Sunday, January 15, 2017

“Whatever happens in your life, no matter how troubling things might seem, do not enter the neighborhood of despair. Even when all doors remain closed, God will open up a new path only for you. Be thankful!” ― Elif Shafak

          2016 wasn’t a very good year for me, what with ambulances, air ambulances, hospitals, surgeries, bouts of malaria, and months in a wheelchair and using a walker, but if I had to sum up the entire year in one word, it would be: THANKFUL.  Yup, thankful for those who loved me, cared for me, helped pay my bills, supported my struggle to return to a meaningful life—very, very thankful.  And, oddly enough, my response is the Biblical one.
           The Apostle Paul—a man who had learned the true meaning of being thankful, even in the midst of great adversity, waited in his cell.  The next footsteps in the corridor, he knew, might be those of the guards taking him away to his execution.  His only bed was the hard, cold stone floor of the dank, cramped prison cell. Not an hour passed when he was free from the constant irritation of the chains and the pain of the iron manacles cutting into his wrists and legs.  Separated from friends, unjustly accused, brutally treated—if ever a person had a right to complain, it was this man, languishing almost forgotten in a harsh Roman prison. But instead of complaints, his lips rang with words of praise and thanksgiving!  
            Think of it: Always giving thanks for everything—no matter the circumstances! Being thankful for the Apostle Paul was not a once-a-year kind of thing, but a daily reality that changed his life and made him a joyful person in every situation.  Thanksgiving—the giving of thanks—to God for all His blessings should be one of the most distinctive marks of the believer in Jesus Christ (that’s us, friends). We must not allow a spirit of ingratitude to harden our heart and chill our relationship with God and with those we love.  Nothing turns us into bitter, selfish, dissatisfied people more quickly than having an ungrateful heart. And nothing will do more to restore contentment and the joy of our salvation than a true spirit of thankfulness.  In the ancient world, leprosy was a terrible disease. It hopelessly disfigured those who had it, and it permanently cut them off from normal society. Without exception, every leper yearned to be healed.  One day ten lepers approached Jesus outside a village, loudly pleading with Him to heal them. In an instant He restored them all to perfect health—but only one came back and thanked Him. Only one showed his thankfulness, all the rest left without a word of thanks, their minds preoccupied only with themselves, gripped with a spirit of ingratitude.  Today, too, ingratitude and thanklessness are far too common. Children forget to thank their parents for all that they do. Parents don’t thank their children for their contributions to the family.  Common courtesy is scorned. We take for granted the ways that others help us. Above all, we fail to thank God for His blessings.  Ingratitude is a sin, just as surely as is lying or stealing or immorality or any other sin condemned by the Bible. One of the Bible’s indictments against rebellious humanity is that “although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him” (Romans 1:21).   An ungrateful heart is a heart that is cold toward God and indifferent to His mercy and love.  It is a heart that has forgotten how dependent we are on God for everything.  It is a heart that cannot love and love freely.  From one end of the Bible to the other, we are commanded to be thankful. If you are turned on and tuned in to God, thankfulness is the natural outflowing of your heart.  Why should we be thankful? After all, our life is hard, and we are always struggling to make ends meet.  Why?  Because God has blessed us even when we don’t recognize the blessings He has given us.  Open your eyes.  Open your hearts.  You cannot see your blessings with your eyes closed or cast down.  You can’t receive your blessings with cold, closed hearts.  When you see that even a poorly driven ambulance, or a painful surgery are really blessings, you have broken the chains of ingratitude that will keep you in a dark, cold place.  I am alive and well thanks to all that was done for me and the prayers that flooded the heavens and lifted me up.  I am thankful for last year, and hopeful for this one.  Look up not down.   
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