I try to go to church most Sundays, not because it’s the right thing to do, but because it spiritually refreshes me, teaches me God’s word and convicts me of areas in my life that I may need to change or improve. Our Pastor has some mighty convicting sermons, but today’s “service” reminded me what it’s really all about and was so powerful that I wanted to share it, in hopes that this message might make a difference in someone else’s life too.
Today’s message was based on 1 Thessalonians 5:18“give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” The reason we can be thankful in all circumstances is because our foundation is not supposed to be based on our circumstances, but on our relationship in Christ. Easier said than done right?
Being Thanksgiving weekend, the Pastor wanted us to reflect on how much we have to be thankful for. Thanksgiving comes and goes so quickly and often it’s just an excuse to get together with family and stuff ourselves, without hardly thinking about the many blessings God has provided for us. Then on “Black Friday” we immediately start focusing on Christmas shopping and spending money that many of us don’t even have.
Today he focused on reminding us how much we truly have to be thankful for every day of our lives, here in America. I don’t know if I wrote these stats down correctly, but he said something like 2/3 of the world are starving or hungry. 1 person dies every second as a result of hunger. Most of the world doesn’t even have safe water to drink – 97% of clean, safe drinking water is right here in the United States of America. Most of the world doesn’t have the freedom to practice whatever religion they want. These stats convicted me that there are many simple things I take for granted every day.
But the most powerful reminder of what we have to be thankful for, lies in the testimonies of people’s lives who have been changed and redeemed by God, in spite of suffering and evil they have experienced. Pastor Frank started by sharing a story about Bobby Welch, a Baptist Preacher, who was recently in Vietnam to celebrate 50 years of Baptist work in Vietnam. Bobby is a Vietnam veteran and he recounted his story about being shot at point-blank range on a jungle trail by a Viet Cong soldier. Thinking he would surely die, Welch prayed a simple prayer and miraculously survived his life-threatening injuries. That experience led him to recommit his life to Christ and embark on a life of service to God.
“I have often told my wife that if I could find that soldier who shot me, I would bring him to my house, give him the best room, feed him the best meal and embrace him like a brother because of how God used him to change my life,” Welch told the crowd. Bobby Welch allowed God to change his life and subsequently he has made an impact on so many others lives, as a result of his suffering.
The Pastor then invited anyone who felt moved by the Holy Spirit of God, to come up and share what they have to be thankful to God for. There must have been 100 people who came up without even thinking about it and during their sharing a few more felt convicted to come up and share their story as well.
It is an experience I won’t soon forget and one that reminds me that with God, all things truly are possible. There were so many amazing tear filled testimonies I wish I could remember all of them, but there are a few that really stood out to me that I wanted to share:
- Several people who struggled with drug or alcohol addictions shared how God gave them the power to overcome their addiction. One guy in particular, who is always very enthusiastic at church, explained how he had been in a car accident and had become addicted to Oxycontin and then progressed to Cocaine. He had alienated most of his family. He overdosed and almost died when he asked Jesus to come into his life and help him give up his addition. Now his whole family comes to church and he’s so happy and thankful to God ever since that experience, he cannot contain his joy and gratitude and it shows!
- A woman had become blind in one eye and eventually lost most of the sight in her other eye but says now that she is blind she can see more clearly things about God that she never could before and is much happier in her life now, even though she struggles with her disability.
- A woman talked about a rare disease that kept her from eating and she lost so much weight that she got down to 92 p0unds. She was so happy this Thanksgiving because for the first time in years, she was able to eat and enjoy her Thanksgiving meal.
- A man who had been an atheist for 55 years, before he finally accepted Christ as his personal savior, is thankful that God showed him through a dream, that he is real.
- A mother has had a tumor on her brain since 1979. She knew eventually it could cause her to lose her eyesight and might require surgery with complications. She lived a fairly normal life with this tumor for many years and prayed that God would enable her to raise her kids and see them graduate from college. Miraculously, she didn’t start experiencing complications from this tumor until after her kids graduated from college.
- A husband leaves to serve in Iraq while his relationship with his wife is falling apart. While he is gone, she accepts Christ as her savior and becomes a Christian. When he returns home, their relationship is restored, as they both decide to walk with God together.
- A young woman shared about her rough childhood, her mother was an alcoholic and she never knew her father. She had accepted Christ when she was 5 years old, but no one else in her family followed God. She is now happily married – the first woman in her family to be married since 1940. She is the first person in her family to graduate from high school and college. She was a virgin when she married her husband and they now have a beautiful 1 year old daughter. Every other woman in her family has chosen to have children without being married. She feels so thankful that God has shown her how to be a Godly woman and wife, in spite of her upbringing and family history.
When everyone was done sharing their testimonies the Pastor pointed out that the significant theme for all of these people is that they gave God the glory for what he did in their lives to help them through their trials and suffering.
Some simple tips for developing a heart of gratitude daily:
- Say thanks to others who do things for you, even if you don’t feel like it.
- Say thanks at each meal, every day. The abundance of food we have in this country truly is something to be thankful for.
- Give God the glory for helping us through our trials and suffering.
Here’s a video of cardboard testimonies that testifies to the power of lives being changed by God’s grace.
Matthew 11: 28“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.