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Sunday, November 25, 2018

Giving Thanks When It's Tough Doesn't Mean To Fake It




This is the manuscript of a sermon I preached at Christ Church, Los Angeles, CA on Sunday November 25, 2018. Giving thanks in all things; cultivates your character, increases your joy, and conquers your problems in that thanking God takes your mind off your problem and while thanking and praising God your attention is on Him.  

But when times are tough it's hard sometimes to be thankful.  While we can thank God in all things we shouldn't be faking our thanks, acting like we aren't affected by or bothered by our troubles. We are human beings and we have emotions.  If we try to hide those emotions we aren't being honest with ourselves and more importantly, we are not being honest with God.  We should let  our real emotions show in our conversations, or prayer time with Him.  To hear the audio click on the YouTube image at the end of the manuscript.  




Last week we talked about giving thanks when it's tough.  The Scriptures tell us that we should give thanks in everything.

Ephesians 5:20 (NKJV)20  giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,

1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NKJV)18  in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

This means that there is no limit on the time or the  extent of our thanksgiving.  God’s will for us includes constant joy, ceaseless prayer, and boundless thanks.

We said that giving thanks; cultivates your character, increases your joy, and conquers your problems in that thanking God takes your mind off your problem and while thanking and praising God your attention is on Him.    Your problems may not go away when you give thanks, but they stop being such a problem. You live from the inside out. What goes on around you no longer controls the condition of the world within you.You can't control the problems that come into your life but you can control how you respond to them.

These are the things we talked about last week. 

But when times are tough it's hard sometimes to be thankful.

While we can thank God in all things we shouldn't be faking our thanks, acting like we aren't affected by or bothered by our troubles. We are human beings and we have emotions.  If we try to hide those emotions we aren't being honest with ourselves and more importantly, we are not being honest with God.  We should let  our real emotions show in our conversations, or prayer time with Him. 

After all He has emotions and He doesn’t deny them, or hide them from us. 

He gets angry

Psalm 7:11 (NLT)11  God is an honest judge. He is angry with the wicked every day. 

He experiences grief

Genesis 6:6 (NLT)6  So the LORD was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart.

Ephesians 4:30 (NLT)30  And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

And you remember before Jesus raised Lazarus

John 11:33-37 NLT When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. “Where have you put him?” he asked them. They told him, “Lord, come and see.” Then Jesus wept. The people who were standing nearby said, “See how much he loved him!” But some said, “This man healed a blind man. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”


He is jealous for our love

Exodus 34:14 (NLT)14  You must worship no other gods, for the LORD, whose very name is Jealous, is a God who is jealous about his relationship with you.

He shows His impatience

God is patient and longsuffering when it comes to our sins,

2 Peter 3:9 NLT The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.

but impatient over our suffering.

Judges 10:15-16 CEB (Common English Bible) The Israelites responded to the LORD , "We’ve sinned. Do to us whatever you see as right, but please save us this time." They put away the foreign gods from among them and served the LORD . And the LORD could no longer stand to see Israel suffer.

The emotions of God are mysterious and complex, and Scripture never tells us to ignore His emotion (or ours). If God lets us see His emotions, then why are we resistant to showing ours, and to inviting Him in to what is really going on inside of us? If our lives are to mirror His, well, then, we should not deny our difficult feelings. God does not spiritualize our pain away, and neither should we.

Now that doesn't mean that you can be disrespectful.   What I mean is that you can be real with God, He won't come down on you for telling Him how you really feel.  He is always open and real with you and he wants you to be real with Him.  He's your friend and he loves you.  When you have a true friend you can talk to them about anything, anytime, and pour out your soul to them.  So let’s be real with God. Our prayers should be conversations where we talk to our friend and He talks to us and we are both open with each other.

Sometimes it really is a sacrifice to offer praise and thanks. We may not feel like it. We’re struggling. We’re weary. Or maybe, we feel like He let us down. We think God seems distant, like he’s far away, or doesn’t really care about what’s troubling us.  Life has a way of knocking you down. It always seems to happen when life is going really well.

Isn’t that how life usually works? You make a plan, set some great goals, are totally onboard to make some great changes…then “life happens”?

Let's Be Real


So what do you do when you’ve exhausted all your efforts and resources to make life good again, you’ve prayed and fasted, and begged God for healing or for a change in your circumstances? What if God chooses to be still and your circumstances never change? Well to be honest, most of us get pretty ticked off at our circumstances, other people, and then ultimately at God.  We don't want to admit that but if we're honest we are questioning if God is listening.  We have seen Him answer prayers for other folks so we know that He can do anything and that there is nothing that's impossible for Him but we wonder why He isn't doing it for us?

There is a word that we see a lot in the Bible, and  that word is lament, which is a passionate expression of grief or sorrow.  Moaning, crying, sobbing, weeping are synonyms of lament.  It can be something that is shown physically or can be felt emotionally and not shown outwardly.  When someone laments in prayer we say that they are crying out to God. These are unfiltered, and unedited prayers. 

Lament is one of those words we don’t use very much today. It’s not a regular entry in our vocabulary, even with us church people.Lament, is simply expressing honest emotions to God when life is not going as planned. Whether we’re hurt, frustrated, confused, betrayed, overwhelmed, sad, or disappointed, lament is the language God has given us to talk to Him right in the middle of life’s messes. It’s real talk with God when you’re hurting, when all you can do is cry out for His help. It’s a prayer that says, God, I’m hurting.
                                               
Not everyone experiences prosperity, but everyone we know will know loss and grief. Each and every one of us will experience setbacks, letdowns, failures, and betrayals. Every one of us will encounter change that is hard, lose loved ones before their time, and see relationships fail with people we counted on.
                                                
So what do we do when everything is not fine?

“There is no attempt in Scripture to whitewash the anguish of God’s people when they undergo suffering. They argue with God, they complain to God, they weep before God.

The book of Psalms is full of prayers of lament there may be as many as 65 or 67 lament psalms, depending on who is doing the counting.  are  It is interesting that the lament or complaint psalm dominates the 150 Psalms. Most of these are individual laments, such as Ps. 3, 22, 57, 139;

Psalms 3:1-8 NLT O Lord , I have so many enemies; so many are against me. So many are saying, “God will never rescue him!” Interlude But you, O Lord , are a shield around me; you are my glory, the one who holds my head high. I cried out to the Lord , and he answered me from his holy mountain. Interlude I lay down and slept, yet I woke up in safety, for the Lord was watching over me. I am not afraid of ten thousand enemies who surround me on every side. Arise, O Lord ! Rescue me, my God! Slap all my enemies in the face! Shatter the teeth of the wicked! Victory comes from you, O Lord . May you bless your people. Interlude

but there are also corporate laments, such as Ps. 12, 44, 74, 80. 

The entire book of Lamentations written by Jeremiah is one long lament. Job is full of statements of lament. 

The Bible is full of statements of lament especially throughput the Old Testament Prophets.   Jesus cried out to His Father in the Garden and on the cross when He said;

Mark 15:34 NLT Then at three o’clock Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

Which was also in one of David’s Lament Psalms

Psalms 22:1 NLT My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help?

The Risk of Being Real


Our friendship with God deepens when we risk being open and honest as we talk with Him.  

Christians like to quote this scripture when things get a little tough
                                                                   
Jeremiah 29:11 (NLT)11  For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.

But if we’re honest, when things don’t turn around right away it seems that God’s plans were not prospering you at all; in fact, it feels like they’re hurting you. What is He trying to do? Make you tough? Make you stronger? How were these plans bringing you hope? Where is all this peace and prosperity He promised?

When we become convinced that God is really our friend, we can talk to Him about what we’re feeling.  We can ask Him those questions.

Hebrews 4:16 (NLT)16  So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.

We often have the  misconception that we have to be perfect. So we fake it by pretending to have our lives in order, smiling and saying all the right things. We’re ashamed to admit our shortcomings to God.  We don’t really buy into the fact that when Jesus becomes our personal Lord and Savior,  God forgave us and sees us as righteous. 

We are righteous because of Jesus.

Romans 3:21-22 (NLT)21  But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago.22  We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.

God’s word says that He hears the prayers of the righteous.

Proverbs 15:8 (NLT)8  The LORD detests the sacrifice of the wicked, but he delights in the prayers of the upright.

Proverbs 15:29 (NLT)29  The LORD is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayers of the righteous.

When we fake it we are really doubting Jesus’ work of salvation on the cross, and we somehow believe that we still have to prove something to God.  We are depending on ourselves and our own righteousness which don’t amount to a hill of beans.

Isaiah 64:6 (NLT)6  We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind.

We need to get it in our heads that we don’t have to be perfect because Jesus is perfect.  When we realize this we can passionately seek Him, obey Him, and confess and repent when we miss the mark then we will stop faking.

We can look to Jesus as our example of being open.  He expressed a full range of emotions, positive ones like joy, love, and compassion and some we would consider negative like, anger, indignation, and impatience.

He expressed a range of emotions in this passage;

Matthew 26:36-46 (NLT)36  Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.”37  He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed.38  He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death.(sorrow) Stay here and keep watch with me.”39  He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me (fear). Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”40  Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour?(frustration)41  Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!”42  Then Jesus left them a second time and prayed, “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done.”43  When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open.44  So he went to pray a third time, saying the same things again.45  Then he came to the disciples and said, “Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. But look—the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.46  Up, let’s be going. Look, my betrayer is here!”

In this passage Jesus shows emotions of sorrow, frustration, impatience, and fear.

Jesus didn’t ignore His emotions or keep them hidden, He shared Himself openly.  That’s what He wants us to do.  Stop faking. I know it’s not alway easy.  In life we struggle with sin, injustice, pain, and temptation.  These things arouse feelings that aren’t comfortable.  It’s risky to be honest when we feel isolated, guilty, irritated, intimidated, ashamed, angry, inadequate, rejected, or worthless.
We may be hesitant to open up because, in the past we’ve gotten negative responses from people.  One of the typical things we hear when we open up about how we feel is, “this too shall pass” (we talked about that a few weeks ago).  Once you open up and get that kind  of response you are not likely to open up again. 

This is the prayer of someone who was not afraid to let his friend know what he was feeling. 

Psalm 42:1-11 (NLT)1 As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God.2  I thirst for God, the living God. When can I go and stand before him?3  Day and night I have only tears for food, while my enemies continually taunt me, saying, “Where is this God of yours?”4  My heart is breaking as I remember how it used to be: I walked among the crowds of worshipers, leading a great procession to the house of God, singing for joy and giving thanks amid the sound of a great celebration!5  Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again— my Savior and6  my God! Now I am deeply discouraged, but I will remember you— even from distant Mount Hermon, the source of the Jordan, from the land of Mount Mizar.7  I hear the tumult of the raging seas as your waves and surging tides sweep over me.8  But each day the LORD pours his unfailing love upon me, and through each night I sing his songs, praying to God who gives me life.9  “O God my rock,” I cry, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I wander around in grief, oppressed by my enemies?”10  Their taunts break my bones. They scoff, “Where is this God of yours?”11  Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again— my Savior and my God!

Feelings of sadness and discouragement are inevitable. This life has times of dancing and praising, but also times of deep anguish and despair. Jesus understands. In the scripture I read earlier of Jesus crying out to His Father in the Garden, please “Take this cup from me”, but even in the middle of crying out He told His Father that He wanted His Father’s will to be done.  God hears and answers prayer, even when it may seem He has forgotten you.  And because God the Son left his throne in heaven to walk the earth in human flesh, he knows and understands what you are going through on every level — physical, spiritual and emotional. So you can, in confidence put your hope in Him, knowing that you will  experience the presence of God and his goodness.
   
That takes the pressure off because it’s not about us. It’s about Him. It’s never about us. Everything we have—including our ability to pray in power—comes from God.

2 Corinthians 3:4-5 (NLT)4  We are confident of all this because of our great trust in God through Christ.5  It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own.

Our qualifications come from God.

We just have to pray as He leads us, and He leads us through His Word and by the Holy Spirit.

John 14:26 (NLT)26  But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.

Romans 8:26-27 (NLT)26  And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.27  And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.

I know that opening ourselves up is risky because when we do we become vulnerable but we don’t have be be afraid of being vulnerable with God because it’s safe. 

God is a safe person — the safest person! — to go to when life is falling apart. He is right there to catch us every time.

God does not want just our happy; He also really wants our sad.

When everything is not fine God wants to hear about it. He is drawn to us when we’re mourning and blesses us in a special way. God is not up there minimizing our pain and comparing it to others who have it worse than we do. God wants all pain to be surrendered to Him, and He has the capacity to respond to it all with infinite compassion.

He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds.
Psalms 147:3 NLT 

The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.
Psalms 34:17-18 NLT

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.
Matthew 11:28 NLT

We are robbing ourselves of a divine mystery and a divine intimacy when we pretend to have it all together and fake it.

Scripture doesn’t tell us to pretend we’re peaceful when we’re not, act like everything is fine when it’s not, and do everything we can to suppress our sorrow. God doesn’t insist that we go to our “happy place” and ignore our sad.   So many of our churches preach that we will have peace and prosperity just by virtue of being Christians. Scripture, in contrast, tells us that as followers of Christ, we are called to serve a “man of sorrows” who died a gruesome death.

Isaiah 53:3 NLT He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.

Until we identify ourselves with our Savior and acknowledge, as He did, just how painful life can be, we won’t be able to lament or to overcome. And if we silence our own cries, then we will inevitably silence the cries of those around us. We cannot carefully address the wounds of others if we are carelessly addressing our own.
                                                
The fact is, God does not expect us to have it all together, so it is a real disservice when our Chuches create this expectation. We will be unsuccessful at helping hurting people if we have not allowed ourselves to grieve and wail and mourn and go through the lament process ourselves. God understands that life is full of pressures, hurts, stings. He took on flesh so He could relate to us in both our joy and pain.

Philippians 2:7-8 NLT Instead, he gave up his divine privileges ; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Hebrews 2:14-15 NLT Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.

He wants us to feel and express every emotion before Him and not minimize a thing. There is no “fake it till you make it” in Scripture. When we fake fine, we fake our way out of authentic relationship with God, others, and ourselves.

According to Scripture, pretending we’re fine and suppressing our raw emotions is not wisdom or maturity. Rather, God lovingly says to us that His grace is sufficient.

2 Corinthians 12:8-9 NLT Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.

May our laments open our eyes to show us that God’s thoughts toward us are good, His love toward us is great, and He blesses us and draws near us even in our most broken places.

Heavenly Father thank you for caring about all my problems and pains.  Help me to always cry out to you first and leave my concerns at your feet.  You know how difficult and how painful this life can be. When I am discouraged, please comfort me with your love and remind me of what’s important: which is  my future with you.  In the name of Jesus and in His authority I pray Amen. 

Sermon Audio