God’s promises, assurance doesn’t negate the stressful circumstances that force us to trust God.
Truth doesn’t make the hard parts of life go away. We still have to trust God with that truth.
As a teenager, I knew everything. You could even say I was omniscient. I marveled at the incompetence of adults on the simplest issues. They just didn’t get it.
And then I grew up, and something strange happened. I discovered that as an omniscient person, I still had a lot to learn.
So many times I stood so sure of myself only to discover how woefully ignorant I was.
- I knew a lot about the Bible until I went to seminary. It turns out, the more I learned, the less I knew.
- I knew everything about marriage until I got married. But matrimony is course in art, not science. I’ll be learning for the rest of my life.
- I was an expert on parenting until I had kids. Parenting offers a long course of study on your own selfishness.
I’ve learned a lot since I became omniscient. But you know where that omniscient teenager resurfaces the most in my life? The same place it shows itself in your life.
When we’re talking to God.
Leonard Bernstein, the late great conductor of the New York Philharmonic, once was asked: “Mr. Bernstein, what is the most difficult instrument to play?” He replied:
Second fiddle. I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find one who plays second violin with as much enthusiasm, or second French horn or second flute, now that’s a problem. And yet if no one plays second, we have no harmony.
Bernstein nailed the problem—not only in music, but in all relationships.
Very few are willing to be second, because being second requires someone else to be first, which requires giving instead of taking.
In the movie Schindler’s List, one of the most powerful scenes shows Oskar Schindler is speaking with a Nazi commander who had a habit of impulsively shooting Jews.
Watch this scene and think about the power you have in your life.
Problems never just go away or take care of themselves. The Lord will patiently wait and permit the circumstances to compel us to do what we should have done at the beginning.
Remember Jacob? Before his sons could purchase any more grain for the famine, he was required to bring the very person Jacob had refused to release into God’s control—his youngest son, Benjamin. In Jacob’s own words, “My son shall not go down with you” (Gen. 42:38).
However, like straws loaded on a camel’s back, day after parched day of the famine finally took their toll. It’s the same with us.
But the weight on our shoulders isn’t ours to bear.
Our problems keep us in a corner until we turn to God.
Whenever I have a doctor’s appointment, I always request the first appointment of the day. I figure the earlier my appointment, the less time I sit in the waiting room counting fish in the aquarium.
But it isn’t so. I may have a time scheduled, but it’s entirely the doctor’s discretion when I see him. I find the same true with Dr. God.
Dr. God fills our lives with waiting rooms:
- Your car in a traffic jam.
- Your office when five o’clock is slow to come.
- The grocery store when the line is long, it’s the cashier’s first day, and she’s out of receipt tape. (Ask me how I know.)
Inconveniences cause delays and frustrations. But there are other moments of waiting far more difficult and confusing.
You have plans. This appointment should be over by now. You’re ready to move on the next event, the next step in the grand plan.
But you wait because God has plans for you.
Sometimes it seems no one understands what we’re going through. When people fail us, or forget us, or occasionally even forsake us, we’re left alone in the ashes of a reality we never expected—and we certainly never wanted.
In those intense moments of loneliness, confusion, and pain, we ask God for one thing more than anything else. Relief.
(Photo by Alexander Shustov via ooomf)
But when relief is denied, we begin the difficult journey of resisting the notion that God is a cruel sovereign who toys with our lives. After all, He could stop it all in moment.
After everything else but God gets stripped away from our lives, we begin realize that the Lord may want to give us something more—and much greater—than relief.
In those moments, God becomes more real to us than we ever would have known any other way.
Remember the day you left home? For some of us, that day was when we took off for college. For others, it was to take a job. We all had reasons, and we were gone.
When you left home, some things immediately changed. No longer did you have to be home at a certain time each night. If you wanted pizza ten times a week, you had it. Freedoms increased.
(Photo by John Eckert via oomf)
But there were also some things that didn’t change.
- The speed limit was still 55 mph.
- You still had to brush your teeth.
- Right and wrong was still right and wrong.
It’s interesting that in all the changes we experienced, neither our parents nor we had changed. Only the situation changed.
In a similar way, God has managed the world differently at different times. Some things never change with God.
But some do.