GRATEFUL TO THE LORD

            Have you ever had one of those times in your life where life just stinks, not just a little, but a lot?  It just seems like it could not get worse, and then it does.  I did.  Several years ago I had just moved to Van Buren, got divorced soon thereafter, did not know anyone in Van Buren, was hit with racism in a very evil way, and, worst of all, I did not know the Lord.  That was the worst time of my life.

I went to see a counselor for a period of time and felt a little better.  Then I found Celebrate Recovery (a Christ-centered recovery program for anyone with a hurt, hang up, or habit).  Somewhere during that time, I gave my life to Christ.  After the night that I said YES to Jesus, I have never really felt lonely and totally lost.  I can’t really explain it except to say that I know Jesus has me.  No matter what the situation, He has me.  Isaiah 40:31 says it best to me, “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

This security I felt made me want to know our Lord and Savior more and more.  I worked my steps in Celebrate Recovery and read my Bible every day.  The funny thing was reading my Bible every day made me feel worse and worse about myself.  There were so many things that made no sense to me.  I had unforgiveness, jealousy, resentment, fear, selfishness, worry, misery, and on and on.  In other words, I was the total opposite of the fruit of the Spirit.  (“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”  Galatians 5:22-23) Then a friend (yes, the Lord gave me friends) said to just take one day at a time.  Pick something and work it as best you can with the Lord’s help.  So, I picked forgiveness because unforgiveness consumed me.  The world says to “get even”.  The Lord says to “forgive”.  God does not say forgive for the other person’s benefit.  He says it to set us free.  It took some time, but when I was finally set free from unforgiveness, I knew joy and peace.  This whole process made me more on fire for Jesus.  I did not matter whether it made sense in the world or to me.  It just mattered that I was obedient to the Lord.

One of the lessons in Celebrate Recovery is to have “An Attitude of Gratitude”.  This was different for me because I could certainly have told you all the things that were wrong with my life.  I could wallow in self-pity very well all by myself.  Thank you very much.  But, I wrote my gratitude list because I was going to be obedient.  (Sometimes unwilling obedience is better than defiance.)  I am grateful for three lovely kids, a home, no one ever goes hungry in my family, my minivan works, friends, a church family, and on and on.  When I started writing my gratitude list, it just kept going.  (If you are feeling sorry for yourself, write your gratitude list.  Pray and praise God about how grateful you are every night.  Read it to yourself every morning.  The Lord has blessed you.)

Like forgiveness, tithing did not make sense to me, especially because I was not in the best financial situation.  How do I give 10% when I was not sure I was going to pay my bills for the month?  (I think most people who have been through divorce have financial struggles.)  So, I studied my Bible and prayed.  I asked the Lord to show me how this is supposed to work and His answer was “obedience”.  Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it”.   Everything is the Lord’s.  The God of the entire universe loves me, takes care of me, knows every tear that I shed, and knows every hair on my head.   Can I hold on to something so tightly that it hinders my relationship with God?  C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “And, in fact, He shows much more of Himself to some people than other- not because He has favourites, but because it is impossible for Him to show Himself to a man whose whole mind and character are in the wrong condition.  Just as sunlight, though it has no favourites, cannot be reflected in a dusty mirror as clearly as in a clean one.”  I wanted God to show more of Himself to me, and I was sure I was in the “wrong condition”.  The only thing I knew to do was to be obedient.  Luke 12:34 says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  I wanted Jesus to be my treasure.  So, I started with, not the whole tithe, but built up to it.

When the Lord asks me to do something and I am obedient, it initially seems as if I am sacrificing something, but actually He is blessing me, just like with forgiveness.  I spent money on stupid wasteful stuff.  Now I have a budget.  The Lord has made me a better steward of my money.  When I prayed for a job when I left my last one, Barry called me within a few days and asked if I wanted to be the administrator for the church I love.  That was God.  When my Dad was going to be placed in hospice earlier this year, and I did not have the money to go back home, my brother and sister-in-law paid my way.  That was God.  This past August when my Dad passed away, an anonymous couple in our church paid my way to go back home and help my family.  That was God.  I am so grateful to the Lord.  I must be obedient.

I believe Malachi 3:10.   “‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.’”  The Lord’s house is the Church.  We, as the Church, were made to bless our community so that more and more people may know the Love of Christ.  As we bless the community, I believe the Lord will bless us in so many different ways.

The Lord has blessed me abundantly.  My gratitude list continues to grow daily.  I have a lot of growing up/maturing to do.  That is probably why I have facilitated about 6 or 7 Celebrate Recovery groups.  I lost count.  I just know that the Lord has me working on some character defect or wrong thinking each time and out of obedience I keep going.