An Arizona Republic Columnist wrote about a Mesa fire fighter who risked his life to save an infant from a burning, smoke-filled home. He ended the column by quoting the fire fighter who remarked: “The baby’s hand didn’t just drop into mine; a larger one put it there.” But he was taken to task by readers who disagreed with his theology.
One said: “Do you really believe in a God that would save some children but let others burn?” Another asked, “What are parents, who tried but failed to rescue their own children, to think when they read your nonsense?” These are very good questions, of course. One founding minister of a large Phoenix Church explained, “If we believe God intervenes and violates the orderly processes of His own creation, then we are saying that God is a split personality, that the God of creation has done so poorly that the God of redemption must come in and correct things.” But what is missing from this pastor’s explanation is any reference to sin. It isn’t that the “God of creation has done so poorly, “ but that His creatures have done so poorly, thus muddling the whole picture.
To be honest, no one really knows God’s reasons for doing this or that, nor why He seemingly answers some prayers but not others. But because one prayer may not be answered to our satisfaction doesn’t negate the power of prayer. We happen to live at a time when the arrogance of man is greater than his humility or his faith. If God can be explained or His thought processes predicted then we have no use for Him. It is only little minds that dispense with the miraculous because it doesn’t fit their understanding of things. God doesn’t need our permission to act. Neither does He have to explain those acts to us. That is what faith is all about. If I could understand everything about God, what kind of a God would He be? Certainly not the Infinite One described for us in the Bible. All l need to know is this: “In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purposes.” (Romans 8:28). What I do know is that He is at work in “all things” pertaining to my life, that He is working for my good, and that I am the recipient of His divine call. I’ll let Him decide what He wants to do, how He wants to do it, and why it is to be done. And in the process I’ll stand by in awe of what He does, rather than display my ignorance about what He doesn’t do.
William Stedger was a businessman who experienced a shattering emotional breakdown. His energies were depleted. He was depressed. He sought help but still did not progress. One day an insightful friend asked him, “When was the last time you singled out one of your acquaintances, who has been gracious to you, and expressed appreciation?” That question annoyed him, but he went home that evening and in the isolation of his living room he selected some stationery and, for the first time in two decades, he remembered a high school English teacher. He had not even thought of her in years, but she had taken an interest in him. She had helped him to discover a love for poetry he didn’t know he had. She imagined that he might be worth something after all. He wrote her a simple letter expressing his gratitude for what she had done for him. Three days later a letter came from her. In the tremulous handwriting of a long retired teacher she wrote: ‘My eyes are blinded with tears as I write. You are the first student in all my career who has ever written me a letter to express thanks.” She continued, “I will keep it as long as I live,” With her response to his letter in mind, he thought of someone else. And so he wrote another letter, and then another. He didn’t even notice when he got well, as he discovered the joy of expressing his love and gratitude to others.
In this simple story lies a biblical truth of solid gold—the power and grace of gratitude. Too much of our life is filled with unfinished business. Not the business of doing, but the business of reflecting. One thing that that separates humans from the animals is our ability to reflect. Unfortunately, we too often find ourselves imitating the animals instead of the gracious God in whose likeness we find the power to be reflective...and grateful. We have seen far too many people who have allowed themselves to absorb the spirit of “the world owes me…” Without the soul’s willingness to express true and heartfelt gratitude we are shut off from the greatest gifts God has for us. So many lives have turned in upon themselves and therefore seem deprived of the ability to be truly thankful. But without true gratitude, freely, genuinely, and sincerely expressed we are unable to see who we truly are and especially who God truly is. We are totally unable to sincerely say, “Praise God” because that expression proceeds from a knowledge that we have been “blessed.”
I challenge you to accept the lesson of William Stedger as a personal test. Think of someone who has been gracious to you, perhaps someone you have never responded to before, and buy that person a little gift or card to express your appreciation for whatever it was he or she did. Then see if your life doesn’t take on a deeper and brighter luster.
“These are difficult financial times right now. Maybe I should pull back a little on my church giving to prepare for hard times.” That remark by a church member may seem like a wise thing to do, but there is one problem with that way of thinking: we give by faith, not by sight. And God needs all of His followers to respond to the needs He brings before us. He has not stopped bringing us challenges to respond to projects He wants to see accomplished. And He has not stopped blessing us with the funds to meet those challenges. Let me share with you how your faithfulness becomes a blessing to others. A few years ago the American Indian Christian Mission in Show Low, AZ (which we support) experienced a disastrous financial blow with the embezzlement of many thousands of dollars by a trusted employee who fled the state. With no money for salaries, food, and care for the Indian children and other necessary expenses, they were in a desperate situation. We were immediately able to respond to this crisis by sending them $3,000 because we had it available through your gifts. We also learned that finances had gotten so low in the church in Puerto Penasco (the one we help through New Birth Mexican Mission) that our missionary there was supporting the Pastor of this church with his own meager funds. So we responded immediately with a $1,500 cash gift to the mission for this purpose. How were we able to do this? Through your faithfulness in giving to CCF.
When the Apostle Paul was writing to the Church at Corinth he was reminding them of a desperate need the Jerusalem Church was experiencing and the need they had for funds, which the Corinthian Church had promised to provide. So he encouraged the Corinthians by saying: “Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you.” (I Corinthians 9:13-14). Generous giving is grace on our part by which we are able to help and influence people for Christ. And generous provision is grace on God’s part to enable us to continue to meet those needs He has called us to address. Your faithful giving in difficult times is a demonstration of the grace of God at work in you and a demonstration of the reality of the gospel as a witness to others.
Senior Pastor of Cactus Christian Fellowship