… being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of His holy people in the kingdom of light. 13For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, 14in Whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:11-14, NIV)
Some Christians can confuse genuine gratitude to God with denial of life’s challenges and pains. They subscribe to this “always look on the bright side of life” philosophy that minimizes or ignores the hardships we all experience. They think this sort of denial is required of Christians.
But this philosophy of life and faith is not what we see in Scripture. Take Col. 1:11-12, for example. Paul prays that the Colossians may be “joyfully giving thanks to the Father.” Notice the surprising context for this prayer. Verse 11 and 12a read: “being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12and giving joyful thanks to the Father.” Observe that joyful thanks happen as the Colossians are “enduring everything with patience.” From Paul’s letter we do not know much about what exactly they have to endure. But endurance goes hand in hand with hard things, including suffering. Either in their present experience or in the near future, the Colossian believers will have to struggle. Even so, they should be joyfully giving thanks to God.
How is this possible that we can be thankful, even joyfully thankful, when life is hard? Paul helps answers us with what comes next. We are to be thankful for the big things, for major expressions of God’s grace: including heavenly inheritance, rescue from darkness, citizenship in Christ’s kingdom, redemption from bondage, and forgiveness of sins (vv. 12b-14). The more we focus on the gifts of God to us, the more we’ll be able to give thanks, even with joy, when life is hard.
When I go through hard, challenging times, I am helped to be thankful by my Christian community. When brothers and sisters in Christ lift up my concerns and struggles in prayer, I am comforted. When they offer thanks for God’s gifts, they shine God’s light into the dark cave of my own pain. I can rejoice in gratitude along with others even when my own situation feels dire. This does not mean I have to pretend that life is all rosy. Far from it! But doing life with other believers enables us to be honest about our afflictions and to give thanks for God’s gifts (see 2 Cor. 1:8-11).
Allow me to encourage you to consider the following questions.
1. Are you able to give thanks when life is hard? If so, why? If not, why not?
2. What helps you to be thankful even when dealing with grief or suffering?
Share your struggles with your brothers and sisters in Christ,
so that they might pray for you.
Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations He has brought on the earth. 9He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; He burns the shields with fire. (Psalm 46:8-9, NRSV)
With the novel coronavirus pandemic, we worry about what might happen to our families and friends, our workplaces and churches, our cities and countries. We fear the desolations that might come as this virus continues to wreak havoc in our world.
In Psalm 46, God visits desolations on the earth, desolations of a most astounding and shocking kind. God’s desolations fill us, not with fear, but with hope. The first two verses of Psalm 46 state, “God is our refuge and strength . . . . Therefore we will not fear.” This beloved psalm has so much to say to us in this historic calamity we are facing together. It speaks to all of us at work, church, community, and family.
Psalm 46:8 invites us: “Come, behold the works of the LORD; see what desolations He has brought on the earth.” We are to examine, not just God’s works, but also His desolations. This sounds rather unsettling, doesn’t it? We’d rather focus on God’s healings and blessings, not on His desolations. What do these desolations include? Perhaps God’s judgments on those who disobey Him? His punishments for sin? A giant flood? Or . . . ?
The Hebrew word translated as “desolation” can mean “waste, desolation, horrific or atrocious event.” In Isaiah 64:10, we read: “Your holy cities have become a wilderness, Zion has become a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation.” Jeremiah 5:30 uses the word with emphasis on how it makes us feel to see such devastation, “An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land.” So talk of God’s desolations rightly makes us distressed, at first. We might even be horrified.
But as we continue on in Psalm 46 to see just what devastations the psalmist has in mind: “[The LORD] makes wars cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; He burns the shields with fire” (v. 9). The things that usually bring devastation to the earth – war and its weapons – are the things devastated by the hand of God. We might say that God desolates the desolations. God destroys destruction and wages war on warfare, thus bringing God’s true peace to the whole earth.
Behind Psalm 46 lies a vision of God’s coming kingdom, a day when peace and justice will fill the earth (for example, see Isaiah 9:7). In that day, human violence will cease. Under God’s reign, people “shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks” (Isaiah 2:4). Deathly weapons will become tools for life-promoting food production. Moreover, human beings will be healed of “all” our diseases (Psalm 103:3). As we read in the prophet Malachi, “But for you who revere My Name, the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall” (Malachi 4:2).
Thus, Psalm 46 reminds us that disease, including COVID-19, is not what God ultimately intends for our world. The future peace of God includes both health and flourishing. We should at all times be strengthened and moved by a vision of God’s kingdom. During a crisis, we need this vision even more than usual because it’s so easy to become focused only on our challenges, disappointments, griefs, and fears. We can lose sight of what God is doing and will do in the world. Yet, when we keep this vision in mind and heart, when it animates our lives, then we’ll be able to act both wisely and resiliently.
Psalm 46 also reminds us that God is at work in the world right now. We can behold God’s work – including His ironic desolations – not only in our vision of the future, but also in our current reality. In fact, God often uses what we perceive in the moment as desolations to advance His Kingdom. In this time of history, it’s hard to know exactly how God will use our current pandemic for good. Yet, we can be confident that the God who is with us now is also at work in us, through us, and around us. We hold tightly to the promise found in Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose” (NIV). “In all things” God is at work for good. With this confidence we live, trusting that God is at work in us for His purposes and glory. As we read in Philippians, “For it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
I want to invite you to behold God’s works this week. What do you see?
Think of a time God was at work in your life in hard and difficult things. Can you think of a time or two when God worked redemptively in a situation that seemed to be hopeless?
How might the vision of God’s peaceful kingdom make a difference in your life right now?
As you think of God’s working in your life, thank Him for His love, grace and goodness. May those memories give you confidence in God’s sovereignty today.
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light. 10Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)
Growing up in church, people would talk about the importance of having a “life verse.” A life verse is some passage from the Bible which seizes your imagination and spiritual life and, in some way, becomes a mission statement and guide verse on your road of discipleship.
When I was younger, I remember a season of a very dark night of the soul, a time in my life when I felt very much not-chosen, not-royal, and not-holy. Into that time, a wise friend shared with me this scripture, and it spoke into my heart in just the right way, bringing healing and a renewed sense of calling. It became my “life verse” for that season.
Peter is encouraging his readers to keep making progress along the discipleship journey – to leave behind malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander and crave the “pure, spiritual milk” given to babies to help them grow (1 Pet. 2:1-2). The author goes on to explain where this will lead:
As you come to Him, the living Stone – rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to Him – 5you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4-5).
Throughout 1 Peter 2, Peter uses OT prophetic passages which were addressed to God’s chosen people as a whole (1 Peter 2:10 is a very direct echo of God’s words to His people in Hosea 2:23). Peter’s calling in this passage is a calling for all disciples. No matter who we are, when we follow Jesus, we are chosen and precious in His sight and we are called to proclaim His mighty acts.
Right now, right here, whether you are sheltered in place, working as an essential employee, trying to get unemployment payments, seeking discernment for next steps, or wherever you might be at this moment; it might not feel like the best place or time to proclaim God’s mighty acts. Remember this, though: in your daily life you are sustained by the God who calls you and chooses you and reminds you that you are precious in His sight. His mercy is everlasting, and His love is sure.
Take some time to reflect on where you have seen God’s mercy in the last few weeks. Where do you wish you could see His mercy? How do you think you are called to share His mercy with others at this moment? How can you share an encouraging word with someone around you who is in need of encouragement right now?
“LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, You alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 17Give ear, Lord, and hear; open Your eyes, Lord, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to ridicule the living God. (Isaiah 37:16-17)
In Isaiah 36, we see God’s people in a dire situation. King Sennacherib and his menacing Assyrian army threatened to consume Jerusalem, taunting both God’s people and God himself.
In Isaiah 37, King Hezekiah of Judah turns to the Lord in prayer. Though he would ask the Lord to rescue Judah (36:20), he didn’t begin with this plea. Rather, Hezekiah focused, first of all, on God’s unique and powerful nature, praising Him as the only true God and creator of all things. He prayed, “LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, You alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth” (36:16).
Why did Hezekiah begin his prayer with such praise? To be sure, it is always right to praise God. You don’t need a special reason to speak of God’s glories. The fact that God deserves our praise always provides a strong rationale for honoring Him in this way. But I expect that Hezekiah began his prayer with praise for another reason. It strengthened his own confidence in the Lord. When faced with apparently invincible Assyrian power, Hezekiah needed to remember who was the true King of the universe, who in fact created all things. In human terms, Sennacherib’s power appeared to be unmatched. But it was nothing compared to the all-surpassing power of God.
The present challenges of our lives may not be quite as dire as those of Hezekiah, but we all face apparently invincible problems in our lives. There are times when these challenges – at work, at home, in our relationships, in our own hearts – seem overwhelming. In such circumstances, we are certainly free to pour out our fears and needs to the Lord. Yet, sometimes we need to do more than ask for God’s help. Sometimes we need to focus on God’s glory and power. We need to magnify the LORD. By drawing our attention to God’s nature through giving Him praise, our hearts are encouraged. Our minds are uplifted. We remember that no problem is too great for God and that He is with us to help and comfort us.
Moreover, when we praise God as king over all other powers in the universe, we are reminded that God is also king over us. God is sovereign over our lives, our families, our workplaces, our communities, and our leaders. When we praise God as “King of kings and Lord of lords,” we surrender our presumption, our assumption that we can control our lives. As we offer ourselves to God as His servants, we are embraced as His beloved children.
When life is hard, be encouraged by praising God!
1Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy. 2For the Lord Most High is awesome, the great King over all the earth. (Psalm 47:1-2)
Every now and then, even though I am a pastor, I need to be reminded of why I worship. Perhaps you do too.
On most Sundays, I join God’s people to offer songs, hymns, prayers, gifts, and other expressions of worship. If I’m on vacation, my family usually par-ticipate in a worship service in one of the local churches where we are va-cationing. I worship regularly because it’s the right thing to do and, quite frankly, because it’s a habit of my life. I don’t remember the last time when I missed Sunday worship, but when I do, it feels strange, much like if I for-got to brush my teeth before bed.
There’s nothing wrong with showing up for a worship service because of a conviction that it’s the right thing to do. Nor should we apologize for wor-shiping as a matter of habit. Duty and habit rightly help to guide our ac-tions in life. But, sometimes, as I stand in church, singing hymns or worship songs, I realize that I’m just going through the motions. I’m singing words, perhaps even thinking about their meaning, but forgetting the fundamen-tal reason why I’m doing what I’m doing.
What is this reason? First, let me say what it is not. We do not worship to feel moved, though warm emotions frequently arise when we worship God. We do not worship to “get something out of the service,” though we often benefit from what happens when we gather with God’s people for worship. We do not worship for anything having to do with ourselves, though wor-ship is one of the most meaningful and transformational things we do in life.
Why do we worship? Psalm 47:1-2 makes this clear: “Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy. For the LORD Most High is awesome, the great King over all the earth.” Did you catch that? It’s easily missed. The primary reason for our worship is centered in one simple word: “For.” We worship God FOR God is who God is. We worship because of who God is and what God has done. Our worship is a response to God, to God’s nature and activity.
As Christians, our worship is centered in the Gospel: the good news of what God has done in Jesus Christ. That’s why we continually remember the Gospel in our worship, whether in word or sacrament, in praying or sing-ing, in silence or celebration. We worship and praise God. For the unique, all-powerful, sovereign, holy, righteous God has reached out to us in love through Jesus Christ, saving us from sin and death, drawing us into fellow-ship with Him and with His people, enlisting us as partners in His work to redeem and restore the world. Now there’s a reason to worship!
What helps you to worship with heart, soul, mind, and strength?