Thursday, December 11, 2008

I Am What I Am: Growing in Thankfulness

by Stacy McDonald

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain....” (1 Corinthians 15:10, NKJV)

Every once in a while, when I am feeling extra sorry for myself (we all do it sometimes), I wonder why God wasted His time on me. In fact, it seems He still does it. Every day He gives me the grace I need to get through the day. He blesses me with food, shelter, clothing, beautiful children, and a husband who loves me. He has blessed me with health, a lovely home, a wonderful church family, and immeasurable joy. But why? Doesn’t He know who I am?

It happens at night. All my sins, undone projects, fears, childrearing failures, and secret flaws invade my thoughts. I think about the cellar I have wanted to clean out for months now, the garden that just didn’t quite make it this year, and the fact that William still isn’t potty trained! (You didn’t expect me to tell you my worst fears, did you?)

Then I idolize my friends and their families. I think about others who seem to have it all together and I dwell on how I will never measure up—then anxiety comes. I don’t know about you, but I find it impossible to be thankful when I focus on my failures, or when I compare myself to others. In fact, when I focus on myself this way, I am more likely to give up, become depressed, or grow angry and bitter toward those I have idolized. And when I compare myself to others, I either blame myself or I blame others for being so…so perfect! The nerve!

But deep down I know the truth. You know the truth. They are not perfect. Jesus is the only perfect One. Don’t do it! Don’t compare yourself to others. No matter what it looks like from your vantage point, the people in the family you have idolized still sin: the children are not perfect; the mom sometimes says unkind things; the father speaks in sinful anger from time to time; and their family creates messes that have to be cleaned…just like yours.

Regaining a Right Focus

So how do you take your eyes off other people? How do you break the habit of comparing and placing burdens upon yourself—burdens that God didn’t put there? How do you keep from having those late-night anxiety attacks? First, repent. Turn your eyes away from your own works and off your feeble idols and turn them toward your Lord God—the only perfect One!

“Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.” (Psalm 119:37, ESV)

Focus on Jesus and His grace toward you. As I reflect on God’s redeeming power and providence in my life, I stand amazed. I’m so undeserving of His grace and so deserving of His wrath. But then again, it is not about me.

In my weakness, I occasionally forget that God’s mercy toward me has nothing to do with me. It is all about His grace. And I must remember that “His grace toward me was not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:10). This is where I must be in order to truly be thankful for the work He has done in my life and for any blessing He gives me.

God is Faithful, Even When We Are Not

I am reminded of His faithfulness toward me when I recall that He has never left me nor forsaken me—even during those times when I thoroughly deserved it. As unworthy and insignificant as I am, never once did God forget me.

“Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” (Hebrews 13:5, NKJV)

As I sat in a foster home as a baby, awaiting a family to adopt me, God was there with me. He was my Comforter.

When He put it on the heart of my parents to adopt me, even though they knew it would mean many future doctors’ bills, God was caring for me. He was to me a “Father to the fatherless.”

When I endured my first major back surgery at five years old, God guided the surgeon’s hand, keeping me from being forever paralyzed. He was my Healer.

When I cried out to God as a young teen, “Why did you make me this way?” He heard and He answered; though He had not yet opened my ears to hear Him. He was my Creator.

When I left the home of my parents and rebelled against the good things I had been taught, He shielded me from total destruction (1 Corinthians 5:5) and taught me hard lessons I would need later. He was my merciful Protector.

A few years later, God pulled me out of the pit. I didn’t “find Jesus.” He found me—kicking and screaming.

Looking back, I don’t believe I have a “salvation date.” I think it took me a good two years before I surrendered my life to God and truly trusted Jesus for salvation. It was a process. I was spiritually broken, bruised, and bleeding. I was like the bird with a broken wing—trying desperately to fly away on my own (Obadiah 4).

Even when God brought me to my knees, I would have fled if I could, but God had me where He wanted me. As I lay struggling, He bandaged my wounds, healed my hurts, and won my love (Psalm 147:3). He forced me to see me my sinful stubborn heart, and I repented. He forgave me and life finally truly began.

“But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31, ESV)

It was during this time that I realized God had been with me all along. His handiwork had been woven into the very fabric of my life—even before I was born.

Although I was called to walk through many painful and difficult things, most of which I brought upon myself, God guided and protected me in the midst of it all. I live with many consequences of a sinful past—consequences that are daily reminders to me of His grace in my life; but God has redeemed it all and is using it for His glory. That is what it is all about—His glory.

His providential hand in my life has never slowed or weakened. There's no way to deny it—God leads and protects us, ordaining our steps from the very beginning.

Before I ever knew Him, He knew me, and set me apart for His own purpose (Jeremiah 1:5). Every one of His children is set apart in this same way. How awesome is that?

Enter His Gates With Thanksgiving

“But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth, to which He called you by our gospel, for the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14, NKJV)

And every one of us, each of His children, is a work in progress. We may be in different places on the path of sanctification, but we are to be one in Christ, as a testimony of God’s Truth to the world (John 17:22-23).

If we rely on our own miserable works or blind ourselves by idolizing the imagined “perfect” works of others, we will never be thankful, only hopeless and covetous.

Remember, by God’s grace, we are what we are. He has redeemed our past; He is sanctifying us now; and He has secured our future. His grace toward us is not in vain. For that, we should all give Him thanks and praise.

“Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, And for His wonderful works to the children of men! For He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness.” (Psalm 107:8-9, NKJV)

Copyright 2008 Homeschooling Today magazine, November/December 2008

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