Christina Fox received her Master’s Degree in Counseling from Palm Beach Atlantic University. She writes for a number of Christian ministries and publications including Desiring God and The Gospel Coalition. She is the author of A Heart Set Free: A Journey Through the Psalms of Lament (Christian Focus, 2016). You can find her at www.christinafox.com, @christinarfox and www.Facebook.com/
It's the month of Thanksgiving and we all have gratitude on our mind. Some take this month to share on social media what they are thankful for each day. When we take the time to stop and consider, the list of blessings and graces God gives us is unending. We'll spend eternity praising and thanking our Savior for all He has done.
In our churches, we have favorite songs and hymns we sing to give God our praise and thanksgiving. Some are more famous than others. Those songs are ones that if we were gathered with a group of Christians from different churches and someone started singing a a well-loved praise song, everyone would chime in together. Think 10,000 Reasons. In the Old Testament, one common refrain sung over and over that everyone knew was, "Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever." This song is found multiple times in the Psalms. It is sung in Chronicles. The returning exiles sang a similar version of it in Ezra.
As we make our thanksgiving lists this year, as we go around the dinner table spread with turkey, dressing (or stuffing, if you must), cranberry sauce, Aunt Susie's carrot souffle, and the requisite pumpkin pie, sharing with one another what we are thankful for, let us remember this song. It reminds us that there are two reasons we have to give thanks, no matter the time of year, no matter whether the harvest is plenty or meager, and no matter how hard and painful our trials: God is good and His steadfast love endures forever.
God is Good
In language arts (thanks to my years of homeschooling the kids!), a predicate adjective is an adjective that follows a linking verb and renames the subject of the sentence. This is what happens when we say, "God is good." 'Good' renames God. It's like saying God and good are the same thing. In essence God equals goodness.
Thanking God for His goodness is a reference to His character. We know from reading Scripture that goodness isn't His only trait but it is one that is highlighted throughout the Bible. Everything God made was good (Genesis 1). Jesus told the rich young ruler, "Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone" (Mark 10:18). God works all things together for our ultimate good (Romans 8:28). The psalmist clung to God's goodness in the midst of his trials and suffering, "For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you" (Psalm 86:5).
Everything God does is good. He can't not do good. He works for our good. He does good through in us and through us. His goodness is something we can experience and know and feel, "Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!" (Psalm 34:8). And when we dwell on that goodness, our only response is thanksgiving and praise.
His Steadfast Love Endures Forever
The second reason we have to give thanks at all times and in all places and no matter what else is happening is because God's steadfast love endures forever. It's hard to understand steadfast love. The love we often experience from humans is fickle. It is conditional. It comes and goes like the wind. God's love is so pure and perfect it's incomprehensible. But we see it time and time again in Scripture. God sets His love on His people and never lets go. "It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt" (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). "And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the LORD" (Hosea 2:19-20).
We are wayward but He pursues us. We wander and He always finds us. We are weak and fail Him but He never fails us. In fact, there is nothing we can do to make Him love us less. There is nothing and no one in all creation that can keep Him from loving us, "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39). His love is expressed most deeply in the sacrifice of His Son for our sins. "By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us" (1 John 3:16).
His love for us began in eternity past and extends into eternity future (Ephesians 1:4-5). It will last longer than the earth and outshine the sun. It can not and will not end.
Two reasons. Two beautiful, glorious, wondrous, and amazing reasons to give thanks this Thanksgiving and every day of the year. God is good and His steadfast love endures forever.
One of the things I often fear is the future. I worry about what might happen, what could happen, and what I will do if any of the scenarios I've imagined takes place. I play out these situations in my mind, like a disc set on repeat. I try to anticipate what will happen and plan for every possibility.
In our culture today, there is much uncertainty about the future. Fears often trigger other emotions, including despair and anger and much of it is played out on social media. In truth, there is much to fear in our lives and in our world. The unknown future can seem dark and filled with danger. We wonder if we can handle it. We wonder how we can endure. From our children's health to paying for college; from job security to who runs the country; from prayers unanswered to relationships under strain; we worry about what could happen and what we will do when it does.
David wrote, "Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident" (Psalm 27:3). Psalm 27 is a song and a prayer of trusting God in the face of fears. We learn from this Psalm that our confidence is based on God's unending protection, "The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?" (vs. 1). True safety is found in God's presence, "One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple" (vs.4).
The ultimate fulfillment of this Psalm is found in Christ, the one who conquered our worst fears at the cross. He is our light and salvation. Because of Jesus, we can come into God's presence with confidence and hope. As Paul wrote in Romans, "If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?" (8:31-32). If God sacrificed His own Son to save us from our sins, how would he not also be with us in the fears we face today?
Dear friend, whatever you fear this day, go before the throne of grace in confidence because Christ has made the way for you. Cry out to God, give Him your fears, worries, and cares. Ask for salvation, rescue, and deliverance. Instead of despairing over what could or might happen, run to the One who holds the world in the palm of His hand. Turn to the One who turns the hearts of kings (Proverbs 21:1). Rest in the One who doesn't let a sparrow fall from the sky unless he so wills it (Matthew 10:29). Find your peace in the knowledge that He is the Alpha and Omega, the One who knows the beginning and the end. Nothing in your future will surprise your God because it is all under His sovereign rule and care. And because you are His, all things will work toward your ultimate good (Romans 8:28).
A Prayer for When You Fear the Future
Father in Heaven,
I come before you with my stomach twisted in knots. My heart is pounding, my head hurts, and I can't find any rest.
I open my computer and all I read is bad news. The discussions, debates, articles, and arguments all join together like a loud clanging that I can't escape. The future seems bleak and dark. I'm worried for myself and my family. I fear what the future holds. I wonder what life will be like for my children and my grandchildren.
Then I think about the struggles in my particular life and I can't catch my breath. What will we do if jobs are lost? What will we do if relationships aren't restored? What about the challenges with our children? What about the call from the doctor about the tests? What if the worst happens? What if????
I come before you as the psalmist did, weary, worn, and frightened. I come before you because you are King and you rule all things. I come before you because you are my Father, my Abba. You adopted me as your child and have given me every privilege that comes with being a part of your family. I come before you because you are my Savior. You alone can rescue me from fear, sin, temptation, and all evil. I come before you because you are my Provider, Jehovah Jireh. You created all things and own all things. All I have comes to me from your generous hands. I come before you because you are my Redeemer. You alone can redeem and restore all that is broken in my life and in the world around me.
Forgive me for turning my gaze from you and looking at the frightening things happening around me. Forgive me for forgetting that you are with me. Forgive me for not trusting. Forgive me for not crying out to you sooner but trying to conquer my fears in my own strength. Forgive me for not living in complete dependence upon you.
Father, hear the deepest cries of my heart. Rule and reign over your Kingdom, turn the hearts of kings, and may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Raise up godly leaders, teachers, pastors, and people who love you and your Word. Use your people to spread your gospel across the earth. May we be the salt and light you instructed us to be.
In my life Lord, give me a peace that passes all understanding. Though I don't know what will happen with all that troubles me this day, help me to trust you. Help me to remember that you are not surprised. Help me to remember that nothing will happen today that takes you off guard. You are not asleep or too busy but are actively involved in all the cares of my life. Help me to wait and watch for your glory. Help me to obey and do the right thing in the moment, knowing you are there in all the moments to come.
Most of all, help me to remember Jesus, the One who cried out in the garden on the night he was betrayed, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 13:46). I thank you that "for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2). Even now, he intercedes for me—what a marvelous truth!
I pray all this in the name of Jesus, Amen.
"I'm sorry, I know this hurts but it's what we have to do to heal your arm."
That's what the physical therapist said as he dug his fingers deep into my forearm. I have tendinitis or tennis elbow. And no, it's not from playing tennis, but from writing. The pain has kept me from my usual writing schedule.
As the therapist massaged the tendon in my arm, he explained that he was separating the scar tissue that had formed. Then he told me that I would have to do the same at home.
To be honest, what he did to my arm hurt more than the tendinitis. It felt like he was stabbing at an open wound. And didn't he realize I chose physical therapy because I preferred not to receive injections in my arm?
The idea that we have to endure pain in order to heal is not isolated to the physical realm. This is true in our spiritual lives as well. When we encounter God's grace and become his child through faith in Christ, he doesn't leave us as we are. Upon salvation, though we are changed in the eyes of God as he looks at us and sees Christ's righteousness, we are not instantly made sinless. Rather, he changes and transforms us through a process theologians call sanctification. This process is compared to a refiner's fire where the gold or silver's impurities are melted away, leaving the pure and valuable substance behind (Malachi 3).
What that means is, when I ask God to transform me, to make me more like Christ, he doesn't instantly change me. He strips away my sin through a multitude of circumstances and situations. For example, when I pray and ask God to make me patient, I don't wake up the next morning a patient person. Instead, God gives me opportunities to learn and practice patience. He might even allow frustrating situations into my life that stretch my patience. He might also open my eyes, through the work of his Spirit, to see my impatience so that I might repent and seek his forgiveness. All of this is hard work and sometimes painful.
I tend to avoid pain, thus the reason for my visit to the physical therapist. Only I was surprised to learn that I couldn't avoid it if I wanted to heal and have my arm back to normal. Likewise, we can't avoid the pain of sanctification if we want to grow in holiness. That's our goal, to image Christ and be like him. Our Savior showed us that the way to healing was through the cross, through death, and he calls us to follow him in it. "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed" (1 Peter 2:24). We are new creations, and as such, we have to put to death those things from our former life, those things that are not in keeping with our new identity as redeemed children of God. "Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness" (Romans 6:13).
Therefore, we endure hardship, suffering, and trials because they are the means by which God shapes us and refines us. "It is for discipline that you have to endure...For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:7,11). "In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:6-7).
This process of transformation is a hard one. It is often painful. This pain is felt in varying ways and degrees. Sometimes it comes through a trial as our faith is tried and tested and we learn to rely and depend upon Christ. Other times this pain is felt as God disciplines us for our sin. We also feel it as we stretch and grow in our faith, not unlike the growing pains of childhood. And other times it is felt as God cuts us off from our idols, forcing us to turn back to him. Whatever the degree or source of pain, it is all used for our good and His glory.
Whenever I struggle with the pain involved in my growth as a believer, I often think of Eustice in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader. While their ship was anchored at an island, Eustice wandered off from everyone else to do his own thing. He found a cave filled with gold and treasures and in his greed, wanted it for himself. As a result, he turned into a dragon, covered in scales. "He had turned into a dragon while he was asleep. Sleeping on a dragon's hoard with greedy, dragonish thoughts in his heart, he had become a dragon himself." (p. 75)
Aslan later found him and removed his dragon skin from him. It was painful but it made him a boy again: "The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off." (p. 90)
Being refined is painful but it's a good pain. It's a pain that heals. But a day is coming when we will finally shed the last remnants of this sinful and broken life for good. Don't you long for that day?