One of the more frequent questions I get as a pastor is: “How can I know God’s will for my life?”
In my early years as a pastor, I assumed there was a specific answer to that question. And the answer was usually about a career path. Thirty some years later, I’ve learned that God’s will for our lives is rarely a specific answer, but a series of answers--all of which are found in the Bible.
Last week, I came across a verse that gripped me like never before. For thirty-two years I’ve read the verse, preached sermons that included the verse, memorized the verse, written it down on index cards, in devotional notes, and highlighted it in my Bible. But for some reason, five words (the Holy Spirit) got my attention:
“Give thanks in all circumstances.”
And here are the next five words that brought me to my knees:
“…for this is God’s will.”
“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” -1 Thessalonians 5:18
It is God’s will that I give thanks in all circumstances.
A few weeks ago, I spent some time with a group of guys who were deeply committed to doing God’s will. More specifically, they were committed to “giving thanks in all circumstances.”
A bit of history: we have a ministry at Crossings called Centered. It is a ten-week small group curriculum that is changing our church. It was written by a very gifted lady on our staff and it was written specifically for Crossings. We are a Christ-centered church, so what better title to give our small group emphasis than the name Centered. To date, just over 3,000 people have been in a small group using this outstanding Bible study material.
Our goal is that 100% of our church will go through Centered, so we are almost halfway there. We have seen more small groups form, more lives change, more baptisms, and more enthusiasm in Centered ministry than anything we’ve ever done.
I’ve always been a fan of this effort, but I will admit, when Kim and I had our first Centered group experience in our home this year, it took on a whole new meaning.
It was hard for me to give up my Sunday nights. Sunday nights seemed to be the only protected night of the week. Sunday night was a night for pizza, family, relaxing, and recovering from the rigorous routine of seven services on Sunday mornings in four different rooms. But Centered interrupted my Sunday nights. I was reluctant at first.
Now, I cannot imagine life without my Centered group.
Back to the group of guys: we hired a young leader a few years ago to run our Community Center, Jeremiah Brauderick. Jeremiah came along with a passion for the inner-city kid, for the troubled kid who just needed a friend.
But Jeremiah arrived in our offices with another gift: the gift of a ministry to a couple hundred men at the Joseph Harp Correctional Center, a state prison for men. Jeremiah had been involved in serving and loving the men of Joseph Harp. He gave us the privilege of coming alongside him and bringing the resources of our church to a forgotten demographic.
There’s a vibrant church in the prison called Harp Community Church. They have a pastor, a church staff, a board of elders, and they are growing. When they heard about Centered, they wanted to participate and forty men signed up.
The Centered experience always ends with a celebration. Changed lives are celebrated with testimonies, baptisms, dinner, and a fantastic worship experience. Two weeks ago, I traveled with a group from Crossings to be a part of the Centered celebration inside the Joseph Harp prison.
Unless you’ve visited a prison, you have no idea what it feels like to pass through multiple sliding steel doors, acres of razor wire making sure no one escapes, and thorough searches of our possessions and bodies. Cell phones are not allowed. All of the things we think we have to have on us--phones, keys, wallet--are left behind.
Once inside the prison, we entered into an amazing worship experience. We saw and heard stories of life change. They had an amazing band and the worship was unlike anything I’d ever experienced.
It would have been easy to assume that these men had no hope, no joy, nothing to be thankful for, and no reason to express gratitude. I wondered, “what could they be grateful for?”
I was so wrong. I was so blind.
We worshipped in ways I’ve never before worshipped. We celebrated life change and growth. We celebrated our friendship. We celebrated the fact that we were brothers in Christ and whatever fellowship we missed on earth, we would make it up in heaven.
I started this post talking about gratitude being God’s will. Let me close with a description of one of the most dramatic and life-changing demonstrations of gratitude I have ever seen.
As the Centered celebration came to a close in the confines of the prison, they asked me to say a few words. I did my best to tell them how much I loved them. With a lump or two in my throat, I told them about 7,000 people in Oklahoma City who loved them and cared for them. I told them how honored we were to be a part of their lives. I told them how much they have blessed our church. I told them we could not imagine our church without them in our lives. And I meant every word. I sat down, tried to get emotions in check, and assumed we were finished.
But then, they asked me to come back to their stage. I stood on that stage and listened as they told me how much they appreciate our church, our people, my sermons, and the fact that we have taken the time to notice them, love them, and value them.
And then they performed a radical demonstration of gratitude--the God’s-will kind of gratitude. A young man walked down the center of the room and up onto the stage and presented me and the people of Crossings a piece of art we will forever cherish.
As you can see in the photo, it is a hand-crafted model of the good ship Crossings. I wanted to find an exit and a private place to cry and savor this moment, but I had to stand there, keep my composure, and receive this precious gift with grace and emotions in check.
I was speechless.
I’ve never experienced such a radical expression of gratitude as I did in that moment. These men had to spend what little money they had to buy some materials so they could build a ship which became a piece of art that will be forever cherished by our church.
They were thrilled to give it. I was beyond thrilled to receive it. And as I unveiled it this past Sunday to our people, it was clear we had experienced an extravagant demonstration of gratitude unlike anything we had ever seen before. These forty men were obedient to do God’s will in being thankful in all circumstances.
And no one at Crossings will ever forget this moment.
Consider being obedient to God’s word by simply being grateful and giving thanks in all circumstances.
It’s God’s will.