5 Things That Make It Possible to Give Hard Thanks

DSC_0088Around the thanksgiving table, many people have the tradition of telling something we are thankful for.  It doesn’t take long to think of a few quick answers.  Family, the food on the table, sunshine, good health, are replies that usually show up around the table with a lot of frequency. But there are always things in our lives that we just don’t want to give thanks for.  These are the disrupters.  They are the things that have created chaos, questions, and discomfort.  This is the hard thanks to give, but give it, we can and should.

I received an email from a fellow follower of Jesus.  She had read my book, “Transformed Pain” and was struggling to accept how God was currently working in her life. As a young Mom, she is burdened with a severe, life-changing health condition.  She’s been praying and she hoped that God would have given her healing and this thing would be gone by now.  The doctors have given her little hope that this would happen.  She asked me what Scripture might help her find a renewed joy in the Lord.

My heart aches for her. I can’t imagine the pain of what she’s going through. After some reflection, this was my reply: “The Scriptural example that I thought of was God’s people Israel, in the wilderness.  And day after day, for 40 years, they gathered and ate manna.  It was a tasteless food.  Every meal was a reminder of what they had known (leeks and onions by the Nile).  I imagine, with every meal the idea of family dinners lost their attraction as their tastebuds were dying a slow death from lack of use.

They complained.  They longed.  They asked for relief.  They demanded relief. Except for one instance of judgment, God gave them no relief.  Until they reached their spiritual and physical destination.

They felt like the manna was killing them.  It wasn’t.  It was the thing God gave them to keep them alive.  It was sustaining them through the roughest journey anyone could have.  Manna wasn’t a curse, it was a blessing.  It just wasn’t the blessing they wanted.  The manna was a reminder that this wasn’t the promised land.  Our pain reminds us that this is a time of redemption, not a time of restoration.  Restoration is to come.  But until then, God is working His plan of redemption through us – even through our suffering.”

We all have things God has brought into our lives that we would rather not have. Instead of giving thanks, we would rather just ignore it, put up with it, or even fight against it. How can we experience gratitude for the hard things?  Here are a few things that might help us give hard thanks.

  1. Keep the big story in mind.  Like everyday fits into a season of the year, your life fits into the movements of history. We should expect hot days in summer and cold days in winter. We should also expect hard times in this part of God’s story. This is a wilderness world. We are traveling toward a promised land. In the wilderness, we learn, struggle, hope, and follow. We find joy in the God who is leading us toward His future.
  2. Embrace Christ as the Author of your story. Every good story has twists, turns, tensions, movement and meaning. The wilderness was filled with this and it’s a great story for the annuls of history. This is what Jesus, as the author and finisher of your faith, is writing in you.  Yours is a story that people will read for eternity.  It won’t be boring because of what God has done in and through you.
  3. See grace everywhere. Think of grace and gift as synonyms. I hate taking pills, I take 9 per day.  I hate kale, I eat it with my breakfast each morning. With my health challenges, these things are my manna. They are gifts of God’s grace. Even our challenges are gifts of God’s grace because they are the avenues by which we experience God and his transforming love.
  4. Long for Presence over circumstance. We were created to live in the presence of God.  Christ makes it possible. In the wilderness God came in a cloud and pillar of fire.  It was his presence with the people. If the choice is manna and God’s presence, or culinary delicacies and distance from God, choose manna! Prefer God’s presence over easier times.
  5. Say it aloud. Tell God, tell others your thanks.  It is true that our hearts shape our actions. But it is also true that our actions shape and reinforce our beliefs and thoughts. Think of a hard thing in your life. Reflect and recount how you’ve seen God working in that. How has it taught you about life, forgiveness, redemption, endurance, faith, people, yourself, God’s ways? Say “thank you.” Use the comment section of this blog!

In no way do I minimize the pain of hard times. But without thanksgiving, we can easily slide into resentment, bitterness and anger. We drift from the One who is with us. We let go of the One who loves us in the wilderness. There is nothing wrong with giving God easy thanks. But let’s not neglect the hard thanks.

In the comments, I’d be encouraged to read your “hard thanks.”

As always, thank you for being a reader of my Onward and Upward blog.  Feel free to comment, share and subscribe by email above.

“Taking Initiative in Tough Times”

Last Sunday, I had the joy of sharing the Word at Village Green Baptist Church, Glen Ellyn, IL.  This was the church I last pastored.  And they graciously invited me back.  It was a good Sunday of worship.

If you’re going through any difficult times, I thought my sermon might be an encouragement to you.  If there’s nothing wrong in your life, then bookmark this page because it will! 🙂

Blessings!

5 Things Your Pastor May Not Tell You

Sometimes we pastors are busy leading, proclaiming, encouraging; and then, from time to time, we are gripped with our own humanity.  But our people don’t get a chance to see what’s really going on in our hearts.  That is one reason I started Glass Pulpit.  I wanted people to see what pastors really think about and even struggle with, when they’re not in front of a crowd.

I’m not trying to “out” any pastors.  These are things many would share if they felt they could.  How do I know?  First, I’m a pastor and these are the  musings of my heart.  And second, I’ve been hanging around these faithful servants for the last 25 years.  Guess what we talk about?  Here you go…

He isn’t satisfied with his own prayer life.  I don’t know of a pastor who feels like he has prayer nailed.  It is a struggle.  Probably because most of us are wired to lead.  And leaders, by nature, are pretty self-reliant.  And, just like with anyone in the congregation, life and ministry crowds out quiet reflection and listening to God.  And even if a pastor spends hours in prayer, even he feels like there is more that could be gained, or experienced in prayer.

He really does feel responsible for your spiritual growth.  Some pastors seem a little driven and overbearing.  That may have to do with their personalities.  But sometimes it’s because he feels responsible for you.  Pastors see people come in, listen and leave.  And we see congregants suffer the same struggles year after year.  We know that we too, have those kinds of patterns.  And so, we do understand.  But we often feel responsible.  Deep down, we think, there must be something I’m not communicating, or there must be some way I’m not leading, or people would grow in new ways.  I know, “this is our problem.”  God doesn’t lay all of that on us as pastors.  But it doesn’t change the nagging tug in our hearts to want to be able to do something to make it better for you.

He struggles with keeping his life in balance too.  We talk about having to set priorities and balance our lives, but guess what???  We’re right with you.  Most of us are not great at it.  We care about what we do.  And it is hard to put away the urgent for the important.  We forget to pray.  We forget to make time with our families.  We forget to talk to our wives.  We forget to take a day off.  We forget to witness to our neighbors.  And in the end, we question whether or not we spent our time doing what God really wanted.

He is afraid that ministry is going to take too large a toll on his family.  We’ve seen pastor’s families fall apart again and again.  We’ve seen pastor’s kids walk away from the Lord and we’ve seen pastor’s wives grow in resentment toward the church and ministry.  And we pray it never happens to us.  Sometimes it does.  But we hope it won’t last long, if it does.  We believe that God called us to ministry and we struggle with concerns about how our kids will take that.  We want our families to love the church the way we do.  But we know God has to do that.  So, we encourage, pray, hope and work to teach our families what life and ministry are about.  But we just don’t want them to pay too high a price for our convictions.

He wonders if he’s making a real impact.  No one wants to get to the end of their life and stand before the Lord and here Him say, “nope, that wasn’t it.”  Some things make us feel better.  When the budget is met and people fill the chairs it feels good.  But none of us think that’s enough.  We know God is in the game of life-transformation.  And that is what we hope to see.  We want to see people surrender their lives to a loving Savior.  We want to see people experiencing the abundant life we believe in.  We want to see people sharing that life with others.  And we want that because we believe with every fiber of our being that this is what God wants too.

So, the next time you see your pastor, just know that these are some of the things that rattle around in his brain at all hours of the day and night.  Pray for him because he may be having a tough time praying.  Let him know how you’re growing, that is what he longs to see.  Encourage him to put down some urgent demand, or take it from him, so he can do something more important.  Let his family know that you love them too.  And pray and work alongside your pastor to make an impact together.  So we can all stand before  Jesus and here Him say, “That was it!  Good job!”