I turned fifty today. I am not where I planned to be, nor anywhere close to where I imagined I’d be. I had hoped to be married with a family of my own, doing something productive that I enjoyed, and looking forward to retirement in fifteen to twenty years. But life didn’t turn out that way. I don’t bring this up to garner pity or sympathy. I mention it to say that, in regards to the point at hand, it really doesn’t matter.
Years ago, I heard the radio commentator Paul Harvey tell a story about the British retreat at Dunkirk during World War II. The Germans had pushed the British all the way into the coastal town so they had nowhere to go. Germans in front, the English channel behind. The British soldiers sent a single three word radio message to England, “But if not.” The English in that day were more versed in Biblical teaching than society is today. They recognized the message as the reply the three Hebrew exiles gave to king Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 3:18. God could rescue the exiles if He wanted, but if not, they were going to stand firm against the king. The English people immediately launched every sea going vessel that would float across the channel and evacuated their troops before the Germans could destroy or capture them.
After hearing that story, I thought that would be a noble concept by which to live one’s life, so I adopted it for myself. As I’ve since learned, be careful what you ask for, you might get it. Life has been replete with challenges with which I could show such faith. And I’m here to say, that hasn’t been very pleasant. I cannot say I have been the greatest or even the mediocre example of faith, but I am still here, and I still desire to follow Him where ever He leads. If I’ve learned anything from all of this it’s that neither our feelings nor our circumstances can be used to determine our actions. We must make that choice. So, I choose.
Several months ago, I ran into a fellow I knew who had a bad accident with a horse. He came close to dying and, after all the surgeries, had to endure several months of physical therapy. He expressed to me how grateful he was to God for seeing him through all of it. I didn’t mean to question his sincerity, but I’d seen people praise God for helping them in the crisis, only to return to their old life when the crisis was over. I wondered if this was such a case. On the way home, God spoke to me. If I were to assume the fellow wasn’t completely sincere in his praise and was only doing it because of what had just happened to him, how did his actions compare to my own as I try to live for Christ daily? Do I stop and tell others what Christ has done for me as much as this fellow? How is it that an insincere person could praise God, and I seem to have trouble doing so? I realized I had allowed my feelings and circumstances to determine when and whether I praised God even though He is totally deserving of my praise regardless. God should be praised daily for who and what He is, no matter how I feel or how life is going. So, I choose praise.
How do we define faithfulness? Not the dictionary definition, but in life action. What scale do we use to determine faithfulness? The scripture tells us that God is faithful. How do we prove that? Yes, there are many instances in the scripture which tell us how God was faithful in the past. And I’m sure we have many instances in our own lives where God has been faithful to us. But what about when life goes sour? How can we say that God is faithful then? When we need, truly need something, and we pray for it with all our might and perhaps even for a great deal of time, and then nothing happens, is God faithful? Can we say for certain that He will always give us what is required, or at least what we think is required? My last job played out nearly a year ago. I’ve been praying daily for God to show me what He wants me to do regarding the ministry specifically for nearly three years with no clear direction. I wanted to be married in my twenties and have been asking for a Godly spouse for as long as I can remember. The Bible even says it’s not good for a man to be alone, and two are better than one, but I’m still single. How can I say that God has been faithful in all of this?
The problem with our lives is that they are two-sided. There’s the side we see and the side God sees. Sometimes He allows us to see His side and everything makes sense. But usually, all we get to see is our side, and that’s a pretty narrow view. If we are going to measure God’s faithfulness by circumstances and actions, we have to see both sides or the whole picture, and we can’t. Only He can. His word says He loves us more than we can imagine. And we see that love in action by looking at Christ on the cross. We must use that to build our faith in Him and know that He is truly working all things together for our good, regardless of the way they look. And yes, even when we never see the results of His actions or receive answers to our questions. We must know that God is faithful because He is, and choose to trust Him whatever comes. So, I choose trust.
Scripture tells us over and over to be thankful. “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving…” “Let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.” And it’s not just about being thankful for things, it’s an attitude of gratefulness. To be able to see how much God loves us and provides for us and appreciating that on a daily basis. To have an attitude of graciousness for things done for us. Obviously it’s easy to be thankful when we have what we want or receive what we need. What about when we don’t? I heard about a wife who continuously dropped hints to her husband about how much she liked flowers and how romantic it was to receive flowers. When the husband finally figured it out, he went by a florist on his way home from work one evening and picked up a beautiful arrangement of daisies and other wild flowers for his wife. When he got them home, his wife took one look at them and said she hated daisies and wild flowers had no place being in a vase. Needless to say, she didn’t get any more flowers. How sad. Just a little graciousness on her part could have encouraged her husband to find out what specific flowers she liked and surprised her with them another time.
Little things matter as well. Jesus said he who is faithful in little will be faithful with much. I think that goes with thanksgiving also. If we learn to be thankful for the little things, we won’t have to worry about missing it when the big things come along. I once had a job working a night shift. I went in at 1:30 in the morning and got off at 8:00. Because the sun was always up before I left, my body was already set for the daytime. It was terrible trying to get any sleep during the day as I couldn’t make my room dark enough. For the two and a half years I had that job, the lack of sleep wreaked havoc with my health. After God moved me out of that position, I began to thank Him for the simple gift of being able to sleep at night and still do. Do you have a roof over your head? Clean water to drink? Food to eat? A place to sleep? How often do we thank God for those things? I’m sure most of us would agree that we are grateful for them, but how long has it been since we actually thanked God for them? We need to do it more than a single Thursday in November. And I assure you, you will always be able to find someone who has less than you’ve been blessed with. So, I choose gratitude.
I’m not one for platitudes. I want truth, real truth. Not just warm fuzzy feelings. The way I see it, truth is the foundation. Everything we build above that is icing on the cake. And if life sends us storms and all our beautiful buildings are wiped away, the foundation will still be there for us to build again. Does choosing praise, trust, and gratitude make me feel any better about my current circumstances? Hardly. Most mornings I have to find a good reason to get up. And I carry a lot of emotional weight that all the exercise in the world can’t work off. But the truth is still there. God is still God and He deserves all my praise, all my trust, and all my gratitude because of who and what He is. One day all His promises will be complete. If I persevere, hopefully I’ll be able to trade in my “But if not” for a “Well done good and faithful servant.” That is worth staying the course. So, I choose.