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Thank You For This Gift

December 1, 2012

J.C. Ryle

In 1879, just before he was appointed the first Bishop of Liverpool,  Anglican pastor J.C. Ryle wrote in his classic book, Holiness:

“The cure for evangelical churchmen, I am convinced, is to be found in a clearer apprehension of the nature and sinfulness of sin….We must sit down humbly in the presence of God, look the whole subject in the face, examine clearly what the Lord Jesus calls sin, and what the Lord Jesus calls doing his will.

We must the realize it is possible to live a careless, easy-going, half-worldly life, and yet at the same time to maintain evangelical principles and call ourselves evangelical people!

Once let us see that sin is far viler and far nearer to us, and sticks more closely than we supposed, and we shall be led, I trust and believe, to get nearer to Christ. Once drawn nearer to Christ, we shall drink more deeply out of His fullness, and learn more thoroughly to ‘live the life of faith in Him’ as St. Paul did.

Once taught to live the life of faith in Jesus, and abiding in Him, we shall bear more fruit, shall find ourselves more strong for duty, more patient in trial, more watchful over our poor weak hearts, and more like our Master in all our little daily ways. Just in proportion as we realize how much Christ has done for us, shall we labor to do much for Christ. Much forgiven, we shall love much. In short, as the apostle says, “With open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image…even as by the spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18).

Holiness by J.C. Ryle  1879. Reprint edition, England: Evangelical Press p. 14

*****

gift receipt

I struggle daily with one of the simplest injunctions in the New Testament: “In everything, give thanks.” (I Thessalonians 5:18)

It isn’t too hard to gratefully acknowledge the Giver of gifts that feel good: a beautiful day, food on the table, fellowship with friends, a cheerful, helpful child. But my heart easily forgets to say “thank you for the migraines,” and “thank you for the detours.”

When a child is melting down over homework, or panicking over being “late” for the bus because she is only fifteen minutes early, or has hurt someone  in a rage because we did not give her what she wanted, I sometimes find myself hanging my head. Not in prayer. And certainly not in thanks. More in numb resignation that this is just how it is. Again. For now. Still.

If there’s any crumb of gratitude in that act, it is generic understanding that it could be worse. But I don’t think that’s the kind of “thanks” Paul meant when he exhorted, ‘In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

No. It is self-pity that makes me sigh in resignation. It is sin. I am expressing my dissatisfaction with God’s gift and, at that moment, wishing it came with a gift receipt so I could exchange it for something I like better.

*****

“Once let us see that sin is far viler and far nearer to us, and sticks more closely than we supposed…”

I purchased and read Ryle’s Holiness fifteen years ago. The fact that I kept it meant I loved it back then. But I didn’t remember anything he said when I pulled the book off my shelf six months ago.

Ever since I have been pondering the line I bolded in blue above. And my heart has been worshiping God: that extreme circumstances display the loving kindness of God every bit as much as His blessings do.

Extremity comes in many forms: war, disaster, financial crisis, adoption, birth, disability, deprivation, broken families, chronic illness, persecution, death. More.

Among all of the circumstances God has orchestrated in my life, the extreme ones make it painfully clear that “sin is far viler and far nearer to [me], sticks more closely than [I] supposed.”

I know because even a little reflection reveals that extremity tends to bring out the opposites of the fruit of the spirit in me: duty instead of love,  sorrow instead of joy, anxiety instead of peace,  short-temper instead of patience, self-pity instead of thankfulness, attempts to control others instead of exercising self-control.

Sin runs through the core of my life like invisible razor wire. Ordinary circumstances leave me the margin to ease carefully around the wire; sometimes it barely cuts. But extremity is a vacuum sucking the safe margin out of my life, binding me painfully close to the wire of my sin.

Humanly speaking, it is hard to say “thanks” when the gift is pain.

*****

As Dorothy says so often and so well, extremity isn’t about me. Ryle said it is about being led, being drawn, being transformed:

“Once let us see that sin is far viler and far nearer to us, and sticks more closely than we supposed, and we shall be led, I trust and believe, to get nearer to Christ. Once drawn nearer to Christ, we shall drink more deeply out of His fullness, and learn more thoroughly to ‘live the life of faith in Him’ as St. Paul did.”

The question is: will I trust God? Will I let Him take the lead in gifting me with whatever it takes to expose my sin and make me more like Jesus?

Or will I melt down in a puddle on the floor and kick and scream until God agrees to give me what I want?

We’re really so much like our kids, aren’t we? 🙂

*****

Ryle: “Once taught to live the life of faith in Jesus, and abiding in Him, we shall bear more fruit, shall find ourselves more strong for duty, more patient in trial, more watchful over our poor weak hearts, and more like our Master in all our little daily ways. Just in proportion as we realize how much Christ has done for us, shall we labor to do much for Christ. Much forgiven, we shall love much. In short, as the apostle says, “With open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, we are changed into the same image…even as by the spirit of the Lord” (2 Cor. 3:18).

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Dionne permalink
    January 17, 2013 3:51 pm

    I found your site because of the picture of the Special Tomato Buggy…which I desperately would love to have for my severely disabled little angel… but alas, they are discontinued.

    At any rate, I read a couple of your blogs and related completely to your struggle with “In everything, give thanks.” (I Thessalonians 5:18). I struggled with that, too. Through much prayerful reflection, I have come to love this piece of scripture, understanding it to mean, gratitude IN all things, not FOR all things. So, even in the toughest days, I seek to be grateful for all God is in my life… something I have come to call — on some of those REALLY tough days– as Radical Gratitude… trying to be truly grateful amidst the most difficult of circumstances.

    Blessings on your journey!

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