Friday, September 12, 2014

Ministering Gratitude in Difficult Times

Sometimes, life happens. And it happens in a way that we least anticipated. It happens and threatens with such ferocity that can rip a house off its foundation. It feels like a tornado just touched down at our doorsteps.

Yes, I am talking about those seasons in our lives, when everything appears to be as dry and empty as in a desert, and we feel isolated. Those seasons when things appear to be all jumbled and tangled together as in a wilderness. It is a mess, one problem after the other, one dead end after the other, and we feel lost. We cannot see a way out.

Even in the driest desert, if we look close enough, we will see a form of life thriving—junipers and cactus, for example. On a dry patchy land we see budding plant. There is also God’s promise that He will cause rivers to flow in the desert. In the wilderness where tree branches are twisted and tangled together, there is the promise of God that He will make a way.

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.
1Thess 5:18 (NLT).

We are called to give thanks and minister gratitude to God in ALL situations. Definitely not FOR all situations. This tells me that in those difficult and challenging situations, I can give thanks simply because God is God and because that is the will of God for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And I belong to Jesus. I can also give thanks in that situation because I have the assurance of God’s presence. He promised, He will NEVER leave us, forsake us or abandon us. He is ever-present with us even when it seems imperceptible or difficult to believe.

The sweet deal is that whatever kind of storm is whirling and roaring around us, that storm did not catch God unawares. NOTHING, I mean absolutely NOTHING, catches God unawares. He knew about it before it came and it is already in His hands. If He allows it, then there is a reason and a purpose for that storm—that difficult and challenging situation facing you like a looming mountain.

It is at such times that I love to sing this lovely chorus:

My God is bigger than all my problems
Bigger than all my cares
God is bigger than any mountain
I can or cannot see

This is very true. God is bigger than any mountain. He is bigger than any challenge we may be faced with. He is bigger than any issue we may have to deal with. He is bigger than the fiercest storm whirling around us.

The Psalmist said, “I will bless the Lord AT ALL TIMES, and His praises SHALL continually be in my mouth” (Ps 34:1). He declared that he will speak constantly of God’s praise. Believe me, this was at a time when he was pretending to be insane so that he could escape from Abimelech. Through he was threatened with death, yet he purposed in his mind to put the praises of God upon his lips.

‘I WILL’ is a determined decision, so is ‘I SHALL.’ Therefore, it means that irrespective of what that TIME of life or season of life David was faced with, he made a determined and conscious decision that he WILL bless the Lord and he WILL ensure that God’s praises are in his mouth. Not complaints, not grumbling and not curses but praises.

I have to purpose in my heart that I will rejoice in the Lord when I am hurting, when things are not going the right way, and when I have no answers to the numerous questions pounding my brain until I feel the vein pulsating hard on my temple.  My heart will sing praise to God even when only groaning escape from my lips. When pain sears through the core of my being like a hot iron, even then, I will praise Him. Because, I know He is with me. Because I know He is a God of all-knowing and He knows where I am. Because my High Priest, Jesus Christ, is not unmoved by my feeling of infirmity. He hears the silent and unvoiced cry from the deep recesses of my soul. God has to find praise in my heart when my body is contorted in pain and my soul is troubled within me.

Ponder on these questions:
What are we seeing in the midst of the storm? What are we focusing our attention on in the desert of  difficulties ? Whose voice are we hearing in the valley of the shadow of death?

On Wednesday, June 5th, 2013, barely a week after the amputation of my legs, I was wheeled out of the intensive care unit. I was taken to the regular ward on the 8th floor—an internal medicine ward—the place where I had many frequent stays for over ten years managing the chronic respiratory disease I suffered from. The nurses knew me very well and I had become quite close to some of them. Tears welled up in their eyes as they received me. “Why this on top of everything she had been through? What has amputation got to do with the lungs?” These and more were the questions I overheard them asking among themselves.

Shortly afterwards, doctors came to evaluate my mental state. They told me it was ok to be angry or to cry if I felt like doing so. They wanted me to be willing to talk about how I was feeling about the situation—a case of being dealt with a bad hand, anyone would say. After all, I had many reasons to be angry, after twenty years of living with a chronic and debilitating respiratory disease, with my life literally hanging on a thread spun with spider webs during the later seven years, why should I have to go through another calamity when I just got a miraculous victory over the respiratory problem? I certainly had every right to throw mega fits of anger. But I did not.

They thought I was in denial. They thought I was depressed because I did not want to talk to them about my emotions and they recommended anti-depressants. It was not that I wasn't in deep pain in my heart over the loss of my legs. It was not that I wasn't even angry at some time. But it did not serve any useful purpose to discuss my emotions with those would not understand the position I had chosen to take or help me. I made up my mind a long time ago that I will not be a subject of pity. I refused to be a victim.

I had to tell my longest serving nurse, who was very upset that I could not confide in her that I had decided a long time ago never to give up on hope.

“J'ai décidé longtemps que je ne jamais renouncé l’espoir.”

I am not without hope. Because of all I had been through over the past years, I knew that to be alive at that point in time and breathing without any support or effort in itself is a miracle and a precious gift. Grace kept directing and leading me to focus on that miracle. That became the focus of my attention. It became my raison d'etre to give thanks and praise to God in the midst of the continuing storm. Grace enabled me to latch on the word of assurance God gave me a few days before the amputation—He has given me the Feet of Grace.

The grace of God is always abundantly available and sufficient for every storm, for every difficult situation and every challenging circumstance that we go through in life. But we have to choose to lay hold of it as if our next breath depends on it.

I've had many tears and sorrows,
I've had questions for tomorrow,
there's been times I didn't know right from wrong.
But in every situation,
God gave me blessed consolation,
that my trials come to only make me strong.

I thank God for the mountains,
and I thank Him for the valleys,
I thank Him for the storms He brought me through.
For if I'd never had a problem,
I wouldn't know God could solve them,
I'd never know what faith in God could do
-          Through It All by Andrea Crouch.

Dear Friends, when we know God is Who He says He is and we keep our focus on that, we are able sing praise and minister gratitude to Him in the difficult times. You can be assured that He is there in it with you.

I pray that these songs will inspire an outburst of praise where you may be right now.

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