Happy almost Thanksgiving everyone. One Thanksgiving season a family was seated around their table, looking at the annual holiday bird. From the oldest to the youngest, they were to express their praise. When they came to the 5-year-old in the family, he began by looking at the turkey and expressing his thanks to the turkey, saying although he had not tasted it he knew it would be good. After that rather novel expression of thanksgiving, he began with a more predictable line of credits, thanking his mother for cooking the turkey and his father for buying the turkey. But then he went beyond that. He said, “I thank the checker at the grocery store who checked out the turkey. I thank the grocery store people who put it on the shelf. I thank the farmer who made it fat. I thank the man who made the feed. I thank those who brought the turkey to the store.”
And then at the end he solemnly said “Did I leave anybody out?” His older brother, embarrassed by all those proceedings, said, “God.” Solemnly and without being flustered at all, the 5-year-old said, “I was about to get to Him.” (Citation: Joel Gregory, “The Unlikely Thanker,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 110.) Let’s not leave God out of our Thanksgiving. Let’s start with Him this morning as a way to prepare for a God-focused Thanksgiving.
As we move toward Thanksgiving I love to not only count my immediate blessings, but I also like to consider the past and how God through His faithfulness has brought me out or brought me through times of testing and trial. Does anyone else here know what it is like to be brought through something or to be brought out of something? Has it deepened your appreciation for God or love for His sustaining power or grace in your life? Has it impacted your desire to want to walk more closely with Him or to testify to His faithfulness? Have you learned some things about God’s character and about yourself and your need to rely on Him in times of trouble? This morning I want us to thank God that we have found ourselves in some hard places and spaces, and I want us to rejoice that He has brought us out! And, if you are in the middle of something, I want this to be your confession this morning, “He IS bringing me out!” When you are fully convinced of that reality, you can give Him thanks in all circumstances which is His will for us in Christ Jesus (I Thess. 5:18).
Psalm 40:1-5 I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD. Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods. Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders you have done. The things you planned for us no one can recount to you; were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare.
TAKING GOD’S TIMING IS A HELPFUL THING
Psalm 40:1 says the person who was brought out of their situation said they waited patiently for the LORD.
When we accept that there are things beyond our control and that there will be times of waiting whether we like it or not, we can choose how we will wait. We can wait patiently on the Lord or we can worry, fret, and exhaust ourselves trying to control the situation.
Waiting isn’t something I enjoy at any time, even on vacation. I like to take the shortest path to our destination because I like to be time efficient. When I am going to a restaurant, I like to choose one where there is little to no waiting. I often walk in and check the wait before deciding if I want to eat there because based on the crowd in the restaurant I have to measure my personal willingness to wait. Have you been to the DMV lately? You have no choice but to take a number, sit with the WV masses and just wait. Waiting on medical tests can be so hard. What is promised to be a 48 hour turnaround can turn into weeks, and you are helpless to change the fact that you just have to wait. There are simply times when you can do nothing about your wait time. While waiting may seem like a waste to us, it is an opportunity for God.
Waiting on God gives us the opportunity to receive new revelation from Him.
You know, there is “book smarts” and there is “God smarts.” “God smarts” come to us through experiences when we allow God to interact with us in our lives. You can read about God as Healer, but until you experience Him as such you only know about God’s ability to heal. You don’t know Him to be YOUR Healer. He reveals things about Himself in the healing process that you can’t learn other ways. If you believe that, then I think it makes sense to think that rushing a healing could mean short-circuiting the revelation you could gain. You can read about God’s comfort, but until you experience it, you don’t gain the spiritual understanding that comes with receiving God’s comfort which becomes so much more than one-dimensional. You see there is knowledge and there is understanding. When we wait on God, we have an opportunity for more than knowledge. We have an opportunity to receive revelation about ourselves and about God.
Waiting on God keeps us from making mistakes. Proverbs 16:9 tells us, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” We may know what God desires for us to do because He has put it in our hearts, but to rush it or try to make it happen in our time could be disastrous. What I am saying is the right thing at the wrong time could ruin us.
Experiencing parts of life too soon or too much “early” success can spoil you, get you off track, or cause you to be puffed up with pride causing you to become self-dependent rather than God-dependent. Rushing into marriage, rushing into career paths because they seem to be “great opportunities,” rushing to conclusions in relationships with people, all can become our undoing in the end. Patiently waiting on God’s timing enables us to acknowledge His Sovereignty and it expresses our desire that He be the leader. Getting ahead of God will always cost you more in the end. It could be more time, more money, or more heartache and sorrow, but it will always cost you something.
Some of you are waiting on a healing, waiting on a financial blessing, waiting on a relationship or job. Wait patiently. Wait with trust. Wait with expectation that God is working things out. Don’t get ahead of Him. Trust His timing, and give Him thanks that He is working to bring you out and bring you through.
TESTIFYING TO GOD’S FAITHFULNESS IS THE RIGHT THING
Look back with me at Psalm 40 verses 3 and 5:
“He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD.”
“Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders you have done. The things you planned for us no one can recount to you; were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare.”
If God has brought you out, other people need to know that God can bring them out. Your testimony is a gift that you can give others as they wait for God to do all they are hoping He will accomplish. Your testimony might be what enables someone else to hold on as they wait for their miracle. Your story might be the thing that gives someone
hope, confidence, perspective or endurance. The Psalmist said in verse 3, “Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD!” People could come to Christ through your vulnerability and willingness to say you were in the pit, but God brought you out!
Just recently one of our church members shared with me how God brought her out of a slimy pit, and I asked for permission to share her story. This is how she detailed her journey:
- Shame, loneliness, anger, feeling abandoned, physical pain, weight gain, insomnia, restlessness and listlessness, many colds, being overly sensitive, hopelessness, sad, sad, sad with no feelings of joy. These things describe a horrible emotional pit often described as living in a black hole. Living in a black hole is destructive to the human psyche and will not “go away” on its own. I’m describing, of course, depression.
- Depression is one of the most debilitating diseases known to man. I didn’t read that in a book – I lived it – I suffered through it and every day questioned if there was any purpose to my life at all. After all, Christians don’t get depressed! Just “shake it off” or “pull yourself up.” We all accept the fact that our bodies wear out and run down and are susceptible to disease. We can even accept the fact that our brains can be ravaged by diseases such as Alzheimer’s. But some Christians will not accept the fact that clinical depression also has specific biological causes. They’d rather refer to depression as a “bad attitude” or “lack of faith.” So even understanding that I was in the throes of a major depression, I kept to myself and pulled my pain inside and just sank deeper. Admitting depression to other Christians would have taken more courage than I had. Oh no — surely not. Christians, of all people, born again with a new life in Christ, shouldn’t get depressed, should they?
- I am a Christian and I experienced a major depression following a painful life event – something that I didn’t see coming – and I felt a terrible loss – a big heart-crushing blow. Why did I react so uncontrollably when I’m pretty much known to be a person who is in control?! It’s in the biology of the brain. The cause of depression is rooted in brain chemistry. The chemicals necessary to maintain this particular area of the brain are not sufficient. Sometimes a serious trigger can result in a mood disorder and sometimes there is no obvious cause. As a result, one’s mood is affected, and depression eventually can set in. It isn’t a matter of being Christian or not Christian, converted or not converted or saved or not saved. Certain experiences can trigger a depressive state. Depression is a mood disorder – it’s not a choice!
- Many times I prayed the famous one word prayer – “HELP”I asked for help from my Heavenly Father. He helped me pray in a new -specific way. Then I was able to tell a few caring people who I knew wouldn’t judge or criticize me. After a time, I felt God prompting me to take care of myself – that there was help out there. I felt Him saying, “If you will follow me, I will run interference. ” And He did. Bless His Holy Name!
- I learned something wonderful: God is patient with baby steps! Jesus understands our dark feelings, our doubt, our discouragement, and yes, even our depression; and His desire is to help us. Sometimes, the help we need might include professional counseling and antidepressant medication. After all, God created the minds that created these medications, and it is not a sin to take them if you truly need them.
- If you are depressed, there is help for you. It is okay to admit it, and it is okay to get help. Life will still have its ups and downs, but there are options for you if the “downs” last for a long, long time.
- Admitting that I could not carry this load alone was a huge step toward healing. I found a terrific therapist. Talk therapy helped me immensely but it wasn’t enough. Antidepressants were added and adjusting to them was unpleasant. But I had the King of Kings running interference. He never left me. Rick Warren’ s book “A Purpose Driven Life” has many uplifting thoughts but this one has come back into my heart. He said simply “God’s not mad at you – He’s mad about you! -Yvonne Muilenburg
(SHOW YVONNE MUILENBURG’S PICTURE) Yvonne couldn’t be here today, so I wanted you to see who she was. Perhaps her story connected with you, and you want to thank her for allowing her testimony to encourage you today.
Depression is a huge pit. Yvonne knows it was God with her in the pit providing what she needed in order to come out of it. Her testimony is much like the Psalmist in Psalm 18. Turn there quickly:
Psalm 18:1-6 I love you, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call to the LORD, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies. The cords of death entangled me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.
He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters.
He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.
If you have been brought out, you have a testimony to share. Don’t be selfish with it. If you are in the pit, you still have a testimony to share. God is with you in the pit. He will never abandon you. That’s one thing I absolutely love about our God. He doesn’t stand above the pit and say, “I’m coming soon.” He doesn’t stand over the pit and yell down, “Hang on for three months, and then I’ll pull You up.” No. He absolutely climbs into the pit with us to encourage and sustain us, to teach us, and to lead us out in His timing! He also gives us His Word while we are in the pit. Don’t underestimate the value of every sermon, every Bible study, every Sunday School lesson, every verse memorized because when you need it, God will recall it to your mind and give you supernatural strength not only to endure, but even to thrive in the pit! God’s Word and power can and will sustain you in the pit.
TRUSTING GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY IS THE ONLY THING
Verse 5 of Psalm 40: “Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods.”
What makes God God is that He is God of the pit! If He was only God of the mountain, He couldn’t be God. The fact that He can still be ruling and reigning, the reality that He can make you better because of the pit than you would have been without it, the truth that He can turn your test into a testimony, the willingness He has to climb in the pit with you and talk you through it and walk you through it and build your faith better than it had ever been before—those are the things that prove He is GOD! If God can’t be God in your pit, then He isn’t God at all! And listen to me; He will be God in your pit if you will trust Him to be so.
Romans 8:28 tells us, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” You have to hold on to that in the pit! “That which should distinguish the suffering of believers from unbelievers is the confidence that our suffering is under the control of an all-powerful and all-loving God. Our suffering has meaning and purpose in God’s eternal plan, and He brings or allows to come into our lives only that which is for His glory and our good.” ― Jerry Bridges, Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts
Just as I shared that we can choose how we wait, we can also choose how we suffer. I want to learn to suffer well! Suffering is part of life. It has come. It will come again. I want to be an over-achiever when it comes to suffering. I want to get an A+ in suffering. If I have to take that course in life, I want to excel! I want to be ridiculously good at it! I want to be a “super sufferer!”
The Apostle Paul had the same mindset in Philippians 3:10-11 where He said, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Paul not only anticipated suffering, but he also was excited about what it would produce in his life as he followed Christ!
You will cave in the pit, you will walk away from God in the pit, you will destroy your future in the pit, you will hurt people you love in the pit if you aren’t trusting that God has a good and loving reason for allowing you to be there. God can often do greater work in your life in the pit than He can on the mountaintop. He has a plan for your life and part of that plan includes victory in the pit. Satan also has a plan for your life. And part of that includes him having his way with you in the pit. He wants to destroy you in the pit. The pit isn’t the place to walk away from God because if you do, you will become defenseless against Satan who is prowling around like a roaring lion as he seeks to devour you (I Peter 5:8). The pit will either become a lion’s den or a sanctuary. If you abandon God in the pit, it will become a playground for Satan.
But if you will trust God’s sovereignty in your life, your pit can become a sanctuary like none other and once you are out, it will be the place you have fond memories of. Not because you suffered there, but because the Holy Spirit stayed with you in your suffering and gave you the support, peace, comfort, courage, and endurance you needed until God brought you out.
Your pit is one piece of a greater puzzle. Maybe God is working on the borders of your life. Maybe He is in one particular corner at work to put some pieces into place. While He is doing so, you have to believe He is IN your corner. He is FOR you. Tell yourself, “What I am experiencing now is just a piece of a masterpiece!”
If you don’t trust God, you won’t obey Him. Obeying Him in the pit is crucial. If we ever needed to follow His instructions to the letter it is in the pit! Proverbs 3:5-6 is a must not only when things are humming along, but when we are in the pit. We must “Trust in the Lord with all our hearts and lean not on our own understanding. In all our “pits” let Him be Lord, and He will pull you out.” (My translation)
Listen, God is a right time, right kind of place God. I hear a lot of people say, “It was a God-thing” when something just works out so perfectly and detailed you know it is only that God was behind the scenes orchestrating the whole deal. But they only say, “It was a God-thing” after it all came together and was able to be clearly seen in the physical realm. What if we learned to say in the midst of our suffering, “It is a God thing!?” “I don’t understand it. It is painful, but because it is a piece of God’s puzzle, it is a God-thing and therefore must be a good thing!”
Joseph became the Czar of Egypt, but he didn’t just go to Czar school, work hard, graduate at the top of his class and become second in command to the Pharaoh. No. He started his assent to his career in a pit! His brothers, jealous of their father’s love for Joseph, put him in a pit while they devised a plan to get rid of him. From the pit he was sold into slavery. The story got even more convoluted before he ascended to power. I don’t have time to deal with all of that craziness, but let me say, what Joseph never lost sight of, was that the pit was simply one piece of the puzzle. He never for one minute thought God had abandoned him, didn’t love him or didn’t want something good for his life. It was just a stepping stone to a greater reality. He trusted God’s sovereignty without question.
I know you probably expected a message about how we can be thankful for salvation or grace or forgiveness or that we live in a wonderful country. We certainly can be thankful for all of those things and more. Today, I challenge you to go beyond giving thanks for all you perceive is “right” or good in your life and thank God for the pits, past, present and future and for you to confess with your mouth and live it with your life that He has, He is, and He will bring you out!