“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18. These are the words written by the Apostle Paul as he gives his final instructions in his letter to the Church in Thessalonica.
I love Thanksgiving. Where Halloween is surrounded by darkness and plunges into evil, the holiday of Thanksgiving begins the glimmer of light that leads to Christmas. It is the entryway into a season of increased joy and a great way to prepare our hearts for the weeks ahead. Is your heart ready?
Notice in the verse above how Paul exhorts the people to “give thanks in all circumstances”. Too often we try to use what is outside of us to transform what is inside of us. We look around and see our family, friends and a table full of food; we have money in our pockets, a car to drive and our health. After evaluating these external factors (counting our blessings so to speak) we determine our lot in life is good, the Lord has dealt bountifully with us and we are able to give him thanks. Is this wrong? By no means! Give God the glory due him, for “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father…” James 1:17.
However if these external blessings are what motivates your praise, your heart is in the wrong place and this is very dangerous. Quoting Isaiah in Matthew chapter 15, Jesus says to the Pharisees and scribes “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (verses 8 and 9). God will not accept “lip service” or artificial gratitude coming from a dead heart.
The question is, if you were alone, had no food, no money, no possessions of your own and were sick, would you be praising God? Would you still be thankful? This is difficult to answer. Most of us will never experience being in a position like that. This is why thanksgiving must be from the heart, a heart changed from within.
We don’t give thanks to God in light of our material blessings or because he has given us beautiful children and good friends. We don’t look at the less fortunate and thank God we are not like them. We give thanks to God because all praise belongs to him. Our hearts produce thanksgiving toward God in light of what his son, Jesus Christ, did for us on the cross in paying the debt we owe for our sin.
In the words of Isaiah: “You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.” Isaiah 12:1-2.
When God has redeemed your heart to be his, it produces supernatural qualities like real gratitude, allowing you to offer up thanksgiving in ALL circumstances.
I have traveled to three different third world countries, yet the most impoverished hearts I have witnessed remain those in this country; those too secure in their own wealth to see clearly. I don’t say this to point fingers, because if I did, I would have to point at myself first.
I once knelt beside a dying man near my own age, skin and bones, sitting on the edge of a ragged bed in a dirt floor hut with paper walls as he praised God as we prayed. He could confidently say he was thankful in all situations. We need to be more like him. We need to find our hope in God alone through Christ.
Thanksgiving is truly a matter of the heart, a heart purchased by God himself. How is your heart this Thanksgiving? I encourage you to dwell on the eternal riches you have in Christ Jesus as you celebrate this year. May your heart be overflowing in gratitude toward the one who holds it in his hands no matter what circumstances you find yourself in. “I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High.” Psalms 7:17
I recently gave the gift of pencils to 34 women at a women’s retreat, two apiece. I tied a ribbon around them, curled it up and put them in a gift bag. I couldn’t wait to hand them out, I had been excited for months.
These were no ordinary pencils. They were black Ticonderoga pencils, “The World’s BEST PENCIL” (exactly what it says on the box they come in). I have to agree with their biased advertising.
You see, these are the pencils I have been using for years to write in my Bible. I nearly always have one (or three) of them stuck between my pages. I have come to a point where I can’t concentrate on what I read if I don’t have a pencil in my hand. It honestly drives me crazy.
When I have a pencil I can underline verses I want to remember, circle words that are important and need emphases, add notes in the margins, draw arrows for reference, star my favorite verses, sketch wings when necessary (had to have been at the retreat), and add question marks for things I just don’t get.
How do any of you survive without one? Fortunately, 34 of you ladies don’t have to worry about this any longer.
Some of you have heard me go on about this before and may be rolling your eyes right about now, but you will have to get used to it. I will be talking about keeping a pencil in your Bible till I die. Or a pen if you must.
The Bible, of course, is the awesome, perfect and powerful words of God written for our benefit. A pencil is the tool that causes intentional engagement with those words on our part. It is hard to explain until you put into practice for a while.
Marking with a pencil as you read causes you to pick out parts that are important to remember and areas that you want to revisit. It makes it much easier to find certain scriptures when you need to. You will feel personally engaged in what you are reading and you will find yourself remembering more since you took the time to pause and take notice.
Many people have asked me my specific process for studying the Bible. I often give them an odd look and tell them, I just sit with my study Bible and my pencil and go at it. They return my odd look and ask if I can direct them to a more specific resource. I have a couple solid ones I recommend, but not before trying to convince them that they need to learn how to wrestle first.
Pray, read your Bible and use your pencil. Wrestle with scripture, build your muscles, and be determined.
“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Romans 15:4.
Instructions written for us to build endurance and offer encouragement and hope. I’m all in for that. God’s Word is a deep source of treasure and my pencil is like the pick axe, helping me to mine understanding and gain wisdom. Enough with the metaphors? I can’t help it, it is SO good.
“My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh.” Proverbs 4:20-22. In God’s word I find life and I want all I can get. I feel the healing that comes from time spent connecting with God through the words he wrote for me. I can’t ever get enough.
I told the ladies at the retreat that day that I wanted them to hear my voice when they looked at their pencils. They needed to hear me saying to them, “Read your Bible, write in your Bible!” My prayer is that they have done just that and someday I know they will be glad they did. It changed my life long ago… not the pencil used, but the Words of God they highlighted.
Grab your Bible, your pencil and get to it, Ladies! Read your Bible, write in your Bible!
If you read Part One from last week, you know that God has called us, as mothers, to guard the hearts of our children. “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (NIV) God has specifically assigned to us the young hearts under our care. It was written out before we were ever born (see Ps. 139).
I told you to think of yourself as a gatekeeper to the heart of your child. Is this an easy calling? Not in the slightest.
Everything and everyone is vying for the affections of our children. It is a real-life raging war and you are in the middle of it. Remember - strategically placed there by God himself for this reason. That is why we need to take it so seriously. We will be held accountable for how well we perform this duty we have been called to, so we need to go at it with our whole hearts and minds engaged.
Guarding hearts affects every area of your child’s life. Our senses are bombarded constantly with outside influences; we feel this as adults, how much more is this true for our children? We cannot stay ignorant of the spiritual battle taking place around us. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:12)
Your children live in this time of present darkness, right in the midst of a world where Satan reigns and evil runs rampant. If you don’t protect them (as God has commanded) who will?
Be vigilant about who your children are with (adults and other children) especially when you are not with them. Be fully aware of what you allow their eyes to see and ears to hear; remembering that there is no such thing as “neutral” in this world. God is clear about this “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Matthew 12:30. If it is from the world it is not good for your children. No neutrality!
This may (should) cause you to rethink many things such as: television (what do you watch or is it beneficial in any way, does it glorify God?), music (God wired us to love music for good reason, but it is also highly influential and has powerful abilities to manipulate our affections) , media of any kind, video games, where they attend school (the world reigns in schools and you are not there to be a gatekeeper, be sure you fully trust those who fill their hearts up for 7-8 hours every day), sleepovers, how you celebrate holidays (be mindful of what are you celebrating), what friends they hang around with, the list goes on. There is so much competition.
Start early and don’t give up when they turn 5 and go to school OR 13 and don’t want to hang around you anymore OR 16 when they begin to have a social life outside the home. These are some of the most important times to remain engaged. Stay vigilant, lovingly vigilant.
Am I telling you to “shelter” your children? Well, duh, yes! Why do people often think sheltering our children is a bad thing? It is our job; anything that causes you not to shelter your child is from the Enemy. Quit allowing him to bend your ear.
Protection and smothering are two different things, exposing children to evil is not the answer for building them up to withstand it. The goal is not increased tolerance. The goal is a heart kept as undefiled by the world as possible until the child is responsible for guarding their own heart.
The only way to train a heart to stand up to evil is to train them with the only weapon capable of defeating it, the Word of God. Teach them how to wield the Sword.
Do not think we are stealing control over our children away from God. Quite the opposite. When you become engaged in this battle like you should, you quickly realize that you have no control. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Prov. 3:5) You have to rely completely on the one who created those young hearts. God alone can fully guard their hearts. That is the foremost goal we must always keep in mind, we want our children to learn to give their heart over to God. He alone protects hearts because he, as their Creator, is the rightful owner and Lord over them.
Mother, be that active gatekeeper to the hearts of your young children. Train them with the Sword of the Word of God. Teach them how to protect their own hearts by following God’s ways designed for their protection. Show them how to keep their heart soft and ready for God’s directions and how to not harden it against him. Lean on God daily for his guidance in this, he is faithful in giving wisdom to those who ask for it, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (James 1:5)
Mothers, take a stand and take hold of your calling. Lovingly and vigilantly guard the hearts of your children!