I’ll never forget the time I had the privilege of sitting next to Billy Graham at a dinner. I was honored but also somewhat nervous about what would be appropriate to say. I thought it would be an interesting conversation starter to ask what he loved most about his years of ministry. Then I awkwardly started to suggest possible answers. Was it knowing presidents, kings, and queens? Or preaching the gospel to millions of people around the world?
Before I had finished offering suggestions, Rev. Graham stopped me. Without hesitation he said, “It has been my fellowship with Jesus. To sense His presence, to glean His wisdom, to have Him guide and direct me—that has been my greatest joy.” I was instantly convicted and challenged. Convicted because I’m not sure that his answer would have been my answer, and challenged because I wanted it to be.
That’s what Paul had in mind when he counted his greatest achievements to be of no worth compared to the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8). Think of how rich life would be if Jesus and our fellowship with Him was our highest pursuit.
On our wedding day, Martie and I gladly vowed to be faithful “in good times as well as in bad, in sickness as well as in health, for richer or for poorer.” In a way it may seem strange to include vows about the bleak reality of bad times, sickness, and poverty on a cheerful wedding day. But it underscores the fact that life often has “bad” times.
So what are we to do when we face life’s inevitable difficulties? Paul urges us on behalf of Christ to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). As difficult as that may sound, there is good reason why God encourages us to embrace a spirit of gratitude. Gratitude is grounded in the truth that our Lord “is good” and “his love endures forever” (Psalm 118:1). He is present with us and strengthens us in the midst of trouble (Hebrews 13:5–6), and He lovingly uses our trials to grow our character into His likeness (Romans 5:3–4).
When life hits us with hard times, choosing to be grateful focuses our attention on the goodness of God and gives us the strength to make it through our struggles. With the psalmist, we can sing, “Give thanks to the
A few years ago, a friend of mine lost track of her young son while walking through a swarm of people at Union Station in Chicago. Needless to say, it was a terrifying experience. Frantically, she yelled his name and ran back up the escalator, retracing her steps in an effort to find her little boy. The minutes of separation seemed like hours, until, suddenly—thankfully—her son emerged from the crowd and ran to the safety of her arms.
Thinking of my friend who would have done anything to find her child fills me with a renewed sense of gratitude for the amazing work God did to save us. From the time God’s first image bearers—Adam and Eve—wandered off in sin, He lamented the loss of fellowship with His people. He went to great lengths to restore the relationship by sending His one and only Son “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Without the birth of Jesus, and without His willingness to die to pay the price for our sin and to bring us to God, we would have nothing to celebrate at Christmastime.
So this Christmas, let’s be thankful that God took extreme measures by sending Jesus to reclaim our fellowship with Him. Although we once were lost, because of Jesus we have been found!
One of my favorite churches started several years ago as a ministry to ex-prisoners who were transitioning back into society. Now the church flourishes with people from all walks of life. I love that church because it reminds me of what I picture heaven will be like—filled with different kinds of people, all redeemed sinners, all bound together by the love of Jesus.
Sometimes, though, I wonder if church seems more like an exclusive club than a safe-haven for forgiven sinners. As people naturally gravitate into groups of “a certain kind” and cluster around those they feel comfortable with, it leaves others feeling marginalized. But that’s not what Jesus had in mind when He told His disciples to “love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12). His church was to be an extension of His love mutually shared with all.
If hurting, rejected people can find loving refuge, comfort, and forgiveness in Jesus, they should expect no less from the church. So let’s exhibit the love of Jesus to everyone we encounter—especially those who are not like us. All around us are people Jesus wants to love through us. What a joy it is when people unite to worship together in love—a slice of heaven we can enjoy here on earth!
I was enjoying the start of my first whitewater rafting experience—until I heard the roar of the rapids up ahead. My emotions were flooded with feelings of uncertainty, fear, and insecurity at the same time. Riding through the whitewater was a first-rate, white-knuckle experience! And then, suddenly, it was over. The guide in the back of the raft had navigated us through. I was safe—at least until the next set of rapids.
Transitions in our lives can be like whitewater experiences. The inevitable leaps from one season of life to the next—college to career, changing jobs, living with parents to living alone or with a spouse, career to retirement, youth to old age—are all marked by uncertainty and insecurity.
In one of the most significant transitions recorded in Old Testament history, Solomon assumed the throne from his father David. I’m sure he was filled with uncertainty about the future. His father’s advice? “Be strong and of good courage, and do it; . . . for the
We’ll have our fair share of tough transitions in life. But with God in our raft we’re not alone. Keeping our eyes on the One who is navigating the rapids brings joy and security. He’s taken lots of others through before.
Several years ago, my wife and I stayed in a rustic bed-and-breakfast in the remote Yorkshire Dales of England. We were there with four other couples, all British, whom we had never met before. Sitting in the living room with our after-dinner coffees, the conversation turned to occupations with the question “What do you do?” At the time I was serving as the president of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, I assumed that no one there knew of MBI or its founder, D. L. Moody. When I mentioned the name of the school, their response was immediate and surprising. “Of Moody and Sankey . . . that Moody?” Another guest added, “We have a Sankey hymnal and our family often gathers around the piano to sing from it.” I was amazed! The evangelist Dwight Moody and his musician Ira Sankey had held meetings in the British Isles more than 120 years ago, and their influence was still being felt.
I left the room that night thinking of the ways our lives can cast long shadows of influence for God—a praying mother’s influence on her children, an encouraging coworker’s words, the support and challenge of a teacher or a mentor, the loving but corrective words of a friend. It’s a high privilege to play a role in the wonderful promise that “His love continues through all generations” (Ps. 100:5).
Every autumn we throw a scrumptious Thanksgiving feast on campus at Cornerstone University. Our students love it! Last year a group of students played a game at their table. They challenged each other to name something they were thankful for—in three seconds or less—without repeating what someone else had said. Anyone who got stymied was out of the game.
There are all kinds of things that students might gripe about—tests, deadlines, rules, and a host of other college-type complaints. But these students had chosen to be thankful. And my guess is that they all felt a lot better after the game than they would have if they had chosen to complain.
While there will always be things to complain about, if we look carefully there are always blessings to be thankful for. When Paul describes our newness in Christ, “thankfulness” is the only characteristic mentioned more than once. In fact it is mentioned three times. “Be thankful,” he says in Colossians 3:15. Sing to God “with gratitude in your hearts” (v. 16). And whatever you do, be sure to be “giving thanks to God the Father” (v. 17). Paul’s instruction to be thankful is astonishing when we consider that he wrote this letter from prison!
Today, let’s make the choice to have an attitude of thankfulness.
While attending a concert, my mind detoured to a troublesome issue that insisted on my attention. Thankfully, the distraction was short-lived as the words of a beautiful hymn began to reach deep into my being. A men’s a capella group was singing “Be Still, My Soul.” Tears welled up as I listened to the words and contemplated the restful peace that only God can give:
Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side! Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain; Leave to thy God to order and provide; In every change He faithful will remain.
When Jesus was denouncing the unrepentant towns where He had done most of His miracles (Matt. 11:20-24), He still had words of comfort for those who would come to Him. He said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened . . . . learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (vv. 28-29).
This statement is striking! Immediately following His strong words for those who were rejecting Him, Jesus extended an invitation to all to draw near to Him to find the peace we all yearn for. Jesus is the only one who can calm our restless, weary souls.