Part 1 of Oasis Church’s weekly sermon series RE:.
This week’s recap is about beginnings and endings: both the first in a new series and last of the year, regarding the importance of reflection. I hope it encourages you to spend some time this New Year’s season reflecting on the good things that’ve happened to you in 2010.
Reflection and effectiveness are inextricably linked. I think we inherently know this to be true. It’s essentially another way of putting the commonly-repeated notion that forgotten history is destined to be repeated.
This truism also applies to our lives as Christians: our ability to serve God is directly linked to our thankfulness, which comes in part from reflecting on God’s nature and power.
Friend of NGYN Mark Cox (over at Think Next Now) recently pointed out the frequency with which statements of thanksgiving appear in Paul’s letter in the New Testament. Mark asked “What if there’s a connection to how thankful you are to God and how much impact you have?” I say there is.
Unfortunately, our culture is not one of thankfulness, but of entitlement. We forget that we don’t deserve our jobs, our houses, our significant others, or the clothes on our back. No matter how “good” I am or how hard I work, I don’t deserve anything. It is all borrowed, at best, and only temporarily, from God.
On the flip-side, when circumstances demand that we go without, we feel cheated. We forget not just that this is God’s world, but that by merely drawing breath we are claiming an invaluable prize. Entitlement is the antithesis of thankfulness. You cannot claim to deserve something and be thankful for it at the same time.
So whether you’re currently in lean times or fat, on top or on bottom, in the red or black, I present the following: four ways to reclaim and sustain joy through thankfulness:
- Reflect on what God has done for you. If you look for it, you will see that God has delivered you. Maybe you’ve gone from sickness to health, or loneliness to happiness. Maybe someone out there reading this has been recently cured of a life-threatening illness. Maybe you’ve experienced just the opposite: you’ve lost a job, a spouse, a child, or are facing the end of your life. Regardless, you have reason to be thankful. James 1:2 encourages believers to “consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds” (NIV). God can use your pain in great ways. Be thankful for it, just as you would for comfort and security.
- Tell others what God’s done. As Steven Furtick recently put it, gratitude is never invisible or silent. If you’re truly thankful for something (and, as I pointed out in #1 above, you should be), let someone know about it. If you do, you might…
- Cause others to praise God. You can’t make someone else thankful. But things like happiness, joy, and gratitude are contagious. Vocalize the things you’re thankful for, and others will want to experience the joy you exude. There’s a reason people find such inspiration in the stories of people who overcome great tribulation with strong spirits: their joy resonates with others. As Mahatma Gandhi said: “be the change you want to see in the world”.
- Reflect on who God is. David closes his prayer in 1 Chronicles 16 like this: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.” Even when your world threatens to crumble around you, God is still there: constant; loving; and for you, not against you. Life is not always fair, but it is temporary. Take joy in the trials it presents, and you’ll be rewarded with eternal bliss.
Personally, when I reflect on my last year, I’m thankful for several things that at first seemed challenging or scary.
My wife quit her job this year to start her own business. It’s meant cutting back on a lot of things we’d grown accustomed to, like satellite TV and magazine subscriptions. But we haven’t missed any of them. We’re better off now, and we’ve found ourselves giving away even more money in support the church than we did when our income was greater.
I also lost a close family member this year: my Aunt Floye. I miss her, but more than that I’m thankful for the things she taught me and the joyful times we shared. I’ll never forget her explaining, when I was only six or seven, that she didn’t have time to be angry. That time spent in anger was time wasted, that could instead be spent doing something fun. I thank God for Aunt Floye, and I hope that I can pass that lesson on to my own kids some day.
What are you thankful for when you reflect on your last year on earth? Let us know in the comments section below.