Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Grateful For It All

(Read Job 42:10-17)

It all becomes so clear when we look back on our lives. How this turns into that. How that turns into this. And we can be grateful for it all.

Hindsight is always 20/20 or so the saying goes. When we reflect upon the twists and turns, it’s much easier to see how God was working to orchestrate our futures looking back than while we were actually going through our ordeals.

For example, Steve Jobs, one of the founders of Apple Computers, dropped out of college after six months, which was very scary for him considering he had been told from birth that he must go to college. He dropped out because Reed College, where he was attending, was incredibly expensive. Jobs parents’ were working class and all of their savings were being eaten up by his college tuition. Since Jobs had no idea what he wanted to do with his life and didn’t think the required classes that he was taking were leading him down any definitive road to happiness, he dropped out. But in doing so, he started dropping in on other classes that did interest him.

One such class was a calligraphy course. Jobs was fascinated by serif and san serif typefaces, about the amount of space that went between different letters and about the art of typography in general. At the time, the course didn’t have any practical application to his life, but 10 years later, when Jobs was designing the first Macintosh computer, this information had a tremendous impact. Jobs said this in his Stanford commencement address:

“[The Macintosh] was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it's likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.”

I like this idea about connecting the dots as we look back at our lives.

Think about your life. Perhaps that bully from school who tormented you is the reason you are so courageous and successful today. Or perhaps your mother who never gave you adequate attention and affection is why you married the loving woman sitting next to you. Or perhaps the school who rejected you or the employee who sent you away is why you are now on a chartered course more in line with your gifts and passions than if you had just followed some generic path you thought you should be taking. Or perhaps surviving cancer is the reason you no longer take life for granted, and the reason you have so much compassion for the suffering of others.

Connecting the dots is something that we do looking backwards, and it is affirms who God is in our lives as the great orchestrator, the One who transforms even the most difficult times and circumstances into our growth and maturation as the children of God. Romans 8: 28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
This philosophy about connecting the dots can positively impact how we live today because we now know that the present moment creates a better future. Everything may not be perfect in your current situation, that’s pretty much a guarantee, but everything now is leading to something orchestrated by God and the outcome is secure. That’s a reason to give thanks at all times, no matter if it’s a good or bad period of life.

Rascal Flatt’s wrote a song called “Bless the Broken Road,” and he picked up on this idea in the song. Some of the lyrics are:

"Bless The Broken Road"
I set out on a narrow way many years ago
Hoping I would find true love along the broken road
But I got lost a time or two
Wiped my brow and kept pushing through
I couldn't see how every sign pointed straight to you

Every long lost dream led me to where you are
Others who broke my heart they were like Northern stars
Pointing me on my way into your loving arms
This much I know is true
That God blessed the broken road
That led me straight to you

That’s connecting the dots.

Take Job for example. He was a man who was afflicted in many ways. To use the language we applied to ourselves, everything was not perfect in his life. Far from it. His donkeys, oxen and livestock were stolen, his children were killed and he had boils from his head to his toes.

At one point, Job cursed the day he was born, but at another point, he refused to curse God and give up his faith. I think Job knew that even his suffering and loss were not reasons to given up on being thankful because healing would be on its way.

That takes us to the text we heard this morning when Jobs fortunes are restored. Scripture says, “The Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before” (Job 42: 10).

The scripture doesn’t tell us Job’s response, but I bet he was giving God thanks and praise for a myriad of things. Yes, that his fortunes had been restored, but also thanks that God had saw him though the period of trial, thanks that he had the courage and fortitude to endure, thanks that his outcome was secure in the hands of the Lord.

Looking back, Job could see the dots connecting. He could see how his relationships with his siblings had improved Scripture says that they came to him and ate bread with him, that they had sympathy for him and comforted him because of all the evil that had been inflicted upon him.

I bet that first meal Job had with his family after his fortunes were restored was the best meal of his life. I bet the hugs he received were cherished unlike any embrace he had formerly known. When he had more children, I bet a day didn’t go by that he didn’t appreciate them. Scripture says he even gave the daughters an inheritance along with the brothers, which was not the practice in those days. There was no amount of generosity too great because Job now knew after all that he had been through the superior value of having people in his life whom he loved.

Every person has a default position. Some people that you know are happy and optimistic, while other people that you know are depressed and fatalistic. Some smile while some are sarcastic. Some want more while some give as much as they can away.

Giving thanks can be our default mindset. By default mindset I mean it can be the attitude we revert to in any given moment no matter what the circumstances are.

Many people make thanksgiving about the blessings we have, and that’s not wrong, it’s just not the full picture. When we give thanks, we are thankful for the good things. We say, I am thankful for my loving family. I am thankful for my good health. I am thankful for my material wealth and the security it affords me.

But what if we gave thanks for all things, whether it feels like a blessing or a curse at the time, knowing that God is plotting a course, and that we will be able to go back and connect the dots later. As crazy as it sounds, the biopsy can be a reason to give thanks. The divorce can be a reason to give thanks. The bankruptcy can be a reason to give thanks.

It can all becomes so clear when we look at our lives. How this is turning into that. How that is turning into this. And we can be grateful for it all.

And that is because 1. We are alive to experience all of these things. 2. Because we never know what blessing God will bring out of them. And 3. Because God has placed in each of us the intrinsic ability to take even the most difficult worldly circumstance and turn them into rich and meaningful experiences though God’s Spirit who dwells in us. Steve Jobs was able to do this. Job was able to do this. And all of us are also able to do this.

Giving thanks can be analogous to our breathing. It’s our default position. When things are good, we give thanks, and when things are bad, we still give thanks.

Our faith is that we believe in a God of redemption, a God of salvation. We believe that weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. We believe in a new heaven and a new earth where crying and pain and death will be no more. We believe that all things work for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose.

There’s always something to be thankful for. We can look at our past, connect the dots and be grateful. We can look at our present situation, count our blessings and be grateful. We can see in our minds eye a future that we know is secure because it is in the hands of God and be grateful.

Those of us who have this default, perpetual attitude of gratitude (and with some spiritual growth, it can be all of us), last longer, recover quicker and become more.

We last longer in the face of adversity. We don’t let hardship beat us down, but we endure knowing God give us the strength and will see us through.

We recover quicker when life doesn’t seem to be going our way or when we are mistreated. We have resilience because God’s Spirit dwells in us and Jesus walks along side of us.

And we become more. We don’t settle for mediocrity because we know God has plans for our future, plans for our good and not for our harm.

So connect the dots and let them give you hope for your future.

It all becomes so clear when we start looking ahead to our lives that are being created. How this will turn into that. How that will turn into this. And we can be grateful for it all.

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