A Reflection and Encouragement for the Holiday Season
I’m not sure how the anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the very soil of the United States gripped you … but as I remembered that tragic day, and as I listened to reactions of random people interviewed on the streets in 2014, I again came face to face with the dangerous enemy that faces us all. I’m not talking about the very real threat of future terrorist attacks, but rather about the spirit of entitlement.
I was made to closely examine my heart as I listened to (and remembered) the expectations and demands for safety, and protection, and the well-being of future generations, of the pursuit of happiness and the right to not have bad things happen to us. It is so easy to take things for granted, to give into, if you will, a spirit of entitlement. In fact, I would like to make a very strong statement regarding entitlement: “entitlement,” I believe, is the sly, deceptive enemy forged by Satan himself in hell that can blind us to the goodness, faithfulness, and grace of God.
We’ve all known people whose understanding of life and contentment in life is stunted or at least colored by a sense of entitlement. Their attitude is: “The government owes me … my parents owe me … the company owes me … the church owes me; and maybe even … “God owes me.” We’ve all known children who, after being deluged with extravagant gifts on Christmas Day, look up from the piles of wrapping paper and say, “Is this all?”
A lack of gratitude, and the sense of entitlement that often comes along with it, truly drain life out of a person and can ruin the opportunity for happiness which is the prize that so many are looking for. Ingratitude is truly a prescription for misery.
On the other hand, gratitude or thankfulness given to the only true God is the key to a blessed and divinely connected life. Gratitude and thankfulness are the key to a content and joyfully expectant life. God is the Giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:7) … and the reason we should be daily – hourly – grateful. Through the Holy Spirit’s influence in our lives we should abandon the attitude of entitlement — that the world owes me an easy ride or that God owes me — and recognize, be thankful for, and enjoy the gifts we have already been given.
This is what I know: If God never did anything else for me — if he never answered another prayer or never sent another blessing my way — I could not pay him back, even in a thousand lifetimes, for all that he has already done for me. And yet still, for all of His children … God promises more …
Isaiah 12 is one of the shortest chapters in the book of Isaiah, and also one of the more comforting, encouraging, and directive. The six verses in Isaiah 12 remind us of three gifts, three awesome blessings that God freely and graciously bestows. Remembering them can truly help shape our life and attitude into one that expresses continual thanksgiving and praise. First of all …
1. God Comforts Us With Pardon (Forgiveness).
Rev. Roosevelt Gray, Jr., our former staff member, would often say something along these lines: “The Gospel message is clear and I try to convince people that God isn’t mad at them — and it’s a tough sell.” Having been in the ministry for more than 30 years I can also say, “It IS a tough sell.” Not because of lack of Biblical proof for the doctrine of grace, but because people are often reluctant to accept such a truth.
Martin Luther once said of the growing Reformation movement, “It’s easier to persuade people to hate the pope than it is to convince them that they are saved by God’s grace.”
I haven’t met too many people who can willfully sin and not realize that their ‘moral compass’ is spinning out of control. However, I have met a lot of people who are convinced that God is so angry with them that they can never be forgiven and certainly, that they could never experience a close relationship with Him. Since we are often reluctant to forgive ourselves, we assume that God is equally reluctant to forgive us. That is not the case!
More than anything else, I believe, God wants us to experience the comfort of His pardon and peace that come through forgiveness. He doesn’t want us to live a life of isolation and loneliness apart from Him, seeking fulfillment in drugs, sex, work, ministry, alcohol, money, or any other empty pleasure the world or sinful flesh has to offer. He wants to bury our past, take away all of our sins and guilt, and give us pardon, peace, and a new life. Isaiah reminds us, “I will praise you, O Lord. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me” (Isaiah 12:1 NIV).
To be sure, sin has to be acknowledged and confessed. There is a definite need for repentance, and a desire to pursue holiness and obedience which are parts of true repentance. We can’t pretend that sin doesn’t exist. The Apostle John reminds us, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves …” (1 John 1:8 NIV).
On the other hand, let’s not give sin more power than it deserves. Yes, sin is powerful and destructive — no question about it. It can bring a lot of misery into your life. But God’s grace is even more powerful and abundant (Romans 5:20). God can destroy the guilt, the stain, the grasp and power of sin in your life. He can replace that pain of sin with the pardon of sin and the comfort of His mercy. Best of all–He wants to!
We’ve all done things we regret. And yet, God has made us an incredible offer: “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other” (Isaiah 45:22 NIV). “Come to me with your burdens and weariness and I will remove the pain of those regrets and comfort you with mercy and forgiveness.” How awesome. How thankful we should be.
Because of God’s grace, we can begin every day with a sense of gratitude: “God …
- thank you for pardoning, for forgiving my sins; and
- thank you for comforting my troubled soul;
- thank you for not being ashamed of me (Hebrews 11:6) and for making me your own.”
A second blessing for which we may be continually thankful …
2. God Gives Us Power – Strength – For Any Weak Moment …
Isaiah says in verse 2 of chapter 12: “Surely God is my salvation. I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song.” (NIV)
All of us have experienced emotional ups and downs. There have been times, in my weakest moments, when I’ve been concerned – maybe even afraid – of the future. What if the lymphoma kicks in … what if … what if? What about my wife, Pat, and the family? What about death? What about … ?
In those moments, the still small voice of God speaks to me: “Trust Me, and don’t be afraid. I will empower you to live with confidence and joy in Me. I will give you strength for your weak moments … and life. I will take care of you … and I will take care of your family. All things will work for good.”
I’ve begun to notice that, when we preach about salvation, most of the time a good percentage of our minds jump to thoughts of eternity in heaven. I’m thankful that we have heaven to look forward to, but salvation isn’t just about our future eternity. Salvation is about NOW; about our lives today. God doesn’t just want to pardon us of our sins; He wants to save us from our sins, and give us power and courage to live each day.
Did you know that you will not find a verse in the Bible that encourages you to “quit?” Neither will you find a verse that encourages you to live in fear of this world. There’s no verse that says, “Fear death. Fear terror. Fear disaster. Fear sickness.” But there are many verses that say “In the face of fear we are to put our trust in God.”
“The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1b NIV).
“Do not be afraid of any of them, for I am with you and will rescue you” (Jeremiah 1:8 NIV).
“Peace I leave with you … Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid” (John 14:27 NIV).
“Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7 NIV).
In the Gospel of Mark there is the account of a man who came to Jesus asking him to heal his dying daughter. While Jesus was on his way to the man’s house, messengers came and said, “It’s too late. She’s dead.” Jesus turned to the man and said, “Don’t be afraid. Just believe” (Mark 5:36b NIV).
In that man’s weakest moment, when his worst fears seem to become reality, Jesus encouraged and directed him: “Don’t fear. Just believe.” It wasn’t long before that man saw the power of God demonstrated in a miraculous way in the raising of his daughter to life.
God is our salvation; we don’t have to give in to fear. He has promised to give His people the power and strength to face whatever comes their way. We can count on Him, even in – especially in – our weakest moments.
We can also be continually thankful because …
3. God has promised His presence. He is never far away.
In verse 6, Isaiah concludes: “Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.”
Notice those last two words. “Among you.” He is here. He is with us now. We don’t pray to a distant God who is billions of light years away in a remote universe; we pray to a God who is right here with us, right now, all day, and every day. God chose to be close to us! He gave us Immanuel – God with us (Matthew 1:23)! Jesus said, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b NIV).
In the book of Hebrews He said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5 NIV).
And, in case you’re wondering, the Greek word(s) for “never” (ouj mh/) means “never“!
When you wake up in the morning and say a prayer, your prayer doesn’t travel across the universe in order for Him to hear it; He is right there with you. When you sin and cry out to Him for forgiveness, your prayer doesn’t have to find its way to Him, because He is already there with you.
God wants to have a relationship with us. He is as near to us as your next breath. He is among us. He is near to bless us … even though we don’t deserve it. He is a loving God of infinite supply.
So here is a brief recap of the facts:
- God wants to pardon and forgive you and comfort you.
- He doesn’t expect you to fight your own battles; He wants to give you His power and strengthen you for any difficulties you may face.
- He hasn’t abandoned you. In fact He has promised His presence to be with you always.
What, then, can and should our response be?
Gratitude. Exuberant gratitude … however you want to express it. Isaiah suggests,
“Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world. Shout aloud and sing for joy …” (Isaiah 12:4 NIV).
It’s unfortunate that we’re a little more ‘sophisticated’ in our approach these days; we don’t shout as much as we should. Nonetheless, we need to proclaim to Him, and to the world around us, our gratitude for all that He has done.
Gratitude is the truly the key to a blessed, content, connected life. It is the key to a dynamic relationship with God. Our relationship with Him does not begin with, or depend upon, what we do for Him. It recognizes what God has done for us and continues with expectant faith to receive what God promises to still do. Isaiah wrote, “With joy you will continue to draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isaiah 12:3). I am reminded of Jesus’ words in John 4:14: “But whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (NIV)
What reason do we have not to be joyful; to not be supremely thankful? In Him, we have pardon, power, and His promised presence.
Gratitude enables us to truly see the gracious supply of God. Gratitude helps us to truly live!
During this holiday season, regularly set aside the time with family and friends – or just with God – to reflect on all that you have been given by our gracious God and remember to be thankful, first and foremost and forever, for all that He has done … remembering this gracious promise: “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all — how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32 NIV).
Pastor David P. E. Maier