Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving in Tough TImes

"It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels," said Augustine.
            Readers, although not planned, we arrived simultaneously at Thanksgiving and rule seventeen of Jeremy Taylor’s (1613-1667) about gratitude. He defines how appreciation helps us live humbly: “Give God thanks for every weakness, deformity, and imperfection, and accept as a favoured grace of God, an instrument to resist pride, and nurse humility.” He goes on to say a man who has a crooked back has opportunity to stoop low in spirit. Those who suffer physical maladies often find themselves looking to God for help.
            I find it difficult to thank God for trouble, even though I know that hardships can shape me into a better person – if I allow it to do so. I’m thankful that God allowed the Apostle Paul to share in the Bible about his “thorn in the flesh,” a physical limitation that Paul had. Even after a request for healing, God said no to him because the weakness would become a facilitator to strength.
            Hear what the Apostle Paul said about his chronic condition. Whatever it was, he prayed three times for healing. However, God’s return answer was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” So, Paul said, “I will boast all the more gladly about my weakness, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Taylor most likely had Paul’s experience in mind when he suggested that giving thanks for difficult circumstances could bring about unexpected blessings, most certainly internally and often externally.
            A friend once reminded me that if everything remained perfect in our lives, we could more easily be tempted to make it on our own. That’s impossible for as Luke the writer of Acts quotes, we “live and move and have our very being” in God (17:26).
            Surely, we should fully rely on God through good times and bad, but the bad times force us into the reality that we don’t take our next breath without God granting it. Often troubles arrive larger than our pocket books, our common sense, or our abilities to solve. Those difficult circumstances can cause a broader reliance on God.
            I remember something Joni Eareckson Tada wrote about her arrival in heaven someday. You may recall that she broke her neck in an accident and has been a paraplegic for decades. Her ministry to the suffering multiplied more than one-thousand fold because of her permanent injury and her willingness to praise God and embrace her new limited life.
            She said that her life on earth of being wheelchair bound has been involuntary. No one gave her a choice, or asked if she chose to be paralyzed for the remainder of her life. In heaven, her new eternal body will give her the freedom to move again. She doesn’t plan to jump, run, or shout, but she hopes voluntarily to remain before the Lord, not moving, stillness in worship of God because she chooses to worship him and he always chooses the best path for us.
            Giving thanks for tough circumstances. Yes. It’s possible. We have great advice in Jeremy Taylor’s writings, and proof that it’s possible in the Apostle Paul’s life. Joni Tada has shown bravery and courage trapped in her withered body. Many others have done the same.
            For what will you give thanks? Certainly for the good, and consider thanking God for the awful things, too. Ronnie Milsap has grown to call his lifelong blindness “an inconvenience.” I think the Apostle Paul would agree that God in the middle of any trouble makes all the difference in a life. Humility in the middle of trouble, thanksgiving in tough times, can make mere men seem as angels.
            Happy Thanksgiving.
            Hunger for Humility (Week 48): “When times are good be happy; but when times are bad, consider God has made the one as well as the other” (Ecclesiastes 7:14)              

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