Thankful in the Middle of a Mess!

Dr. Gary Glanville Sermon #15 “Thankful in the Middle of a Mess!”

Preparation Hymn: He Leadeth Me

Closing Hymn: Nearer My God To Thee

Thankful in the Middle of a Mess!

I read a story about a Sunday school teacher, who asked her class of young children what they were thankful for.  One little boy said he was thankful for his glasses.  So, the teacher asked him, “Why, is there any special reason?”  He said, “Yes.  My glasses keep the girls from kissing me.”  Well, I suppose for a young boy that might be a good reason to give thanks.

           However, here’s the bigger question for the day.  Can we give thanks to God before the answer to prayer comes and we’ve already been waiting a long time?  Can we give thanks to God when we are going through some major problems or we are facing more trials and headaches down the road?  Can we give thanks to God when life seems confusing or we’re looking for answers or we don’t have a clear direction for the future?  Can we do it then?  That’s a little tougher don’t you think? 

Well, today, I want to talk about thanking God in the middle of a mess, because I see a lot of messes all around us right now.  Just look at this past week in the news.  Twenty-two states have shown an uptick in corona virus cases, which possibly could be related to weeks ago when states were opening up for the Memorial weekend.  We are in our second full week of having protests revolving around race issues.  We have seen autonomous zones created in cities like Seattle where the police cannot respond to emergency calls while in other cities, groups have torn down statues.  The big concern with many doctors is will we see a surge with Covid-19 because of the thousands of people marching together in hundreds of major cities all over the U.S.  We have seen the beginnings of the fire season in Colorado and Arizona.  The remains of the two missing children from Idaho (since last September) have now been found on the property of the stepfather while the mother is in jail.  And then, this past Wednesday, we had the aftermath of tropical storm Cristobal blow through southeast Michigan that knocked out power to over 350,000 customers, including our home. 

How do we as Christians keep an attitude of thanksgiving in the middle of one mess after the otherHow do we as believers keep a positive outlook on life when emotionally we are drained and mentally, we are tired of it all?  How does a disciple of Jesus continue to shine the light of Christ for others to see when we are dealing with so many problems at once?  Yet, if we can’t, who can?

I still contend and believe, if anyone has any hope to offer this world when life is a mess, it should be us; we who claim to know and follow Christ Jesus our Savior and Lord.  Because, when you think about it, we as Christians should have more hope, more love, more compassion, more empathy, more kindness, more forgiveness, more grace, more thoughtfulness, more integrity, more understanding, more trustworthiness, more wholesome and holy living, more courteous and unselfish behavior; we should be the friendliest and most giving people on planet earth!  Why?  Because the Holy Spirit resides within us and is producing those very qualities of Jesus in our lives, day after day.  And so, when people see us, they actually, should get a glimpse of Jesus Who is living in and through us.

But even sincere believers, in the middle of a mess, can feel depressed or tired or needing a lift, a renewed hope to help them along life’s journey.

           And so, I invite you to follow along with me for these next few moments and let us see what we can learn together about giving thanks to God, in light of the trials and troubles that we may encounter in the middle of a mess.

           Now one advantage you and I have living in the 21st Century, is the fact, we can go back in history and see a great Biblical example in the New Testament of a person giving thanks while in the middle of a mess.  I refer to one of our Bible heroes that all of you know, the Apostle Paul. 

In the book of Acts, chapter 27, beginning at verse 14, we find Paul on a ship headed toward Rome.  He has been unjustly accused, by his own countrymen, of crimes he has not committed, and they have plotted twice to kill him over a span of several years while he’s been in prison.  The ship with its crew and passengers totaling 276 people, are hoping to find a safe place to harbor for the winter, to avoid the terrible storms that crop up on the Mediterranean.  And though Paul warns those on the ship not to travel at this time, the captain decides to head out and is caught in a violent storm. 

For 14 days their ship is tossed about.  They jettison cargo and the ship’s tackle, anything on board to lighten the ship as they take on water.  No one is eating any food and they are getting weaker and weaker with each passing day.  Because of the blackness of the storm, the wind and the rain, the sun and stars haven’t been seen and all hope for being saved and coming out of this horrible mess alive are abandoned.

           This is when Paul steps in again.  He says, men, you should have followed my advice before and we wouldn’t be in this mess.  [In other words, Paul was saying – I told you so.  Don’t you just hate that when someone else is right and they say I told you so?] 

Then, Paul says, I want you to listen to me now because the Lord has spoken to me.  I have some good news and some bad news.  The bad news is – we’re going to lose the ship and everything it contains.  The good news is – there will be no loss of life.  You will survive.  So, take courage and hang in there, because I believe God and trust His word.

           Then picking up at verse 33 we read – And until the day was about to dawn, Paul was encouraging them all to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have been constantly watching and going without eating, having taken nothing.  Therefore, I encourage you to take some food, for this is for your preservation; for not a hair from the head of any of you shall perish.”  And having said this, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of all; and he broke it and began to eat.  And all of them were encouraged, and they themselves also took food.  (Acts 27:33-36)

           Here is an example of a spiritual leader leading.  Paul listens to God and believes God will do exactly what He says He will.  It doesn’t matter that a storm is raging at that very moment.  It doesn’t matter that 275 people have lost hope.  It doesn’t matter that Paul can’t see any visible signs of confirmation that that God is coming through on His promise.  Paul believes that God will provide for him, and whatever circumstances he finds himself in, he believes God goes with him, and will use those events for his betterment. 

And perhaps we need to remember as well, no matter what we are going through – God goes with us.  We need to believe, in spite of whatever raging storm surrounds us, that God will provide an answer as God sees best, in His timing.  We need to understand God can bring a greater purpose out of disaster.  God can redeem something horrible and in the long run use it for good. 

           Now did you notice what Paul does in verse 35?  Paul gives thanks to God doesn’t he?  Yet, his thanks is not quiet.  It’s not private.  It’s not done in some secret corner.  Paul, shouting above the violence of the storm, wants all to see and hear.  And get this – Paul thanks God before the answer arrives.  Paul thanks God in the middle of the mess

           And I believe this is an extremely valuable lesson for us to learn and practice.  For we as followers of Christ will not be immune from trials, tribulation, or troubles.  To think that every day of our lives will automatically be free from difficulty, and that once we become a believer we can now relax and live at ease in complete luxury without a concern in the world – is a false notion. 

Trouble may come knocking at our doors not because of what we have done wrong, but because of what someone else has done wrong.  Our lives are impacted by the poor decisions and sins of others.  Please notice, Paul warned the entire crew on this ship not to travel.  He warned them of disaster, but they did not listen to him.  Yet, Paul was subject to the same violent storm and mess as the rest of those on board, though it was not his decision to go nor was it his fault.  In life, many times, we are not in control of all the decisions that are made and things will happen to us beyond our control. 

Do you know of anyone who is control of this virus?  If we are lucky, we will have a vaccine by the end of the year, but most likely it will be 2021.  We still have a way to go and so we have to be smart, don’t we?  We have to use common sense and continue practicing safe procedures.

           Trouble or finding ourselves in the middle of a mess, may also show-up because of the poor decisions we have made.  Ever get yourself in a financial bind because you stretched things just a little too far?  Well, we can’t blame God for our dumb decisions, now can we?  We will reap what we sow.  We will bear the consequences for our actions. 

           And then I must point out that we have a spiritual enemy who wants to see us fail.  If our enemy (Satan) can stir up some trouble that discourages us or gets us off the right path or causes us to doubt the Lord’s wisdom or keeps our eyes off of God, then he wins a minor victory. 

           Yet I have some good news for you.  Nothing misses the notice of God.  E.M. Bounds, who was imprisoned as a Methodist chaplain during the Civil War and rose each day at 4am to pray, reminds us:

“Trouble is neither above God nor beyond His control.”  “And though God may not originate the trouble, God is sufficiently wise and able enough to take our troubles and lay His hands upon them,…and work them into His plans and purposes for our highest good.” 

“Trouble often drives people to prayer, while prayer is but the voice of people in trouble…. Prayer often delivers one out of trouble and, more often, gives strength to bear trouble, ministers comfort in trouble, and begets patience in the midst of trouble.”

           And one area of prayer which helps us tremendously to get through troubling times is the prayer of thanksgivingThanksgiving is an outward voluntary expression looking at the past, present and even future.  Meaning – we give our thanks to God for what God has done already in the past, what God is doing in the present and our many blessings about us, but more importantly, what God will continue to do in the future to carry us through.  Then, as soon as the answer comes, we immediately experience a sense of heartfelt gratitude, where love for God grows and breaks out into praise and thanksgiving

           For example – ever have a loved one or even yourself, go through a difficult time and when the answer to the prayer finally comes our gratitude swells up within us and we cannot help but thank and praise God?  Sometimes our emotions are so strong we are moved to tears or utterly speechless, and yet our hearts call out to God in thanksgiving without words, because no words can express what we feel. 

Then at other moments, times when our faith is tested, when the bottom of our buckets have been ripped open and everything that represents security is spilling out onto the floor, we are challenged to express our thanks to God.  Now, do we feel thankful?  No.  Inner feelings of gratitude are not present.  However, we still thank God out of our wills by faith.  Let me give you an example.      

           Charlie Mack (whom I knew in the 1970s), tells the story of Steve Sawyer, in “Too Young to Die,” a hemophiliac, who gets AIDS through a tainted blood transfusion in the early 1980’s, and must resolve his anger that a loving God could let that happen to him.  Steve’s roommate in college was in Campus Crusade for Christ, now called CRU, and through this roommate, Steve Sawyer came to know Christ as Savior and Lord, experiencing forgiveness, peace, and new life. 

In 1994, doctors gave Steve only 6 months to live.  He quit college because he was too weak to attend classes, but determined he would tell as many people about his Lord as he could, while he still had life.  Then, to everyone’s amazement, over four years later, Steve gladly agreed to speak at Central Michigan University and Michigan State University in December of 1998, as long as the scheduled talks were two days apart, so he could rest in-between.  Nine-hundred people came to hear Steve speak; of which 100 college men and women committed their lives to Christ.

           Charlie states:  “I was particularly impressed with Steve’s attitude.  Never once did he complain, but he was always joyful, even when his own lack of energy slowed him down.  As he said in his talk, ‘I would rather have Cirrhosis of the liver, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and AIDS, and know Jesus Christ; than be perfectly healthy, and not know Jesus Christ.’  As we drove from CMU to MSU, we talked of many things.  Steve’s only regret was that he always wanted to have children and would likely, never  have them because of his AIDS.  And yet Steve has 100’s of spiritual children because of his faithful testimony of his Savior.  On Saturday, March 13, 1999, five years after being told he only had 6 months to live, Steve went to be with the Lord he loves.  God had answered the many prayers for Steve’s healing by bringing him (to his heavenly) home and making him whole.”  As only God can do.

           If anyone had a reason to feel shortchanged in life – it was Steve Sawyer.  If anyone could complain that life was unfair – it was Steve Sawyer.  If anyone could truthfully say it wasn’t his fault – it was Steve Sawyer.  But once Steve came to know Christ, the Lord gave him a peace that everything would work out for the best.  God would use Steve’s troubles to lead others to the knowledge of His Son.  And in the process, Steve’s anger would be radically transformed into a spirit of thankfulness, believing God would make all things up to him in eternity.

           As Christians, we are not asked to understand all that happens, we are only asked to trust and walk in loving obedience believing that God is in our corner.  Let’s be honest, it’s not easy to thank God when difficult moments come our way.  There are no great feelings of thankfulness swelling up inside of us when doubts and challenges and worries come crashing down.  Yet, when we step out on faith and thank God in spite of what we feel, developing a holy habit of thanks that automatically becomes a part of who we are, I believe it’s at these particular times when growth in Christ can occur most.

Why?  Because eventually in God’s perfect timing, at just the right moment, we will see the faithfulness of God come through in an answer to prayer.  And what follows next as our prayer life gains more power and our spiritual maturity in Christ increases exponentially – is the fact, each time we pray with thanksgiving, God will touch our hearts by His peace which rules over us, His peace serving as the umpire to settle all things. 

           Yes, on this side of heaven, life will not always be what we dream and plan.  Sometimes, we will find ourselves in the middle of a mess.  But with God’s help, we can make the most of life and still have a purpose and impact on those around us.  Let us give thanks to God no matter what happens in this life, believing God will use us and will use whatever has happened, to touch someone else in a way only God can do. 

Dear ones, what have you been dealing with lately that has caused your heart to sink?  What trials are weighing you down or causing you to lose sleep?  What would you think if right now you decided to cast all of your cares, all of your troubles, all of your worries unto the Lord in prayer (stepping out in faith and trust), while giving thanks to God for Who He is, what God has done, and what God will do for you in the future? 

Maybe your prayer today is for the healing of our nation, that souls that are lost and searching for peace and answers would be won to Christ, and that barriers between folks would be torn down and radically transformed by God’s Spirit. 

Or maybe your prayer is that if God can somehow use you as an agent of change to bring hope and healing where it is needed most, your desire is simply – Lord, here I am, use me.

Whatever is on your heart today, let’s pray.