Episode 30: Right Attitudes, Part 4- With Joy & Thankfulness

Peace to Live By Episode 30: Right Attitudes, Part 4- With Joy & Thankfulness - Daniel Litton
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[Transcripts may not match broadcasted sermon word for word, and may contain extra material that was cut from the broadcast due to time constraints]

       Let’s say we want to go an outdoor outing along a rigorous trail, and if we are going to go on this outing, we might as well do it right—go to the best place possible we can. Let’s say we are out in the State of Utah for our journey. I love that state; it’s such a beautiful place. Perhaps we are at a National Park; there are a lot of good ones we could pick from. Or, perhaps we are just out in the wilderness somewhere. When we decide to go on this adventure, hopefully we are trail enthusiasts, or we shouldn’t be going. Nonetheless, we choose to go on the adventure and have an underlying joy as we wait and look forward for the time to come. Then it does come, we fly out there, and we go out on the trail. Depending on the aggressiveness of our mission, we might just bring a bottle of water with us, or we might bring a backpack, or we might even bring a tent and camping supplies. Whatever it be, we go on the journey with preparedness.

       Now, as we go, we know that there are going to be times where the trail is difficult, and times where it is easy. We may even run into a problem or two on our journey. Some of these hardships are guaranteed along the way. Indeed, there will be times when the trip is harder, where the trail is steep. But when this happens, we have joy anyway because we knew this time was going to come. After all, we had wanted to go on the outing, and hopefully we have the bigger picture in view. We knew there would be times where it would take more energy and endurance along the way. We retain our joy because, if we are into trails, we love the outdoors. And when we come to the end of the journey, we look back at the outing with thankfulness (assuming all went well). We may have taken pictures, and from time to time we will look back on these pictures with thankfulness. We may even post them online for others to see and be thankful with us for our opportunity.

       I say all of this because I want you to understand that, as Christians, we can have underlying joy that is present regardless of our circumstances in life. And we can also can have thankfulness in our varying circumstances. Today, I want to talk about having both joyful and thankful attitudes, as Christians, as we live out our lives. God wants us to have an intrinsic joy in our lives, as we trust in him with our lives. And, of course, he also wants us to be thankful for all that we have. We need to have an attitude of thankfulness in our lives because, really, we don’t deserve anything that we have.

       So, first, let’s talk about having a joyful attitude. A particularly good example of this is found in the New Testament of being joyful in spite of our circumstances. I want us to turn to Acts chapter 16. Paul and Silas gave us a good model of having a right attitude when they were locked up in prison in Philippi. Paul had commanded a demon to come out of a servant girl which she had used for fortune telling. This demon had enabled her to be able to see into the future, and her parents made a profit off of her telling people their futures. Nevertheless, the girl’s parents were particularly upset about the demon being cast out and had both Paul and Silas arrested in Philippi.

       We read in Acts chapter 16, in verse 25, “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (ESV). Now, this is pretty remarkable. Here you had two servants of God who had been locked up, in prison, and beforehand they had been harshly beaten. And these two men were both “praying… to God” and “singing hymns” to him. How do you sing when you are in such a circumstance? After all, they hadn’t done anything wrong at all, yet they were being punished as criminals. Remember what James has told us? He said, “Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you meet trials of various kinds” (James 1:2, ESV). Paul and Silas gave us the epic example of this.

       Most of us are probably never going to face imprisonment for our beliefs in this life, at least, I hope not. Some of us might, though, in the future. Nonetheless, focusing on smaller problems, why are we to have joy when we are in the midst of problems in our lives? If we continue reading the passage in James, he says, “for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:3, 4, ESV). But what is this “steadfastness” that James is talking about? Steadfastness means we are firm in our beliefs, and therefore unwavering when trouble comes. When marriage is difficult, a child is sick, we lose our job, our car breaks down—whatever it is—we are calm inside ourselves because we know God is in control.

       God will send trials into our lives in order to test our character, and our internal mindsets. No Christian is exempt from this. When a trial comes, we have one of two options, really. We can either let the trial mold and shape us into becoming firmer in our belief in God’s care and future provision, or we can wine and cry about our problem and start to move backwards in life. We can even shut down, and not want to go forward or do anything. We can let depression set in. But we all know, if we are honest within ourselves, that that is not God’s will for us. We have to remember that God is always with us, no matter ‘what’ happens. And believing this, in the midst of a trial, will give us joy. Indeed, we can have a firm foundation of joy no matter what happens because we know God is in control.

       It is important to note here that joy is not the same as happiness. Indeed, they are different even though they may look the same. As I just talked about, our joy can always be with us, no matter what happens. We have joy because we rely on God and trust in him through our circumstances. Our happiness, though, in our lives is based on our circumstances. Sometimes we are happy, and sometimes we are not. Solomon told us there is a time and a place for everything (see Ecclesiastes 3). But remember, and this is demonstrated in the Beatitudes of Jesus, that by tapping into our joy, we can then produce happiness in our lives. We are happy because of the joy we have in believing in God’s goodness. By understanding how things ‘really work,’ that God is working behind the scenes, this gives us our joy.

       Some weeks ago I was thinking about some of the Mormons I had met out west this summer, and I was trying to conceptualize how they think about God. If you want to understand how someone else thinks, you have to put yourself in the person’s shoes, right? So, I figured that if I was going to understand them, I would have to get in on the inside. Well, I didn’t really want to find the closest Church of Latter-Day Saints, and go there one Sunday. So, I just went to their website and looked around for a while. I read some of their articles, and then I found an area where you could watch some of the messages from their leaders. These were messages that had been delivered during their services.

       So I downloaded one of the sermons from a university out in Utah, one from one of their woman leaders. And I listened to some of it, and read along with the transcript. I was trying to get a ‘big picture’ view into what they were thinking. They kept talking about the Gospel, but they would never say what the Gospel actually was. I tried hard to figure out what it was. The followers were supposed to model the Gospel—that much I understood. Finally, after reading enough of the material, I determined that the gospel they were talking about was that of modeling so called ‘good’ behavior in the name of Christ. The Mormon followers were supposed to model Christ’s behavior to others, as outlined in the New Testament and more so in Joseph Smith’s Book of Mormon, and therefore, so be good followers and eventually go to heaven when they die.

       We as evangelical Christians know, though, that salvation is not by good works, but rather it is through the simple act of trusting in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross as payment for one’s sins against God. It is a one-time deal. Nobody gets to heaven by impressing God or other people. Such a religion is just that—a religion, and negates any purpose for Jesus coming to the earth and dying on the cross, and then subsequently rising from the dead. If salvation is earned by works, then Jesus’ death on the cross is pointless, and definitely wasn’t necessary.

       The Mormons definitely exhibit a form of joy, but it is not the joy that God talks about in the New Testament. Their joy is based on pride in their accomplishments—in living their lives to ‘what they feel’ is good in modeling ‘good’ behavior. It is true that for any of us, when we do good we may feel joy. But this is temporary and is not the underlying joy that we want to form and cultivate into our lives, into our minds. We want to have joy regardless of our circumstances, not based on our circumstances. Our calm in our souls comes not from belief in our ability, but from our belief and trust in God’s ability. This difference is critical. It is the difference between the unbeliever’s perspective and a true God-centered perspective.

       Now having joy in all circumstances doesn’t mean we always walk around with smiles on our faces. Remember, as I just talked about a little bit ago, happiness is based on circumstances. We can be upset but still have joy at the same time. Jesus was upset when Lazarus, his friend, died. That didn’t mean, however, that he lacked an intrinsic confidence in God’s ability. Quite the opposite. He knew God could raise Lazarus from the dead. He trusted in God’s ability. When a fellow brother or sister of ours dies, we know the person is in Heaven and that someday God will raise the person’s body from the dead. We can have a foundational joy in knowing this. But, do not assume that just because you are to have joy at all times, that that means you will always be happy. It doesn’t mean that.

       Sometimes in our lives, we need to look at the past—that is, good things about the past—in order to remind ourselves of God’s goodness from previous times. The Apostle Paul was always remembering the good things that different churches had done, and he would talk about these things in his letters to the churches. Often times when you go to a prayer meeting or Bible study, people will recall good things from their past that God has done for them. It is important for us to remember these things because they give us encouragement in the current time and hope for the future. If God helped us in the past, why wouldn’t he help us now and in the future?

       But it is also necessary and important to note that unbelievers—those who don’t believe in Jesus—can’t have ‘real’ joy. And, for us Christians, we should note that we can be robbed of our joy in our lives through living in secret sin. Unbelievers can’t experience true joy because all of their joy is based on their circumstances. It is based on the highs and lows that come in life. But, as I already discussed, the Christian’s joy is different in that it is constant regardless of circumstances. Now, if we have secret sins in our lives, sins we continually commit and of which we don’t give to God, these sins can rob us of our joy. It may be one ‘pet’ sin, or it may be a variety of sins. Maybe we don’t really follow Jesus in all areas of our lives. Maybe we aren’t completely committed to him.

       I would say to you though, those of you who have secret sin in your lives, that it’s really not worth it. If you’re a Christian, wouldn’t you rather have joy in knowing that God is on your side rather living day-to-day hoping you don’t get caught? I would rather just confess the sin to God, and try to overcome it, rather than willingly live in it from day-to-day. Some Christians go around secretly harboring ‘big’ sins in their lives, like sleeping with a partner while unmarried to him or her or drinking to the point of drunkenness. They feel convicted, but they won’t give up the sin. Remember, God is not mocked, and if you continue in the sin, eventually someone is going to find out, or it is going to chip away at the rest of your Christian life so that it affects you so much that you may walk away totally from Christ.

       Now that we understand the Christian’s joy a bit better, I want to shift gears here a bit and talk about being thankful in our circumstances.

       Let us note that depression is the absence of thankfulness. Really, depression all stems to one’s perspective on life. If you are happy, it is because you are looking at the world in a certain way—in a grateful way. If you are depressed, it is because you are looking at the world through a negative, ungrateful, mindset. This is so very basic. And external factors do not always dictate one’s feelings. For instance, a person can be married and very happy, all the while a person can be married and very depressed. A person can be in prison and be very sad, and a person can be in prison and be perfectly happy. In other words, our external situational circumstances do not necessarily dictate our internal feelings. Now, this is not to say that people don’t let their circumstances dictate their feelings. All of us do this to an extent, but we do not have to let them.

       The Apostle Paul told us, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, ESV). What this means is that no matter what happens in our lives, we always have things to be thankful for. This verse is not saying necessarily that we should thank God for bad things that come into our lives. How are you to be thankful when your brother dies in war? How are to be thankful when your child dies of cancer? How can a person be thankful when a loved one is killed in a car crash? A person shouldn’t thank God that a loved one has been killed, for instance—that’s sick. Now, their may be good brought about by the person’s unexpected death, but it’s not something to be thankful for. We can be thankful the person is in Heaven with Jesus, but we shouldn’t be thankful that they got killed. It is easy to be thankful when things are going good, but not so much when things are going bad.

       Some people think that in life there is no one to thank for the things in their lives because they believe they are responsible for their successes. These people think they are in control of their lives. But, if we stop and think about this for a second, we should realize that this is really foolishness. Bad things can happen to anybody, no matter who you are. And these people would probably also throw ‘luck’ into the equation and just blindly hope bad things don’t happen to them. After all, this is what most unbelievers do, right? They just hope they don’t get bit by the Grim Reaper, or the Barer of Bad Luck. But what happens if bad things, unexpected things, do happen to them? It makes them feel uncomfortable because there is a slight glimmer into the reality that they are not really in control like they think they are.

       Funerals will often do this for people. When people go to a funeral, they are faced with the reality that everyone dies at one point or another—including them. And this hurts, right? It brings uncomfortable feelings into the minds of people. Some people won't even go to funerals because they don’t want to be reminded of reality. But why do all people die? Why do they have to die? Have you ever thought about that? Why don’t people just live forever? Well, the Bible tells us that it is because we have all sinned in our lives that we are going to die. Death is the physical payment for sin. God told Adam that in the day he ate of the forbidden fruit that he would indeed die. And this is true for everyone, as we have all violated God’s standards.

       But when bad things are happening in our lives, what are some of the things we can list to remind ourselves to be thankful? In the most basic sense, if we are alive, we can be thankful for that. God has given us life. Being Christians, though, we can always be thankful for Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for us, reconciling us to God. We have a personal relationship with God because of what Jesus did for us. He loved us so much he gave his own life for us, and for this we are thankful. We can be thankful for having a place to live, whether we own the place or whether we are renting. It really doesn’t matter. If God has given us a place to lay our heads at night, for this we are thankful. If God has given us food and clothes, we can be thankful.

       Remember what Paul said to the Ephesians? Paul stated in Ephesians chapter 1 that in Christ is wisdom, revelation of God’s truth, knowledge, enlightenment, calling, inheritance and riches, great power, and the list goes on and on. And, in regard to our futures, God has promised that he will renovate the earth for the 1,000-year Reign of Christ. And not only that, he has promised a new heaven and new earth afterwards which will be incredible for us. We can be thankful because we have these hopes. Not only will we go to Heaven when we die, but in the future we will reign with Christ as fellow heirs and be included in the new creation. For the Christian, there are a lot of things we can be thankful for in Christ, both now and coming in the future for us.

       And then there is always one of the greatest promises in the Bible, the one found in Romans chapter 8, to be thankful for. We all know it by heart. It says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, ESV). So, if we are living a life trying to please God, trying to be after his own heart, God promises the Christian that he will work any circumstance toward the good. This is for us who are called by God—those of us who are Christians. He called us “according to his purpose,” and he also works out the things in our lives according to his will. Nothing comes into our lives without God knowing it’s coming, and without his allowing it to come, of that we can be sure. Solomon told us in Proverbs, “The Lord has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble (Proverbs 16:4, ESV).

       Indeed, we as Christians are called to be thankful. We must have a thankful attitude when approaching God in prayer. The Apostle Paul demonstrated this attitude in his letter to the Romans. He told them, “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. For God is my witness… that without ceasing I mention you always in my prayers” (Romans 1:8-10ex, ESV). Paul was filled with thanksgiving for the believers in Rome, and he made sure to continually thank God for them. When God does great things in our lives, it is especially important that we thank him for those great things. Why wouldn’t we want to thank him? And Paul also told the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice… in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:4, 6ex, ESV). We have much to be thankful for, and much to renew our minds into a spirit of thankfulness in our lives.

       In conclusion today, I know there are some of you who have been listening to what I have been saying, and you’re a Christian, but you are not totally committed to God. There are things in your life that you are keeping from God, and there are things you are not allowing him to have. This problem, or problems, in your life is robbing you of your joy in Jesus. You can’t have joy because you are keeping around a secret sin, or you don’t have joy because you are not letting God take control of a certain area of your life. You may be afraid to let God have control.

       But we, as Christians, have accepted Jesus as both Savior and Lord. We accepted him as Savior, and have confessed our sins to him, and should be continuing to confess our sins to him. There is no room in the Christian life to willingly harbor a sin, or sins, whether in secret or not. We also accepted Jesus as Lord, meaning we surrendered our lives over to him, so that he would be in control of are lives. Perhaps you have a big decision coming up in your life, and you’re not letting God have his say in what you are going to go. That’s very unwise. Remember, God has your best interests in mind; he is on your side. Give the situation over to him, and watch and see what he does. He will lead you down the right path.

       Now, there are some of you who have been listening today and you don’t know Jesus—you have never accepted him as Lord and Savior of your life. It is true that God does indeed want everyone to come into a personal relationship with him through Jesus. In fact, he sent him to the earth, some 2,000 years, and he died on a cross in order to pay your sin debt and my sin debt—in order to take care of our offenses we’ve committed against God. And this is no matter what the offenses are, or how many times we’ve committed them. Jesus rose from the dead and is now with God in Heaven. God is a gracious God, and he loves everyone and wants everyone to come to know him.

       If a relationship with God is something you feel you would like today, and if you want to be set free from the weight of your sin and accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, then follow my lead in this simple prayer:

God, I have sinned against you in my life. I have done a lot of things wrong. But today I want to turn from my sin, and accept Jesus’ sacrifice for my sin on the cross. I believe he rose from the dead, and accept him as my Lord. I want you to have control of my life because I can trust you. Father, please change me on a personal level, and make me become like Jesus. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.

-Daniel Litton