1967, 17 year old Joni (johnny) Erikson broke her neck after diving into some shallow waters in the Chesapeake Bay.
She was paralyzed from the shoulders down.
As she lay in a hospital for days on end she begged God to heal her.
After he did not she begged a friend to kill her.
50 years later she has never walked again.
But listen to what she recently said
“It sounds incredible, but I really would rather be in this wheelchair knowing Jesus as I do than be on my feet without him.”
She celebrates “that glorious but awful, beautiful but sad, terrible but wonderful day I broke my neck–because look what God has done.”
A friend of hers summarized her perspective in 10 words “God permits what he hates to accomplish what he loves.”
Why can’t he accomplish what he loves without allowing what he hates?
I love who my three daughters have become as adults…I hate some of what they have endured (and continue to endure) to become who they are.
If I had the power I would take much of what they have had to endure from them…but I don’t have that power…and it is a good thing.
I don’t see what God sees…I would take from them, what has made them, and is making them…them.
So we can and should ask for what we want…he is our father.
And we must learn to trust for what he gives…he is God.
He is making us into sons and daughters who reflect Christ.
So we must learn how to be grateful for the total work he is doing in our lives.
But this talk of gratitude in the face of difficulty can be troubling.
Joni’s (Johnny) perspective is beautiful, her suffering is terrifying.
So what are the options?
Well…we can not talk about it…avoid and deny strategy.
Or we can not learn to live with gratitude…become hard, bitter
But the option we really want, we don’t have…that’s the option of avoiding difficulty, suffering, troubles altogether.
We will have trouble in this life…Jesus confirmed that.
John 16:33 In this world you will have trouble.
But he also confirmed that this fact does not need to rob us of courage, confidence.
But take heart! (be bold, confident, hope filled) I have overcome the world.”
Choosing gratitude, thanksgiving in all circumstances is tied most directly to trust.
Gratitude is answering the question “Is God trustworthy?” with “Yes”
Read this together:
Phil. 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.
4: Rejoice in the Lord always
-As soon as Paul wrote that he can probably hear in his mind his readers saying…”Paul, you do remember we are being attacked for our faith…our lives are hard…don’t you?”
So he immediately writes…
-“I will say it again: (you heard me right) Rejoice!”
We are not immune from sorrow, or oblivious to the troubles of others…but Paul’s exhortation is to “rejoice in the Lord always.”
This is not a generic “Think happy thoughts”
When we are learning to want what he wants we are able to learn to rejoice in the Lord despite our circumstances.
Confidence in God…is believing that we would want what he wants if we knew what he knows.
So Paul doesn’t just say “rejoice” but “rejoice in the Lord”…the rejoicing is specific.
We are to learn to rejoice in him…otherwise our gratitude is dependent on circumstances that continually change…he does not.
5: Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
Gentleness is not “soft spoken, meek”
Its not a personality type…it is a word that’s hard to translate into English but it means a willingness to yield your own personal rights in order to show consideration to others.
This is the application of the gospel in relationship to others.
As we learn to “rejoice in the Lord” because we are learning to trust him…the interpersonal application of this will be seen in the way we treat others.
We will seek to put their interests ahead of our own…that is gentleness as described here.
It is not trying to win my own way, not making life about me.
Jesus was “gentle” but he was not weak, or passive…out of his strength he put others first.
You don’t put others first if you are merely week and passive…they just jump in front of you.
You put others first from a position of strength…strength that flows from a confident relationship with Jesus.
So…”Rejoice in the Lord, put others first”…these are flip sides of a single coin.
Without these two things together we are going live in ongoing frustration.
Because God often doesn’t do things like we want him too, and neither do others…so we must choose gratitude to God, and service for others.
The opposite of gratitude is not ingratitude it is demanding.
Demanding that God and others comply with my will and my wishes.
People who try live this way…even when they get what they want…are unhappy people.
And they are desperate people…because eventually they will not get what they want…because their “wanting” becomes insatiable.
They demand and demand and demand…and their heart becomes a black hole…nothing can fill it.
6: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
“Anxious” here translates a word that can have a positive or a negative sense.
In Phil.2:20 it was used to describe taking a “genuine interest” in the well being of others…basically “anxious for the good others”
Here is it describes something unhealthy…not genuine interest but self-focused anxiety.
The difference, I think is which column does the issue fall into?
If it is “right column”…things I have control over and responsibility for…it is positive…it is active interest (not passive anxiety)
If it is “left column”…things I have no control over…it is negative.
We are to act responsibly and decisively in the right column…things God has given us to do.
We are to trust God resolutely in the left column…not to live in anxiety.
The right column should get you up in the morning…what has God given me to do today?
The left column is what can keep you up at night…what worries me, but belongs to God?
This is God’s domain, and my anxiety is evidence that I have ventured there in my heart and mind.
His peace indicated we are “in bounds” our anxiety can indicate we are “out of bounds.”
7: And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
God’s peace, is seen here as something that is not explainable in mere human terms.
Joni’s peace is transcendent…it is not something she just worked up all by herself.
God has given it to her.
This same peace of God acts as a sentinel, or a guard over our hearts and minds.
When we step out of bounds we lose this peace…this lack of peace is the evidence that we are not trusting him or that we have moved into rebellion in our lives.
Be careful: This phrase and concept is often misused.
“I don’t feel a peace”…is overused as a guide for personal decision-making.
“I don’t feel a peace” about that decision or “I do feel a peace” about it.
But what you feel is often neither here nor there as to whether you are making a good or bad choice.
We can too easily and too quickly associate our feelings of peace or not feeling peace as the will of God.
Perhaps it is, perhaps it is not.
I think this is often evidence that we trust our feelings way too much.
We can associate certain feelings as faith or signs of affirmation and others as signs that we are going the wrong way…but these feelings may be physical or psychological not spiritual.
We may believe we are trusting God…when in fact we are trusting a feeling.
You can have a peace about something because you want it to be true.
You can have a lack of peace about something because it is going to be really hard.
Listening to good counsel about important decisions is a much wiser and more biblical approach to decision making than listening to a subjective sense of “peace.”
The subjective sense of “peace” is a factor but it should not be a bigger factor than counsel and wisdom.
The context here is not about decision-making, it is related to worrying about things we should not be worrying about.
Peace here is like a referee…when you are in bounds in your thinking…no whistle, just play on.
When you are out of bounds in your thinking…lots of whistles and flags…stop play…you are out of bounds.
You are not trusting…you are anxious about what you cannot control.
And most often we are anxious about things we cannot control.
Do not be anxious…but in everything pray…and the peace of God will guard your hearts and minds.
Anxiety is my attempt to control outcomes (but it is sideways energy)
Prayer is my choice to recognize who does control outcomes
His peace follows this choice.
Then, just in case we don’t understand that we do have a vital role in this…that this is active and not passive…listen to what he says.
8: Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.
We are not to venture into God’s realm of responsibility and worry about things we should be trusting him with.
But trust is active not passive.
We are not to merely “try not to worry”…that obviously doesn’t work.
We are to set our minds, our thoughts in the right direction.
Your part in this process is to determine what thoughts you will allow to stay in your minds and shape your beliefs.
Thoughts that shape beliefs shape behaviors:
-I have seen (myself and others) many times where a thought takes root in my mind (and I allow it to stay) about a person or a situation.
That thought dictates what I believe about that person or situation.
What I believe determines how I approach the person or situation…my behavior.
What if the thought is wrong? (as it sometimes is)…then my belief and corresponding behavior is as well.
Many relationships have been undone by wrong thoughts that are allowed to stay in people’s minds.
Many have had their confidence in God shaken not by events but by thoughts they allowed to stay.
The same event can shake one man’s faith…and make another’s man’s faith.
The difference is not “out there” but “in here”…how do I think about this?
Unscrutinized thoughts are like terrorists in our lives…they can do enormous harm…all by themselves.
Paul is not merely recommending “think happy, good thoughts” so you will feel better.
He is telling us an essential truth about how things actually work.
Think about these things…not just “don’t be anxious”
-True (is it real or not)
-Noble (worthy of respect)…worthy my time
-Right (righteous)…in line with who God is
-Pure (morally pure or is it evil, carnal)
-Lovely (pleasing)…what is the emotional, physical consequence of these thoughts…what will they shape me into?
-Admirable…(meet high standards)…are these really the best thoughts you can think about this person or situation?
-Excellent and praiseworthy.
This is not a checklist this is a compelling vision for how we are think…and it shows how important it is that we decide what we will think.
What we allow to remain in our brains is what we are giving ultimate power to in our lives.
Col. 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.
How can words, ideas…take you captive?
Ideas become beliefs that become behaviors…ideas can become a jail cell…or shackles.
Notice he says “See to it”…we are to be proactive…don’t wait for God to do it…he has said you are to “see to it.”
That is the negative version of being taken captive by “empty and deceptive” thoughts.
Here is the positive version of being proactive in our thinking:
2Cor. 10:5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
ID your ideas…if they don’t line with up reality…take them captive.
Gate Guard in Iraq…ID everyone who tried to get into the secure areas.
One was killed as he stopped the enemy outside the gate…but did not allow him in.
If they are allowed in they do great damage.
Every choice you make is a shaping choice…everywhere you go is a shaping place.
Ideas want in…be open to lots of ideas…don’t be a hard head, or a narrow minded.
But id the ideas…are they true do they conform to what is true about God and the world he has made?
This is a very active mental discipline here…”take captive every thought and make it obey Christ.”
Your worry about work.
Your anger, frustration about your spouse.
Your fantasy about another person, or an activity (that you know will not satisfy, it will only devastate)…it always has, it always will.
Your fears…children, health, death.
Allowing news stories to dictate your perspective and your mood.
Take these thoughts captive…make them obey Christ.
Is this thought in line with what is ultimately true and real?
You should not see yourself as standing helplessly on a beach as a huge thought wave comes your way.
If you have over time not taken thoughts captive…this will be more difficult at first.
Because you will have a lot of rogue thoughts to deal with.
But it will get better as you do it…a good place to start is with the positive not the negative.
Rather than just trying not to think things you shouldn’t…give effort to thinking what you should be thinking.
Now we are full circle to where we began:
Phil. 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
This is something you can do (and should) regularly…this is a shaping choice.
It is not vague…it is specific.
We are to contemplate the reality of who He is and what he has done.
Worry is normal, but it is ineffective…
Matt. 6:27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life.
- We cannot worry ourselves into a future or outcome
- We cannot worry ourselves out of a certain future or outcome.
We are not passive bystanders in our lives…and we are not in ultimate control of them either.
The balance is found in living in a trust relationship with Christ.
Active faith…Active Gratitude
You have reason to be thankful…will you be?
You will be transformed by active gratitude…if you will choose to be.
Don’t wait for a grateful life to happen to you…move that way in your thinking and speaking.
Robert Donovan Story
It was not generic thoughts of what he was grateful for…he was rejoicing in the Lord…and the Lord’s involvement in his life.
*His was specific to his circumstances and when he got perspective on God he had a release from his anxiety.
Me in Iraq…feelings of peace were elusive…but I was at peace with God…his peace did guard my heart and mind…It kept me on track and functioning in spite of anxious feelings.
“Rejoice in the Lord always”…this is not a “one and done” prayer or act.
This is ongoing…for me it was minute by minute.
We are going to practice gratitude this morning.
- Rehearse in your heart with words or write…what are you grateful to God for.
-Not what do you feel grateful for right now.
- Ask God to capture your heart or to do so more fully as Rodney sings a song that speaks to the fact that we are made by God and so he is to be our “great affection.”
Our hearts are made to wrap around him…no one and nothing else.
- Rodney will come and lead us in Communion…a visible tangible act of Thanks.