Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Overflowing Thankfulness Even When the Path Changes- 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17

"Meanwhile, we’ve got our hands full continually thanking God for you, our good friends—so loved by God!" (2 Thessalonians 2:13)

I love this imagery that Paul is using. Can't you picture it? Your hands just overflowing with all the thankfulness? I imagine tons of little paper hearts with thank you notes written on each one. My hands are trying to hold them all, but they are pouring down over the sides and pooling at my feet. My little hearts are all different colors by the way. They have names on them, events that I've experienced with my friends, and things that they've done. Some of the words I think I'd see? I would have a pink heart that said, "hospital visits" and a red one that said, "unicorn necklace." A purple one would say, "dinner at a diner" and a yellow one would say, "coffee breaks." I have an orange one that says, "veggie straws" and a blue one that says, "chicken talk."

Do you feel this way about your friends? I know I don't always feel this way. I often take them for granted when I should be overflowing with thankfulness to God that I have them at all. Friends are such a blessing. If you nurture the relationship correctly, friends can be closer than family. They can be the stand-ins when your family isn't around or when it simply doesn't exist. I don't have a biological sister, but I do have several friends that stand in as sisters to me in that empty place and I am so thankful for it. Do you have any friends that are close enough to be family?

Let's keep reading, because today's verses are going to be awesome:

"God picked you out as his from the very start. Think of it: included in God’s original plan of salvation by the bond of faith in the living truth. This is the life of the Spirit he invited you to through the Message we delivered, in which you get in on the glory of our Master, Jesus Christ." (2 Thessalonians 2:14)

From his talk of thankfulness and friends, Paul goes on to talk about how God has chosen these people, his friends, to be a part of salvation, to be a part of his plan. Over the last few weeks, I have heard over and over again from various sources that this- the place we are living right now in our lives- is God's plan A. He doesn't have a plan B for us. The place he has us, the things we are doing, the people we are affecting, and the lives that we are living? It's God's plan A. He wants to use us exactly where we are. Isn't that a thrilling (and maybe a little scary) thought?

This year, after homeschooling my kids for six years, I felt God calling me to send the last one to public school. I could almost hear him whispering-through my son's very excited voice about wanting to go to school- that it would be okay, that God knew what he was doing, that I could trust Him. So I enrolled the last kid in public school and took a deep breath. I closed my eyes and opened my hands like a little kid waiting for a surprise from her daddy.

And over the last few weeks, He has taken a few things out of my hands. It started with homeschooling of course, and then he lifted serving with high schoolers from my plate and the possibility of volunteering at my kids' schools. Those were two big things that I thought for sure I'd be doing, but I'm not. And at first, I was a little sad, but I have to keep trusting that Jesus knows what he is doing here.

I've also had to say no to a bunch of opportunities. I was offered a couple of jobs that I declined. It was suggested that I apply to a few places. Others see my free time and seem to think they need to "do me a favor" and fill that empty time because why would I want to leave my time so empty? I only get a little bit of it here on earth, I should use it all to the max, right?

But that's not what God's been telling me these last few weeks at all. He has led me to this verse over and over again:

"I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." (John 10:10b)

It says nothing about living a life that is overflowing with stuff and time that is packed to the gills. I need the empty time. I have to have it there. God wants it there in my life. He reminds me of that each and every time a fun opportunity comes along. There have been several that have tempted me, but I keep saying no. Why? Because I want to live my life to the full just as Jesus called me to do, not have a full life.

At this point, some may be wondering what I plan to do with all that empty time. Others don't care I suppose, but then why are you reading right now? ;) This is one thing I plan to do:

"So, friends, take a firm stand, feet on the ground and head high. Keep a tight grip on what you were taught, whether in personal conversation or by our letter." (2 Thessalonians 2:15)

Paul called his readers to remember what they were taught. One way to remember what you were taught is to study it. When we were taught new concepts in school, we studied for the test to prove that we knew the information. We can apply that idea similarly here too. There's not really a test, but studying God's word draws us closer to God because it's the way that God speaks to us. I don't come upon these verses that speak to me so clearly about my present circumstances by accident. I honestly believe that God is guiding me here. I pray each time that I write these posts that He will speak to me and show me what He wants me to know. It still amazes me every time that he shows me new things.

And then there is this:

"May Jesus himself and God our Father, who reached out in love and surprised you with gifts of unending help and confidence, put a fresh heart in you, invigorate your work, enliven your speech." (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17)

Do you know what I see when I read these verses? God loves me. He loves me so much that I am worth every effort. He has continually reached out to me. He has loved me fiercely and worked out surprise after surprise in my life as precious gifts. And that realization leads me to thinking about all of my own surprises and gifts: my husband, my children, my family, my dear friends, my home, my neighbors, our chickens, the ability he has given me to write, the spark of an idea or ten, the Bible to study and learn and grow closer to Him, coffee (of course)...I could go on and on.

My list of things to be thankful for is a long one (seriously, I took the challenge that Ann Voskamp offered up in her book One Thousand Gifts). If you've never done it, I highly recommend writing out all the things that you are thankful for. It's a great spirit lifter and opens your eyes to the positive things around you rather than all the negatives that are so very easy to see. At least they are for me...am I the only one?

In those verses, I also see a promise. I see God promising that he is there to be my help and my strength. He is there to be my confidence and my courage when I am afraid. He is there to give me a new, unblemished heart that is open and ready to follow Him. He is there to guide my hands as I write because that is the work that I feel Him calling me to do. And He will be there when I am called to speak aloud about Him because that is the scariest of them all on that list. At least it is for me.

Take a moment and read those last verses again. Think about the following questions:

1. What is God calling you to release to Him?

2. What has God given you in your life as a surprise?

3. What are some of the gifts God has given you, whether they are physical things, relationships, or abilities that you have?

4. Are there ways that you are using your time that you need to release to Him to free up that time to spend with Him?

5. Are you thankful for your friendships? Are there any that you dread?

I pray that you have an amazing day today and that God shows you what he wants you to know and what you need to hand over to Him to handle. Be blessed today and remember to be a blessing too!

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