I have a father.
There is something profound about that.
And really it should be spelled Father.
I’ve been anxious. Anxious about all sorts of things.
My anxiety is really a sort of fear.
That’s where understanding I have a Father is so helpful. And understanding who my Father is…
When I’m anxious, when I fear, I am faithless. And Fatherless. A practical atheist.
I tell myself all sorts of lies: No one can rescue me. No one is looking out for me. I am alone, an orphan in a vast indifferent world.
I often think and act as though I have no Father and I determine my own destiny. I act as though the buck stops with me—that if I don’t make it happen, then it won’t happen. I sometimes think and act like I’m my own little lord.
Sometimes my anxiety is atheistic. It takes no account of God. It takes no account of the fact that I have a good and able Father.
I really appreciated Kent J. Dunnington’s book, Addiction and Virtue. Here are a few quotes that I found especially helpful:
“Because recovery as conceived by A.A. is a technology of habit reformation, it demands vigilant attention to both the external and internal dimensions of sober action” (79).
“Addiction is a complex habit” (88).
“The scope of recovery is therefore radically extended within a Christian view of addiction. Indeed ‘recovery’ does not sufficiently name the Christian hope in the face of addiction. Instead the Christian hopes for ‘discovery’ and ‘new creation’—not a return to some maintainable equilibrium between who we are and what we want but rather a transformation of the self that brings who we are and what we want… into perfect coordination and harmony” (183).
“In claiming the identity of ‘addict’ or ‘alcoholic,’ we deny that addiction is a habit and assert instead that it is an entity” ( 184).
“Worship is… a totalizing activity; it demands that everything in a person’s life be put in the dock before God, interrogated by one standard and consequently renounced or reordered” (170).
“If the church is to provide a genuine alternative to addicted persons seeking recovery, it must provide daily, rather than once-weekly opportunities for communal worship, testimony and prayer, and it must challenge its parishioners to treat the church as their primary social community” (191).
“The wisdom of the twelve-step program lies in the recognition that the habit of addiction can only be supplanted through the development of another habit that is as pervasive and compelling as the habit of addiction” (165).
“The addicted person, recognizing her own insignificance and her own insufficiency to realize perfect happiness, seeks to be taken up into a consuming experience, longs to be the object rather than the subject of experience, craves to suffer happiness rather than produce it” (158-59).
“The pull of addiction is this pull toward ecstasy, the expression of a deep discontent with the life of ‘just so’ happiness, and the pursuit of an all-consuming love” (159).
“Addictions are addicting just to the extent that they tempt us with the promise of such a perfect happiness, and they enslaving just to the extent that they mimic and give intimations of this perfection” (159).
When caring for someone who is suffering it is often best to say little. It is often best to sit in silence and just be a support by your presence. Even when people ask, “Why? …Why did this happen? …Why are we going through this?… Why?…” It is often still better to refrain from giving an answer. Instead of offering answers (that really can’t be satisfactory) we should pray and point them to our God who cares.
However, as Ecclesiastes 3:7 tells us, there is a time to be silent but there is also a time to speak. When it is time to speak here are some things that I have found helpful in the midst of suffering.
Suffering is a result of sin
Suffering was not part of God’s original intention for the world. God created the world “very good” (Gen. 1:31). It was only after humanity rebelled that suffering came on the scene.
Sadly, there are all sorts of effects because of sin. The world is fallen. And we have faulty and frail bodies. We are susceptible to Lyme disease, cancer, and all sorts of other things. We all suffer, we will all die. That is sadly the way the world is because of the curse that sin brought.
The suffering we experience is not just the result of various kinds of sickness. It is also the result of being sinned against. People afflict others with emotional and physical pain and fail to love as they should. So we see, sin brings upon the world sickness as well as psychological sorrow. Sin is not good.
So, in one sense, we can give an answer to the “why?” question by saying sadly the world is broken and we as individuals are broken physically and spiritually. However, that’s not all. We, thankfully, are not left there. We also see…
God takes our suffering seriously
Our Lord is not up in the sky indifferent to suffering. God takes sin and its effects seriously. Let’s look at four ways God sympathizes with us and takes sin seriously.
First, we see Jesus sympathizes with our suffering. John 11:35 says that “Jesus wept” at the death of Lazarus. Jesus was “deeply moved” (v. 33, 38) and “greatly troubled” (v. 33). Jesus can sympathize with us and our suffering (cf. Heb. 4:15). Our Lord is not up in heaven unaware of the suffering of His servants. Our Lord is aware and He cares. He cares deeply.
Our Lord cares so much that second He comes as our Savior. We see “God takes our misery and suffering so seriously that he was willing to take it on himself.” Jesus offers a solution to the problem of suffering, by suffering in our place. Suffering without medicine or morphine, suffering on a Roman instrument of torture. Even as we grieve over suffering and death we do not grieve as those without hope. We have hope! We have hope through Jesus!
Jesus didn’t heal everyone when He walked the earth and He doesn’t heal everyone now, but He does take care of our biggest problem. Jesus suffered, bled, and died. He was cast out by the Father so that we could be welcomed in.
God is good. Even when we cannot see His hand, we can trust His heart. God memorialized His love for us, when we see the cross, we see that God’s hands are open wide to welcome us in, comfort, and renew us.
So, dear beloved, take heart, Jesus, who is God, weeps as you weep. He feels your misery. However, He does not leave us there (as everybody else has to because they are not Lord) but offers us the solution to all pain and misery. How does He do that, what solution does He give? Jesus gives Himself, His own life. He takes the misery upon Himself on the cross. He bears the wrath we all deserve. Through what Christ did on the cross, for all those in Christ, all things will be restored, made new!
Actually, even now we, in Christ, have the Holy Spirit as a down payment of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it (Eph. 1:14). So, in the midst of suffering and difficulties, we shouldn’t project ourselves into a graceless future. Because, third, God will be there, grace will be there. The LORD will not leave us or forsake us (Deut. 31:6). Our Shepherd, who neither slumbers nor sleeps, is with us now and He will be with us through the storms of life (Ps. 23 cf. 121). Even in our suffering when we can’t form words to pray, the Spirit is there to intercede for us (Rom. 8:26).
Fourth, we see that Jesus will come back and set all things right. There will be no more reason to weep for He Himself will wipe away every tear (Rev. 21:4)! We know, as Paul says, that this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Cor. 4:17 cf. Rom. 8:18). Read More…
Thankfulness to God, who is our Father, should be a defining characteristic of our lives. However, I fear we have a tendency of being practical atheists. I know I do. We may not say we don’t believe in God but we often act like we don’t.
What does this practical atheism look like? It looks thankless. Sometimes when everything is great we forget God. We’re actually really prone to do that as humans (Israel was prone to do that as well; cf. Deut. 6:10-12).
Why does God want us to have a thankful heart?
We are told to give “thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20). Why? Why does God want us to have thankful hearts? Because we have a ton to be thankful for. We use to have our eyes closed tight. When we were unbelievers we didn’t give thanks to God (Rom. 1:21). But now we see things in a different light. We see all we have is a gift we don’t deserve.
God has given us new eyes! Life! We we’re dead. Now we’re alive.
Ephesians lists out some of the amazing things God has done in saving us and then says “to the praise of His glorious grace.” We are adopted by God through Jesus Christ “to the praise of His glorious grace” (Eph. 1:5-6). We have an eternal glorious inheritance through Jesus Christ “to the praise of His glorious grace” (v. 11-12). We have been given the Holy Spirit “to the praise of His glory” (v. 13-14).
We should have a thankful heart because there are so many reasons to be thankful!
We were dead in our sin. Christ made us alive. We were aliens, cast out. Christ brought us close and made us friends. We were enemies of God. Christ brought us peace. We use to walk in the darkness of sin. Now we walk in the light of Christ.
So why does God want us to have a thankful heart? Why are we told to give “thanks always and for everything to God the Father”? In part because He is our Father through Jesus! We have so many reasons to be thankful! Actually, how could we not be thankful?!
It says in Romans that if God gave us His Son how will He not also graciously give us all things? Wow! That is astounding. And think of all God already gives us. He gives us breath. We typically don’t really think of that being that amazing, right? We don’t really think about it. Breathing is so easy, so constant, so natural. Yet, it is God that gives to all man life and breath and everything. He gives it. It’s a gift. A gift we don’t deserve.
What gets in the way of having a thankful heart?
For me I think there’s quite a few things. I think sometimes I’m not even aware of things to be thankful for. Or I’m not aware that the good things I’m enjoying are from God. I often just think it’s just the way it just happened to turn out or it’s because of something I did. In short, when I’m not thankful I am acting like I don’t believe in God. I am acting like an atheist.
God created many good things that are to be received with thanksgiving. “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Tim. 4:4) (notice it is not saying everything without exception, it says everything created by God, so wicked things that displease God are not good). But there are many many good things that we can receive with thanksgiving. Medication, walks in the woods, food, sports, music, Pop Rocks, etc. Yet, how quick I am to take those things and so many others for granted!
There are so many good gifts that God has given us. Yet if we forget to praise Him when we’re enjoying them we are liable to think the gifts are our due. And thus we’ll get upset when the littlest thing doesn’t go our way even though God has heaped good upon good. When we cultivate a heart of thanksgiving it builds us into God and protects us from grumbling and complaining.
Often times when we’re cheerful, whether from God’s gorgeous creation, good food, or good test results, or something else, we don’t think about God. We might bask in the warm sun on the beach, we might celebrate our work on an exam, we might scream out or tell someone why we’re so happy but we often don’t purpose to praise God.
So what seems natural is a response maybe even praise. But not always praise to God. If we’re eating good food we might praise the chef or Taco Bell because it seems like we’re hardwired to act out like that. However, do we thank God? Obviously I’m not saying you can’t tell the guy at Taco Bell that rolled up the mystery meat thanks but ultimately we need to thank God for that crunchy burrito grande thing. It may seem kinda silly and obviously I’m joking a little but I’m also super serious. “Every good [perhaps Taco Bell?] and perfect gift [Chipotle?] comes from the Father” (James 1:17).
We often, myself included, get caught up in the gift and forget the Giver.
How can we grow in thankfulness?
We are to rely on God for all things and look to Him for all things. So when someone is sick or suffering they are exhorted to pray (James 5:13-15). Because sometimes in those situations we can be hopeless and forget that we have a God in heaven who cares and can help. Or we think we can be self-sufficient and handle it ourselves.
However, on the other side, we are also prone to forget our need for God when things are going well. Maybe more prone to forget. So, either way, good or bad, we should turn to the Lord (James 5:13). If I’m thankful because I don’t loss it when I get mad, feel like I had a productive day, or do something well my tendency is not to thank and praise God but to be proud of myself. And God knows that. God knows us and knows our struggles. He knows that we are quick to forget that He is the giver of all good gifts (Acts 17:24-25).
So, God says, “Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise.” That is let him or her be happy but let them not forget who it is that brought that situation. God did! Paul reminds us to give thanks for everything God gives (Eph. 5:20). So God is reminding us not to forget Him in the midst of our good times. God is telling us to cultivate a heart of thanksgiving and praise.
It’s amazing how helpful and practical it is when we cultivate a heart of praise and thanksgiving. If we cultivate a heart of thanksgiving then we won’t be drawn away from the Lord when something good happens. And when something bad happens we’ll remember how good and gracious God is.
How do we cultivate a thankful heart? It says, “giving thanks” (Eph. 5:20) and in other places it says, “sing praise” (James 5:14). So there’s active intentionality. It’s not passive. It doesn’t just happen.
That’s typically why we pray before meals. Why? Because we’re giving thanks to God and acknowledging that it’s Him that provided it. This was Jesus’ practice. He gave thanks before meals (Matt. 15:36; 26:27; Jn. 6:11, 23 cf. Acts 27:35). In this way we infuse mundane activities with worship. In whatever we do we are to glorify and give thanks to God (1 Cor. 10:31).
How can we purpose to praise even with seemingly “run of the mill” things? I think it’s important that we look for things to be thankful for or realize what it is that we’re enjoying and then intentionally thanking the Lord for that. First of course is Jesus our Savior! But a few other big things are my family, outside, food, and being able to serve at my church.
It can be tempting to wonder why we’re thanking God for our meals. Why? Because after all, didn’t we buy the food? Didn’t we make the food? Didn’t we set the table? Yes we did. But all of that is a gift from God! We are so liable to forget that!
It’s sometimes strangely difficult to be thankful. So I think it’s also helpful to tell others about things that we’re thankful for. That’s part of what it means to sing (James 5:14), right?
What practical impact does having a thankful heart have?
Having a thankful heart changes the way we look at things. If I’m upset with my wife about something but I’ve been cultivating a heart of thanksgiving then I am in a much better place to handle disappointment. If I am cultivating a thankful heart and something happens to me, my car breaks down, someone offends me, I stub my toe, or whatever, I am in a much better place to handle the situation.
Thanksgiving is even an antidote to sin (cf. Eph. 5:4). Partly because sin is often a form of ingratitude. Actually, to neglect thanksgiving is sinful (cf. Lk. 17:16-18; Rom. 1:21). Ingratitude is one of the things that characterize wicked humanity in the last days (2 Tim. 3:2). Instead, we should give thanks continually (1 Cor. 1:4; Col. 2:6-7; 4:2), in all circumstances (Phil. 4:6), to God through Jesus Christ (Col. 3:17).
Thanksgiving should be more and more a characteristic of our lives and as it is we will be empowered to fight against our various nagging sins. We will see all God has given us and see sin for what it really is.
Questions to consider:
1. Do you struggle with being thankful?
2. Why does God want us to have a thankful heart?
3. What gets in the way of having a thankful heart?
4. How can we grow in thankfulness? How can we be intentionally thankful?
5. What practical impact does it make when we have a thankful heart?
6. What’s wrong with being unthankful?
7. What are some challenges you have to work through for you to be thankful?
8. How can cultivating a heart of thanksgiving have a positive impact on your life?
My book Gospel-Centered War: Finding Freedom from Enslaving Sin just got released! Here are a few of the things people are saying about it.
“As the title of this book makes clear, a gospel-centered approach is, in the long run, the only effective way to combat sin and addiction. Any resource, like this one by Paul O’Brien, which helps us fight our sinful compulsions by means of the gospel of Jesus Christ is one I recommend.”
—Dr. Donald S. Whitney, professor of biblical spirituality and associate dean at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
“Gospel-Centered War is for those who struggle with life-dominating sin and for those who counsel them. Instead of simply addressing behavior modification, Paul O’Brien gets to the heart of the matter. This book addresses the issues that provide freedom from destructive, self-defeating behaviors by helping the reader understand how God can change their heart and passions. Read it, devour it, and then be changed from the inside out.”
—Pastor Mike Wilson, Lincoln Heights Baptist Church, Mansfield, Ohio
“Paul is a genuine man of faith who has dedicated his life to Jesus and his calling. As a former heroin addict who was mentored by Paul, I had the privilege to witness his passion for Christ and his desire to help people through God’s word. This book shows that same passion.”
—Ricky Upton, Louisville, KY