Editors Note: This post is a tad shorter and a day behind the publishing schedule. The reason being that what I had intended to post was just not up to snuff. Instead here is a new musing for the end of the year.
I think it might be something of a new tradition that John Oliver will, upon the year end, be blowing up a large marquee of said years numeric designation. Preceding the fiery destruction will be a litany of the offenses he and his audience have taken, sarcasm interspersed. He has done this twice now. Once in 2016 and now upon the eve of 2021. I expect more to follow with potentially more frequency, with increasingly Michael Bay esque panache. The joke lands solidly because the audience finds it cathartic. I would like to point out though that this is something that Christians should be wary of. As we survey the previous year space should be made for lament of genuine tragedy. However, we are also called specifically to gratitude.
I will begin by citing Moynahan’s Law: The better things are, the worse they seem. Allow me to point out that I live in Memphis, currently hailed as the worst place to be for COVID. We’re number 1! And to listen to the pundits you would think it is a wasteland of death and destruction. But as I survey the city around me I can honestly say if this is the worst in the world. Things aren’t that bad. The worst that is happening is amateur dictators and useful idiots are running the show. Two vaccines are being distributed and while our traditional hospitals are operating near full, the multiple field hospitals that have been constructed remain empty. As they have since June. On top of that Christ is still seated on his throne, ruling and reigning. And as a Calvinist I am still forced to be in agreement with Spurgeon
“I believe that every particle of dust that dances in the sunbeam does not move an atom more or less than God wishes – that every particle of spray that dashes against the steamboat has its orbit, as well as the sun in the heavens – that the chaff from the hand of the winnower is steered as the stars in their courses. The creeping of an aphid over the rosebud is as much fixed as the march of the devastating pestilence – the fall of . . . leaves from a poplar is as fully ordained as the tumbling of an avalanche.” C.H. Spurgeon
I will follow this, secondly, by pointing out that the most common command in all of Scripture is, “Fear not.” We are not in control, God is. As Christians we know that he is the shepherd and we are the sheep of his pasture. He may lead us through the valley of the shadow of death, but we are to fear no evil. He is with us. He will cause us to lie down in green pastures, by streams of living water. Our problem is that of Jill Pole.
“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.
“I am dying of thirst,” said Jill.
“Then drink,” said the Lion.
“May I — could I — would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.
The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.
The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
“Will you promise not to — do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.
“I make no promise,” said the Lion.
Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.
“Do you eat girls?” she said.
“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.
“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.
“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.
“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”
“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.”
I would not dream of reminding you that Aslan is not a tame lion, but that he is good. Hill wanted the drink but without the giver of that life. If 2020 has brought into specific relief anything about the western church at large it is that we want the blessings of God but without Him on the throne. We have chucked a good many things in the general direction hoping that they will take his place. We have put presidents and president elects, health departments, lockdowns, police, or defunded police, lives that matter, or any other number of things. And have been shocked and surprised when they did not bless us like the almighty God. Merely demanded more fealty, loyalty, and service.
I would submit then that we turn to Christ. Specifically in repentance* and gratitude. All blessings come from above. And if we are christians we should survey all that has been gifted to us. From the very breath we draw (tomorrow is not promised at any point God can say, “give me back my breath”) to the possessions we claim.
A world against God does not want gratitude. It is anathema to them. Kavitching is the name of the game. Dissatisfied people are easy to control by the promise of more and some future Utopia. Grateful people are humble but possess a spine. They know everything they hold is from God and He controls the future. They are confident to drink from the stream of living water because they know the one who gave the stream is the same that gave them breath.
Consistant Reformed Christianity does not shrink in fear from the unknown. It is known to God and that is enough. He commands the times and seasons. He sets up and tears down kings and presidents at His will. He knows every sparrow that falls. He even knows the appointed day of death for each human. These are details that we are not to get bogged down on. God owes us no explanation. Like Lewis’s traveler in the Bright Country from the Great Divorce we are not to parse mysteries but to bear witness to their unfolding.
Our temptation to sin is dissatisfaction, envy, jealousy, pride, all of which ends in grumbling and complaining. Again, it is all sin. Why should Christians not approach year end cataloging all of the slights, offenses, disappointments, outrages, and miserations? First it is simply not productive. But more importantly it is an investment in sin, and sin always returns with interest. Stew on your grievances today and tomorrow you will find fresher and greater ones. But by the same rule habitual righteousness always comes back with the increase. In short sanctification occurs. But it takes work. Complaining and camping on grievances is lazy, it is drifting down the stream from the headwaters and the Lion. Down to certain doom.
What then should be done? to close I will submit a couple of practical steps. As 2020 comes to a close stop making lists of wrongs. Don’t chronicle your year with markers being placed by every setback, and disappointment. Just stop. Do not commiserate and grouse with friends who feed dissatisfaction. Just stop. Instead devote your thinking and prayers to thanksgiving. The list may start short, but start it. As you meditate on the goodness of God the list will grow. Perhaps even consider where you have received a blessing from God and slighted Him by labeling it as a privilege. You had no control, it was just given to you. And given for a reason, that reason was not for you despise it. Steward well the gift, and give thanks to the giver.
As a final note I will end with the lyrics of the old hymn, Count Your Blessings. This may serve as a starting point to begin gratitude for the Father in Heaven who is the giver of all life.
When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your blessings, see what God hath done;
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will be singing as the days go by.
When you look at others with their lands and gold,
Think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold.
Count your many blessings, money cannot buy
Your reward in heaven, nor your Lord on high.
So amid the conflict, whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged, God is over all;
Count your many blessings, angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.
*more on this in a later article.