Walking by Faith: Being Thankful
Not knowing what we were missing
In Psalm 121, the psalmist writes, "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth."
The family I grew up in was like so many American families -- when we encountered troubles, we looked for help in every direction but the Lord's. Although we considered ourselves Christian, He didn't seem to have much involvement in our day-to-day, moment-to-moment lives. We might think of Him a little during the "religious times" in life, like Christmas and Easter, and in the expectation that my siblings and myself would complete a couple years of confirmation class to be accepted into the Lutheran church, but other than that, He only seemed to make an occasional appearance in "random" experiences where we would have to think of Him a bit -- like, for instance, when a Jehovah's Witness classmate of mine asked me what Easter bunnies had to do with Jesus' death and resurrection, or all the times when we traveled a certain main road and passed a sign hung out by the roadside by the homeowner which said, "Christ died for your sins. Are you saved?" All in all, the Lord was like 9-1-1 to us -- only to be called in the rarest of emergencies.
We didn't seem to notice that we didn't have much use for God, either. Or at least my siblings and I didn't. Our parents, though, after many years of the Lord reaching out to them, as He most certainly did, might have had more of a sense that they were keeping their distance from Him.
In either case, it was very easy where we lived -- in the Northeast -- to put Him out of one's mind for long periods of time. Even when the thought of Him was unavoidable -- like at Christmas and Easter -- it was easy to line up with everyone else for the established rituals and sleepwalk through them all.
We were only being normal, after all -- "normal" for our time and place. Only every so often would you meet someone who brought up Jesus in casual conversation -- or someone might warn you in advance that such-and-such a person was the type of person to do so. Such people were categorized as "religious nuts, " "Jesus freaks," "holy rollers," etc. To have read the Bible, and to read it on a regular basis and talk about it, and to pray when it wasn't your last resort, when you didn't absolutely need a miracle, that was considered most extreme -- and suspected of being just one small step away from complete mental instability.
My family was normal, by the numbers. The Northeast is predominantly Roman Catholic, and where we lived was very much so -- Catholics were more than three-quarters of the population. It was a rare occasion to meet anyone who didn't have a Catholic background. Then the next largest Christian group was mainline Protestants, the category which my own Lutheran church fell into. Evangelical Christians, on the other hand, were but a few percentage points of the Christian population.
I didn't know much about Catholicism then, except for what I could see from the outside, but going by the people I met, starting from my childhood and extending over many decades, almost none of them had any use for their church -- with the exception of when it came time for them to have children, most wanted their children baptized and confirmed. To them and to the smaller population of mainline Protestants, it was clear that, when they thought of Him at all, they didn't think Jesus Christ was the answer to life.
So where did my family believe our help came from? Like practically everyone around us, we believed it came from ourselves, from other people, and from things devised by man.
We too often experienced, however, without actually ever understanding the lesson, what His Word says in Psalm 127, "Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain."
In other words, whatever is built outside the Lord is ultimately meaningless and will end up dust.
Without a true, close relationship with the Lord, there's an underlying sense of dreadful emptiness to life that all the busyness, pleasure-seeking and company of others in the world can't hide forever, and anxiety lies in wait for us everywhere.
The end result of what we believed was that life didn't work for us, but we still kept on going and kept trying to make it work. Even while we did, though, we were often angry, frustrated, and fearful.
Then one day I came to believe for myself that Jesus is who He told us He was during His time here in this world, and to trust Him as my Savior. I had always believed in Him to the extent it seemed to matter, and to believe I was a sinner, but now I was committing myself to Him like I never had before. I didn't know any devout Christians, however, so I wasn't sure what to do next. I read only a little bit of the Bible, so for years I kept looking around for answers to what life was all about. I looked especially in worldly wisdom and knowledge, and in Eastern religion. In so many ways I didn't live as a Christian should, either.
But the Lord can truly reach us anywhere. Little by little, over many years, He brought more and more of His light into my life. Eventually I did read His entire Word, and through it I came to really know the Lord and found the answers to all the questions I'd had about life.
I was blessed in so many ways right then, and one of the most memorable to me was the knowledge that I no longer had to live in fear. My father had passed away when I was a teenager, and our family had just about completely fallen apart. For years we seemed to be either going from one crisis to the next, or else living through multiple crises at the same time. Now I could be assured that the Lord would never allow anything into my life that wasn't according to His purpose and wasn't for my ultimate good (Romans 8:28). Of course, living in total dependence on that knowledge doesn't come right away, if ever, while we remain in this world. But I still felt that I'd been freed from a life of constant worry.
Troubles will come
I think one of the first things the Lord taught me about living in dependence on Him was that all the verses in the Bible about not being anxious and having faith in Him didn't mean that all our troubles would be taken away, or that troubles wouldn't come. Again and again in His Word we're told otherwise.
Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you.
1 Peter 4:12
I also had to learn that being spiritually reborn in Christ doesn't mean that the natural man isn't alive within us, either, while we're still on earth.
Try as we might, when some trouble comes upon us, our first reaction -- whether we act on it or not -- often comes from the natural man within us, the one who always seems to be ready to show us how he thinks we should react to our troubles, usually with either anger or despair.
The spiritual man within us, on the other hand, has to remind us of who we are in Christ, just as the Lord so often had to remind his disciples to have faith.
When Peter was eager to get out of his boat and walk on the water to meet Jesus, he was doing fine until he looked at the waves coming at him. Then he became afraid, and Jesus had to grab him to keep him from sinking. On another occasion, Jesus and the disciples were on a boat, and while He slept, a great storm came up. Despite some of them being experienced fishermen, they were terrified and ran to wake the Lord, who immediately calmed the waves.
In both cases, Jesus asked his disciples why they just didn't have faith. After all, He was right with them all the time.
And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?
And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?
In the face of natural threats, Peter and the disciples had natural reactions, completely forgetting Jesus momentarily. Only by remembering that Jesus is with us, too, can we react in the Spirit and abide in His promises.
These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
And we also need to overcome the world, but we can't by our own strength. Like other Christians, I not only needed to learn that lesson, but it seems like I constantly have to re-learn it as well. Our natural man thinks like Peter did when he contradicted the Lord and boasted that even if everyone else abandoned and denied Him, he wouldn't. Jesus said all His disciples would forsake Him on the night of His arrest, but Peter told Him he was ready to die with Him. Peter felt like he'd built up a great deal of faith, even enough faith to make him invincible against temptation.
But we don't make faith. We can't. Peter's pride (and our our own) doesn't like this fact, but we're dependent on the Lord to give us faith. It's a gift so no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8).
We have an Enemy
It's not only natural threats that try our faith. Satan sends his flaming darts our way, too.
Like most people who grew up in the area of the country that I did, Satan was considered to be a myth and a joke, if not some type of peace-loving hero whose good name and admirable mission in the world were constantly being slandered by miserable, hateful Christians. Probably nothing embodied this view of Satan as much as the one presented in Saturday Night Live's "Church Lady" skits. Like most people around me, I laughed along with them, barely giving them a thought.
Once I read the Bible for myself, though, I saw that I'd known almost nothing about Satan besides what the world wanted me to think -- which was, on every point, untrue. The truth about him was in the Bible. He wasn't a myth. He wasn't harmless. He certainly wasn't benevolent. No, he wants nothing less than to devour us if we were not on the lookout for him (1 Peter 5:8).
When he can't quite get us to that extent, though, he will settle for sifting us as wheat, just as he desired to do to Peter (Luke 22:31-32). He will try to do everything he can to destroy the spiritual preparations we've made to meet our troubles with faith. As King Sennacherib and his army camped near Judah, preparing to attack it, King Hezekiah encouraged the people to remember the Lord was with them.
Be strong and courageous, be not afraid nor dismayed for the king of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for there be more with us than with him: With him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the LORD our God to help us, and to fight our battles. And the people rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah king of Judah.
2 Chronicles 32:7-8
So when Hezekiah reminded them of the Lord, the people were reassured and rested in their faith. But Satan wasn't done. He next tried to sow doubt and fear by having Sennacherib address the people of Judah. While Hezekiah with his words had created a vision of God's almighty nature, Sennacherib tried to counter it with a frightening picture of Judah's inevitable destruction and defeat. He even appealed to natural logic: every nation had fallen to Assyria, so their gods hadn't been able to protect them. Judah was a nation just like every other -- wasn't it? -- so they couldn't expect their God to keep them safe, either.
Know ye not what I and my fathers have done unto all the people of other lands? were the gods of the nations of those lands any ways able to deliver their lands out of mine hand? Who was there among all the gods of those nations that my fathers utterly destroyed, that could deliver his people out of mine hand, that your God should be able to deliver you out of mine hand? Now therefore let not Hezekiah deceive you, nor persuade you on this manner, neither yet believe him: for no god of any nation or kingdom was able to deliver his people out of mine hand, and out of the hand of my fathers: how much less shall your God deliver you out of mine hand?
2 Chronicles 32:13-15
Sennacherib here boasted against the Lord, and the Lord soon destroyed him while saving Judah. Hezekiah had reminded the people not to let go of what they knew -- or should have known -- was reality: "the Lord, He is God," (1 Kings 18:39), and the Lord rewarded Hezekiah's faithfulness.
One of the most important lessons we can learn about Satan is that he's a counterfeiter, even to the point that he can make himself appear as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). Once we reject the darkness for the evil it is, he will use what can appear to be light as bait. He can twist God's Word, as he did when He tempted Jesus in the wilderness, or as is more often the case, he will put together an argument which seems so convincing, according to "Reason," that we simply must buy it. He might even claim that buying his argument serves God's purposes and will help our faith, but his motivation is always to destroy people's faith.
Learning to Walk by Faith
The Lord just doesn't leave us to be prey to our fears and the fiery darts of Satan. He gives us the shield of faith for our defense, as well as other armor (Ephesians 6).
"The whole armor of God," as well as "the fruit of the Spirit," will always have a special meaning to me. In the early years of having the internet, I eventually found my way to a big Christian forum. To that point, I still hadn't read the whole Bible. But one day on this Christian forum, I suddenly recognized that "the whole armor of God" and "the fruit of the Spirit" were phrases I'd seen people use a few times before and that they must be from the Bible. And what good words they seemed to me to be (as they are). I decided right then that I had to read it for myself, which I did, and my life, especially my spiritual life, was transformed by how much more I came to know Him through His Word. "The whole armor of God" and "the fruit of the Spirit" had been like the Lord's bait for me.
Anyone who comes to understand the Lord's will for us, which is something He has revealed through His Word, will see that He desires us to live by belief, by faith in Him ("The just shall live by faith," Habakkuk 2:4, Hebrews 10:38). That's a constant message throughout the Bible.
When we're living by faith, it's like "walking by faith, not by sight," as it says in 2 Corinthians 5:7. He's our guide. Its His truth that keeps us on the path He has for us and prevents us from taking a serious fall, and also protects us against fears and the attacks of the enemy, all despite the fact that we're not walking by sight, and that the world won't accept this truth.
What are some of the truths that we're to live by, truths from "the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God"?
First, the Lord is always with us:
...and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
Second, there's much, more more than just the natural world. There's also the eternal, which is what truly matters:
While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:18
We should remember to live for the eternal:
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
The Lord knows of our every trouble and responds to help us. We can therefore give all of our burdens to Him:
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.
1 Peter 5:6-7
Because Jesus has paid the penalty for our sin and continually intercedes for us with the Father, we always should go to Him with our troubles:
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
God's Word also teaches us that the joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). Our Savior, who suffered so much for our sakes in order to overcome the world, brings joy.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
...be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.
The enemies of the Lord can't stand against that joy in us.
And when (Jehoshaphat) had consulted with the people, he appointed singers unto the LORD, and that should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army, and to say, Praise the LORD; for his mercy endureth for ever.
And when they began to sing and to praise, the LORD set ambushments against the children of Ammon, Moab, and mount Seir, which were come against Judah; and they were smitten. For the children of Ammon and Moab stood up against the inhabitants of mount Seir, utterly to slay and destroy them: and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, every one helped to destroy another. 2 Chronicles 20:20-23
In the face of the people of Judah joyfully praising the Lord, the enemy destroyed themselves. When we praise the Lord and give thanks to Him, we also defeat the enemy, especially when we're in the midst of troubles, and it's that much harder to walk by faith and not by sight.
"Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."
"Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you."
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
...Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."
When we give thanks to the Lord, we are testifying that we "believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them who diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6), and that "all things work together for good to them that love God" (Romans 8:28).
In "God's Secret Weapon," Merlin Carothers talked about the problem we so often face in continuously giving thanks to the Lord. (Carothers was a pastor who taught for many years on the importance of praising the Lord and giving thanks to Him).
"(God) foresaw the problem we might have, so He carefully wrote that we should give thanks in the name of Jesus. By adding in His name, we confess our inability to always be completely thankful, and trust that because of Jesus living in us, we are thankful!"
In the end, we always come back to our own spiritual weakness and inability, and our need to depend on the Lord for everything. And the better we know the Lord, and the longer we walk with Him by faith, not by sight, praising Him and giving thanks to Him, the more we truly know where our help comes from.
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.