2 Corinthians 9:15 Christian Standard Bible (CSB) 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
I love this season of the year–as we approach Thanksgiving and prepare for Advent and Christmas, it is a good time to reflect and celebrate all the wonderful things God has done, and all the ways He has blessed us. But there is also a danger in this season. We are tempted to look around and compare our blessings (and our struggles) with others around us. We are tempted to be envious, depressed, and stressed about our circumstances. Or we look at our blessings and feel smug and self-satisfied, instead of grateful and humble.
What “Great” things am I thankful for? Sometimes I make a list of all “my” blessings–my health, my family, my home or car, my freedom (as though I had done anything to earn such blessings)–and I stop. Sometimes I make another list of all the “Great” things God has done in nature–beautiful sunsets and majestic forests, glistening snowflakes and spring blossoms–and I stop. Sometimes, I even thank Him for the trials and struggles and difficult relationships that He has allowed to refine me and build my character to be more like His– and I stop. Sometimes, I thank Him for the great things he has done for others–miracles of provision, safety, or healing.
But there is a deeper level of thankfulness– one that takes my breath away and causes me to fall to my knees– one that thanks God for WHO HE IS– truth, righteousness, salvation, mercy, wisdom, power, and boundless, unconditional love. Every great work of God has its origin in God’s Character. Every sunrise shows His faithfulness, every snowflake His infinite creativity. Even tragedy can reveal His tenderness and healing and precious promise that NOTHING can separate us from His love. In giving His greatest gift, God spared no expense; he held nothing back. Jesus defeated sin and death by becoming sin and experiencing death–FOR YOU and for ME! For anyone, for everyone, who will accept His gift and trust in His character. How often do I list all the great things God has done and stop before I let the amazement of the Great I AM to overwhelm me? How often to I celebrate Thanksgiving without ever reaching this level of true Thanks-giving?
Whether we celebrate Thanksgiving with turkey and pumpkin pie, or with beans and wienies; whether we celebrate with family, friends, strangers or alone; even if we celebrate on a different day, or in a different way, may we always find ourselves amazed by the Greatness of God. May we truly give God more than just thanksgiving this year. May we give Him all the Glory–Great things He hath done!
Why do we pray to, sing praises to, and trust in the fortress of “the God of Jacob” (Psalm 46; Psalm 75, etc.)? Isn’t Jacob the one who cheated his brother and tricked his father to steal an inheritance? Wasn’t he a liar, and a thief?
Last time, https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/78948359/posts/2322587905, I wrote about Jacob as the “other son”, the one in the shadows. But Jacob wasn’t content to stay in the shadows. He waited and schemed, and used his brother’s and father’s character traits against them and to his own advantage. Jacob was crafty, and sly, and devious. These are not characteristics designed to build trust or inspire admiration. They are, however, characteristics many of us secretly admire. Jacob tricked his way to the top! He didn’t exactly “steal” his brother’s inheritance– he tricked his brother into giving it away! No bloodshed or fighting…Jacob simply used his brother’s weakness and vanity to get what he wanted. Some might say that Esau didn’t deserve to keep an inheritance he was willing to barter away for a measly bowl of stew. (https://biblia.com/bible/nlt/Ge25.27-34) Even the Bible says that Esau despised his birthright!
Later, Jacob steals his brother’s blessing, too. This time, he lies and deceives his dying father in the process. This Bible story is curious, and much has been written about whether Jacob and his mother set out to deceive Isaac, and why. Was Rachel trying to cheat her own son, Esau, out of his blessing, and lie to her husband in the process? Why would Jacob want to steal a blessing from his brother when he already had “taken” the birthright?
The Bible doesn’t always give us easy answers and complete explanations. What it does, however, is give us glimpses into the lives of real people and their very real encounters with God. Jacob’s family was a divided family. Isaac was prepared to give everything to Esau when he died. There is no evidence that he was prepared to give Jacob any kind of blessing– it had all been reserved for Esau. Whether this was in retaliation for Jacob’s earlier “trick”, we are not told. Whether Jacob and Rebecca intended for Jacob to appease his father with meat and get “a blessing” , and things got out of hand, or whether they intended that Esau should be cut out of both blessing and birthright, we don’t know. What we see is that Isaac meant to bless only Esau. When the “real” Esau showed up too late, there was nothing left for Isaac to give as a blessing. There was no plan for a secondary blessing– for either son. (Ironically, because Jacob was sent away, Isaac had a “going away” blessing for him that was also denied to Esau.. (see Genesis 28:1!)
Jacob’s days of cheating and using deception were to leave a lasting impact on his life. He was sent far away from his family, fearing his brother’s anger. He missed years of being with his mother and father; of having their advice, or letting them spend time with their grandchildren. Jacob ended up finding, in his Uncle Laban, a bigger cheat and liar than he had ever dreamed of being; a man whose craftiness cheated Jacob out of years of labor and saddled him with family problems for the rest of his life. Jacob’s heart was broken by the deception his own sons would perpetrate on him when they sold their brother, Joseph, into slavery. Cleverness, deceit, and crafty schemes may offer a temporary ticket to victory, power, and “the good life.” But such schemes have consequences that cause lasting pain and punishment.
But that’s not the end of the story. We see Jacob rise above his own earlier mistakes. Jacob never loses his cleverness or his desire to succeed, but he learns how to “cheat the cheater”– he becomes so successful and hard working that Laban can’t fault Jacob for having larger flocks and becoming rich. Jacob could rightfully show that he had not stolen any of his uncle’s flocks, and he made Laban rich, too. Jacob’s cleverness was not the problem– it was how he had used it; with lies and deception against his father and brother. Later in life, he uses the same cleverness to appease his brother, provide for his family, and establish his own growing dynasty.
And, at the end of his life, Jacob had blessings for each of his sons. Even though he had “favorites”, he made sure each son knew that he was loved and blessed by both his earthly and heavenly father. God also confirmed this by giving each “son” an inheritance among the burgeoning nation of Israel when they returned to the land of promise after their time in Egypt.
What caused this change? Some might say that Jacob “learned his lesson” (and he did!) at the hands of his uncle and with the passage of time. Some might say he matured with the responsibilities of fatherhood and his career. But the Bible gives us one other important factor– Jacob encountered God. Jacob even wrestled with God. But God cannot be cheated. God cannot be outwitted or tricked. God cannot be grabbed by the heel and tripped up by any scheme of man. Yet God blesses even the cheater. God loves even the liar. God chooses even the thief. God’s love and grace are greater by far than any birthright or blessing we can “grab” for ourselves. God doesn’t bless us because we are clever, and certainly not because we lie or cheat. But he gives us intelligence, cleverness, and, if we ask for it, the wisdom to know how to use our gifts in ways that please him and help others.
We can take refuge in the “God of Jacob”, because even in our sin, God wants to rescue us from ourselves and give us a better way.
When we look around at all the beauty God created (see yesterday’s post:https://pursuingprayerblog.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=1206&action=edit ), we also see the ugliness of a fallen world. What God created, he proclaimed “Good.” That goodness still exists, but it is tainted and polluted by sin. God has the authority and the right to destroy it all (and us along with it!); instead, he chose to redeem it. God’s promise to do this has been playing out from the very beginning.
God did not strike Adam and Eve– He allowed them to age, and reproduce, and live out their lifespan–but He did keep his promise that they would have to die (see Genesis 3). God kept his promise to Noah, to save his family from a worldwide flood (Gensis 6-9). He kept his promise to Abraham, to bring him to a new land and give it to his descendants– though the promise was made when Abraham as childless and wandering in the wilderness (Genesis 12-25). God kept his promise to Abraham’s descendants, to bring them back to the land he had promised them (Exodus–Joshua).
God kept his promises to Israel– promises of blessings and of curses, of retribution and revival. God chose King David, and kept many promises to him about his dynasty, the building of the temple, and the coming of a kingly redeemer in David’s line of ancestry (2 Samuel-1 Kings). He kept his promises given through the prophets concerning the exile and return to Jerusalem.
In this season, we celebrate all the many promises God made and kept regarding the coming of our Savior (Matthew-John). Just as God’s creation is “good,” so too are His promises– they are sure and true. God’s promises reveal His nature–He is Just, He is Kind, and He is Omnipotent. What He says, He can and will accomplish.
Today, I am grateful for God’s promises– for all the ones He has already fulfilled, and for all He will bring to pass!
If you are reading this blog, you have at least sixteen things for which to be thankful. Some of them may seem like minor things, but they can form the beginning of a much longer list.
First, (and this is NOT one of the smaller things) you are alive to read this. You woke up this morning (or afternoon, or whenever), and you have an opportunity to be thankful. Not everyone who was here yesterday can say that! Life is a precious commodity, and one that should cause us to be grateful.
I am (or was a few hours ago– hopefully I still am) alive to write this! You may or may not be very thankful for this fact, depending on whether or not you agree with me, or enjoy the blog, but I am very grateful…
You can see to read this. Close your eyes and imagine, or just look up from your screen to see all the other wonders within your sight!
You can access this blog to read it. We take for granted the availability of information and access to writings, graphics, and sound in the cyber age in which we live, but even 50 years ago it would have been impossible for a private person to share photos, writings, or videos to a global audience in real time. And the time may come when such sharing is tightly regulated, restricted, or forbidden. (Indeed, in certain areas, you may taking a risk to view this even now.)
You can read this. Worldwide, the literacy rate is estimated at 86.3% See wikipedia chart here You may think this is a small thing to point out, but in many countries–perhaps even the one you live in–this percentage is much smaller. And, if you look at historical accounts, literacy rates have exploded in just the last 100 years, especially for women.
You may be especially thankful if you are reading this in a second or third language, or if your computer is translating this into your native tongue.
You may not be reading this directly– if not, be grateful for whoever is able to read it to you, and is willing to do so.
If you have access to this blog, you probably have access to other modern conveniences — electricity, a cell phone or computer, indoor plumbing, etc. Even if your access is limited, sporadic, or expensive, it is still something many of our great-great-grandparents did not know.
Chances are that you have been the beneficiary of medical advances of which you are not even consciously aware…vaccinations, inoculations, surgery, better nutritional practices, and more– most of us living in the world today have never had to face the ravages of Polio; Smallpox, once a dreaded disease, was deemed to be eradicated within the last 50 years. It seems like such a small thing to be grateful for something you have never had, until you talk to someone or read about someone who DID have it.
You are completely unique and one-of-a-kind! Even if you are an “identical” sibling, you are not the same as anyone else living or anyone else who has ever lived! In all the world, throughout all time, there has never been or ever will be anyone exactly like you!
Conversely, you are part of a 7+ billion-member global family of humans who share the same commonalities– laughter, tears, hopes, disappointments, bad hair days (or no hair days), love, loss, hunger, and, sometimes, rest. We all have thoughts and feelings, and a purpose.
God LOVES YOU– in fact, He adores you. He loves you to death– and He died (and rose again) to prove it! The Father, Son and Holy Spirit look on you and love you–want the best for you throughout all eternity, and want to have a deep and powerfully transformative relationship with you– forever!
I am praying for you– perhaps not simultaneous to your reading this, but I pray for readers. I may not know your name, or where you are, or when you are reading this, but God does, and I’m praying to Him on your behalf. I’m also praying as I write each entry that God will be glorified and that what I write will glorify Him and help others.
God is even more readily accessible than anything I will ever send out– more than anything that can pop up in your news feed, nearer than your next door neighbor. God is available–whoever you are, however you feel, wherever you may be, whatever your circumstances, and whenever you call. Every moment of every day is an opportunity to pursue Him and interact with Him through prayer!
God is not just accessible, He has revealed Himself– through His creation, through His words, through prophecies, visions, and miracles, through the life and ministry of Jesus, and through the examples and lives of those who follow Him.
If you have reached this point, you may be scratching your head…I thought there were sixteen things…what’s left? Well, if you count the smaller bullet points above, this is number sixteen, and the fact that you are still counting means that you are counting your blessings– that’s a small thing, maybe, but I think it means that you want to be grateful– and THAT is another thing to celebrate!