Thanksgiving is a holiday that many look forward to all year. On that particular Thursday in November, families will gather for a meal and to enjoy quality time together. Old family traditions are honored and new traditions are made. The main thing is that the Thanksgiving holiday is about being away from work and your daily schedule and just being with your family. Thanksgiving is also an attitude or mindset. The word “thanksgiving” means giving thanks or being thankful. We tend to be a little more thankful this time of year with the Thanksgiving holiday just around the corner.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you”(I Thess.5:16-18). Paul taught that we should “give thanks in all circumstances”. It’s easy to be thankful and give thanks when all is well and we’re sitting at a table full of food and surrounded by family and friends. But, “all circumstances” means just that. It’s God’s will for those in Christ to be thankful always. When things are good and when things aren’t so good, we’re to give thanks. As Christians we should have an attitude of thanksgiving all year long, no matter the difficult circumstances we face. This is no easy task but necessary and beneficial, as it helps us to stay focused on the One who blesses with all that we have to be thankful for.
“So the sisters sent to him, saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it he said, “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was”(Jno.11:3-6). Lazarus was sick and his sisters were so concerned that they sent for Jesus and He waited two days to respond. We know that Jesus raised Lazarus from death, but his delay in getting there could’ve been an obstacle that tested the faith of Mary and Martha.
Divine delays can be an obstacle that tests our faith. If we’re honest, we want God to answer our prayers the way we desire and immediately, and if that doesn’t happen our faith is tested. We have to remember that God answers our every prayer according to His will and in His perfect timing. We tend to think that we know what’s best, but let’s not forget that God always knows what’s best for us. So, when your prayer isn’t answered when and how you want, remember that God is in control and He doesn’t necessarily give you what you want, but what you need. Divine delays shouldn’t test our faith, but instead strengthen it by challenging us to trust God more.
Friends are so important to our lives. We all need friends that we can count on no matter what. A true friend is one who always has your best interest at heart. Friends want you to succeed and are genuinely proud when you do. Friends celebrate life’s victories with you and grieve with you during times of mourning. We spend a lot of time in this life with our friends, so it is essential that we choose friends who are good for us. Another obstacle that can test our faith is having the wrong friends.
Our friends have a lot of influence on us, which is why it’s so important that we choose the right friends. Truth is, we become like our friends. One dad said if he could just make one decision for his kids, it would be who their friends are. That dad understands that our friends can be an obstacle that tests our faith. Our friends can lead us to do things that we never thought we’d do. Friends who don’t share our faith can even lead us away from God. Teenagers or adults, it matters who your friends are because your faithfulness to God may depend on it.
“Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals”(I Cor.15:33).
“And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them”(Mk.10:13). Can you imagine how the parents must have felt as the disciples turned them away. They just wanted Jesus to touch their children, but the disciples showed a lack of sympathy to them. Lack of sympathy from the church is an obstacle that can test our faith. What if you endured a tragedy and your church family didn’t show sympathy or concern for you? That would hurt any of us and test the strongest faith.
We all need sympathetic love and support from our church family at times. I’m sure there are times when we don’t know what to say to our hurting brother or sister, but avoiding them and their situation could hurt their faith beyond repair. It’s important that we all understand that there are times when there is nothing anyone can say. Also, know that you don’t have to utter a word to show sympathy to the hurting. A hug, handshake, a pat on the back and just being there are the acts that show true sympathy, love and support. I’m sure hurting Christians have been overlooked by the church at times, but I’m positive that is never done on purpose. My prayer is that our church family will diligently work together to never be a faith testing obstacle to others because of our lack of sympathy for the hurting.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep”(Rom.12:15).
As we strive to live faithful Christian lives, our faith will more than likely be put to the test. There are many different scenarios that play out in everyday life that can test our faith. So, for the next few weeks I will write a series of articles defining and detailing some of those obstacles that test our faith. Let’s begin this week with hardships and trials. The hardships and trials that we all endure in this life can certainly be obstacles that test our faith. Peter told his readers that faith testing trials would come upon them. “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you”(I Pet.4:12).
These faith testing trials and hardships come in many forms, such as marital and financial problems or even health related issues. It’s important to remember that no one, not even Christians, are exempt from trials and hardships in this life. In dealing with any trial or hardship I think our attitude towards it is essentially important. Sadly, some people become so discouraged and their faith so ransacked that they give up on God. This never helps! We must, first of all, know for certain that no matter how severe our circumstances are, God is still in control and He hasn’t left us. Since God will never leave us, leaving God should never be an option for us, no matter the situation.
The next thing we need to consider when our faith is tested by trials and hardships is that we will grow as a result of the difficult experience. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness”(Jas.1:2-3). James says as difficult as trials are, they are really a joy because of the growth benefits we receive. If we never endure trials and hardships, how and when would we grow? The storms of life cause us to cling to God, trusting Him for shelter in the midst of pain, uncertainty and at times, a tested and wavering faith.
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world”(Jno.16:33).
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek”(Rom.1:16). According to Paul, the gospel is the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. (I Cor.15:1-4) The gospel is God’s message of salvation to a lost and fallen world. There isn’t a more relevant or more important message today. We should never be ashamed of the life changing message of the gospel. The gospel message is the main thing; we just need to keep it the main thing.
I realize there are so many different teachings and issues that we disagree on. Sadly, over the years some have tried to make those doctrines and issues the main thing. Unfortunately, all that does is divide the body, which is not godly. There are some things that we may never agree on and instead of drawing lines of fellowship over those issues, we need to focus on what we do agree on. Why not focus on the gospel, living it out and sharing it with others. Know this, non-Christians don’t care about issues the church is hung up on and are turned off by division in the church. The main thing is God’s powerful message of salvation, the gospel. Let’s do our part keeping the main thing, the main thing.
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy”(Exodus 20:8-11). This is the fourth of the ten commandments that God gave to Moses for the nation of Israel. I believe this Sabbath day commandment was for the Jews and not us. I also believe there is a principle from that commandment that we could benefit from today.
Harding’s annual lectureship was this past Sunday through Wednesday evening. I attended some great classes on Tuesday and Wednesday but purposefully didn’t attend at all on Monday. The first Tuesday of each month I usually attend a preacher’s luncheon. I don’t attend the preacher’s meeting that gathers on Mondays. I share this with you not to show my rebellious side but to drive home the point that everyone needs a day off and rest. Monday is my day off. Unless there’s an emergency or bad weather I can be found on the golf course on Mondays.
That’s where we today can and should apply the Old Testament Sabbath day principle. God worked and created everything in six days and rested on the seventh day. Interestingly even God rested. The Sabbath day commandment was created for the people, so that they would take a day off from their work and rest. If God rested from His work of creation and commanded the Israelites a day to rest, don’t you think we should rest too? If it’s Saturday, Sunday, Monday or whatever your day off is, I hope you’ll take time rest. God obviously saw the importance of rest and I think we’ll benefit from doing the same.
So much of the news lately has revolved around sexual assault allegations. I don’t know who did what or what’s true and what’s not. What I do know is that it’s a sad commentary on where we are as a society. To me, each case and scenario is very telling as to what is important in the world today. One well known actor was sentenced to prison just days ago for sexually assaulting a woman and several other women made allegations of the same nature against him too. I can think of four very influential men in the television industry who lost their high paying jobs because of sexual indiscretions against women. This is slowly becoming an epidemic as more allegations seem to surface almost daily.
So, where do we go from here? How do we put a stop to this type of behavior? I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I do believe that we must get to the root of the problem. I believe in these cases of sexual indiscretions that the root of the problem is lust. It’s clear to me that these men go from looking and lusting to making unwanted advances toward women. A man who is not trying to control lust is a high risk for acting out in some predatory way. We all, men and women, must understand that it matters how we look at others and the thoughts we allow to linger in our mind.
I think we can all learn a lot about how to handle lust from Job. “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin”(Job 31:1)? A “gaze” is a lingering lengthy look that leads to lust. Job literally made an agreement with his eyes that he wouldn’t look lustfully at a woman. You may think that sounds silly, but, Job’s plan was straightforward, easy and effective. Every Christian every day should make a covenant with his or her eyes not to look inappropriately at others. Make that agreement and ask God for help and strength. Sexual assault allegations about Job never surfaced, because he took this matter seriously and made proper preparations. It’s time we be like Job and do the same.
Do your prayers consist of a list of things that you desperately need God’s help with? At times, do we view God as a big genie in the sky that we take our requests to? Don’t get me wrong, God loves us so much that He wants to hear from us even if our prayers come in the form of requests. The requests are fine, God can handle them and wants to hear our requests. But, I tend to believe that our prayers should consist of something deeper than just our requests and desires.
I wonder will you pray the prayer that David prayed? “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting”(Psalm 139:23-24)! I think our prayers should challenge us and stretch our faith at times. The idea of God searching me and finding any grievous way then leading me in His way challenges me and stretches my faith. This may be a hard prayer to pray as it lays us bare before our Lord, but I’m convinced that we should desire the changes in our lives that a prayer like this can bring. I don’t know about you, but I want my prayer life to continually improve and lead me to grow spiritually. I challenge us all to take our requests to God, but let’s not allow our prayers to only be about our desires and needs.
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive”(Col.3:12-13). The idea of bearing with someone carries a negative connotation. If we have to bear with someone that typically means the situation is not positive. We bear with others at times of conflict and disagreement. As uncomfortable as this can be, Christians are called to bear with their brothers and sisters in Christ. Since none of us are perfect and at times we say and do things that we shouldn’t, we definitely need to understand more about bearing with our brothers and sisters.
In Colossians 3:12, before he ever mentions “bearing with one another”, Paul gives attention to some character qualities that Christians should possess. “Compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience” are characteristics that will help us to bear with our brothers and sisters. In fact, I believe you’ll find it very difficult to bear with someone if you don’t possess and practice these qualities. Normally the times we need to bear with others are high stress and difficult, so compassion and patience are always essential. Remember, nobody is perfect so let’s all clothe ourselves with these qualities Paul mentions and always be willing to bear with our brothers and sisters even in the most difficult circumstances.
“We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the feelings of the weak, and not to please ourselves”(Rom.15:1).