Psalm 119:67-71; Proverbs 20:30; Lamentations 3:27-33; & and Hebrews 12:7-13
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
September 23, 2018
I believe that God loves to see us happy – happy, not in the shallow and passing way we settle for, but in the deep and lasting way God holds out for.
We tend to think we’ll become more grateful when we become happier; but it is truer to think we’ll become happier when we become more grateful.
I know someone who suffers from bad pain and disability; and yet who is grateful and happy almost all the time.
He is someone I want to become like some day. He doesn’t want to be identified, but he’s given me permission to use him as an anonymous example.
This man strives to keep an attitude of gratitude. He looks for reasons to give thanks.
First, he strives to appreciate the everyday blessings whose regular presence renders them almost invisible just because they’re almost always there. He disciplines himself to notice them and not to take them for granted. He keeps making the effort to maintain his wonder over still being alive (when a lot of folks die far younger), over having so many material advantages (when a lot of folks have much less), and over being surrounded with many good people (when a lot of folks face life mostly alone).
He also makes an effort to appreciate the unique blessings of each particular day, blessings that many would take as due course and thus nothing to make anything of: the kindness of a store clerk, the beautiful song of a bird, the slow miracle of the healing of an injury, or a scripture that one just “happens” upon and that lifts the spirit.
Finally, he makes an effort to relish every earthly blessing, with special intensity, by receiving each as a foretaste of the greater blessings of heaven. While he seeks to enjoy this world’s gifts to the max, he seeks to take each as a reminder that the still better is yet to come!
Then, as a contrary but complementary component to this effort, this man also makes an effort to receive every “bad” thing that befalls him as a reminder of what his sin earned him but from which Christ spared him. When his body aches or his head throbs, it brings to his mind the eternal suffering which he deserved but from which Christ delivered him. When his heart is broken by a faithless friend or he cannot feel God’s caring, he thinks of the ultimate abandonment in the cold darkness of hell, which he merited but from which Christ rescued him.
So he praises and thanks God in pleasure and in pain, in good times and in bad, and in ease and in difficulty. Thus, he radiates an underlying happiness most every day of his life.
He works at doing this. So, when he experiences the hard knocks with which this world can clobber us, he seeks to view them as “blessed blows” – not just because they remind him of the eternal punishment he had coming but evaded, but also because they support the development of his Christian character and his closeness to Christ. He thinks of Proverbs 20:30 which says, “Blows that wound cleanse away evil; beatings make clean the innermost parts,” and he tries to let what beats on him knock the nonsense of sin out of him – and so sanctify him (that is, improve his character and conduct).
He also thinks of other scriptures we just read: Psalm 119 wherein the worship leader embraces his humbling experiences as “blessed blows” that hammer into his soul a devotion to doing God’s will, Lamentations 3 wherein the author welcomes youthful hardships as hard hits to his pride that turn him from self-reliance to God-reliance, and Hebrews 12 wherein the writer takes the painful discipline God brings as God’s loving him with tough love in an effort to train him up in holiness and righteousness.
Our puffed-up pride needs severe pounding; our selfishness, harsh correction; and our rebellious attitude, a black eye or two. The troubles we undergo can, with our collaboration, beat out of us hateful habits and knock us to our knees, that we might look up to God in receptive surrender and in hope of becoming purged of sin and forged in godliness.
For my anonymous friend, however, the greatest reward that comes from his being roughed up by life is not the person he’s becoming but the Person he’s coming to know, Jesus the Savior.
My friend says his hardships bring him to the end of himself and thus to Jesus. His difficulties squeeze out of him the delusion he can make it on his own. They put an end to his being full of himself, that he might be empty and thus open to being filled with the Spirit of Jesus.
In others words, problems make him aware of his need of the Lord and motivate him to seek deeper and closer contact with Christ. Jesus is, he says, the best friend he could ever aspire to. Jesus covers all his obligations and enables him to live beyond his means. Jesus leads him on a glorious adventure full of purpose, meaning and the joy of making a difference. Jesus frees him from enduring guilt, loneliness, despair and fear of death.
My friend has actually come to the conclusion that, for our own good, this life is supposed to be hard; and that accepting its hardness makes it less hard. Thus, while Christians may not be in this benighted and troubled world always chipper and giddy with joy, we can – with Jesus as our constant companion, with His lightening and brightening each day with His blessings, and with His working in all things, even bad things, for our good – live in profound happiness, serene peace and strong confidence.
We may not at any given time know what exactly the Lord is up to, but we know what kind of God is always there for us. So, like my friend, we can choose to give thanks for whatever happens and to be always happy in the faith. We, like my friend, can be courageous enough to dare to believe that what hurts helps and that the hard blows we receive are heaven-sent blessings in disguise.
Will you join me in imitating the example this man has set? Let us pray.