Faith -- Thankfulness -- Colossians 2:6-7
I never picked a word-for-the-year or a verse-for-the-year before January of 2015. This new tradition must be another example of how difficult times shape us, how trials improve us.
In 2015, I picked the word Peace and, for my verse, I picked John 14:27 --"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."
At some point during 2015, it seems to me that I transitioned to the word Hope, and Romans 15:13 -- "May the God of hope fill you will all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." (NIV)
I'm not sure if I accurately remember the timing of it, but I did a Bible study on Romans over the summer of 2015, and I think my interest in Romans 15:13 sprang from that. I spent a considerable amount of time pondering the connections between hope, peace, joy and the Holy Spirit. The Lord nurtured me.
At the beginning of 2016, I had more hope than I had had in 2015 (or 2014). Although I cannot find specific records about what was happening in my heart, in January 2016, in a prayer journal, I wrote down my words for 2016:
I was ready for restoration. More than that, I had hope that restoration would come, hope in the infinite mercy of God and the power of His unfailing love. I was beginning to grasp what the term, "unfailing love" means. His love will not fail to accomplish His purposes. Unfailing love. Yes.
The main idea I clung to was, as you may deduce from the repetition, restoration. "Behold, I am making all things new," the Lord proclaims. "He restoreth my soul," writes the Psalmist; Psalm 23:3 became another one of my favorite verses. Ezekiel 36:26 has been a longtime favorite: "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh."
I could hope for restoration because of the goodness of God, the mercy of God, and the unfailing love of God.
Romans 15:13 remained my verse, the one that comforted me most when I needed a filling of the Spirit, along with the infusion of peace and joy that He always brings.
Throughout 2016, I became more and more cognizant of the goodness of God. I've struggled with this idea because of trials, because bad things happen to good people, because God doesn't often do what I want. God never follows my directions. If it ever appears that God is following my directions, it is only because, in that particular instance, I did something or asked for something according to His will. More often than not, though, my requests are associated with my comfort. I desire what I think will make me comfortable or happy, immediately. God doesn't see things the same way. God doesn't necessarily associate comfort with goodness or righteousness, although they are not mutually exclusive, and (in fact) God's good and right ways do lead to ultimate comfort and joy in His perfect timing.
In 2016, God helped me gain an understanding that His goodness is demonstrated perfectly at the cross of Christ. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. We were dead in our sins, but God, because of His great love and because He is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ. Whenever I am tempted to doubt the goodness of God, I can look to the cross, where I see Christ willingly lay down His life to be crucified on my behalf. The perfect one, the Lamb without a single blemish, died in my place while I was shackled in sin, blinded to my plight, unapologetic and proud, completely ungrateful and uncomprehending. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, and thus we gain opportunity join Him in paradise for eternity. Why would He even want us? But He does, because He is loving, and He is good.
Furthermore, I began to see the goodness of God all around. I began to understand goodness in ways I had never before understood it. Everything good comes from God, every single good and perfect gift (James 1:17). I wrote about this idea once or twice, alluded to it. But it's huge, a huge important concept that we often totally miss:
God graciously rains goodness down all around us, although we do not deserve it. All the beauty of the earth, nature and creation comes directly from God. All love and kindness come from Him as well, whether or not the people who act in love and kindness know Him or hallow His name. The same is true of healing and growth, the germination of a seed, the birth of a baby. Beauty and life flow from God, and He has left these things in our fallen creation, remnants of divinity, so that we can see them, and through them find Him, their Source. Atheist farmers and doctors ply their trades without knowledge of the One who empowers all their success, and yet He is there, working good through all things for the benefit of His children and the magnification of His glory. Every good gift comes down from the Father of heavenly lights
We think it is normal and natural that we should eat delicious food, buy beautiful clothing, and live in warm, comfortable houses, sleeping in soft beds and entertaining ourselves with state-of-the-art electronics. We do not realize that these are mercies, graces, and undeserved. Either we forget, or else we never knew, that apart from God we have no good thing. In the absence of His presence there is only death, destruction, pain and anguish. Misery is the normal state of being for a fallen planet, a planet full of souls who have chosen to spurn their Maker. But in His unfathomable mercy, the Lord gives us abundant grace, innumerable undeserved blessings, as He zealously works to woo mortal humans into an eternal relationship with Him.
Because Satan is the great deceiver, one of his most common tactics is to trick people into believing that they deserve all the good things, that they somehow own a right to blessings, and that God is totally out of line if He ever removes any of His divine intervention, allowing the natural results of sin to run their course. Satan whispers that suffering is cruel and unusual, and how could God do something like that, nevermind the fact that the only reason suffering exists at all is because he, he himself, the devil, purposefully introduced sin into God's perfect, beautiful world.
Satan, who first deceived Eve by telling her that God was withholding great benefits from her when He prohibited one type of fruit, continues to deceive, whispering and crooning lies about how God causes suffering, when really, the devil himself actively (and intentionally!) increases suffering every time he successfully tricks someone into rebelling against God, God who embodies goodness, life and beauty. "You have the right," Satan susurrates, "to do whatever you like and have only good consequences. No matter what choices you make, you can expect, demand, require a nice result. You are entitled to that."
An entitlement mentality is a dangerous and ugly thing, but so easy for us to be tricked into adopting.
The goodness of the Lord is all around us every day, from the rising of the sun to each breath we draw and each sip of water we swallow. Of course it climaxes in the death and resurrection of Christ, but His goodness reverberates around us in a multitude of new mercies each morning. When we become aware of this, sensitive to it, we can better rejoice and give thanks for the goodness of the Lord.
This is why one of my words for 2017 is Thanksgiving. I am learning the relationship between hope and joy and thanksgiving. Thanksgiving, a grateful heart, is the only appropriate response to God's goodness, and critical to the health of my spirit.
My other word for 2017 is Faith. I hope to write more about this soon, as I have continued far too long today. For now I want to leave you with just two more things:
(1) Here's a thought I had -- True faith is being so confident in God's character that you can feel and express thanks to Him before you see and understand what He is doing. In other words, true faith is being thankful to God in advance.
(2) My verse for 2017:
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord,
continue to live in Him,
rooted and built up in Him,
strengthened in the faith as you were taught,
and overflowing with thankfulness.
Colossians 2:6-7 (NIV)