As you can plainly see, the scripture from Ephesians is all about living wisely. Equally clearly, that’s all about following the will of God in our daily lives. I scarcely think that we need a lecture about not getting drunk with wine. However, it’s good to be reminded that we should constantly seek to be filled with the Spirit. We’re not talking about a “once off” here, either. We’re talking about something continuous, which grows day by day from being disciplined in studying the bible, in prayer, and in worshipping together.
It’s interesting that the phrase “making the most of the time” is drawn from the language of the marketplace. It has the sense of snapping up a bargain while it’s there for the taking. We are being encouraged to have that same kind of eagerness to spend our time doing good. It’s a great thought, isn’t it, looking eagerly for chances to be kind, helpful, generous and hospitable to those who need it. What an exemplary lifestyle.
Let’s go now to the tricky part, the part about being always thankful, always ready to sing hymns in our hearts to the Lord. O.K., some of us are optimists by nature, and some aren’t. I see the journey of faith as a journey which teaches us to live in hope. Not the kind of hope which concentrates on our reward in the afterlife. In fact it’s interesting to note that the Hebrews, as God’s people, were not unanimous in believing in life after death. Witness the beliefs of the Sadducees, who didn’t believe in the resurrection. The Hebrew people were looking for God’s rescue in the here and now, not at some point after death. They were waiting for God to save them from oppression, to give them back their dignity as the people of God, and to give them the Messiah that God had always promised them. We believe the Messiah came, in Jesus Christ. Some people embraced him as such, some didn’t. Some realised that God had indeed come to free his people in a variety of ways, many unexpected, in Jesus Christ. The kingdom of God had come near to them, in him.
To live with faith in God is to have the hope, the belief, that God will act in the present. We won’t get very far if we are too rigid in our ideas about how and when or even why God should act in our lives. God is far more likely to do something we weren’t expecting, than to follow our prescriptions of what God should be or do. We may find ourselves in an extended time of trouble and worry. We may wish to heavens that it would all be resolved in the way we choose right now. We may feel that God is turning a deaf ear to our problems.
It has been my personal experience that, even though such a situation may last for years, that God brings a resolution in the right way and at the right time. And there have been times that, in the most roundabout of ways, I have received what I wanted. That has been the experience of many Christian people. But it has also been the experience of many good Christian people that things have not gone the way they had hoped, not at all. Of course people are going to feel greatly grieved in such situations. They may need to talk over their feelings and their experience with someone who is really going to listen carefully and sympathetically. That can be a step towards wholeness.
I have honestly found that even when things were at their most complicated and difficult, that God supplied support and comfort in some way. That support can come through government or Church agencies, it can come through individuals or families. And especially in the case of individuals or families, we will likely be very grateful for their help and support for the whole of the rest of our lives. Old friendships like that can be some of the very best.
I have also seen that when others have been in great distress, there has been some cause for gratitude, even if the situation was as sad as involving the death of a loved one. Whether the help and support needed has come from medical experts, from government agencies or what-have-you, there has generally been some form of comfort and care forthcoming for which we can be genuinely thankful.
Maybe some of us could encourage ourselves more in the habit of gratitude. We in Australia only have to lift our eyes to the rest of the world to see how fortunate we are. In fact we have only to see what remains to be done to help our indigenous people to realise again that we live in great comfort and prosperity. We live in freedom, and we have all our human needs met to the best extent that modern society is capable of. We want for nothing in terms of material benefits.
It comes down to what one expects of life, doesn’t it? In the book of Job we read “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.” It’s true, and none of us is going to escape life’s problems in one way or another. And accepting that as the way life is can really help in being thankful for the good things that life does bring our way. Life will bring us both happiness and grief.
When grief comes, we will probably need to tell God exactly what we’re thinking and feeling. It’s not that God doesn’t already know. It’s because it’s better for us not to hide it from ourselves. We may find that we want to wrestle with God over some of the things that happen to us. That can actually be an important part of our growth in faith. Yes, we will probably be somewhat wounded by the experience. But it is possible to come out of that time feeling more hopeful, more grateful and more positive than we have in the past. We can know that God has been with us, even if it is, astoundingly, to allow us to wrestle with the almighty. When that has happened to us, we seldom doubt any longer that God will stay with us, whatever happens.
That truly is the bedrock reason for giving thanks to God. God does not leave us alone to muddle through this life. Whether we are joyful or in anguish, God is there, and we have only to reach out for God’s nearness. Jesus said: “Remember that I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Thanks be to God.