by Adam J. Wehrley
I love Thanksgiving! I am not a huge fan of turkey, but I really like pie. The idea of taking a day to remember the source of our blessings strikes a deep chord with me.
Even in these harder times I still believe that our nation and the freedoms we have stand as a light, a light which can endure and grow stronger.
“Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.” I Corinthians 9:26.
Over the years, as I’ve watched parents madly rushing around shuttling their children to endless games, matches and practices, I’ve joked about praying my children would be slow and uncoordinated so I wouldn’t have to join the rampage.
Then, immediately after my family and I settled down after working overseas, I enrolled three of my kids in martial arts classes. We go together and I love it. I like seeing them concentrate on a goal, learning, running and enjoying their accomplishments.
I like classes where you get rewarded for yelling the loudest, showing the most enthusiasm. I like that they are learning respect, self-control and discipline.
Although she is a long way from joining in the classes, I think there is nothing cooler than watching my 18-month-old Elsie imitating the others. She stands silently, waving her arms like she’s doing some slow motion dance and with a big smile whispers “Pop. Bang.”
So we have joined the rampage of parents, seeking healthy activities for their kids while balancing school, work, church and trying to sit down together for dinner a few times per week.
Which activity is not the point, life is hard and learning to deal with both triumphs and disappointments, learning to be friends with those you compete with, and knowing that whether you win or lose you are not alone in life, is more important than belts or trophies or ribbons.
Worldwide, people have participated in athletic contests for millennia. Nearly 2000 years ago the Apostle Paul acknowledged the lessons they can teach, saying “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.” I Corinthians 9:24-26.
For Paul, showing others the love of Christ was life’s single goal. Out of gratitude for his salvation, he sought to glorify the one who had forgiven him for persecuting the early church. Following the vision of Christ he received on a trip to arrest believers in Damascus, Paul’s life changed in a moment from one of self-centered arrogance to a life of thanksgiving.
In the big picture of our lives, many activities seem pointless if we don’t put them in the context of living in gratitude for what Christ has given us. Sports scores and statistics, like degrees, resumés, stock portfolios and bank accounts, ultimately will only be footnotes on the story of our lives.
In the end, we must answer for how we have used what God has given us to show His love, grace and truth to others. Since we all fail, we are left dependent on Christ’s mercy and forgiveness.
This ought to inspire lives of gratitude, using God’s gifts to share His grace with others. I believe this cycle of failure, forgiveness, gratitude and showing grace is more deeply woven into God’s intention for our lives than we often imagine.
On the night before He was crucified Jesus told his followers, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33.
Seventeen months ago, a month after Elsie was born, I lost my job teaching overseas because of a faceless foreign bureaucracy, ending a career for which I’d trained for 13 years. I confess I didn’t handle it well, many days I still don’t. It was not the biggest tribulation of my life, it won’t be the last.
As a father struggling to support a family, however, it was not a career change I would have chosen. I spent a lot of time aimlessly fighting shadows and boxing the air. It did not change what I know about God, His mercy, patience, faithfulness and eternal promises through Christ, although at times it tempted me to forget.
It did not change the unbreakable bonds I have with my family, although in my frustration I strained them. It has taken longer than I like to admit to realize that God still has a place for me to serve Him, that there is still a race He has for me to run.
I appreciate the realism of Christ’s statements, because pretending the straight and narrow path will be easy and free of obstacles only leads to disappointment. He may grant riches and health and ease, but He may not. The Gospel is upfront about that, most of His closest followers died young, poor and persecuted.
Tonight, as I listen to the wind and the rain, my children are warm and dry. I continue the work my family has done for over 90 years. I believe God has placed me on a path to lead others closer to Him. I know that I can draw near to Christ again when I lose sight of His blessings.
In the morning I’ll hug my kids, even after they wake up the baby and lose their shoes.
All may not be right in the world, but God most assuredly is in His Heaven. So we fight on, seeking the path He has laid out before each of us. We face both the life-changing heartaches and minor frustrations with the knowledge that He is with us, even when our limited perspective blinds us to His blessings.
How we breathe, struggle, run, love and rest is based on how much we recognize that the gifts we have come from Him. We seek Him, we work to make His love known, because we are thankful for what He has given us, even in the trials.
“One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14.