“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

As part of our Thanksgiving service at church each year, we have the opportunity to hear testimonies of God’s work in people’s lives. At some point in the service we are always reminded that whether our current circumstance has on the top of the mountain or in the deepest of valleys, God is the author of both. The theme verse for this service is 1 Thessalonians 5:18.

Let’s face it; it’s easier to give thanks in certain circumstances than others, but God’s Word says we are to give thanks in ALL of them. What Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 has a tendency to strike us the same way as when James writes, “Count it all joy…when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2). The call to obey is clear, but obedience to that call is easier said than done. In fact, without the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, it’s impossible.

Over the last couple of years, many of the testimonies in this Thanksgiving service have been from people dealing with difficult and often uncertain circumstances in their lives. But in spite of that, they testify to God’s faithfulness and grace. I always leave this service encouraged yet reminded that the problems I have aren’t really problems at all.

God’s love and faithfulness is threaded throughout the Bible. That love was demonstrated most clearly in the person of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul wrote about the importance of joy and contentment not being based on our circumstance, but rather on our relationship with Christ. He also demonstrated it in his life. Paul prayed less about a change in his circumstance, only that he would glorify God through whatever circumstance in which he found himself. He trusted that God could take any circumstance and work it for good. And though he may not have known why what was happening was happening, he knew there was a purpose behind it (Romans 8:28-29). So, when we give thanks during this year, let us remember how much we have to be thankful for. Let us remember that it’s not only on the mountaintop that God is faithful, but also in the valley. Let us remember that the Author of our circumstance has also written its ending. It is in that truth we rest our hope and give our thanks!

Right in Our Own Eyes

“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25)

This last verse of Judges pretty much sums it up. The people set the rules. Though Israel’s drift away from God had already begun, by the time of the judges, their turning away was pretty well complete. The book of Judges was written around 1043 B.C. just after Saul, Israel’s first king, began his reign and spans a period of about 350 years. It is one of the twelve “historical books” books of the Bible. Though its author is unknown, they are thought to be a loyal supporter of David.

“And the people of Israel did what was evil in the site of the LORD…” These words are written numerous times in the book of Judges (2:11; 3:7; 4:1; 6:1; 10:6; 13:1). Israel was in both a moral and spiritual decline. Their disobedience was rampant. They refused to drive their enemies from the land, they committed idolatry, they refused to listen to the advice of the “judges” and they turned away from God after the particular judge’s death. The result of their disobedience was conflict and turmoil. God, however, was gracious, and when Israel expressed their desperation and acknowledged their sinfulness, He would send another judge to deliver them. This pattern played itself out over and over again during this period.

Too often we want to do what is right in our own eyes without proper concern for God’s will. This never gets us very far and it is only when we reap what we have sown that we acknowledge our sinfulness. The truth is we are not too different from Israel in that regard. But thankfully, our God is different and in the book of Judges we see His character on full display. Yes, God is righteous, wrathful and just. There were consequences that resulted from Israel’s disobedience. There are consequences that result from our disobedience as well. But our God is also a loving God. He is merciful and gracious, and just as He heard Israel’s cry, He also hears ours. And just as He delivered them from their failures time and time again, He stands ready to deliver us from ours. We will spend our lives learning more and more about God’s character. As we do, let us call on the power of the Holy Spirit to help us lead lives in submission to God’s will. Let us do what is right in His eyes only.