The Training Table: It Does the Heart Great! to Reflect on and Gush About God’s Goodness!
Welcome Marathoners for Christ (Acts 20:24; 1 Corinthians 9:26; Hebrews 12:4; 2 Timothy 4:7).
I wonder how many times a day, a week, a month… maybe a decade, perhaps—God forbid—EVER that we slow way down to stop and thank God for… a single breath, a heartbeat, the blink of an eye, the scent of a flower, the sound of a bird, the glimpse of a commonplace beauty, the ability to take on any complicated task of any kind, hot water within seconds, light at the flick of a switch, arriving safe and sound from a trip, heat or cool in the air at the touch of a button, heat to cook just a dial away, the early-evening light bathing the mountains in alpen glow, food in the cupboard or fridge… a smile from a stranger, a sunrise or sunset, rain on our face, a mother duck and her ducklings crossing our path… ten fingers, ten toes… Not spending the day in the E.R.
Shall I go on to name the godzillion ways God’s Goodness is reflected in our life? And we usually don’t give it a passing thought, do we? This most basic lack of attribution to God comes as a great cost and diminishment of our heart, faith, spirit, and desire to bless God and others.
The Bible says, “Taste and see that the LORD is good…” (Psalm 34:8). Goodness so sweet and beautiful you can taste it! “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17; both emphasis added). Not just an occasional, but every…
ALL Good… ANY Good… Is a Reflection of God’s Vast and Merciful Goodness.
In the context of God’s Common Grace, He has providenced that, a) He withholds from all humankind the vast and unspeakable array of BAD that flowed out of The Fall (Genesis 3); and b) He has provided all humankind ANY form of GOOD that reveals itself in the tiniest and grandest form of good we see and don’t see every moment of every day. And much more…
“Common grace curbs the destructive power of sin, maintains in a measure the moral order of the universe, thus making an orderly life possible, distributes in varying degrees gifts and talents among men, promotes the development of science and art, and showers untold blessings upon the children of men.” (Louis Berkhof)
If God lifted His hand of protection from the BAD of the world—and your life—any and every aspect of death, darkness, and decay would be revealed and wipe the world… and you… OUT! And not one thing at all that we attribute to the range of really awesome to remotely GOOD can happen without God’s Common Grace.
“Common Grace is seen in God’s continuing care for His creation, His restraining human society from becoming altogether intolerable and ungovernable, His making it possible for mankind to live together in a generally orderly and cooperative manner, and maintaining man’s conscious sense of basic right and wrong behavior.”
Ask yourself today, “At what level am I truly aware and deeply, openly, overtly thankful for God’s Common Grace? Or are you mistaking that anything that goes well in the world for God’s responsibility or your deserving? Please think again… “If my demands to just get what I deserve were to be granted by God there would be nothing left behind this pulpit but a pair of smoldering shoes!” (R.C. Sproul)
From the second after The Fall in the Garden of Eden what mankind deserved is hell. So, when any notion to respond to God’s grace in the most common way like, “Oh, the scent of that garden is heavenly!” Please, think about what you’ve just said.
In the context of God’s Special Grace, He has providenced that, ““For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-7; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Romans 10:9; 1 Peter 3:21; Ephesians 2:8-9)
God’s Special Grace is “beyond Common” due to the fact that the names written in the Book of Life since before time are, at just the right time, regenerated or brought back from being spiritually dead by the Spirit, and then capable of seeing their sin, repenting, have been justified and have faith in Jesus Christ—first as their Savior from hell and then their as their Lord as His disciple in the upward-trending journey of faith, perseverance, conformation, and service in Jesus’ name until He returns in glory.
We Must Take the Time to Reflect… On ALL Good Things.
And reflect again and again every day!
There I was: an eight-hour evening of “pearl diving” (dish washing) had finally ended! It was 2:00am and we had had another hunormously busy night at The Chart House of Aspen restaurant with 500+ dinners served and, yours-truly, the “the solo diver”.
I was racked with exhaustion, and yet still jazzed-up, after having completed another “marathon of diving” on a December holiday evening in the sleepy little mining town of Aspen.
It took me some time to suit up in my winter bicycling gear for the ride home. It wasn’t until I stepped outside while walking my studded-snow-tired mountain bike that I got a cruel but refreshing slap in the face of a 25 degrees below zero reality check.
“YO!”, I said to myself as I straddled my bike in the middle of the desolate Durant Street intersection, and zipped-up tight for my half-hour-long ride home.
There was a perfectly beautiful full moon right over head, and I was psyched to end my long evening with a refreshing spin and wind-down before bedtime.
As I rolled across the snow-packed street that sounded like crackling-squeaky-tires on Styrofoam, it was then that I suddenly stopped short of clipping into my bike pedals. I turned my head and lifted my face towards the sky to listen very carefully as the light wind shifted back and forth.
There it was again: one of my favorite sounds of the faint and distant honking of Canadian Geese. The elusive but clear honking came and went as the light and shifting wind made all the difference in the hearing. So I could see the dark night sky more clearly, I decided to walk my bike over to an area that wasn’t so well lit by the near-by street light.
I stared up intently into the black, star-studded, full moon sky. Suddenly, there it was! A thread-like, “V”-shaped strand of geese some thousands of feet above me! No! Wait a minute… There THEY were: As I continued to stare up into the sky, and my eyes grew more and more adjusted to the lack of ambient light, I was witness to a most glorious sight indeed: not one, but hundreds of thread-like, “V”-strands of geese moving and honking across the black, star-studded sky.
I could now more clearly see how their underbellies were brightly lit by the reflection of the full moon off of the Colorado mountain snow below them.
God’s Goodness is Reflected in ALL Things!
I was absolutely stunned and awed by the sight of hundreds of thousands of big ‘ol, white-bellied honkers working their way towards the warmer climes. What an unbelievable sight and gift that was indeed!
“…coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights…”
It wasn’t until ten years later—after my conversion at the age of 33—that I had the blessing of the bigger and more inestimable gift:
You see, beloved friends, I had come to realize that even though this marvelous event I had witnessed was very special indeed, it was merely a reflection of something much better. Much brighter. Much bigger. Much more awesome… So much so that, if you’re a born-again Christian, “waking up each day in heaven” [will sleep will be needed there?] after we’ve been there for ten-thousand years will be the most exciting thing ever!
Imagine this: Those thousands downy-white geese bellies reflected the light on the snow; which reflected the light of the full moon; which reflected the light of the sun—on the other side of the planet millions and millions of miles away—which reflected The One and Only Light, Love, and Truth of The Trinity’s co-creative and sustained act of “Let there be light…”, “In the beginning…” (Genesis 1, 2)!
So awesome, only “Wow!” suffices, right?
Please, Reflect on Your Own Life.
Have you come to the place in your own life of realizing that even the greatest, most awesome blessing you could ever dare imagine… is only a reflection… and a dim one at that… of God’s effulgent and manifold mercies?
And that the most seemingly insignificant little blessings… are but a reflection of God as well?
Is there a time that you could point to when you experienced a shift—dramatic or subtle—between seeing reflections of God’s Common and/or Special Grace?
As Jonathan Edwards once preached, “A true sense of the divine and superlative excellency of the things of religion; a real sense of the excellency of God and Jesus Christ, and of the work of redemption, and the ways and works of God revealed in the gospel. There is a divine and superlative glory in these things; an excellency that is of a vastly higher kind, and more sublime nature than in other things; a glory greatly distinguishing them from all that is earthly and temporal. He that is spiritually enlightened truly apprehends and sees it, or has a sense of it. He does not merely rationally believe that God is glorious, but he has a sense of the gloriousness of God in his heart.” (“A Divine and Supernatural Light…”)
You see, when the Bible tells us, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows”, there are at least two very, very important reasons why this truism of the Christian faith can make all the difference in our lives by reversing the curse of ingratitude and idolatry put within all hearts in The Fall (Romans 1:18-32).
First of all, when we accept the occasion of our gratitude as coming from the proper cause we are drawn ever-closer to our heavenly Father in deepest thanksgiving and praise of Him: The First Cause! Every heartbeat, every breath, every quake in a blade of grass, every downy feather that falls from a bird, every star nebula, every dimension we won’t discover until we’ve explored the heavens in our millionth year praising God there… it’s all of God.
Everything and anything good is of God—because in The Fall it ALL went… What? Yes, BAD! Ever since The Fall, God has been working out His Plan of Redemption in Christ, in You, in those who believe… AND in those who do not—so that they may before Jesus Christ returns and it’s too late to repent and believe.
Between this very day and when Jesus returns and it’s too late, a) God’s growing, conforming Believers; and b) God’s wooing unbelievers to the end that they repent, are justified, and have faith to believe. On the other hand, Satan is opposing God’s plan by, a) keeping unbelievers unbelieving and, b) keeping Believers as ineffective as he can.
Secondly, we must be very, very careful not to confuse the occasion of the thanksgiving, with the cause. Do not stop at even the greatest gift experienced in this worldly realm: go the The Giver.
Do not linger simply at the blessing of family; go to The Creator of Family.
Do not even stop at the thanks for life; go to The Creator, Sustainer, and Offer of Eternal Life.
Do not feign faith in either liturgy or tradition or cozy-warm feelings… but look through the man-made manifestation to The Source of All Worship, Love and Truth!
Then, and only then, is your heart—the wellspring of your life (Proverbs 4:23)—provided the best chance of getting it’s priorities right, ushering out the wrong, and being a witness for others to do the same.
St. Augustine put it this way, “But what do I love, when I love Thee? Not beauty of bodies, nor the fair harmony of time, nor the brightness of the light, so gladsome to our eyes, nor sweet melodies of varied songs, nor the fragrant smell of flowers, and ointments, and spices, not manna and honey, not limbs acceptable to embracements of flesh. [These are reflections…] None of these I love, when I love my God; and yet I love a kind of light, and melody, and fragrance, and meat, and embracement when I love my God, the light, melody, fragrance, meat, embracement of my inner [born-again, Spirit-led] man: where there shineth unto my soul what space cannot contain, and there soundeth what time beareth not away, and there smelleth what breathing disperseth not, and there tasteth what eating diminisheth not, and there clingeth what satiety divorceth not. This is it which I love when I love my God.” (Confessions 10.6.8, parenthesis, emphasis added)
Augustine loved the things of this world not in themselves but as a reflection of God’s redeeming work within him! It begin within so that the vestiges of God “from without” are not as praiseworthy as The Most Worthy One. Have you been born again within and from above?
The Warning of Mistaken Reflections
Once we make the mistake of confusing the cause with the occasion, well, as it turns out, we will make little gods out of the blessings… and not The Blesser! Our fallen heart will make good things… the only thing.
And, due to the upside-down nature of sin in the world and in our hearts, we become inextricably attached to this world and all of its sparkling and momentary allurements; and not “the Father of the heavenly lights above” – from whence EVERY, ANY, ALL good and perfect gift come; including and especially His one and only Son, Jesus Christ.
There is only one main way to have one’s heart transformed daily by the truth of the verse from James 1:17 we are feasting on today: “The Testing of Your Faith”.
Please read and meditate on the verses from James that surrounds verse 17 today… and in some form, every day. The Book of James, Chapter 1, holds the secret to how to treat the reality of living in a partially redeemed yet still very broken world in such a way that no day goes by that you and I are not in awe of “the Father of lights”—the triune God of all goodness who is reflected in every detail of ANY “common and/ or special goodness”.
In closing… maybe there’s an opening for you: The Eternal Now.
Let me remind you of how James 1, in particular, speaks to “the accumulating effects of redemptive suffering”: Redemptive suffering—treating, responding to, the inevitable, unavoidable trials of living in a broken world as one of the main ways the Spirit grows (Hebrews 5”12-14), refines (Zechariah 13:9), matures (1 Corinthians 13:11), works all things together for God and good (Romans 8:28), and makes holy (1 Peter 1:14-15) the sons and daughters of God (Galatians 4:5-7)—and stores up more and more wisdom (James 1:5) in the heart of the sufferer (Ezekiel 36:26); Psalm 51:10) so that he or she will treat ALL of life more and more like Jesus Christ did (Romans 12:2; 2 Peter 3:18):
NOTE: This organic, supernatural spiritual growth cannot be manufactured; we cannot muster it up; there is no “Twelve Steps…” book about it; it’s the new heart plus the grace of God, the fruit of faith, the humility of repentance, and dying-to-self serving in Christ’s name… regularly applied to life’s circumstances.
If we will accept the immeasurable gift of the wisdom of God in Christ… WITHIN US, we will see each and every little and big circumstance of this passing life that God providentially orchestrates NOT first as circumstance, BUT first by circumspect—“And we know that ALL THINGS work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
As we mature as Christians we retain more and more of Christ’s ability to see each day as The Eternal Now: We’re more and more wise, vigilant, scrupulous, attentive, judicious, and watchful for and of God’s Goodness—and, by contrast, it’s opposite: the world, the flesh, and the devil’s badness—in everyday’s time-boundness AND eternality!
Jesus Christ in us—by the person and power of the Spirit—lived in The Eternal Now as GodMan. He was infinitely and intimately present!
And even though we cannot live each day in the exact same way Jesus did, we CAN, CAN, CAN be present in all sorts of ways WHILE we are witnessing how and what we are experiencing is a REFLECTION of GOD’s eternality.
Proof speaking, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18; Romans 8:29; Philippians 2:12-13).
Principle speaking, Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)) and, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
Process speaking, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17); “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Romans 6:6).
Practically speaking, “…speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…” (Ephesians 4:15; Romans 8:9; 2 Corinthians 1:3-7).
How many of you could be honest enough to reflect on times when you might have treated “the shifting shadows of an earthly blessing” as an END, rather than the MEANS—to see through it, to “the Father of heavenly lights above”? When we begin with the Common and Special Grace goodness of The Trinity, all of life—both good and bad—is placed in the proper perspective and the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance, can flow and help redeem the world.
When in Doubt, When in Praise, When in Living… Raise Your Gaze!
Whenever you see the Good of God’s Special Grace, raise your gaze to God and thank Him for His Plan of Redemption; and whenever you see the good of God’s Common Grace, raise your gaze to God and thank Him for His Plan of Redemption!
“If God is the great object behind all other beauties and magnificence, then to praise and admire Him would be ‘simply to be awake, to have entered the real world,’ while not doing so would be to become far more profoundly crippled than those who are blind, deaf, and bedridden.” (Tim Keller, CS Lewis, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God)
Please remember, beloved of God, every jot and tittle of gratitude and goodness is merely a reflection of God’s goodness. Be truly thankful and thoroughly blessed by the one and only true source of gratitude “who does not change like shifting shadows”.
In deep gratitude to Him, my Father of the heavenly lights… and the light within my own heart,
God Wants You to Give Thanks, John MacArthur
Gratitude, Desiring God, John Piper, more