Once again, we find ourselves at Thanksgiving and a chance to show gratitude for all of God's blessings.
Friends, family, home, church, most of us have a typical list of things for which that we are naturally grateful for and for which we give thanks at this holiday.
Over the year years, there have been things that I have been thankful for and things that I have not. However, so many of the challenges, hardships, and difficulties that I used to dread, I now see as blessings from God.
Just what led to my change of perspective on these issues? The Bible tells us that if we delight ourselves in the Lord, he will give us the desires of our hearts. But the truth is that something happens to us as we delight ourselves in God.
But just what does it mean to delight ourselves in God? To delight ourselves in something is to find joy or take pleasure in it. So in a sense, when we are delighting ourselves in God, thinking of him, meditating on him, reading, and studying his word, it leads to an infilling where we become overflowing with him.
The amazing thing about that is that when we fill ourselves with God, it changes us, changes our hearts, our minds, and our desires so that what we desire is the things that God wants for us, and that is what he will give us.
While some of the hardships I have faced were not easy to handle, as I have tried day by day to delight myself more and more in God, I can honestly say that my desires on so many things have changed, and I can truly say that I am grateful for what God gave me through these things.
I have had dengue fever, dealt with heart problems, kidney stones, and digestive issues. While none of these have been fun to face, God used these things to teach me compassion. I have been active and healthy most of my life, and instead of thanking God for my health, I took it for granted and often times demonstrated a lack of compassion and empathy towards others who were not as strong as I was. By having the opportunity to experience poor health, God has given me more understanding towards others who are frailer than I was, and for that, I am thankful.
I was raised in poverty and required to support my parents and family from a young age. After leaving home and starting a family when most of my peers were still in high school, I worked long hours to provide for my wife and daughter. I know what it is like to indeed have nothing. While at many times in my life, I was jealous and envious of those who had a better start in life than I did. Having so little made me a good and faithful steward with the little I had as I know what it's like to be a few dollars away from poverty.
The ability to get by with nothing is a skill that came in handy during many of our years in Guatemala, where we had limited resources. With time, as I was faithful with a little, God has blessed us with more, yet I have never forgotten where I came from. I know how hard it is for so many people to support us and the work we are doing, so I strive to be faithful to my responsibility to use the funds God provides carefully and wisely and for that, I am thankful.
Starting ministry with nothing:
I have seen many missionaries and ministries launch with what seemed to me like a blank check and never suffer for funding, we never had that. This meant that we had to bootstrap everything ourselves. What I wouldn't have given for the resources I saw others squander. We had to scrape and scrounge for every cent, and it wasn't easy. Yet what I once saw as a hardship, I now see as the grace of God. By learning to make every penny count, we had little to no waste. We focused on building a ministry that gave knowledge of the Gospel and education to those we serve instead of food or clothing, which meant that those coming to us for help were learning to get a hand up instead of a handout, and for that, I am thankful.
Raising my kids in Guatemala:
Many times over the years, I questioned the decision to raise my children in Guatemala instead of the US. Safety, security and schooling being some of the more challenging issues to grapple with in a third world country. Yet as I see my kids grow into loving, responsible, and thoughtful teenagers and adults, I realize that there are so many blessings to living part of your life in another country. They have learned to be more self-aware and are grateful for many things that others take for granted. While they may have been lacking some comforts, the experiences they have been through have built character, and for that, I am thankful.
Asking for money is not a fun thing to do, and few people enjoy it. Most missionaries dread support raising, and there were many times when I got discouraged endlessly asking churches, pastors, friends, and just about everyone I met to donate and support. But with time, something shifted. As we grew and matured in ministry and began to take on the perspective that this was not our work, but God's work, there came confidence and excitement in sharing what God was doing to further his kingdom, for His glory so that his name might be glorified. As it became less about me and more about him, the fear and trepidation that I used to feel when asking people to partner with us was replaced with confidence and trust that God would bring the right people at the right time who are passionate about the work he had called us to, and for that, I am thankful.
These are just a few of the many ways that God has changed my heart and mind since we stepped into fulltime ministry 17 years ago. As I try to be faithful to seek Him, He continues to work in my life, making me less like me and more like Him, and, for that, I am thankful.