By Reverend Mark Worthington, a retired pastor who currently serves as a minister of our church in Sacramento, California.
The benefits God gives are so great that sometimes the more we count our blessings, the more inadequate we feel to give thanks. I can’t thank God enough for my loved ones and all the beauties of nature, let alone for the gift of salvation and what He is preparing for us in Heaven.
Compared with the magnitude of God, we might think our thanksgiving is insignificant. However, God wants to hear from each of us.
Sir Michael Costa was a prominent nineteenth century Italian composer and conductor. During one rehearsal with a large choir and orchestra, the strings began to play, the horns sounded, cymbals clashed, and the mighty chorus sang out. In all of this, the piccolo player said to himself, It doesn’t matter what I do. Nobody can hear me anyway, and he ceased to play. Sir Costa immediately stopped the rehearsal and demanded, “Where is the piccolo?” <sup>1<sup> He was sensitive to the sound he expected to hear, and he noticed when even the smallest instrument was missing.
God has a sensitive ear also, and He misses every voice not lifted to Him in praise and thanksgiving. His Word instructs us, “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). The key to rejoicing always is to live with an attitude of thankfulness reflected by our actions—something that could be referred to as “thanks-living.”
In Colossians 3:15-17, we find three practical ways in which we can express our gratitude to God through thanks-living. First, in verse 15, the Apostle Paul admonished believers to pursue peace when conflicts arise within the body of Christ. He said, “Let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.” He made a direct connection between peace and thankfulness. The two go together because peace cannot rule in an ungrateful heart. And the person who has a deep appreciation for the Gospel will prevent any potential hindrance to the Gospel by seeking a peaceful resolution, even at his or her own expense.
In the next verse Paul wrote, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” It is not enough that the Word of God dwells in our homes and on our bookshelves. It must dwell in our hearts and minds. Paul said to let it dwell richly, and this requires more than just reading our Bibles now and then. Moderation is no virtue when it comes to gaining knowledge of the things of God through His Word. When we let the richness of God’s truth dwell in our hearts, it spills over into our worship. Then we have something to praise and sing about, and we can’t keep quiet!
Lastly, Paul said, “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (verse 17). The Name of Christ represents His character, authority, and glory. To do all in His Name means to do everything by His approval with the conviction there is nothing in our actions out of harmony with His will. When we apply this principle to every aspect of our lives, God is glorified, and that is thanks-living.
<sup>1<sup> Richard DeHaan, “Where’s the Piccolo?” Our Daily Bread, November 17, 2002, https://odb.org/US/2002/11/17/wheres-the-piccolo.
What Makes a Hero?
By Romas Lunza, a minister of our church in Livingstone, Zambia.
In the Book of Hebrews, we read of individuals who are recorded in Scripture for their great acts of faith and mighty works. These include people like Noah, Abraham, Moses, and many more, and we call them heroes of faith. Abraham, for instance, heard God’s call and was moved by faith to go to a country he did not know. He believed God, and risked all he had to obey. That was a great act of faith, and it is no wonder that it was counted unto him for righteousness.
However, not all the heroes of faith did impressive feats. For example, we also read of Abel. What did he do? Hebrews 11:4 says, “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.” All that Abel did was obey the truth that he had been taught by offering an excellent sacrifice. For that, he was listed among the heroes of faith. Though Abel died for his faith, his murder is not mentioned in this chapter of Hebrews. That was not what made him a hero. Rather, it was that he believed God and obeyed.
Being a hero of faith does not require achieving something great. God does call some to great works so that the whole world can see, know, and acknowledge that there is a God. However, for many, God is only looking for us to believe and obey in simple tasks. The moment we take our stand of faith, it qualifies us to be a hero in God’s eyes.
Consider Isaac as well. We do not read much about him in this chapter, though we know from Genesis that he had a wonderfully arranged marriage, he loved his wife and children, and he never engaged in war. This sounds like a quiet life, yet he is listed in the heroes’ hall of fame. Verse 20 says, “By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.” All he did to be recorded as a hero was bless his children concerning things to come. This suggests that if you are a parent, you too can be a hero when you faithfully and prayerfully teach your children the Gospel in your home.
This is how the Christian realm works: we simply believe and obey God, and we become heroes—just like that! We may never be called upon to die for our faith. Our call may not be to stand before a great crowd to preach. Maybe we are called to simply take God at His Word and make a silent prayer in our hearts. If that is what God has asked, just be faithful at that! Small sacrifices are acknowledged by God and will be remembered.
In verse 13 we read, “These all died in faith . . .” They did their part diligently and followed after God until death, and we want to do the same. God has made provision for us to end our race as a hero! If you have not yet decided to start living by faith, there’s no better time than now. If you have already started, may you follow God all the way.
Enter Your Prayer Closet
By Reverend Nick Segres, Jr., the pastor of our church in Atlanta, Georgia.
In life, we go to a lot of places, but one place we cannot forget to go is into the presence of God. Jesus gave some instruction about this in Matthew 6:6 where we read, “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” The first instruction here is: “Enter into thy closet.” To “enter” implies moving from one location to another. A “closet” refers to a secluded place that is usually hidden away. Though we may not always pray in a literal closet, we understand it as a place where we can get away from the hustle and bustle of life so God can speak to us.
The second instruction says: “Shut thy door.” When we go into our prayer closet, we want to block out everything so that God is our focal point. We are not there to get away from the kids or to take a nap. This is an extraordinary place where God can speak to us individually! We leave everything outside—no phone, no tablet, no television or radio programs playing in the background. It’s alright to be away from our phones for a while; if someone needs us, they will send a message and we can read it after our prayer. What is needful is to get to a private place where we can enter God’s presence.
The third instruction is this: “Pray to thy Father.” Once we are in our prayer closet with the door shut, we can talk with God. Often our tendency is to tell God everything we need, because we have many needs. Anything we may require, God has it! Reading further in Matthew 6, Jesus said in verse 8 that our Father already knows what we need. So in addition to making requests, prayer is a time to listen. Sometimes the best thing to do is to meditate on the Word of God and let Him talk to us. Psalm 1 says that blessed is the man who meditates on God’s Word day and night. While we do that, God might reveal that we need to make a restitution or that we should read His Word more, or stay in the prayer closet just a little bit longer. Our prayer is a time to talk to God and to hear from Him, and it is the most essential part of our walk with God.
I like how Jesus ended this admonition: “Thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” The closet is a place where God will bless us, not only in the closet but also openly, or publically. When we pray in the closet, our lives will turn into something we never imagined, and others will see it. We will shine brightly in this world, and brighter as the day goes by!
Do you have a prayer closet? If not, you can make one! It could be your garage, bedroom, a place in your backyard—anywhere you designate to meet with God. When you get to that place, God will be waiting for you there, and He will bless you.
God of the Valleys
By Harlan Lee, a minister of our church in Roseburg, Oregon.
During trips to visit our churches in Romania, I’ve seen some of the fortresses and castles in Eastern Europe. They are always up on top of hills. Naturally, that location provides a better defense because one can look down from there and see the enemy coming from all directions. It is easier to win a battle from a hilltop or mountaintop than it would be from a valley.
In 1 Kings chapter 20, we read about battles fought on hilltops and in valleys. In this chapter, Ben-hadad, the Syrian king, was troubling Ahab, king of Israel. The Syrians vastly outnumbered the children of Israel and they laid siege on Jerusalem. King Ben-hadad demanded their gold and silver, and their wives and children. It seems that King Ahab agreed to those terms, but then Ben-hadad made even more demands, and Ahab decided that was too much. He refused Ben-hadad, and so they were on course for battle.
Though we do not read much good about Ahab, God would not let His own name be dishonored in this situation. God sent a prophet to tell Ahab that He would deliver the great multitude of Syrians into his hands, and that is exactly what happened. However, after their miserable defeat, the Syrians regrouped. We read in 1 Kings 20:23, “And the servants of the king of Syria said unto him, their gods are gods of the hills; therefore they were stronger than we; but let us fight against them in the plain, and surely we shall be stronger than they.” The Bible states that at the second battle, the Syrian forces were greater than before, so they anticipated having an advantage in their strategic approach as well as their resources.
God spoke to Ahab again through a prophet. We read in verse 28, “Thus saith the <smallcaps>Lord<smallcaps>, Because the Syrians have said, The <smallcaps>Lord<smallcaps> is God of the hills, but he is not God of the valleys, therefore will I deliver all this great multitude into thine hand, and ye shall know that I am the <smallcaps>Lord<smallcaps>.” In the second battle, seven thousand Israelites slew one hundred thousand Syrian soldiers. The victory they had won in the hills was overshadowed by the even greater victory they won in the valley!
Sometimes we speak about “mountaintop experiences” in our spiritual walks. For example, being born again—that is a mountaintop experience! Many have said that after the Lord came into their hearts, they felt like they were walking on air. For me, sanctification was a powerful experience; I felt a burning inside me, and afterward felt like I had lost about ten pounds—the sin nature was gone! Later I also received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, another mountaintop experience.
Our God is certainly a God of mountains and hills, but He is a God of the valleys too! The Psalmist said, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me” (Psalm 23:4). We praise God for the mountaintop experiences, but we praise God in the valley too, because great victories can be attained there as well.
Think of some of the Bible heroes who passed through a valley. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego went into the fiery furnace, and they came out with a testimony that was more powerful than if they had never entered it. Consider Paul and Silas—they were confined in the innermost prison, with backs bleeding and feet fastened in stocks. The valley does not get much deeper than that. Yet, there they prayed and sang praises to God. Their faith was a testimony to all the other prisoners, and so was their mighty deliverance when an earthquake loosed their chains and they were free!
Today, our “valley” might be a sickness, or perhaps some type of loss, whether it be financial, emotional, a relationship, or something else. If you happen to be on a mountaintop right now, thank God and praise Him. But if you are down in the valley, praise God and thank Him there too, because great victory is coming!