“In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” – Philippians 4:6
Seems pretty easy huh? Giving praise and thanks for everything? Cancer… the argument you had with your husband/wife this morning… the fire that damaged your home… the business loan you couldn’t qualify for… etc… etc… We could go on. The world is not without its trials and travails and in 2015 we have had our fair share of them. While we all recognize that there is no difficulty in praising and giving thanks when things are going well, how often do we look at our struggles and give thanks for them?
I think of the incident which took place in Charleston, SC on June 17, 2015. This was the event where a troubled young man entered a prayer meeting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, callously pulled out a gun and took the lives of nine members of the church. Immediately, this senseless act shook not only the families and their church, but impacted their community, the State and ultimately our country as news of the event circulated throughout the media.
It’s hard to imagine that there is anything praiseworthy about an incident such as this, but what stands out most for me, is the love and grace of God living and breathing through the actions of the survivors and families of those impacted in this tragedy. Put simply, they forgave this trespasser who didn’t deserve their forgiveness.
These families gave witness to the power and mercy of God their Father and Jesus Christ when they chose to forgive and invite this murderer to partake of Gods’ love and plan of mercy for his life. Theirs was a call for repentance. They lived out the scripture of Matthew 6:14-15 and fulfilled the Lord’s Prayer which calls for us to live a life of forgiveness if we ourselves are expected to be forgiven by God our Father.
You might think it’s odd that I would choose such an example to illustrate the concept of “Thanksgiving”. However, I would ask you to see how this tragedy was turned into an opportunity to honor and bring glory to God. How the faithfulness of those who were hurt most by this unfortunate set of events was on display for the world to see and acknowledge.
God’s love is limitless and extends beyond the borders of our own reasoning. As Isaiah 55:8 states, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways”. Nobody would have blamed these family members and friends if they had cried out for death, if they had cursed this man and his family or even sought out ways to exact vengeance as recourse to what our society deems as “justice”. As a matter of fact…most of the world probably expected one of these responses.
Yet in the midst of so much pain, my brothers and sisters in Christ chose to practice the greatest laws within our calling… First we are called to “…love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…” (Matthew 22:37). The second is a calling to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Such love runs counter to the culture we live in, but their practice of these laws of God have served to inspire me. What would the world look like if more of us lived out this example of God’s love in our lives?
Charles Spurgeon, a much renowned Christian apologist of the 21st century, remarked:
“All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant. (Psalm 25:10)” The original Hebrew word that has been translated “paths” means “well-worn roads’ or “wheel tracks,” such ruts as wagons make when they go down our green roads in wet weather and sink in up to the axles. God’s ways are at times like heavy wagon tracks that cut deep into our souls, yet all of them are merciful.”
I am thankful that God is eternally merciful. That his grace is what sustains me in every second of every situation in my life. I admit… it is hard sometimes to find the joy of the Lord in every situation; to walk His way and feel merciful when the axles of my wagon are sunk in the mire of the deep mud life tends to throw our way.
From now on, I will turn my eyes to the example above; the love of my brothers and sisters in Christ following our calling to forgive and to love others as ourselves. I will remember their love for God and make the desire of my heart to be more like them in their faithfulness to becoming more like Christ.
This Thanksgiving season, I pray that we will all pause to give glory to God for all the seasons of our lives. To praise Him for those things which not only bring us joy but also for the trials and travails which serve to strengthen us, increase our love and show our reliance upon Him. Remember too, that we are also under the scrutiny of others (Christian and secular). How we respond to life’s offerings can often have a profound impact on the lives of others and how they deal with troubles.
I pray for my brothers and sisters impacted by the events in Charleston, SC. This year, their holidays will be markedly different, but I pray God will bless them with overflowing joy in these days which follow.
“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”