Giving Thanks In All Things

You’ve surely heard the Biblical instruction “give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God for you.” It is Verse 18 of I Thessalonians 5. You certainly heard it if you were in a Christian church on Thanksgiving Sunday. Most people who point to this verse emphasize that we are instructed to give thanks IN all things, not FOR all things, indicating a prevailing attitude of trust and gratitude that we should maintain no matter what is going on in our lives.

But I would like to point out something else that I don’t usually hear mentioned. This verse is one of three exhortations in one sentence. They are verses 16, 17, and 18 from I Thessalonians 5, and together they form a single sentence. It reads: “(16) Rejoice always, (17) pray constantly, (18) give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” That’s how the NIV puts it. The International Standard Version reads, “(16) Always be joyful, (17) continually be prayerful, (18) in everything be thankful, because this is God’s will in Christ Jesus for you.”

If all you read was the International Standard Version, you might think that only the third part, giving thanks in all things, is God’s will for you, but if you see the NIV, you can’t miss that semicolon—which brings both of the earlier two parts under the same umbrella. All three are God’s will for you.

The Message makes that last point especially clear. Set off in a paragraph by themselves are verses 16–18: “Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.”

Happy Thanksgiving, joyfully, prayerfully.

           

Manna

It may be impossible to think of manna without thinking of the story in Exodus of God providing daily provision to the Israelites in the wilderness. Manna was that strange substance that fed them and all they had to do was pick it up off the ground. But each person had a daily portion, to be gathered on the day of its use. The only day of the week they could gather a double portion without the oversupply “going bad” was in preparation for the Sabbath.

I have come to think of “everyday spirituality” as a kind of manna. It seems to be part of our human nature that life works best for us when we renew our spiritual provisions every day. We are best served, best fed, by pursuing on an everyday basis the spiritual practices that keep us in touch with the Divine. Skipping days works only to our own detriment. The gathering is easy because we are offered a wide range of spiritual practices, and the blessings that come as a result are renewed for us every day. And unlike the Israelites, we are free to gather as much as we want. There are no limits to this daily provision.

           

How to Welcome Change

I guess it wouldn’t be Life if we did not always see change. In fact, change is so unavoidable that it makes me wonder why we always dread change. It makes more sense to dread the opposite of change, which is surely death. From that perspective, perhaps we should spread our arms and welcome all the change we can find.

Several changes stand before me, on the verge of unfolding. These range from the totally mundane to the exceptional. On the mundane side, I find I will have to do the research this year to find a new health care plan because providers I use will be dropped from my coverage in 2016. Aaaargh! No one consulted me about this change. In that way, it is typical of most change that comes my way.

On the exceptional side, I am in a weekly walk with a favorite gentleman who appears to be nearing the end of his life. He has reached the stage when he experiences spikes of good days and drops to bad days, but succeeding spikes don’t ascend as high, and the descents to bad days reach greater and greater depth. What’s painful is that everyone involved, most assuredly the gentleman himself, must learn how to do this as we go.

Nathaniel Branden wrote: “The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.” I am fully located on the second step with my mundane issue, but somewhere in the middle of the staircase with the serious change, which will bring impact to many people, not just me, in many ways.

My greatest gratitude is that I don’t face any changes, not even the small ones and certainly not the large ones, alone. God has promised to walk with us, never to leave us, and His strength and guidance are available to us at every step, as close to us as our very breath.

           

Learnings from a Broken Foot

I made reference to my broken metatarsal in my last post and even put in a photograph of the walking boot. Since then I have adjusted (pretty much) to using a crutch and to going very, very slow. If I don’t go slow, I risk accidentally coming down hard on the foot that is healing, and that is never good.

Back in August when I saw the X-ray of the broken bone, I put my trust in God to bring something good out of this situation. Now, two and a half weeks after acknowledging the break and putting on the walking boot, here are a couple of learnings gained from this experience:

1. Using a crutch always slows you down. Right now my crutch is a metal apparatus that reaches from my armpit to the floor, but I’ve had lots of crutches in my life: regret, guilt, feeling inadequate, the paralysis of inaction, etc., etc. Every single one of these crutches has slowed me down.

2. God can bring healing to any bad break in my life — certainly the physical break of a bone, but just as certainly the bad breaks of difficult relationships, poor decisions, unexpected storms, traffic delays, or illness. My job is to hold on to the faith that God, as promised, will be with me wherever I go and whatever I encounter.

           

Developing Perseverance

“Consider it pure joy,” says the book of James, “whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Notice that James (this is in James 1:2) doesn’t say “trials of any kind,” but rather “trials of many kinds.”

So I am practicing considering it pure joy that a broken metatarsal has me in a walking boot and forced the cancellation of a long-planned trip to see family and friends—some of whom I have not seen in decades. Everything had been lined up so painstakingly, I am doubtful that I could work all that out again.

However, though disappointed at the unraveling of those plans, I am also just as willing to see the dissolution as ultimately working out for the best. If I take the oft-quoted perspective that everything happens for a reason, then I must be willing to have faith that there is a good reason even when I can’t see one. And really, that could be a corollary to the definition of perseverance (steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success).

So I am patiently sitting here with my foot mending in a walking boot, trusting that what I am really doing is developing perseverance, in order to be “mature and complete.”

           

Peace Defined

I never particularly thought I needed a definition of peace. The word has always seemed to signify a self-explanatory end point—a goal to which much of my life has been aimed.

So I was surprised a few days ago to find in Jeremiah, in the Amplified Bible, a verse (33:6) in which there appears to be a definition of peace.

In this verse, Jeremiah is prophesying the future in a restored Jerusalem: “I will lay upon it health and healing, and I will cure them and will reveal to them the abundance of peace (prosperity, security, stability) and truth.”

Since I came across this verse, this definition has been running around the back of my mind. I have been trying it on for size. Had you asked me last week what my definition for peace is, I’m sure I would have come up with something other than “prosperity, security, stability.” Yet, if I have all of those elements squared away, how could I not be in peace?

Once again, the Amplified has shown the way!

           

Value of Loneliness

This morning I caught a few minutes of Jesse Duplantis, a television minister whose message is usually good and whose delivery is always lively. Though I did not hear his entire message, I was struck by this comment:

“Lonely times and wilderness times in your life—you’re going to have them—help you get clearer on your calling and your goals.”

Lonely times and wilderness times both refer to those times that come to all of us when we feel isolated, alone, and lost. We sometimes remain in those places so long that we begin to drift. It doesn’t take long before we conclude that there is very little worth working for; we give up on pushing toward our goals because they aren’t materializing anyway; we are left going in circles and getting nowhere, much like the Israelites who took forty years to make an eleven-day journey.

Duplantis is saying that those times are, instead, perfect opportunities for stopping to reflect on where we are going in life. The dissatisfaction inherent in those lonely, lost times provides the optimal environment for us to ask the important questions, such as: Where am I supposed to be headed? What am I supposed to be doing with my life? Is this emptiness what God intended for me, or am I missing something really important here? What could my life be about if I only allow it to go in the direction I believe God has in mind for me, based on the talents I was given?

Asking these questions prayerfully and letting God provide the answers to us will not only reconnect us with our talents, goals, and calling, but also help us find our way out of the wilderness.

           

The Value of a Good Book

The monthly newsletter for Parkplace Books, Kirkland, Washington, featured a quote from Oscar Wilde that I want to share:  “It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.”

Is that nothing more than a clever twisting of phrases? Or is there something worth thinking about here? I voted for the latter because of the inherent point about building character.

The various kinds of media engagement have impacts on who we are. Certainly films and songs and social media can affect us deeply, or can be simply passing entertainment. But generally a book requires a commitment of time, of living with one story or one point of view for some duration of time, and that is formative by nature. It subtly shapes the attitudes and outlook of the reader as it broadens his or her experience of life. This, in turn, alters who that person becomes.

There are all manner of books that we can choose to read, but what if we spend time every day (or at least very often) reading the Bible, even though we don’t have to? With no effort on the reader’s part, other than the simple act of reading, the messages, the themes, the guidance, the perspective, the promises of the Bible begin to shape who that person is, how that person thinks, and how that person reacts to life. Or as Oscar Wilde put it, it determines who that person will be when he or she can’t help it.

The next time you are choosing a book to read, maybe it would be wise to consider the kind of person you want to be.


           

Nudgings of God

My novel Dancing on the Whisper of God starts with a predawn “whisper” experienced by a choreographer in San Francisco one morning in 1993. Several people have asked me about this whisper: Was it supposed to be a actual, audible voice? Was it meant to be the voice of God? How believable is it that the Divine Spirit might actually “talk” to people?

This reminds me of something Wayne Dyer said once (and I think he may have been quoting Lilly Tomlin): “Why is it that when we talk to God, it’s called prayer, but when God talks to us, it’s called schizophrenia?”

Well, there’s no schizophrenia in my novel, but there is a fair amount of communication from God. Do I think that God talks to us in actual, audible voices? No. Was the whisper in the book meant to be the voice of God? Yes. How believable is it that the Divine Spirit actually talks to people? Very believable, but the vehicle of the communication can be any number of things.

All of us have had the experience, when something goes wrong, of saying, “I knew I wasn’t supposed to do that! Why didn’t I listen to my intuition?” Or maybe we are thinking of buying something, and there’s a peace we feel in our hearts about the decision. Or maybe someone calls you on the phone and as soon as you hear their idea, your belly gets uneasy. Or maybe it’s a flash of insight offering a resolution to a problem you’ve been having. Or maybe it’s a nudging one day when you’re going through your mail, and you’ve ignored a dozen different requests for charitable giving, but then comes one that you just feel compelled to respond to. Or maybe you have a dream that gives you, in symbol form, the exact answer you were seeking.

All of these, I would say, are “whispers” of God. The King James version of the Bible calls it a “still small voice” [I Kings 19:12]. The NIV calls it “a gentle whisper.”

Where in your life have you been receiving the gift of a nudging from God? Have you learned to pay attention?

If you are in or near Seattle, above is your invitation to a reading from Dancing on the Whisper of God set for April 30. I’d love to see you there! If the link at the top of this post isn’t working, visit: www.dancingonthewhisperofgod.com.

           

Second Chances

Many of the New Testament parables are familiar to everyone, but this morning I came across one in Luke that I’ve never noticed before. It goes like this:

“A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’

“‘Sir, the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.'”

I can’t tell you what Jesus meant to convey with this parable, but it speaks to me about the promises and the constraints of second chances.

First, there are the “second chances” the tree has already had. The fig tree owner had given the tree three years’ worth of chances to bear fruit. When it failed the first year, he gave it two more years to produce before he was ready to cut it down. But in those two years, nothing was done to aid the tree’s ability to produce. Now, the vineyard tender will take it upon himself to aerate the soil around the tree and add the nutrients the tree is apparently lacking. This is how one avoids wasting a second chance.

Where in your life are you being offered a second chance? Could be that it’s only one more “do over” in a whole string; could be that it’s your last chance. In either case, it’s your opportunity to figure out a better way.

What do you see in this parable?