16 October 2015

Prayer & Thanksgiving: The Christians Duty - Part 5

I will resume where I left off in part 4, in which we we looked at the first three of six cures for cynicism. We'll now conclude by looking at the last three cure.
4. Cultivate a Thankful Spirit – a thankful spirit will undercut cynicism like nothing else.

As you begin to pray each day, stop and look back over the previous day, and as mentioned, look for the hand of the Lord in the little things throughout the day. They may be things that are not always as noticeable at the time, but if you stop and think about it, these things can become more evident when viewed in hindsight.

As you reflect on the previous day - and you find evidence of the love of the Father acting within it - it should more easily stir up the spirit of thankfulness. Remember what Paul said in Romans 1:21:

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Rom. 1:21)
Just look at how prevalent the idea of thankfulness is in the writings of Paul:

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. (Rom. 1:8)

I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ; (1 Cor. 1:4)

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers (Eph. 1:16)

I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy (Phil. 1:3-4)
We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you (Col. 1:3)

We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; (1 Thes. 1:2)

And we also thank God constantly… (1 Thes. 2:13)

For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you… (1 Thes. 3:9)

We ought always to give thanks to God for you… (2 Thes. 1:3)

But we ought always to give thanks to God for you… (2 Thes. 2:13)

I thank God … as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. (2 Tim. 1:3)

I thank my God always when I remember you in my prayers… (Philemon 4)
And looking back at some of our opening Scriptures, Paul exhorts the church to follow such a thankful pattern:
Don’t worry about anything. Rather, in every area of life let God know what you want, as you pray and make requests, and give thanks as well. And God’s peace, which is greater than we can even understand, will keep guard over your hearts and minds in King Jesus. (Phil 4:6-7) (KNT)

Devote yourself to prayer; keep alert in it, with thanksgiving. (Col 4:2) (KNT)

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thess 5:16-18 ) (ESV)
Maintaining a thankful heart is a most powerful way to stay drawn into the fellowship of the Father as well as those around you. While cynicism looks at the world around us and calls it phony - then pulls back from it - a heart filled with thanksgiving can look reality in the face - and rejoice to see God’s hand and care in all things. That should cause us to be both thankful - and generous.

5. Cultivating Repentance – the cynical heart thinks it is just a disinterested observer looking for authenticity around it – thinking it is humble because it actually offers nothing. It also feels great pride in thinking it can see through everything around it. C.S. Lewis keenly observed the problem with thinking you could see through everything when he said:

You can not go on “explaining away” for ever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on “seeing through” things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it… If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To “see through” all things is the same as not to see. (CS Lewis - The Abolition of Man)
In order to see all the wonder and hope around us, we must restore the innocent eye of a child. Cynicism, in supposedly “seeing through” everything, is actually lacking a purity of heart. When a Christian falls into cynicism, their heart gets out of sync with God. There is a fracture between what is actually going on in the heart, and what is showing in the outward behavior.

Life continues, and we continue to act, speak and perform like a Christian - speaking about Jesus, yet lacking any true presence of Jesus in our life. This is in fact a disconnect between what we present on the outside, and what we are on the inside. Not only do the words of those around us sound phony, but our words sound phony. Our empty religion makes everything around us seem just as empty and phony. James tells us:

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Make your hands clean, you sinners; and make your hearts pure, you double-minded lot. (James 4:8)
This term double minded, only appears twice in Scripture, both times by James, and it carries a meaning of being wavering, doubting, and divided in interest. We become double-minded when we live in this phony manner, and it usually leads to a split personality type scenario. We begin to create the public us and the private us.

In an earlier section we looked at how we may create multiple public versions of ourselves – different “faces” for different groups – well, this continues that process, but involves the darker, hidden private us, that few if any know about. 

If you are loving to your friends to their face, but then talk bad about them behind their back – you have created two personalities. If a husband frequently views porn online, and then warmly greets his wife, he has created two personalities. Repentance is needed to bring these two sides back together – to bring reality and balance back to life.

Cynicism sees this need of repentance in everyone else, but lacks the humility to get the beam out of their own eye. While church should be the one safe-haven where we can be ourselves and be loved by others – that is rarely the case. For many, church becomes a big smoke and mirrors effort too.

Remember the story of David, as he shows up at the battlefield to hear the ridicule and cursing spewing from the mouth of Goliath?  The people of God were acting cowardly – not relying on their God as they should. David saw the split between their outward profession and their lack of action, and he took action as they should have - and God gave him the day.

David intimately knew and was in contact with the good Shepherd, and in His strength he took comfort and confidence that lead to action. How often do we as the church, let cynicism cause us to shrink back - rather than charge the battlefield in the strength of the Lord? We need to seek to bring our professed faith into harmony with our actual practice.

The pure in heart begin by seeing through themselves, having already dealt with the bears and lions in their own valley of the shadow of death - and that allows them to see with more clarity the ridiculousness of the cursing of the “Goliaths” in their lives.

By cultivating a lifestyle of repentance, we deal with our own impurity, and avoid the negative position that cynicism takes, and it leads to purity in heart and spiritual healing. We need to have the faith and courage in our Father just like David, and in our individual battles, as well as alongside our church body, stand up and proclaim with David:

This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand…that all this assembly may know that the LORD saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give you into our hand. (1 Sam 17:46-47)
6. Looking for Jesus – how often do you just stop and look and think about ways you may be seeing Jesus in the world around us? This is similar to what I spoke of back in point four, but instead of looking back at previous days to find events that showed the Father’s hands around you, this is more of a right here, right now looking in your daily walk.

More often than not, we have been influenced by the cynicism of the world around us, and we are quick to look for - and find - all of the injustices around us. It causes us to focus on other people’s lack of integrity - on their split personalities.

We need to look around us, looking for that spark of truth instead, that spark of Jesus that the cynicism might otherwise miss. Remember what we are told in Hebrews:

Heb. 13:2 - Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
Cynicism makes us look in the wrong direction. It will make us look for all of the cracks in the people around us, even those in the church. Our heart gets in the habit of viewing the world this way, and that will easily get brought over into the church.

Instead of seeing others as a work in progress, through the eyes of grace and beauty, watching as the Father’s hands are molding out the rough edges, we only seem to “see” the roughness. We need to be more like Paul, who though dealing with the highly corrupt practices of the church in Corinth, still had the ability to say:

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— (1 Cor. 1:4-5)
Think about it – and recall just how bad the church at Corinth seemed to be. They were bad off, yes, but he saw the good work being performed in them by Jesus. Rather than simply focusing on the corruptness, he saw Jesus, and that is something we need to focus on doing more in life.

Once we get a grip on the ways that cynicism has crept into our life and heart, we can begin to focus our hearts on being thankful, and in so doing, begin a better, healthier prayer life.

And now I end right where we began:

Don’t worry about anything. Rather, in every area of life let God know what you want, as you pray and make requests, and give thanks as well. And God’s peace, which is greater than we can even understand, will keep guard over your hearts and minds in King Jesus. (Phil 4:6-7) (KNT)

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5