Something about street lights at night are a catalyst to connecting thoughts. You know the rows of streetlights on the highway at night that line the median? They almost look like two strings of pearls in the distance, or a pathway to dance along. They stretch so far you can’t see the end, but you know they keep on going past the farthest your eyes can see (until you reach the towns out in the sticks, yes I know). They seem so fluid, so connected, from far away. In that same moment, look to the left and see the individual lights that make up the chain. They slowly unzip as they get closer. It must be like this journey of a life on earth. We see lives ahead of us, but to pass those individual light posts, to see the detail of trials and lessons as they come into clarity, is what makes the ride. I’ve hardly ever, before tonight, looked to my left and seen anything but the string of pearls. Looking closer up has taught me something.
The nearest light posts:
1. THANKFULNESS. What a wonder that we have such control over how we react to just about everything. It’s a choice to be thankful, or to not. The absence of thankfulness may be temporary excitement instead, or maybe apathy and disregard. However we deal with life, it’s empty (and a lot harder) without acknowledging that each breath, each time the car won’t start, each rejection, each victory, is an opportunity to thank our Lord. It all comes back to the grace of God. We do not deserve the blessings he gives, we don’t even deserve the hardships that he uses to discipline or teach us. We don’t deserve interaction with a great God, or even life. But he gives it abundantly (John 10:10). Thankfulness is a choice every day to appreciate God’s grace in our lives, not just a response to a gift we like. It’s alright to get ridiculous with thankfulness; recognize His grace and rejoice!
In the psalms, as in Psalm 100, 106, and 138 (read ‘em), the author writes, “Give thanks the Lord!” A directive to us, but also an invitation to join him in calling on the Lord with a thankful and contrite heart. Though he may be chased by his enemies, he thanks God for his love that endures forever. David thanks God for victory over enemies, for justice, that God listens, for his goodness, for his righteous deeds, for keeping his covenant, for preserving his life, for delivering him, for making us his own, for his faithfulness, and mostly for his “steadfast love that endures forever.” David’s progress through psalms and prayers usually begin with asking God to listen as he presents his thoughts, fears, and requests. Soon, the focus shifts from David’s worries to God’s glory and praise as He works in David’s life, both spiritually and as he provides physically. Prayer seems to always bring me to a renewed awe of God and a peace that he really is who he says he is (the good, holy King of Kings who’s in control), my burdens eclipsed by the burden he took on to save us. What do you thank God for?
In the New Testament epistles, Paul thanks God for the church in almost every letter. He thanks the churches for their generosity in the collection for Christians in Jerusalem (2 Cor. 9) and those who risked their lives for his sake (Romans 16). He reminds us that thanksgiving brings us to pray for people and prayer reminds us to be thankful (Eph 1:16). He instructs the church in 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28 to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Did you hear that? Go read it!
As Jesus performs signs and miracles to show his power and to show compassion on his people, we see in Luke 17:11-19 that ten lepers were healed by Jesus words, “Go and show yourselves to the priests” (his response to their plea, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us”). Only one of the ten turned back and praised God, giving thanks at Jesus’ feet. Jesus asks where the other nine are, why only the Samaritan foreigner is praising God. Jesus says his faith has made him well. Do you believe that God’s work in our lives inspires and requires thanks and praise? Does it take faith to give thanks to God?
1 Corinthians 15:56-58 says, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”
2 Corinthians 4:7-18”But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
Colossians 3:1-17. Verses 14-17, “Above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word, or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
2. TRY YOUR VERY BEST.
Why try your very best? Because Jesus gave us His best. Why try your very best when you don’t want to? Because Jesus didn’t want to die a gruesome death at the hands of people he only loved, but he did for us. For the same reasons we are to be thankful, we are also called to do our best in everything for God’s glory. Reality check, we can’t do anything of eternal worth apart from the Father, meaning that giving this life our very best is giving ourselves completely to Him in all things.
Colossians (1:9-14, 3:1-25) shows beautifully why we are thankful- He has redeemed us, forgiven us, qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light, delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son- and what to do next. Above, in 1 Cor 15:58, Paul lovingly commands the Corinthians to be “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” in response to our victory in Christ. Do your efforts at work and home and school reflect a knowledge Jesus’ saving grace?
2 Corinthians 4 talks about this treasure we have in jars of clay, the power belonging to God, not us. No matter what pressures come, giving it our very best is “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus” (verse 10). How do we do that without losing heart or wasting away? (You’ve read it, you know), we are renewed everyday in Christ. Got a mean boss? Try your very best to do your job well and be gracious. Colossians 3:23 says, “whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward.” Frustrated with a relationship? Try your very best. It probably involves praying, looking for the best in the situation, and God refining YOU to be more like Christ. A lot of work ahead of you? Do it for the glory of God. See psalm 127:1 and Matthew 5:16!
If you notice, on the night highway, each light you look at close up flies by faster than the long string of pearls ahead. It makes me want to slow down and really learn the lessons God sets before me, each street light.