Tuesday, May 1, 2007

How can we be content only with God?

Our brother Rick lives in a 7 by 9 foot cell, 23 hours a day, with one hour a day in an exercise cage outside. He is serving out a very long sentence for things done in his youth. He loves to pray and always encourages me in his letters. Every couple of years, he goes up for parole, and thus far he is denied parole and sent back to his cell, to again pray and regroup. He has a lady friend who he would like to marry, and there is a church looking forward to his release for a ministry that Rick is excited about. He is not the boy that went into prison, but he accepts responsibility for what he did without God in his life. He knows his Bible and yet at such times, he asks, if just to be affirmed in what he knows is true: “When I have nothing else, and the family and ministry that I want is not able to happen, (and maybe never here on earth), what can I do to be content while only having God?” And so I tell him the things that sometimes he tells me.
Sometimes simply a straight answer, to a sad Christian, is the most loving. Here is one, shot from the hip: "I know you are broken and I know you have been wounded, but if you aren't rejoicing regularly, then you are not walking in obedience. Therefore, simply start rejoicing."
The very basics of our faith require us to rejoice in the Lord always. Paul says it again; “REJOICE!!!" One chorus that has often helped me, if I let the Spirit play it in my spirit, is the one that goes, "We bring a sacrifice of praise, into the house of the Lord." Sometimes praising takes a bit of work. We do not need to feel good, in order to rejoice. Rather, we rejoice, because in Christ, we have every reason TO rejoice.
I had to learn thankfulness. A number of years ago, a friend patiently listened to my gripes about my seemingly stagnant life, and discerned that I was misbelieving something. Turns out that I thought, mistakenly, that to thank God when I didn’t FEEL thankful, was hypocrisy. A child of God is not a hypocrite if they say "thank you God!" but don't "feel" full of thanks. I don’t remember what I was complaining about that day. In those days, it sure didn’t take much. But I wasn’t being thankful.
Ha, God doesn’t say to us, “You’ll thank me and you’ll like it!!!” He knows we won’t always feel like it. Rejoice is a verb; it is not a feeling. Doing so is commanded however, and when I complain, I find that the reason that we are to praise and thank Him is because, regardless of how we may feel, the Lord is worthy of our thanks and our praise. It is right to thank and praise Him. And that is reason enough to do so. My apparently crummy day doesn’t change that He is wholly good, and good towards me. When we will get into the practice of thanking and praising God each day, those feelings of gladness and joy, which we normally think of when we think of thanking and praising, will follow. When my friend showed me the error of my thinking; he recommended that each day, until I am in the habit, that I write out and say 100 sentences, all beginning with, “Thank you God, for………. It seemed gimmicky at the time, but I did it. I knew I needed change, and now realized that there had been a lot of praise and thanks that God was not receiving from me.
It was actually difficult to start, but once I had thanked Him for the air I was breathing and the meals I had had that weekend, and got into naming a number of people He had placed into my life, I got on a roll and really, the hundred “thank you Lord,” list was done in minutes. And soon, wow! So many of his true promises for my eternal life, were coming to mind, and I was turning these thoughts into thanksgiving. Thank you Lord, for the forgiveness of all of my sins; even my past unthankful ways! Thank you Lord, for eternity with You in heaven assured. Thank You for Jesus’ and what He did on that cross, for me. Thank You Lord, for loving me so much! Thank you for your Holy Spirit who never leaves or forsakes me; and Who guides me and determines to keep me on the Way. Thank You for such purpose in life, that You have entrusted me with Your message of salvation, so that I can share this life with others; and that if any of these you send me to believe, that they too can have these wonderful gifts that only You can provide. The life and day You have given me has such potential Lord. It didn’t have to be this way. But this is the day that You have made, and I can rejoice and be glad in it! Lord, You are awesome! Thank You!!!
Within a couple weeks of doing this, I found joy pouring in and out of me; joy that I hadn’t felt in years it seemed. I even received a physical healing which I would be happy to tell you another time, during the first two weeks of giving thanks like this. I had suffered from that painful symptom of stress for 3 years, and when this joy came in, so did this actual physical healing!
In his book, "The Marriage Builder," Larry Crabb talks about how we in Christ are never to despair or be without hope. He points out that in the Old Testament, people often tore their robes in grief, distress or despair. But priests were never ever to tear their robes, unless they were in the presence of blasphemy. (See Exodus 28:32, 39:23 and Leviticus 21:10) Kings could tear their robes when upset, but Aaron the high priest was told in Leviticus 10:6, that if he tore his robes that he would surely die. God would see to it, that the priest does not EVER tear His robes. This is because the High Priests alone could enter the Holy Place, in the Temple, where God’s presence dwelt. For them, to express hopelessness and despair was like saying that though they knew God’s presence, that there was reason for despair.
For anyone born of God, through the shed blood of Jesus; now that He has ascended and has sent the Holy Spirit of God to dwell in His children; the presence of God is accessible to each of us and at any time. According to 1 Peter 2:5, we ARE priests of God. We are members of the royal priesthood if we are born again. We can enter His presence any time we choose to. And so to be without hope, in despair, and declaring things a total disaster, is more than just a symptom of past hurts or emotional damage. We are at such times, willfully keeping away from God’s presence.
Don’t let Satan rob you of the gift of repentance. Repentance is a gift of grace that God grants His children. If in Christ, you have been given access into God’s most holy presence. There, you will find the grace to continue on. If you “Enter His gates with thanksgiving in your hearts,” and “enter His courts with praise,” you will become glad. (Psalm 100 and another good old church chorus) We like to think of praise and thanksgiving as outpourings of the joy within us, and that can be the case. But sometimes giving praise and thanksgiving, is pure discipline in action; done not because we feel like all is well, but because we know it is true, that in Christ Jesus, all things are possible for us with the God who loves us; and so He deserves our praise and thanks. We start out obeying at such times, and we leave the gladness up to Him. But my experience is that if we’ll do this, the gladness will come.
Okay Rick, you may have just given me my very first blog. (-: Ha! Thanks for your fellowship! You always bless me so much!


Micah said...

Hey Tom, great post, thanks for the thoughts!

Stephen said...

Yes, absolutely. And I've seen the results of refusing to give thanks until you "feel like it" in the life of my family member who is miserable.
Thanks for the reminder. Linda in Dallas

MoenBeau said...

Hey Bro. Tom,

I really enjoyed reading your blog.
Lord knows I BEEN THERE. I was SUPPOSED to get out of prison last month (April). Thankfully, the Lord opened the door two years earlier, letting me go October, 2004. Praise Him! I had never known ANYTHING about the law but I kept feeling the Lord moving me to study law while in prison and to appeal my sentence. Every attorney I spoke to told me that I was wasting my time--and when I thought I'd found something that I felt was lead by the Lord, I would tell them and they would tell me that I had mis-understood what the law was saying about that particular thing. I could have gotten down about it, but instead, I felt peace and comfort, as I heard the Lord telling me to continue forward, despite what the "experts in the law" were telling me. When I was turned down at the District court level, I must admit, I was disappointed. I waited at least another year while things proceeded through the appeals court. When I hadn't heard an answer for what seemed like forever, I had my Mom check with an attorney friend of hers to see if he could find anything out about the status of my case. He did some checking and responded by saying that it had been sent to the Kansas Supreme Court. Why hadn't the Appeals Court ruled on this, I wondered? He said that the Appeals Court did not rule on it was most likely due to the fact that I had a good chance of getting my sentence overturned--and if so, it would affect hundreds of other cases. So, usually they will pass this on to the higher court to make the ruling. The high court agreed with my understanding of what the law was saying and ruled that I had been given an "unconstitutional sentence," sending me back to the District Court for re-sentencing, which meant that they had to let me go, as the new sentence--the LEGAL one, had me as getting out 5 years earlier. I didn't even get an "I'm sorry we made a mistake," or anything like that--but I DID get my "freedom" back. I say "freedom," as I had found TRUE FREEDOM in Christ years earlier, while in prison. So, I was thankful. In fact, prison was the BEST THING that has happened to me, for through it, I now have eternal life in Christ! No amount of "freedom" in the outside world can equal the FREEDOM we as believer's have in Christ our savior! HalleluYAH!

PS Another thing I learned through all of this is that there will always be "voices" from the crowd telling you this and that--but the only one of any consequence is the one of the SHEPHERD!