Hurricane Laura struck Louisiana yesterday as one of the most powerful storms in US history. At least six people were killed and power was knocked out for nearly one million customers. Arkansas is under a state of emergency this morning from damaging winds and flooding. All this in a region also grappling with the coronavirus pandemic.
In the midst of the “compound risks” we face these days, what can I say to encourage us on this Friday morning?
One of the ways God empowers us in the midst of suffering is by showing us his provision in the midst of suffering. Psychological studies show that gratitude reduces stress, fatigue, and inflammation, produces better sleep, and even lowers depression for those with chronic illness.
While I intend in no way to minimize the grief and pain so many are facing, I would like us to also seek reasons for gratitude in these hard days. So, name the worst challenges you face today. Now, let’s look for hope in some stories from across the week.
Are you grateful for people?
A Cleveland couple had to cancel their wedding reception due to the coronavirus pandemic, so they donated the food to a crisis center for women and children. Then, wearing their tuxedo and gown from the wedding, they helped serve 135 people.
A restaurant owner in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, gave away hundreds of free BBQ meals to residents after a devastating windstorm hit the Midwest. And the New York Times reports that thousands of young Lebanese adults are shoveling, sweeping, feeding, and fixing buildings and homes in response to the devastating explosion in Beirut.
Scripture teaches: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10). Who has used their gift to serve you recently? Have you thanked God for them? Have you thanked them?
Are you grateful for your life?
Hester Ford, the oldest living American, made the news recently when she celebrated her 116th birthday. She has twelve children, forty-eight grandchildren, and more than two hundred great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren.
A devout Christian, she loves to recite Bible verses. When she was asked the secret to living a long life, she responded, “I just live right, all I know.”
Like Hester Ford, your life is a miracle. You are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). Bill Bryson, in A Short History of Nearly Everything, notes that across the whole of human history, “every one of your forebears on both sides has been attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so. Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, drowned, starved, stranded, stuck fast, untimely wounded, or otherwise deflected from its life’s quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment in order to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result—eventually, astoundingly, and all too briefly—in you.”
Have you thanked God for the gift of your life recently?
Are you grateful for your eternal life?
One of the moments people are still discussing from the now-concluded Republican National Convention was President Trump’s pardon of Joe Ponder. The convicted bank robber committed his life to Christ while in jail and later founded a prisoners’ reentry program called Hope for Prisoners. The FBI agent who arrested him became his best friend and participated in the announcement of his pardon.
I grew up in a family with no spiritual life, but I knew there was a heaven and a hell. I remember vividly the times I was afraid to fall asleep because I was afraid I would go to hell if I died. I was right to be concerned: as Jesus said of himself, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18).
If Jesus is your Lord, you “have eternal life” today (John 3:16). Have you thanked your Savior for the gift of your salvation recently?
Are you grateful for your death?
A small warehouse two hours north of Moscow houses fifty-six bodies immersed in -196°C liquid nitrogen for the next hundred years. The plan is that science will progress one day to the degree that they can be revived into immortality, a hope called “transhumanism.”
In another mortality-related story, a woman in the Detroit area was pronounced dead last Sunday morning after a heart attack. Her body was released to a local funeral home, where the staff discovered that she was in fact still alive. They called EMS, and the woman was taken to a hospital for treatment.
Unlike the transhumanists, you don’t need to preserve your body in order to survive death. Like the woman in Detroit, even when the world says you are dead one day (if the Lord tarries), you will still be very much alive.
In fact, when you close your eyes on earth, you open them in paradise (Luke 23:43). As Jesus promised, “everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11:26). Have you thanked God for the fact that your death is the doorway to your eternal life?
Will you be grateful on the hardest of days?
A pastor was known for the prayers of gratitude with which he began each worship service. No matter how difficult the circumstances, he always seemed to be able to find a reason to give thanks.
Then came an especially difficult Sunday. A heavy winter storm blanketed the city, coating its streets in ice and snow. Power was out for many. A bitter wind assaulted the few hardy people who dared to make their way into the sanctuary.
As the service began, the pastor stepped to the pulpit for his customary invocation. Those in the congregation wondered to themselves, “How could he possibly find a reason to give thanks this morning?” The pastor bowed his head and prayed, “Lord, we thank you that it is not always like this.”
For what will you give thanks to your Father today?