For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed
to the likeness of His Son.
Years ago, I heard a powerful message by Gloria Gaither. “Life is made up of moments,” she said. “Some are good, some are bad, and most of the time we don’t even know the difference.”
I can relate. As recently as this morning, I was faced with a choice of how I would view my commute to work. Sounds simple, a nonissue really, but it illustrates exactly what Gloria is talking about.
This morning, rain fell with a vengeance. It was no ordinary shower, this downpour. Water pummeled our roof and rushed through the downspouts. It dropped from the sky with such force that it bounced off our driveway and seemed to come up as much as it came down. I could feel concern rising in my chest. Driving in heavy rain always makes me nervous.
A rainy workday—one moment in my life. Would it be a good moment or a bad moment?
As I backed out of our driveway, I began to thank God for the rain, because someone—somewhere—needed rain today. I asked His protection for everyone who would be driving in the rain, including myself. (Have you ever prayed for everyone in your city on their morning commutes? God is big enough to handle such a prayer!) I thanked Him that I was able to drive in early, before the really heavy traffic occurred, and I thanked Him for creating a world so amazing that things like rain occur in the first place.
Before I knew it, I had arrived at the office and was closing my umbrella at the door. I felt refreshed and secure knowing that God was in control and that He cared for me. It was going to be a good day.
Today’s rainy morning was a moment in time that will never repeat itself. It would have been so easy to allow the rain to spoil my day—or at least get it off to a bad start. But the power of thankfulness turned what could have been a negative moment into a positive one. Our perspective about what we go through, moment by moment, is paramount to the person we ultimately become.
Our lives comprise millions of moments—some good, some bad and some in between. Sometimes it feels as though we have more than our fair share of bad moments. Have you ever wished that all your moments could be good? It sure would be a lot simpler to give thanks in all things, wouldn’t it!
When bad things happen to us, it is our natural tendency to lash out. I’m talking about when we rail at circumstances and tense up inside. We get taut in our spirit and begin to point at faults. We grumble about our negative situation and say negative things about others who brought on the situation; or maybe we blame ourselves for being stupid or not foreseeing some consequence. Sometimes we even blame God, who is ultimately seen as the One responsible for our predicament.
Here’s a moment I remember from when my children were little. One morning, Shari woke up with chewing gum stuck in her hair. Has that ever happened to one of your children? What a mess! You can pull and drag but it’ll never come out. Your daughter will howl and protest, but she can’t go to school with a big wad of Juicy Fruit stuck to her head. Cutting the hair is always an option, but the child will look like a patchy poodle. May just serve her right, you mutter under your breath. She shouldn’t have disobeyed in the first place and gone to sleep while chewing gum.
How easy is it for us to gripe and complain when bad things happen, even something so small as chewing gum stuck to hair. Our day gets off to a bad start, we think, and so it’s even easier to let other annoyances throughout the rest of the day gather and compound. By dinnertime, we’re wound tighter than a drum. And look out, world! Anyone who gets in our way will get what he or she deserves.
By the way, peanut butter works pretty well. A friend mentioned it to me one day as the perfect gum-removal remedy. The next time my daughter Shari woke up with a wad of gum in her hair—and believe me, it happened more than once—I slathered the stuff on. Voila! No more gum. Who knew?
It’s funny, but when I look back now, I am so thankful that I chose other paths when those gum-stuck moments happened with my daughter, even before I knew about the peanut butter remedy. Sure, there was a tendency to grumble, to become upset. But with Shari in heaven today, how thankful I am that I didn’t scream or berate her every time she acted thoughtlessly. Those were learning moments for both my daughter and for me, as prized now as when she learned to ride her bike. The perspective of hindsight allows me to see those times with my daughter for what they truly were—absolutely precious.
There’s a verse that helps me put all my moments—both good and bad—into perspective. Romans 8:29 says, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son.”
God has an amazing plan for us, and He uses the moments of our lives to fulfill His plan. God wants us to become like His Son, Jesus Christ. He wants to transform us—to change us—into people who live and act as Christ lives. God isn’t content to leave us wallowing in our sins—He loves us too much for that. He wants to give us more than we could dare to ask or imagine. He wants to make us like Christ.
Developing a thankful heart is part of God’s purpose for our moments. God wants us to look more and more like Christ every day we live. God wants us to think like Jesus, talk like Jesus and, yes, to act like Jesus. God wants us all to cultivate thankful hearts. God wants us to begin thanking Him in every situation in which we find ourselves.
How does God’s transformation work? Two additional verses are helpful here. Romans 5:3-4 gives us the sequence: Our tribulations bring about perseverance, perseverance brings proven character, and character brings hope.
James 1:3-4 expands on this: Our testing produces perseverance (endurance); “Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
You see, friends, God is interested in the growth of our faith. One of the ways He does this is to allow a variety of experiences to come our way—both good and bad. In fact, one of the tools God uses to bring about transformation is tribulation. These trials are not given to us haphazardly. They’re allowed to come into our lives by a great and loving God. There is a perfect purpose to them.
In fact, the original word for tribulation that Paul uses in Romans has the underlying meaning of being under pressure to yield something good. It was used to describe the process of squeezing olives in a press to produce olive oil, or grapes getting compressed to extract the juice. Our tribulations have a purpose, Scripture says. God has an end product in mind for us, and God’s end product is like the finest oil or a nourishing drink. That’s what God wants for our lives.
One of our longtime friends, Les O’Neal, is a great example of someone whom God has transformed over the years into the image of Christ.
When Les retired a couple of years ago, he immediately volunteered to work in the pastoral care department of our church. He spends most days now in the hospitals of Houston, Texas, visiting those who are hurting. He spends his days talking, praying and sometimes just sitting with people who are going through tough times. It’s not always pleasant work. Being in a hospital around so many sick and hurting people can be taxing. Les has seen his share of wounds and blood; he has smelled disease and decay; he has cried with families in anguish.
Why would Les spend his time doing this? Why doesn’t he play golf, Bingo or lay in the sun in Miami? Les’s volunteer work is tangible proof that he has learned the art of cultivating a thankful heart. God has worked on Les over the years. God has molded him into someone who knows what true beauty is. It isn’t that there’s anything wrong with traveling or having hobbies in retirement years, but Les has chosen to spend his time being a blessing to others.
Without a doubt when Les arrives in heaven someday, God will look across expanses of glory and say to him, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” Learning to cultivate thankfulness plays itself out in our daily lives as we speak blessings on others and as our lives become blessings to others for God’s glory. God’s will is for us to be His hands, His feet and His words to a lost and dying world. How desperately we need to be reminded that when we grumble or complain, it is God’s will for us to speak blessings and to be a blessing to everyone we know.
When it comes to the transforming work God does in our lives, He allows us the wonderful privilege of being a part of this work. God never drags us kicking and screaming to somewhere we don’t want to go. He gives us free will—the ability to say yes and no, the capacity to obey or disobey.
Developing a thankful heart for all the moments in our lives, both good and bad, means that instead of ranting against the things we can’t change, we choose to thank God. I believe that being thankful to God has the potential not only to alter our perception of our circumstances but also to heal our hearts during the most painful circumstances of life.
Ultimately, it is my prayer that every believer would glean hope and help from God while learning how to be thankful for every moment of life. But before we can begin to look at the bigger issues of our lives, we need to start thanking God for the everyday moments we all experience.
One of the most important moments of the day is when we turn off the alarm clock, signaling that a new day is beginning. What a perfect moment to start thanking God. Try this: Tomorrow morning when you wake up, thank God for everything you can think of. Your thanks may be something as straightforward as:
• Thanks, God, that I’m still alive.
• Thanks, God, that I can sit, stand and walk.
• Thanks, God, that I have a bed to sleep in with sheets and a blanket.
• Thanks, God, that I can enjoy a warm shower.
This exercise is a simple but powerful tool. When we start our day thanking God, we have set the tone for the entire day. We will never have another morning exactly like today, and this day is made up of moments that will never occur again. The sunrise will never look exactly like it looks today. The sun on our front lawn will never show the exact same colors. Learning to be thankful in small things will enable us to be thankful when the big challenges of life come to us.
This morning, like every morning, thankfulness is a choice. Practice thinking of daily irritations, such as spilled milk, forgotten lunches or homework assignments, as moments that in years to come will hold precious memories. You’re on your way to cultivating a thankful heart. When you start small, like beginning each morning by thanking God, the small areas will gradually become larger and larger.
We can cultivate a thankful heart by speaking blessings on those with whom we come in contact each day. When someone cuts in front of us in traffic, we can ask God to bless him or her instead of railing against the person’s lack of courtesy. We never know what other people are going through. By asking God to bless them, we are extending the same grace to them that God has extended to us.
Another way to cultivate a thankful heart is by consciously being a blessing to others. When we see people going through tough times, we can step in and lighten their load. It might be something as simple as helping retrieve a dropped bag of groceries scattered on a parking lot pavement or putting our arm around someone who has just received bad news.
One of the attributes that impresses me most about Bill Greig III, president of Gospel Light and publisher of my books, is his habit of verbally blessing me each time we meet together. Blessing people is actually thanking God for them. It’s an act of gratefulness. Bill always has a word of encouragement for me. Whenever I receive an email from Bill, it’s signed “Blessings, Bill.” Bill has learned to cultivate thankfulness, and it plays itself out in his daily life.
Bill told me a story about being taught thankfulness as a child. It was one of those small moments that laid the foundation for a lifestyle of thankfulness. When Bill was about to enter the sixth grade, he received news that his new teacher was the one that every child feared getting for his own. When Bill’s dad came into his bedroom to say goodnight, he found Bill quite upset. When asked why, Bill announced that he was going to have the meanest teacher in his school that year.
Bill’s dad sat on the side of his bed and said one sentence that has stayed with Bill to this day: “Bill, let’s thank God right now for your teacher.”
Bill couldn’t believe his ears, but that night father and son prayed for Bill’s new teacher and thanked God for her. Bill told me this teacher turned out to be the best he ever had during all his school years.
God doesn’t always provide such a drastic change to our circumstances as that, but I believe the foundation for change can lie in the smallest of moments. As we seek to cultivate thankful hearts, the blessings of God open up to us. Whenever you and I feel the temptation to grumble and complain, we need to let the Lord remind us that His will for us is to speak blessings and to be a blessing to everyone we know.
Today, if an attitude of gratitude is not part of who you are, why not ask God to help you change. I believe that as you begin thanking God in the middle of your moments—good or bad—each situation will take on new color. Your bad situations will no longer appear hopeless, and your heart will also change. One of the ways this change comes about is to thank God for whatever you can in your present circumstance.
It may be difficult. In fact, at the beginning, your thoughts may be so negative that the subject matter of your prayers may only involve giving thanks for clean towels. That’s perfectly fine. Start wherever you are. As you begin to cultivate gratefulness as a way of life, God will show you other things to be thankful for.
You can do it! Your future of gratefulness can begin right now.
Dear Lord, I realize that moments are precious to You. Help me learn that moments can be precious to me too. Thank You for the moments of my life, both good and bad, and help me to be thankful for every moment, because they are Your gift to me. Amen.