We are inviting twelve writers to walk through a mentoring pathway with our GCD editorial team and several great guest mentors.
“How’s Jesus treating you today?” I asked her, taking a seat at her bedside. Hospice had recently brought in a hospital bed to make it easier to help her in and out. That word—hospice—signaled to all of us that in the eyes of medicine, the end was near. It was just a matter of time.
To most people, it didn’t seem like Jesus was treating her well at all. But she saw things differently.
It took her a moment to answer. Her mind was alert, but her speech had been severely impaired by the pressure of the tumor in her brain. “I know Jesus loves me,” she said, “because he sent you to visit me.”
HUNGRY FOR GRACE
Amid suffering, her eyes had become finely attuned to recognize the grace of God. My friend was on her deathbed, yet she had the clearest sight of anyone I knew.
She was so hungry for grace that she was ready to recognize and receive any gift that came her way. She could easily have rejected the little gifts—like me of all things!—because they weren’t the gifts she really wanted (like healing and wholeness).
She had become adept at recognizing streams in the desert. Her context of disease, suffering, and impending death did not deaden—but rather, amplified—her ability to receive the grace God was lavishly pouring out on her. How is this possible?
HOW GRATITUDE IS CONNECTED TO SPIRITUAL HEALTH
In Romans 1, The Apostle Paul connects gratitude to spiritual health:
"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. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images" (Rom. 1:21-23, emphasis added)
Spiritual decay begins when God is no longer recognized as the gift giver. When we separate God from his gifts, the gifts eventually take his place. Ceasing to give thanks is the beginning of this long downward spiral away from God. Ingratitude leads to spiritual death.
On the other hand, gratitude leads to spiritual vitality. Show me a grateful person and I’ll show you someone who is growing spiritually. Gratitude—hunting for grace and saying “thank you” when you find it—is a discipleship issue. A life of following Jesus should be increasingly marked by gratitude.
THANKSGIVING IN THE CRUCIBLE
The first followers of Jesus took it as a given that discipleship is worked out in the furnace of suffering. Peter reminded his flocks to “not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Pet. 4:12). Jesus himself promised a crucible, not a coddling, for those who follow him (see John 15:18-20).
This difficult setting for a life of discipleship isn’t obvious to all because a tension exists in our mind between gratitude and suffering. We find it difficult to believe that a young mother dying of cancer could find anything to be grateful for. We wonder at her ability to draw closer to her Savior at the same time she draws closer to her death.
Scripture, however, reminds us that gratitude best finds its meaning in the face of suffering. Thanksgiving regularly holds hands with lament, a reality understood by the psalmists. Over half of the psalms include lament—or giving voice to the reality that human life is regularly marked by the presence of suffering—such as:
“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42:5, 11; 43:5).
In light of who God is—“my salvation and my God”—the downcast poet calls himself to hope amid turmoil, to rejoice amid tears, and to give thanks amid lament. Gratitude must come even, or perhaps especially, when it doesn’t make sense; a reality understood by Abraham Lincoln.
WHY THANKSGIVING IS CONNECTED TO LAMENT
On October 3, 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued the famous Thanksgiving Proclamation, marking the last Thursday of November as a national day of prayer and repentance. He wrote this proclamation at the height of the Civil War, within two weeks of one of the bloodiest battles in American History.
The juxtaposition of thanksgiving and tragedy doesn’t seem to make sense. But Lincoln understood the deep connection between gratitude and lament. He saw gratitude as lament’s counterbalance and knew that the way forward for a broken nation would somehow walk the narrow road between the two. Neither could be left out, for thanksgiving without lament would become naive optimism, and lament without thanksgiving would degenerate into hopeless cynicism.
Thanksgiving makes true lament possible because it anchors tragedy, brokenness, illness, pain, and suffering in the person of God. Without God, lament can never find resolution or meaning because it’s detached from an object: someone to whom we can lament. Thanksgiving is the formational practice of thanking that very same Person, providing a relational context where Godward lament makes sense.
A life of following Jesus is a life increasingly marked by gratitude. If you want to become more like Jesus, say “thank you” more often. “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you,” wrote Paul (1 Thess. 5:18). But how?
The foundational work of thanksgiving is to hunt high and low for grace and, having found it, to say “thank you” for it. We can train ourselves to “give thanks in all circumstances” by implementing habits of gratitude, such as:
Say “thank you” more than “you’re welcome.” Jesus called his disciples to exercise hospitality toward those we wouldn’t normally invite to our table, especially those who can’t repay us (Luke 14:12-14). In this instance, it would be easy to see ourselves in the role of benefactors: giving freely from our abundance. But what if Jesus wanted us to see that even in our acts of generosity we should have eyes to see grace coming towards us rather than going out from us? Even in our generosity, God is the one extending undeserved grace to us: “…and you will be blessed” (Luke 14:14).
Say “thank you” for difficult things. God is constantly trying to train us to see his hand in all things. We are at risk of missing his work when we limit the ways we think he can act. That flat tire you had when you were already running late for work? Say “thank you.” The conflict at work that keeps you up at night? Say “thank you.” Could you even say “thank you” for a marriage on the rocks? For losing your job? For a cancer diagnosis? James would say so: “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (Jas. 1:2-4).
Say “thank you” to others regularly. Write thank you cards. Speak words of affirmation. Making saying “thank you” a regular practice. As you practice saying thanking those around you, you will find yourself regularly on the hunt for grace in the lives of others. Not only that, but you will teach others to say “thank you” when they may never have thought to do so.
Keep a running “thank you” list and review it regularly. This is one of the easiest ways to train yourself to hunt for grace: every morning (or evening), write down at least one thing you’re grateful for. At family meals, rehearse aloud even the smallest graces of God—warm food, shelter, sleep, chocolate, good music, friends. Finding things to be grateful for in the mundane is the training ground for grateful disciples.
GRATEFUL FOR GOD’S GRACE
Gratitude is a recognition and affirmation of the grace of God. There can be no spiritual maturity without thankfulness.
As you pursue a life of discipleship, practice saying thank you in the mundane things, in the difficult things, and even in the unexpected situations. The Thanksgiving holiday is a great time to start.
May you find yourself—even when despair seems right—inadvertently and unconsciously “giving thanks in all circumstances” to a God who is constantly pouring his grace out on you.
Mike Phay serves as Lead Pastor at FBC Prineville (Oregon) and as a Staff Writer at Gospel-Centered Discipleship. He has been married to Keri for over 21 years, and they have five amazing kids. You can follow him on Twitter (@mikephay) or check out his blog.
One of the most significant inventions in human history is something you’ve probably never heard of. It hasn’t received much press, even though it helped fundamentally define the way we now live. It’s called the escapement. First used in the 13th century, the escapement is the piece in the machinery of a clock that allows it to measure time in equally divided increments. It regulates the descent of weights or the unwinding of a compressed spring in a measured fashion, creating the distinctive “tick-tock” of the clock that so infamously vexed Captain Hook.
Take a moment and seriously consider what life would be like without clocks. How would you measure time? How would you know when to show up for an appointment? Or when the football game will be on TV? How would you know what time to take a lunch break—or when you need to come back?
Precisely measured time is such an ingrained part of our experience it is nearly impossible to imagine life without it. Even as I write this, I’m aware of the current time, my next appointment, and the looming deadline to turn in this article.
Prior to the escapement, time was understood more like a flowing river than a ticking clock. The sun, moon, and stars—mysterious heavenly bodies that lay beyond human control—were the base tools for measuring time in large units such as days, months, and years. Even so, time was elastic, as changing seasons ushered in longer or shorter days.
The invention of the escapement marked a radical paradigm shift from an elastic, rhythmic, flowing concept of time to a precisely measured, evenly divided, universal understanding of time. As historian Daniel Boorstin writes, “There are few greater revolutions in human experience than this movement from the seasonal or ‘temporary’ hour to the equal hour” (from his book The Discoverers, published in 1983).
All that to say, we have a complex relationship with time. But it doesn't have to be so complicated.
TOO BUSY MARKING TIME
The Greek term for this kind of measured time is chronos, from which we get the word chronological. We function largely in chronos time—making and keeping appointments, celebrating birthdays and anniversaries, and trying to fit as much as possible into the limited time we have. Type-A personalities are known for taking control of their time, not allowing one second to be wasted. “Time is money,” we are told, because “time and tide wait for no man.”
As helpful as the escapement was, giving us a sense of dominance over an uncontrollable part of life, it came with its own requirements. As Boorstin writes, man “accomplished this mastery by putting himself under the dominion of a machine with imperious demand all its own.”
In the area of relationships, when we function primarily in chronos time, people either fit into our schedules or they don’t. Our relationships are controlled by a scarcity of minutes and hours. To give our attention, time, or energy to another person is to sacrifice a limited commodity.
So we must decide, with every interaction, if the person before us—the one vying for “a unit” of our day—is going to be a drain to an already limited asset or a worthy investment of our time. We play a game of give-and-take based on what we can get from them in the time allotted. People become objects, defined by space and time, and their fundamental nature as persons who bear the image of God is devalued.
WELCOMING DIVINE APPOINTMENTS
However, there is another way—one more ancient and biblical—to view time. The Greek term that defines this understanding of time is kairos. Though a complex word, kairos can be understood to mean “a specific and decisive point” in time.
The idea of kairos time, in the Bible, carries with it an idea of divine appointment: that God is in control of time itself, and he has appointed times, seasons, and dates to fulfill his own purposes. Each moment is, therefore, pregnant with purpose above and beyond our own understanding.
Kairos time is purposeful, yet outside of our control. Our lives, therefore, are filled with a multitude of divine appointments, rather than a long line of annoying interruptions.
Scripture is full of divine kairos appointments. Take Philip, for example, who was on the frontline of a revival in Samaria (Acts 8:4-25), which included crowds paying attention to and responding to the gospel, exorcisms, and miraculous healings. People were being baptized and receiving the Holy Spirit right and left.
In the middle of this, “an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ This is a desert place” (Acts 8:26). This is a kairos moment for Philip: a divinely appointed time for him to obey and respond to God’s leading, which he did: “And he rose and went” (Acts 8:27a).
STAYING IN THE MOMENT
For an angel to send Philip to the Gaza road seems a bit like benching a player who’s batting a thousand. Or ending a career right at its apex. “God is doing some amazing work through you … therefore, leave right away, go out to the middle of the desert, and hang out in the wilderness.”
Do you feel like you’ve been taken out of your sweet spot in life, and relegated to the side of a desert road? Perhaps life has been interrupted with a cancer diagnosis, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or a family member struggling with addiction.
It’s easy to get distracted by the wilderness and miss God’s hand in the midst of it. We get overwhelmed with the geography (the desert) and miss the moment (the kairos). What God calls us all to do is be attentive to how he wants to use us right where he has us, even if it’s a place we never would choose. Sometimes the time is more important than the place.
Will you respond to the perfect moment—for every moment is his—like Philip did? For Philip, obedience to God landed him in a chariot with a foreigner and religious outcast. For this man, Philip’s response to this kairos moment was the necessary piece of the puzzle that connected him with Jesus (Acts 8:27-40).
God is at work in every situation. So many times I’ve spoken to friends who have recognized and obediently acted on the divine appointments which came while sitting in a chemotherapy chair, speaking gospel truth and comforting other patients. Could God use something as bad as cancer to put you in the place where he wants to use you?
LOVING AND LIVING IN KAIROS TIME
When we live in the freedom of kairos time, people are no longer seen as time-sucking drains. We are no longer forced to view others as assets or liabilities, worthy or unworthy investments. Because people are not things, they cannot be reduced with such a myopic view.
Loving people in kairos time means no longer seeing time as a scarce asset under our control, but a gift to be generously distributed. It means viewing every person as worthy of our time, because not only are they created in God’s image, they are placed before us by a God who loves them and wants to love them through us.
Because of this, there are no interruptions. Only divine appointments.
Mike Phay serves as Lead Pastor at FBC Prineville (Oregon) and as a Staff Writer at Gospel-Centered Discipleship. He has been married to Keri for over 21 years, and they have five amazing kids. You can follow him on Twitter (@mikephay) or check out his blog.
I remember how dark it looked inside. It was mid-morning. The sun was hot in the sky, and my skin felt it, but the tomb looked cold, robbed of its purpose. As my eyes adjusted, I saw the linens. And that was it. Nothing else. Were the women lying? I wasn't sure. I pursued truth for so many years—that's why I followed him—but now my heart felt as empty as the rock-cut tomb. He wasn’t here, that much was true. Where could he be?
I turned and walked away. No goodbyes. No farewells. Nothing but the turn of the heel and the open road. I somehow missed the joy the other women felt. Would I ever feel it? Not today, I thought. Maybe never. But perhaps soon? One can never be sure when it will come. Joy isn't ours to beckon; it's ours to receive.
I followed my husband. He kept replaying the events of the past few days. I wished he would stop talking about it. It wasn't helping me feel better, and it wasn't answering any of the questions I asked myself.
As we walked, I felt caught in a dream. It was a nightmare, and there was no one across the room to wake me from the dread. It was only he and I, walking.
In this nightmare, I could see hope. It had become a man. He wasn't transparent, but he wasn't solid, either. He was what you’d expect hope to be—able to be touched, yet somehow out of reach.
He was standing above, pouring something down on me. I couldn't feel it, and that made it a nightmare. I knew it must be something good, something to take the bad away. But I couldn't feel it no matter how hard I tried.
So I jumped as if jumping into the downpour would push me through it to the depths, like jumping into the sea. I wanted to drown myself in whatever it was, but I couldn't get to it. The pain of not feeling it was unbearable.
As I stood beneath the untouchable rain, I saw my husband in a worse position. The downpour wasn't flowing his way. I reached for his hand to bring him into the waterfall, but couldn't find it. So I gave up and turned my face to the dust swirling around my feet. The staleness of the world dried up the beauty of the rain.
Shaking myself awake, I heard a man’s voice. As he approached, he asked what we were discussing. Discussing was a strong word. Had I said anything yet?
I didn't see where he came from but supposed it to be our direction. My husband spoke first. I was grateful. My voice was hard in my throat, that feeling when you want to cry, need to cry, but try to resist. Nothing can go out, because as soon as the stone rolls away everything else inside will follow. And what’s inside on days like this can't be good.
My husband seemed to rebuke the man. I was surprised at his tone. But, then again, everything seemed surprising now.
“Are you the only one who hasn't heard of these things?”
The man pleaded ignorance: “What things?”
I drifted in and out of those first few sentences, and my nightmare returned. But this time it felt different. It wasn't really a nightmare. Something else was happening, though I couldn't recognize what.
The dust I saw before was lapping up the rain and becoming something fresh, something new. The words of the Psalmist rose to my mind from nowhere. “You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.” Something was changing.
I awoke again, still on the road. How much time had passed? My husband was still rehearsing the days’ events.
“What things? I can't believe it! The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.
Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see."
The stranger’s disposition changed. He wasn't curious anymore. He looked at my husband, then at me, then back to my husband.
With pity in his voice, he said, “My dear Cleopas, how could you be so foolish and slow to believe the prophets? Were not all these things necessary? Was it not the plan of God? Did the Christ need not suffer these things and enter into his glory? Surely you do not fail to understand!”
We were stopped now. When did that happen? I felt something begin to rest, but it wasn't relief from walking. Something deep inside slowed to rest, like laying down after a hard day’s work.
The stranger continued talking, taking up each Scripture in turn, explaining things I never considered. I could see my husband was confused. He was trying, but something seemed out of reach. I realized my nightmare was his nightmare too. Something was pouring down, but he couldn’t feel it. Not yet, anyway. I could tell he wanted to, just as I did. But there was a veil.
We began walking again. And we came to the edge of town. It was getting dark. The stranger wanted to travel on, but neither I nor my husband could bear for him to go. We pleaded with him to stay, and when he agreed, found a friendly house and entered. Food was prepared and brought. We sat down to eat.
“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”
His story began there. I remembered the way my heart ached before he came and that ache returned with a fury burning inside my breast. The untouchable rain was pouring now, but this time not in a dream. I could feel something bursting out of me. Or was it bursting out of him into me? I couldn’t tell. It felt so foreign yet so familiar. I wanted to hear more, even if the pain would only increase. There was something fresh in the story he told, as if it was all new, though I had heard the words before.
The meal was before us, and the stranger took the bread. I fixed my eyes on him now. I had seen him before. Why didn't I notice until now?
He took the bread, blessed it and broke it, gave it to us and we ate. Then our eyes were opened, and we knew He was in our presence—or were we in His?
I thought of the nightmare one final time and realized I was awake for the first time. The rain came, the harvest arrived, and it was of eternal abundance. I stepped inside and felt it. Hope.
David McLemore is an elder at Refuge Church in Franklin, Tennessee. He also works for a large healthcare corporation where he manages an application development department. He is married to Sarah, and they have three sons. Read more of David’s writing on his blog, Things of the Sort.
Theology, done well, must inevitably result in doxology, and we shouldn’t be satisfied with less just because we’re teaching children. As they grow in theological understanding, we should pray that the children around us are an example of what it means to thank, praise, and worship of the living God. Here are eight things to remember when teaching kids theology.
1. TEACHING THEOLOGY TO KIDS IS TEACHING SCRIPTURE
The charge to raise children in the knowledge and love of God is clearly given in the Bible (Deut. 6:6-7; Ps. 78:1-8), and teaching theology is one of the ways to fulfill that charge. The most pressing concern for those entrusted with the discipleship of children should be the faithful communication and application of God’s Word. The discipline of theology is simply the systematic correlation of biblical truths about God and all other things in relation to him. If children are learning these truths from infancy, it is able to make them wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 3:15). So teaching kids theology always means teaching them the Bible.
2. TEACHING THEOLOGY TO KIDS HELPS THEM READ THE BIBLE BETTER
When children read the Bible, they bring their thought systems, assumptions, presuppositions, and proclivities to the text; they read Scripture through the lens of whatever theology they’ve imbibed. By teaching kids theology, we are making those things explicit, subjecting them to scrutiny, and making sure that the system they bring to any biblical passage is biblically informed. Knowing theology helps kids read their Bibles better.
3. TEACHING THEOLOGY TO KIDS IS A LIFE-ORIENTING GIFT
From the moment children are born, they are seeking to make sense of the world around them. As they develop, they begin to create a matrix of meaning related to life, which eventually forms a framework through which they interact with and assess every experience. By teaching children theology from a young age, we nurture the formation of a biblical worldview and guide them towards living a life orientated to God and motivated by his salvific mission in the world.
4. TEACHING THEOLOGY TO KIDS REQUIRES HARD WORK AND DETERMINATION
There’s no doubt that it can be hard to teach theology well to children. The greatest resistance to teaching theology to children arises because the children complain that they find it dull and boring. This complaint relates entirely to the methodology used to teach the children rather than to the content–we must never lead children to believe that ‘the glorious deeds of the Lord’ are boring because of bad teaching.
Significant effort must be given to teaching theology in a way that makes it accessible and interesting to all children. It takes hard work and determination to communicate abstract biblical truths in a concrete way, but it can be done. It takes thoughtfulness and creativity to illustrate theological points in a way children will understand, but it can be done. The theology we teach arises out of the drama of the biblical narrative, which means that our theology is not just abstract formulations but is rather inseparable from the concrete story of God’s ways in the world.
5. TEACHING THEOLOGY TO KIDS MEANS THAT APPLICATION IS IMPORTANT
Children are always asking the question ‘so what?’ What does this mean for me, my life, or my family? The ‘so what’ factor is an important one to remember when teaching children theology. They long to know what difference all that they’ve learned makes to their lives, and so all theology must be applied well in order for children to assimilate biblical truth it into their worldview.
We want children to have a robust, functional theology, rather than an academic, heady theology. This requires some understanding of the lives of the children entrusted to the care of the family and church. Take time to learn their joys and their sorrows, their peers and their parents, their play and their rest. Figure out what they are listening to and what is informing their understanding, and consider how theology interacts with or challenges those voices. We must be able to answer the ‘so what’ question every time we teach theology to children.
6. TEACHING THEOLOGY TO KIDS HELPS THEM STAND FIRM IN LIFE
Children today are surrounded by a myriad of belief systems, and as they encounter and engage with these systems they often sadly incorporate unbiblical beliefs into their worldview. One of the ways to enable children to stand firm is to ground them in a rich theological understanding of the Christian faith. Paul longs to prevent people from being tossed to and fro by “every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph. 4:14). By raising children to be theologically robust, we are ensuring their future stability and are protecting them from being tossed about by false doctrines. We are also instilling in them a great confidence in the Christian faith, which will allow them to stand firm in the midst of a complex and confusing world.
7. TEACHING THEOLOGY TO KIDS IS FORMATIVE FOR THEIR CHARACTER AND FOUNDATIONAL FOR THEIR ACTIONS
Teaching kids theology from the earliest age shapes their character and will as they discover the nature of God and seek to develop godly characteristics. By understanding God’s purposes for his world, his method, and his mission, the will is orientated to serving God and living for his glory. As well as informing the character development of children, theology also informs how they live in the world. How kids live should directly correlate to what they believe, and so theology becomes foundational for their actions as well.
8. TEACHING THEOLOGY TO KIDS IS ABOUT THE HEART AS WELL AS THE HEAD
There is a danger that teaching kids theology can lead to an abundance of head knowledge related to Christian things but result in little heart change. Of course, it is always right to instruct children in the things of God, because by not doing so we allow them to be informed by something other than Scripture. However, we must strive to allow theology to warm and thrill children's hearts as well as inform their minds.
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Our friends at Crossway are offering two giveaway copies of The New City Catechism Curriculum! The New City Catechism Curriculum expands the questions and answers of The New City Catechism into fifty-two engaging and informative lessons, helping children ages 8–11 better understand the truth of God’s Word and how it connects to their lives.
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