Three Little Commands - Give Thanks

I thought it appropriate after the climax of the political campaign and subsequent election of Donald Trump, to bring things back to scripture. And how fitting that the series I've been doing on three little commands, ends with this powerful statement:

...in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
— I Thessalonians 5:18 (NASB)

The Thanksgiving holiday is fast upon us. Sometimes it seems this day gets lost after the decorous celebration of Halloween and the the onset of the hectic preparations for Christmas. However, I believe it is a holiday of great importance. If we allow it to not get lost, Thanksgiving can be the perfect spring board into the Advent season.

Photo credit  Rebecca Trumbull .

Photo credit Rebecca Trumbull.

Thankfulness is sometimes slow in coming. There are always things to be thankful for, but that doesn't mean it is easy for us to turn our minds away from our difficulties towards the things that we can be thankful for, or even more appropriately towards the One from whom all blessings flow.

Life can be a trial. Maybe you just found out you have breast cancer and your husband told you he's leaving you for another. Perhaps you just discovered your thirteen year old daughter has been having sex resulting in a pregnancy and your son started doing heroine. These things are real, folks. Sometimes life brings difficulties one at a time; a pace that is manageable, however, there are times and lives that are full of nothing but difficulty. How do we give thanks when we are careening down a one way street the wrong way?

We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,
— 2 Corinthians 10:5 (NASB)

I brought this verse up a few weeks ago. Whether you are a Christ follower or an agnostic; a Muslim or an atheist, this verse can be taken to heart. With so much media input it is easy to get focused on the bad - murder, suicide, mental illness, disease, bombings and death permeate our news feed and therein lies the problem, we are feeding on the bad, rather than feasting on the good.

So, how exactly do we feed on the good? One bite at a time. Much to my hubby's chagrin I am always asking him, "What are you thankful for?" It is especially pertinent when things are stressful at work, or we are having issues in the family or he is just feeling like he has nothing left. As much as it drives him crazy, it does help his mind to move from that which is bothering him, to He that is!

I have always felt that gratitude changes the attitude, but it wasn't until I read One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp that it really came home. Here is a little description of the book on Goodreads with links for purchasing. (I do not receive any kickback for recommending this book, I just think it is a fabulous book that everyone should read.)

And when I give thanks for the seemingly microscopic, I make a place for God to grow within me.
— Ann Voskamp - One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully...

Just as a child learns to walk, one baby step at a time, we can learn to be thankful, one bite at a time. Did you take a hot shower this morning? Thank Him. Did you eat today? Thank Him. Did you get to turn up the thermostat? Thank Him. Did you drink clean water? Thank Him. Are you breathing without help? Thank Him. Are you on an oxygen machine? Thank Him for that technology to help you breath.

The prayers we weave into the matching of socks, the stirring of oatmeal, the reading of stories, they survive fire.
— Ann Voskamp

I love that! The fire is the trial of life, but our prayers of praise and thanksgiving and petition, survive any fire that life throws at us.

It is in the dark that God is passing by. The bridge and our lives shake not because God has abandoned, but the exact opposite: God is passing by. God is in the tremors. Dark is the holiest ground, the glory passing by. In the blackest, God is closest, at work, forging His perfect and right will. Though it is black and we can’t see and our world seems to be free-falling and we feel utterly alone, Christ is most present to us..
— Ann Voskamp - One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully....

Is it dark where you are? Does it seem impossible to find anything to thank Him for....then be thankful for Him. You are not alone. He is with you. He will always be with you.

As we look forward to Thanksgiving day, why not try each day to keep a record of what you are thankful for. Use a small notebook, a sticky note pad or a calendar page. On the date for that day write: I am thankful for....and start listing things. Maybe you only write one or two things, but those are things you weren't thinking about before. If your mind starts going down that path of difficulty, write more things you are thankful for. Turn, turn, turn and be thankful. God will always meet you in that place.

Three Little Commands - Pray without Ceasing

When we think about our lives how many things do you do without ceasing? Well, I can come up with a few like dishes, laundry and.....Okay, okay, so maybe they aren't constant, but it sure seems that way sometimes. The things that we do without ceasing have more to do with those functions of our bodies that we call involuntary....we do them without thinking. Breathing, swallowing, blinking, these are all things we don't really think about. Yes, our brain does think about them, but we don't consciously choose to breathe, unless we are taking a birthing class or meditating. Ha, ha. Our brain controls all of those cycles and tasks that our body performs that we never give a thought to. Good thing! If I had to think about making my digestive system turn food into all its usable and unusable components, I would probably just give up.

When Paul tells the believers at the church of Thessalonica to "...pray without ceasing..." what exactly does he mean? Is he saying that we should pray like we do our laundry and dishes....when the piles get so high they have to be done or we will be wearing the same pair of underwear again, or we will be eating without plates and silverware? In all honesty that is the way my life is. I only do laundry when we are starting to run out of the essentials and the dishes not only take up the space in the dishwasher and drying rack, but in the sink and on the counter next to the sink! 

Pixabay

Pixabay

Even more unfortunate, that is how my prayer life is. I put it off and put it off until I am driven to my knees by forces beyond my control. When life piles it on higher and higher until there is  no more avoiding it, the only option left is prayer.

I know I feel better when my laundry is done and my dishes are all in their homes in the cupboards rather than in messy piles around the sink (or even the whole kitchen when it is really bad). I feel like I have accomplished something and have a sense of peace that those things aren't hanging over my head, waiting to be attended to. When my home is messy, cluttered and chaotic, my life feels that way as well. So why is it, so often, things get to that point? Because life happens!

The same is true of our prayer lives. When I am in sync with God and I am praying in His spirit, I feel at peace. Life can be chaotic around me, but I am one and at rest with HIm. One of my favorite authors of the past is Oswald Chambers. His devotional My Utmost for His Highest is a daily read for me and has been since my husband gave me the book in 2007. I'd like to share a few things from one of His devotionals. 

Prayer does not equip us for the greater works—-prayer is the greater work.
— Oswald Chambers - My Utmost for His Highest - October 17th

We live in a world that is work oriented. Not only do we work at work, we work at home and we work at play. All that work is good. Having a job helps pay the bills. Doing the laundry gives us fresh clothes to wear. Being part of a health club or a sports team gives us benefits socially and physically. However, as a Christ follower, my greatest work is prayer. 

Ever since I accepted Christ as my Savior at the age of twelve I have acknowledge this idea in the back of my head, but it didn't really become a central part of my life until I became an adult and then became a parent of adult children. Prayer is the force that moves mountains. I cannot change a person's heart, but God can. I cannot heal a sick child, but God can. I cannot direct this country, but God can. He is in control. I won't go into why God says yes or why He says no, but it comes down to trust. 

When I became a grandparent a little over six years ago, I was able to revisit the idea of child like faith. As I watched my grandson grow and learn and experience life I realized how very much God desires we come to Him as a little child; full of wonder, curiosity, and trust. My grandson never wondered where I was. He always knew I was there. He didn't wonder if I would pick him up when he cried, he just knew I would. 

We must go to God as His child, because only a child gets his prayers answered; a ‘wise’ man does not.
— Oswald Chambers - My Utmost for His Highest - October 17th

A little child has a degree of trust that far exceeds anything we can understand, that is, until that trust is broken. The little child has an amazing capacity to believe. Just think about children and Santa Clause. Unless someone explains that Santa is merely a tale based on the historical figure of Saint Nicolas a child will enjoy the belief that Santa is a very real and magical being. He will also believe that Santa is good and will bring him gifts on Christmas morning.

Pixabay

Pixabay

That is what coming to God in prayer should be like. We should come to Him, regularly, consistently and with anticipation of what He will do. He may not answer our prayers in the fashion that we deem best, but we can choose, like that little child, to trust Him, because we know that He is good. Goodness is a part of His character and He cannot be otherwise.

Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
— Psalm 106:1 (NASB)

How do we pray without ceasing? Just like we breath. Without a thought. When the day is sunny and the sky is blue, I breath a prayer of joy. When I am tired and need His strength, I breath a prayer of petition. When I am sad, or scared, I breath a prayer of scripture, knowing that His word brings peace and hope. When life is so overwhelming I feel as though I cannot go on, I only breath and let Him do the rest. 

Three Little Commands - Rejoice Always

I just got back from visiting my mom for the weekend, so this post is going to be a bit late. On my drive home, I spent a little time praying, listening to music and thinking about this idea of rejoicing always. Like I have mentioned before, it seems to be much easier to rejoice when things are going smoothly.

Pixabay

Pixabay

Before I got on the road this morning my daughter texted me to let me know my grandson had been up most of the night vomiting. I was trying to get on the road early so I would be there to pick him up from school, now I didn't have to since she would be staying home from work to take care of him.

It is hard for my girl. She is a single mom and she relies heavily on me to help with childcare and other things that some times overwhelm her. As I drove through the  beautiful fall landscape I found myself praising God for that moment. The colors were absolutely stunning. Dark reds, bright reds, golden yellows, burnt orange and pale salmon, all praising their Creator for just being. Even though I felt worried about my grandson and my daughter (fear that now she'll get sick and miss another day or two of work), I found myself in awe of this God who formed our world with nothing but a word. 

fall leaves

The idea of rejoicing seems, almost, old fashioned. How often do you hear someone say, "I am rejoicing that I saved money at the grocery store today." Or how about, "I am so full of joy that I get to go to the dentist today." Webster defines rejoice as, "to give joy" (transitive verb) or "to feel joy or great delight" (intransitive verb). Joy seems to be most often associated with a special celebration like a wedding, winning the football game or having a baby. All of these things are momentary and when the celebration is over, we might be left feeling a little let down.

Pixabay

Pixabay

So what did Paul mean when he said, "Rejoice always...." (1 Thessalonians 5:16)? We can't be having constant parties and celebrations to keep our joy intact. That would get expensive and tiring. Our joy is to come from Christ Himself. 

celebration

If you look at the Old Testament you will find a pattern in which the people of God, the nation of Israel were on again, off again in their relationship with God. When they were off they usually ended up in captivity. God would always come back around, sending some warrior, or prophet to bring them back into a right relationship with him and lead them out of captivity. It was during these times of reconciliation that they rejoiced.

...and on that day they offered great sacrifices and rejoiced because God had given them great joy, even the women and children rejoiced, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard from afar.
— Nehemiah 12:43 (NASB)

Ezra and Nehemiah are both good books to read in the Old Testament to see examples of God's mercy towards his people. Note in the above verse it was God that gave the people great joy. It wasn't their goodness, nor their sin that gave them great joy, it was God.

But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
— Psalm 13:5 (NASB)
I will rejoice and be glad in Your lovingkindness, Because You have seen my affliction; You have known the troubles of my soul,
— Psalm 31:7 (NASB)
For our heart rejoices in Him, Because we trust in His holy name.
— Psalm 33:21 (NASB)
Let all who seek You rejoice and be glad in You; And let those who love Your salvation say continually, “Let God be magnified.”
— Psalm 70:4

Those verses are just a few of the songs of King David that point to God as the source of our rejoicing. Rejoice in Him, let all who seek Him rejoice. This would imply that in order to rejoice always I need to be in His presence. I know, sounds crazy, right! How can we be in His presence always? We are busy people; working, taking care of kids, spending time with friends and family. Doesn't spending time in God's presence mean I have to be away from it all? Don't I need to go into a quiet room, after all it used to be called a "quiet time."

While it is beneficial to get away and spend time alone with God, we must also realize that is not the only time we have to spend with Him. God is omnipresent. That means He is everywhere, so He is with us all the time. All I have to do is talk to Him. Lest you think I walk around talking out loud all the time, the truth is I am very much an introvert. I get tired when there is too much talking and noise, or if I am around too many people for too long. 

Remember last week when I talked about taking every thought captive? Well, that applies to rejoicing always. I can be in God's presence in my head. I don't have to speak out loud. In that case, my thoughts can be Godward focused as often as I direct them there. That's where the difficulty lies. Taking every thought, the good and the bad, captive to the obedience of Jesus Christ. 

Only God can give us true joy. Only in Him can we truly rejoice. Yes, there are beautiful things in life that bring us joy, but they are temporary. The only way to rejoice always is to practice being in God's presence always. It is only in His presence that we fill all our springs of joy (Psalm 87:7).

Three Little Commands - Laying the Foundation

Last week I began a series of posts on this verse:

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
— I Thessalonians 5: 17-19 (NASB)

I have felt in recent years that God has wanted me to pay special attention to these three little commands, not that God doesn't want me to follow all the other specifics He has outlined in scripture, but these three have stood out to me as being ones I need to work on. As I was contemplating how I wanted to write about these three commands, I realized I needed to spend one post just laying a ground work for the rest of the posts. 

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,
— 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

Whenever we are commanded to do something in His word we can be sure that struggle will follow. Obviously, if I choose to not do what is commanded, I will not struggle with bringing my flesh under God's authority. However, when I make a decision of the will to do what God has said, my flesh and my sin nature will rear its not so pretty head!

Pixabay

Pixabay

Think for a moment of a young child out in a public situation, say a store or a restaurant. Their parent(s) have, most likely, given them the line, "You need to behave while we are at the store. If you are really good, I will let you get a gum ball after we check out." Or something similar. The child is very happy, at least initially, thinking about that wonderful treat he would get at the end if he just behaved. Eventually, he sees something else that looks more appealing. When he is told he cannot have that more interesting treat (or toy, etc.) he starts to whine. When that doesn't work he starts to cry. When he still doesn't get what he wants, he behaves in a most unbecoming manner and said parent either gives in or leaves the store feeling humiliated and frustrated. 

Pixabay

Pixabay

While a young child doesn't understand the complex layers of inner struggle and saying no to his flesh, we can see a simple progression that most of us are guilty of when God tells us to behave. See if you see any similarities in your own life.

1. A simple command is given and a subsequent reward offered. In the case of the child the command is to behave. We can assume that means to listen, don't stand up in the cart, don't run away, watch where you are going and so on. The reward is a treat such as a candy, a small toy or renting a movie at the video store. If you are a Christ follower and you are somewhat familiar with the scriptures, you have probably come to realize that following Him and obeying Him come with rewards. These are not petty treats that a fickle god throws at us when we perform well, these are bricks of truth upon which we can build the foundations of our lives. A foundation that cannot be shaken.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty....
For He will give His angels charge concerning you,
To guard you in all your ways...
He will call upon Me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
With a long life I will satisfy him
And let him see My salvation.
— Psalms 91:1, 11, 15 &16 (NASB)

2. The child is delighted to obey, knowing he will be rewarded. You might be thinking, "Does that woman have a clue? My children were born naughty." I completely agree, we were all born naughty, but children do delight in doing what is good and right, because typically doing what is good and right results in praise, approval and sometimes even in rewards. The Psalmist knew that doing what was good and right resulted in happiness. 

Photo credit  Rebecca Trumbull .

Photo credit Rebecca Trumbull.

How blessed are those whose way is blameless, Who walk in the law of the Lord. How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, Who seek Him with all their heart.
— Psalm 119:1 & 2 (NASB)

3. The child becomes distracted by all the other pretty treats. Let's face it, stores are full of pretty things. Candy, toys, cereal in all manner of fun packaging, so many colorful and tempting choices. Suddenly the child forgets about the treat that was promised him at the end of the line, dependent on his good behavior. All of a sudden he is consumed with the here and now and all the other treats available. 

Let's take a moment to think about this. God has promise us good things, delightful things, if we just follow Him and walk in a way that is pleasing to Him. That is not Him being egotistical. That is Him being merciful and loving. He knows what is best for us. Just as most parents recognize their child will be happier within the parameters they set for him, our Creator knows what is best for us. But how often do we become distracted by all the pretty treats; the food, the clothes, the music, the movies, the good feelings.....all of a sudden I have forgotten about Him being my shelter or Him being my happiness. I forget all that His word says will be if I follow Him. I become consumed with getting the next pretty treat.

Pixabay

Pixabay

4. The child throws a tantrum. Have you ever seen a child having a tantrum? Perhaps one of your own children just had one this morning before he or she had to get on the school bus. Maybe it was your teenager when you said she couldn't go out with that boy. Wait a minute! What about us? What about you? What about me? Have you had any tantrums lately? I just had a mini one the other day. My husband thought I was mad at him, but I had spent the day running after pretty treats and by 10:00 PM I just needed to send myself to bed, so I did. 

You see we aren't exempt as adults from tantrums. Oh, we may be very controlled and never let anyone know, but inside we are laying on the ground screaming, "I want what I want and I want it now!!!" Not a pretty picture, I know, but does it ring a bell? Ha, ha. Yeah, me too! 

Ok, so all of that said, let's look again at the verses in 2 Corinthians. Bear with me. 

Verse 3: "For though we walk in the flesh we do not war according to the flesh." 

The flesh is where we live. This skin we are in desires, craves, wants, feels, longs, for something to give it meaning and satisfaction. But we are not battling these desires, longings and feelings in our own strength. We can't. The flesh will give in. Whether you give in to lust and watch porn, or give in to lust and eat that second bag of chips or give in to lust and buy that new sweater when you already have 20 sweaters (not funny....I am a fashion blogger too) the flesh is powerful. Our desires are powerful. Just like that little child couldn't think of anything else once he saw that thing he wanted.

Pixabay

Pixabay

Verse 4: "for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses."

You see we must war against the flesh, against our desires other wise all chaos would break loose. The world would be a brothel born of madness unfit for anyone to live in. So God Himself is there to help us bring things under control. Think of a society where everyone acted on their passions and not one person could say no to fulfilling their appetites. 

Verse 5: "We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ."

Unlike a young child, as an adult I am responsible for the choices I make. A child is just learning how to maneuver the world, but as adults we have been given tools to make choices either good ones or bad ones. As a Christ follower, my desire is to honor and glorify God. I do not believe in living life as a free for all to meet my own needs and desires. That doesn't mean I don't have needs and desires, but I have to bring those to God and His word and see how they line up. 

There are many thoughts and ideas in the world that do not line up with belief in God. My goal is not to go into a long discussion of those ideas, but to bring this full circle to the three little commands. It is only by "bringing every thought captive." that I will have the capacity to do the things that God asks of me. I hope to expand on this idea next week when we look more closely at the first command, "Rejoice always."

Tell me your thoughts! You can post a comment below in the comments section or leave me a message on Facebook. If you follow my fashion blog be sure to check back tomorrow when we look at Aurora Red.