by Jeremy Dager
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Well by now the turkey coma has worn off and let’s be honest…so has the uber-thankfulness that everyone expresses on the holiday that bears that title. Thankfulness might be one of the most central virtues of the Christian orthodoxy (just do a little word study sometime to see how many times the word presents itself in both the OT and NT). And yet it’s often the most forgotten or overlooked in our orthopraxy.
Cultivating a heart of thankfulness is something that is deeply rooted in the person and work of Jesus Christ. In fact, it can be argued that one cannot truly be thankful unless he has experienced the work of the gospel in his life (cf. Romans 1:21). The gospel declares that God has done everything necessary to save us from our sin and given us the righteousness of Christ. Could there be anything better worth giving thanks?
Unfortunately, many barriers stand in our way when it comes to cultivating the type of thankfulness that Paul talks about in 1 Thessalonians. On a very personal level, one of the struggles that my family and I have experienced is that of impatience. Recently, my wife wrote a post about our struggle over the past 3 years waiting in the long and arduous process that is…adoption.
Yesterday, I read a devotional about Sarai (later Sarah). I have read through the story of Abraham and Sarah and the promise and birth of their son Isaac so many times, but yesterday’s words were so impactful to me. Here’s an excerpt:
“Oh, Sarai. I see myself in you.
You want to be obedient to God’s plan. You not only say “yes” to the things He calls you to do, you get excited about them. Fired up. A little too fired up. Because then, “fired up” becomes restless. Restless becomes impatient. And suddenly – though well-intentioned and innocently enough – God’s plans become our plans.”
This is so me. Three years ago, we said yes to adoption and we were excited about it. Really, I was fired up – I was reading books and articles and blogs and anything adoption related, writing blog posts, doing fundraisers – I was in full on adoption mode. But the first few crazy months calmed down and we hit the one year mark. Then we hit the two year mark without much action on the adoption front and restlessness set in. And now approaching the three year mark, I feel my restlessness turning to impatience.
My fear in all of this is that I will make this adoption about me and my plans for my life and my family.
“Sarai, tired of waiting for God to carry out His plan and blaming Him for the delay, decided, as we all so often do, to take matters into her own hands. This – this distrust for God’s plan and His timing, this need to take control, this manipulation of circumstances to fit our “needs” instead of His will – this is when disaster happens.”
I feel like I’m at this fork in the road. My impatience and my desire to be in control of my life are tugging at me to do something – change countries, change programs, go independent, just something to see some progress. But the motivation behind these decisions is what matters. If it’s a wise, well thought out, counseled decision, then fine. But if it’s a decision made simply because the timing is not what I anticipated or because my circumstances aren’t to my liking, disaster may not be too far behind. Or worse:
“We may persuade others to come along in our plan instead of His.”
When Sarai took matters into her own hands, she persuaded her husband to stray from God’s plans and sleep with another woman (Hagar). Then when Hagar got pregnant, Sarai was none too happy with Hagar or her husband (lose-lose situation for the hubs). Then she went all crazy on Hagar, abusing her and finally banishing her and her young son. I feel like Sarai just sorta lost it. I mean she was so excited about God’s plans, but in the waiting process, she just made one bad decision after another until she was eventually ok with basically sentencing a woman and young boy to death.
This is so scary to me. I don’t ever want to persuade anyone to follow my plans because a lot of times, they aren’t so good. The thing is, people are always watching, no matter who we are, and we have to be so careful about the decisions we make and who we get on board with us. A decision made out of impatience and restlessness could lead to disaster for me, but also for anyone who decides to make that same decision.
Like I’ve been lamenting the past 2 years, this wait is hard. It’s hard to trust in God’s timing. It’s hard to remember that God will make this happen. It’s hard to know what to do, if anything.
“Here we thought saying ‘yes’ to God’s call was the hard part, but it’s not. Like the song says, “The waiting is the hardest part. Know He will wait with you if you ask. He will sustain your faith. He will assure you that He is in control. He has a plan and it’s not ours to figure out. He will turn your restlessness into rest. Rest in Him.”
Note that Paul isn’t calling us to be thankful for all things but rather in all things. I am not thankful for the fact that my two children languish in an orphanage in Honduras. But I am thankful in knowing that God has made me His son and shown me His will to rescue orphans as a response to the gospel.