As I sat at my desk today, I listened to a lovely two-part sermon series by Charlotte Ennis. She was speaking at a women’s conference (may I just say what a special blessing it is to listen to the women of God preach and teach–an exclusive privilege of being a daughter of God!) about God’s sovereignty, His power and delight in answering prayer, His ability to satisfy our needs.
But most of the time, in the monotony of life, we struggle to believe that God meets our needs and desires to bless us in each waking moment. We, the sheep, lose our sense of wonderment at His graciousness, His beauty, His power. We stop thanking Him. Instead, we gripe to the Shepherd: God, why isn’t my life like this instead? You know I want–no, need–that in my life. Why don’t I have these things? I know I should be focusing on now, but…that life would be way better than what You’ve given me. Aren’t I good enough and spiritual enough to have those blessings? I deserve them, but You won’t give them to me. If You won’t give me what I want right now, I guess I’ll just have figure out how to do it myself…On it goes.
We refuse to give thanks.
Joylessness and complaining and discontentment in our current circumstances. Impatience with waiting on God’s timing, which seems too slow. Obsessive and ultimately untrue thoughts about what might be or what could be. Astounding ungratefulness for what we do have. Trying to control and manipulate every little thing to go our way. Lack of trusting that God will deliver what is best for us or that He cares. Contemptible pride in believing that we deserve the blessings that we desperately try to wrestle from His Hands. We refuse to yield in the battle for our own destruction, restless, like wind moving over the waters.
As she walked with the Lord, Charlotte looked back on her life and saw God’s wisdom in not giving her what she wanted, when she wanted it. She saw how He had worked for her good, used her in ways she would have never dreamed. And, upon looking back, she was profoundly thankful, resting on His sovereignty and goodness.
Thanks. What a strange word it is to us all, especially me. We listen to ourselves, our pride, which tells us to self-soothe–that we have no need to be thankful, that we have nothing to be thankful to Him for. Our minds race, and we try to control: go to sleep. Stay awake. We dream dreams that aren’t grounded in what He already gave us, in who He is, in what is true. And inevitably, we either discover that these dreams are actually nightmares, or else we wake up in the morning to disillusionment and disappointment.
As the stars wink down at us, as we turn off the lights and slip under our covers, are we restful enough that we can fall asleep to our thankful thoughts of Him–how beautiful and all-satisfying and gracious our Creator and Giver is?
Jesus understood. He knew that to truly be thankful and rest means to empty ourselves of ourselves and our limitations and pride and rights and rebellion and unmet longings, and instead to fill ourselves up with the goodness and grace and glory of God, which humbles us and gives us peace.
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Jesus never questioned God’s ability to give him what was good. He rested when he was humbled, obedient to his death, giving up every right he deserved, yet never failing to rejoice and give thanks for what God had ordained–the nails piercing his flesh, the cruel torment, the abandonment of the people He loved most. The agony of seeing His Father’s face, turning away from him as he died for every bad thing humanity ever did and would ever do.
What right have we, then, to question what He has given us, where He has put us in this moment? If God really has us in the best place we could be in this moment–if God always has us exactly where He wants us–why don’t we start being grateful for what He’s given us right here, right now?
After confessing this pride in my own life, I asked God to humble me by showing me how He has already blessed me. Sitting on an old couch in the Mozart Café, I started to write down a list of things that I could thank Him for.
That I’m saved by His blood. That I go to Northwestern. That I am a member of a wonderful church. That He’s given me wonderful family and friends who pursue and love me so well. That I got to go to Ocean City. That I live in a country where I am free to write and talk and sing about Jesus. That He’s watching over me. That He affirms me, understands me, loves talking to me, and knows me intimately. That I don’t have to earn His love–it’s given to me freely. That I am not a slave to my sin or expectations or feelings or habits or limitations, but to God and His righteousness. That He cares enough about me to humble me through suffering in order to draw me closer to Him. That He uses people as His “plan A” to spread the Gospel. That one day, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord…I wrote until I had come up with a list of fifty things, but I could have gone on and on.
And what came after was what I had been seeking so desperately for months. It was like a life-giving rain after a long drought.
My anxious heart was quieted before Him.
How had I missed the beauty of this exercise before–the simple and humbling practice of noticing my blessings? The blessing of who He is. What He has promised. Who I am because of Him. What He has so graciously given to me. Who He has placed in my in my life.
Reading my bible a little further along in Philippians, I gasped aloud at what I found.
“For I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
Paul got it. And in that moment, it hit me that I did, too. I finally understood.
In that newly-restful place in my heart, I knew that the “secret” to Paul’s scandalous contentment–his joy, peace, patience, and satisfaction in any and every circumstance–was thankfulness that resulted from God’s strength in us and rested in the glory and beauty of our Savior.
It is His guarantee:
I will give you rest.
Friends, give thanks with me, and claim His promise for yourselves.
In His love,
Erin Elizabeth xoxo