Tag Archive: hope


Some Thoughts on Thankfulness

Psalm 77

Introduction

One of the most difficult challenges we face is that of developing a genuinely thankful attitude. Because we are sinners, the concept of acknowledging a source outside ourselves, a source that is responsible for the things in life that we consider good and desirable, a source that gives but does not require repayment, can be most uncomfortable. To be thankful, we must first admit that we are the recipients of so much that we did not pursue and so much that we could not achieve on our own under any circumstances. The concept of giving thanks also requires us to admit our limitations, especially in light of the fact that we are spiritually crippled by sin.

I believe that developing a thankful attitude, one that endures throughout the year and one that seriously influences the way we think about ourselves and our nation and our relationship with God is of fundamental importance. Living without thankfulness in our hearts produces a false sense of security and a false apprehension of what we are able to do as human beings.

We are, by nature, selfish, self-centered people and we have to train ourselves to be grateful, not only to other human beings, but especially to our Creator. I also want to point out the Bible has a tremendous amount to say about this topic of thankfulness. Based upon this fact and the prominent place given to thankfulness in our development as Christ’s disciples, I believe it is safe to assume that God is pleased when His people behave contrary to their fallen natures and actually raise their eyes to heaven and praise Him for all that He has bestowed upon us.

You probably encounter very few genuinely thankful people when you leave your home during the week. Often, either directly or through the media, you encounter selfish people, people who want everything they have and more, people who think they deserve a better life than what they are experiencing. This is not really a surprising attitude when you remember that we are sinners; and one thing that sin does is make us complainers.

In Psa. 77, the writer provides us with steps which, if followed consistently, will gradually produce and sustain an atmosphere of thanksgiving in our hearts and homes. The historical setting for this Psalm is uncertain. Circumstances were such that the writer was emotionally overwhelmed. It could have been that the nation was experiencing a particularly difficult time or perhaps this Psalm only reflects a personal experience of the writer. Whatever the case, we can learn something about the state of the writer’s mind from the tone of this Psalm.

Psalm 77:1 My voice rises to God, and I will cry aloud; my voice rises to God, and He will hear me. 2 In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord; in the night my hand was stretched out without weariness; my soul refused to be comforted. 3 When I remember God, then I am disturbed; when I sigh, then my spirit grows faint. 4 You have held my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak. 5 I have considered the days of old, the years of long ago. 6 I will remember my song in the night; I will meditate with my heart, and my spirit ponders: 7 Will the Lord reject forever? And will He never be favorable again? 8 Has His lovingkindness ceased forever? Has His promise come to an end forever? 9 Has God forgotten to be gracious, or has He in anger withdrawn His compassion? 10 Then I said, “it is my grief, that the right hand of the Most High has changed.” 11 I shall remember the deeds of the LORD; surely I will remember Your wonders of old. 12 I will meditate on all Your work and muse on Your deeds. 13 Your way, O God, is holy; what god is great like our God? 14 You are the god who works wonders; You have made known Your strength among the peoples. 15 You have by Your power redeemed Your people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph. 16 The waters saw You, O God; the waters saw You, they were in anguish; the deeps also trembled. 17 The clouds poured out water; the skies gave forth a sound; Your arrows flashed here and there. 18 The sound of Your thunder was in the whirlwind; the lightnings lit up the world; the earth trembled and shook. 19 Your way was in the sea and Your paths in the mighty waters, and Your footprints may not be known. 20 You led Your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

We can conclude that the writer passed through a time of desperation and doubt. He speaks of seeking the LORD throughout the night (v. 2). His soul was so troubled that he could not sleep and didn’t know what to say (v. 4). The writer thought much about the past—perhaps remembering better times or times when the LORD came to his aid (vv. 6-8). Whatever happened led this writer to wonder if God had forsaken him forever. Would he ever again experience God’s favor? Had God withdrawn His grace? (v. 9) In his intense grief, this man thought that perhaps “the right hand of the Most High has changed.” (v. 10)

For us to gain the most from this Psalm, we need to understand the state of the writer, which is indicated in the verses I just cited. I want to take time, therefore, to define three of the words that are used in these opening verses. This will give us insight regarding the anguish being experienced by this writer as he turns to the LORD for help.

In the second verse, Asaph, the author of this Psalm and one of the leading figures in the establishment and use of Psalmody in the worship of God, speaks of “the day of [his] trouble.” He uses a Hebrew word (tsarah) that refers to severe anguish and affliction. This is not a case of a writer having a “bad day.” This man was experiencing deep distress and his whole life was unsettled as a result.

In the third verse, Asaph states that thoughts of God “disturbed” him. Here he uses a word (hamah) that refers to a loud roar, a frightening clamor, or a threatening growl. At this point in his Psalm, Asaph could not even think about God without great unrest in his soul because his situation made it appear that God had gone away.

And finally, in verse four, we have another word that is also translated “troubled,” but it is not the same one used earlier. This time, the writer states that he was so troubled, that he was unable to speak. The Hebrew term in this case (paam) means “to be persistently beaten.” The picture is that of a man overwhelmed by an adversary who is being crushed under the attack.

With all that in mind, we can now ask an important question: How does one recover from such spiritual and emotional depression? This writer reveals a method of dealing with his circumstances that brought stability. He was able to replace his doubt and depression with thanksgiving. The formula contained in this Psalm can serve all of God’s people. We need not be in the condition experienced by this writer before we make use of his wisdom.

What, then, did this writer do that can be imitated by us? What steps did he take that can be repeated by us? The answers are given in vv. 11-15. Just after the writer tells us how distraught he was, he also tells us what he did to relieve his fear and regain his confidence so that he could respond to his situation as a thankful man instead of a fearful man.

  1. Thankfulness comes when we remember the deeds of God (v. 11)

The writer reached the point where he thought God had deserted him. From this pit of despair come these words: “I shall remember the deeds of the LORD; surely I will remember Thy wonders of old.” (v. 11) This writer could find no comfort in his present circumstances. He had considered various explanations, including the idea that the LORD had forsaken him. But, before he is lost in total despair, he does something that turns his situation around. He begins to think about what God had done for him and his people. He reflected on the past to gain comfort and confidence in the present. Therefore, instead of continuing to dwell on his present misery, he found solace in the past works of God.

This is where the turn-around begins. God’s deeds are spectacular; they are incredible. They reveal a God who rules, loves, and provides, not a God who terrorizes, hates, and withholds. To think that this God would actually care for us while we live out our few years on this earth is also an amazing notion. This is what the writer of this Psalm does. He thinks on these and other truths about God. From this point on, the tone of this Psalm changes dramatically. This passage becomes a hymn of praise and thanksgiving.

The lesson here is obvious. If you wish to maintain the proper attitude toward life and toward God, you must remember the past wondrous deeds of God. You must not forget what He has done for you and your family. You must not forget how He has cared for you and how He has comforted you and how He has given you purpose and understanding. If you wish to create a spirit of thanksgiving, take time to remember the ways in which God has expressed His love for you in the past. Make this a regular practice now and even throughout the year.

  1. Thankfulness comes when we meditate on the deeds of God (v. 12)

An important element is added in this second step. We tend to miss the point when the Old Testament Scriptures talk about something being “remembered.” We think that means to recall something to mind and then be off to the next thought or activity. But in the Hebrew mind, to remember something involved more. And this writer explains this concept clearly when he says that beyond merely remembering God’s past acts, he will contemplate them: “I will meditate on all Your work and muse on Your deeds.”

For the Hebrews, to remember something was to ponder it. The writer means that as he remembered God’s past acts, as he remembered things God had done before, he took the time to linger over them in his mind. This brought satisfaction to his troubled soul.

What is pictured here is a sincere and prolonged reflection. It’s the kind of thing we don’t do very often these days. We are too busy to linger over the promises of God and we are too busy to ponder what God did for us last year or five years ago or twenty years ago. We are not people who mediate on such things for any length of time. And, as a result, we are spiritually poorer than we need be. This man paused long enough to draw lessons from God’s past actions. This is something that takes time and dedication.

As this writer meditated on the past, he recalled that God had always shown Himself to be gracious and compassionate. He had never broken His promise. He had never forsaken His own. Based upon this knowledge, the writer was strengthened. His confidence was renewed. In spite of the trying circumstances he was facing, he was able to compose himself and control how his circumstances affected him rather than being at the mercy of that which he could not control.

  1. Thankfulness comes when we have the proper opinion of God (vv. 13-15)

This third step is actually a product of the first two. When you remember something and then ponder it, you obviously become more familiar with it and gain a more accurate perspective. The same is true with God:

13 “Your way, O God, is holy; what god is great like our God? 14 You are the God who works wonders; You have made known Your strength among the peoples. 15 You have by Your power redeemed Your people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph.

In this Psalm, the writer takes us to the expected result of having meditated on the acts of God in his past. This exercise naturally served to remind the troubled writer of God’s character. God’s character is revealed in His works for His people; this man, who was so distraught at one point, is rescued from that condition by thinking on God’s ways and, thereby, remembering who God really is and what God is really like.

We don’t want to miss this simple truth: God’s past actions reveal truths about His nature. You’ll notice that three chief attributes stand out in these verses. First, God’s past manner showed that His ways are holy (v. 13). The writer’s circumstances are immediately put into perspective when he remembers God’s holiness. God had not been overcome; this man’s plight was not beyond the perfect awareness and control of God. Regardless of how circumstances appeared, therefore, the writer was reminded that all of God’s actions are pure. He cannot be charged with unfairness.

Second, God’s past manner demonstrated that He is a God Who routinely works wonders (v. 14). If anything is going to give you comfort during a trial, it’s the knowledge that God is a God who works wonders. As he thought about past situations, this writer remembered that it is not an unusual thing for God to deliver His people from the most threatening of circumstances. He recalled times when the nation, or perhaps he personally, had been involved in a difficult situation. How did God respond on those occasions?

Third, God’s past ways reminded this writer that God is a God of salvation (v. 15). Imagine that you are surrounded by vicious enemies and imagine that, as far as anyone can tell, this is the end for you. And then you remember that the LORD is the God of salvation. Redemption characterizes all that God does. The restoration of His fallen creation is the aim of God’s activity in the lives of human beings. Even when God’s people suffer, there is redeeming value to it.

This man is fortified with this truth. He learned from the history of the nation and his personal experiences that God brings about trying circumstances in order to refine His people and produce greater glory for Himself in their lives. Whatever the writer was now facing could be viewed in the light of God’s master plan of restoration.

Having a proper opinion of God will always lead to thanksgiving. Those who desire to be characterized by thankfulness must spend time cultivating this proper opinion. In addition to His written word, nothing better educates us about the nature of God than His actions. Remembering them, meditating on them, and drawing lessons about God from them—this is the formula that produces a reverence for God and reverence is inevitably followed by thanksgiving.

Here, then, are three steps that will create an atmosphere of thanksgiving for you and your family. Remember what God has done in past days. Remind yourself of what God has done for you. When you call God’s past acts to mind, take the time to meditate on them. Talk about God’s care with others and help them extract lessons from those experiences.

When this pattern is followed, trials become our instructors and we come away from that testing more confident in God, with a greater understanding of His nature and with a more stable hope regarding the days ahead. And that, as this Psalm teaches us, will nurture a thankful spirit in our hearts throughout the year.

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All Saints Weekly Devotional

(volume 2, number 3)

April 18, 2013

Perseverance

Pastor Bordwine

Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. (James 1:12)

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the topic of perseverance. Scripturally speaking, the term “perseverance” refers to remaining true to all the implications of our callings as Christians regardless of circumstances. Many think of perseverance as an attribute that is desired and needed primarily in conjunction with those times when we are facing some particularly difficult trial (note that the verse above relates to this perspective). The Bible teaches, however, that perseverance is not a quality to be manifested only occasionally under the most pressing of settings, but is a trait of character that must, by necessity, be exhibited at all times and under all conditions.

Because we are born-again and are guided by a holy disposition implanted and nurtured by the Spirit of Christ, we are in constant moral conflict due to the nature of our sinful environment. Our duty to remain faithful to God by interpreting and reacting to our circumstances according to the teaching of His Word is continually relevant throughout every day, in every conversation, and in every decision we make. In fact, the whole Christian experience, from the most routine aspects to the most demanding and painful, is an act of perseverance; it is an act of doing what God says instead of what the world expects (or even demands).

In addition to James 1:12, quoted above, there are several New Testament passages in which perseverance is highlighted. In every case, perseverance is presented as an indispensable component in a well-ordered, prosperous, and honorable life before God. For example, Paul identifies perseverance in tribulation as one of the means by which we develop proven character, which, in turn, strengthens our trust (or hope) in God and His promises. (cf. Rom. 5:3, 4; 8:24, 25) In other texts, perseverance is presented as having an ongoing, always active presence in our lives. (cf. Eph. 6:18, 19; 2 Thess. 1:3, 4; 1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Pet. 1:5-8)

Perseverance is not a facet of our Christian character that comes into play only now and then. To be a Christian is to persevere and overcome the world, as the apostle John explained. (cf. 1 John 5:4) A believer is a living expression of perseverance. Perseverance is living for God at every moment and in every situation, regardless of duration or severity.

As believers, we understand that we are called to remain faithful in learning and doing the will of God even when we face opposition. In every area of our lives, we are to seek to conform to God’s holy standard, which necessarily creates a state of tension because we exist in an environment that is in rebellion against His will. We are constantly challenged to do that which pleases God, rather than that which comes “naturally” in this fallen world. Perseverance in holiness, therefore, is one of the fundamental components in living as a Christian.

Persevering is “what we do” this side of heaven. As already explained, the Christian life is an extended act of perseverance. I believe that this truth can be especially encouraging to those who find themselves having to endure prolonged trials. If we think that the ability to persevere becomes most significant only when we are facing some unexpected and unusually burdensome ordeal, then we may very well find ourselves losing hope if, in fact, such a hardship continues week after week or even year after year. On the other hand, maintaining the Biblical point of view on this matter of perseverance will prevent us from questioning the wisdom of God, according to which our lives, including the most unpleasant of times, are ordered.

As a child of God, whether my most demanding days are few or many, I am always persevering; I am always overcoming and never surrendering; I am always pressing forward and never stepping backward. (cf. Gal. 6:9; Phil. 3:12; 2 Pet. 1:10)

Colossians 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, 2 To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father. 3 We give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love which you have for all the saints; 5 because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel 6 which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth; 7 just as you learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Christ on our behalf, 8 and he also informed us of your love in the Spirit.

The church in Colossae was established by Epaphras who worked under Paul’s direction several years before when the apostle spent an extended time in the city of Ephesus during his third missionary journey. Epaphras brought news of the Colossian church to Paul while the apostle was under arrest in Rome. Subsequently, Paul wrote this epistle. The Christians in Colossae were bothered by heretical teaching. This, more than anything else it seems, prompted Paul’s letter. Some in that region were advocating doctrines contrary to the gospel, doctrines that compromised the message of the full atonement made by Jesus Christ.

This letter opens, as you can see, in Paul’s typical style. He identifies himself as “an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God,” thus emphasizing his authority (v. 1). Paul addresses the believers in this city as “saints and faithful brethren” and he extends grace and peace to them “from God our Father.” Paul heard of their faith, as he says here; he heard that they embraced the gospel and were being delivered from the burden of sin and ignorance. He prayed for them, as he did for so many others. He prayed in thanksgiving, as he mentions here, for the love they were manifesting for other believers (cf. vv. 3, 4), and then he mentions “hope,” which was a concept that would normally be missing from the lives of citizens in this city (v. 5). Indicating just what he means, Paul speaks of hope “laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel …”

When the gospel was presented to these people, they heard of something that transcended their present world and involved their eternal destinies. They heard about their sin and about God’s provision for their sin in Christ; and they heard about the final state of all who trusted this Savior sent from heaven. It was that truth that now resided in their hearts and was giving them a new perspective on their lives here on earth. They now looked forward to what was to come—not as simply an end to misery, but as the beginning of blissful communion with God.

It was in the gospel that such a wonderful message was found; and this gospel that came to them, Paul goes on to say, was accomplishing the same thing “in all the world.” (v. 6) Wherever it is preached, the apostle teaches, the gospel is bearing similar fruit and increasing. This had been the experience of the Colossian believers. The gospel came, they believed, and they had been growing in the faith ever since. In that gospel, Paul explains, they came to understand “the grace of God in truth …” And there we have a key element in the present condition of the Colossians. What they had come to understand was the marvelous doctrine of God’s grace. By grace they learned of their sin, by grace they learned of God’s mercy, by grace they were enabled to repent and trust in the Savior, and by grace they were persevering and growing. It was all of grace. It was all of God. And this gave birth to the hope Paul mentioned before. The Colossians knew that they were on a journey that would take them through this life and into the next life, one of perfection and unimaginable beauty and peace in the presence of God.

This sense of hope was fueled by what the Colossians witnessed in their lives. Paul says that the gospel was “constantly bearing fruit and increasing.” They knew that a change had occurred in their lives; and they knew that they were not the same people since the gospel arrived. They had irrefutable evidence that they were changed people and the changes they saw were desirable changes. This, in turn, fueled their sense of eagerness as they looked to the future. What would God do in them and for them? What more will we come to know and what greater joys will be ours?

We live in a culture where hope is not viewed as an unrealistic concept. But imagine what it would be like to live in a culture steeped in paganism, a culture in which it was commonly believed that the fate of human beings was in the hands of pernicious and temperamental gods. Days were filled with hard labor and life, in general, was unpleasant. You are born, you work and try to get by, and then you die. That’s about it, and that’s what it was like in the first century.

Because of the character of our lives, because of the relatively peaceful and prosperous period in which we live, we don’t realize the full significance of Paul’s recognition of hope in the hearts of these people. Hope was not something that normally characterized people of the first century. Hope is the expectation of future blessing, but in that time, there was very little such expectation because there were no messages being declared that generated hope—not until the gospel came to town, that is.

Epaphras, that co-laborer with Paul, had brought them the good news, Paul says in v. 7. He was a faithful man, Paul testifies. He was the one who, in turn, also brought to Paul this information regarding the transformation of lives in the city of Colossae (v. 8). A people formerly without hope, now were characterized by hope—and it all had to do with the gospel.