Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Twins of Joy: Thanksgiving and Obedience (Lessons from my Africa Journey)

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The Dark Continent of Africa, like a sealed envelope, became gradually opened to Westerners and the gospel of Christ by men such as David Livingstone.  Even when he was too ill to explore uncharted lands, the smoke of a thousand villages caught his eye and affected his heart, so that he traveled to as many places as possible to give them the good news of salvation.

When the news of Livingstone’s death reached the ears of a twelve-year-old girl in Scotland, she determined that she too desired to take the gospel to the unreached in Africa.  Mary Slessor would travel to Calabar, where she would become known as “Mama” and “Queen.”  She would hold government positions, teach the natives to read, and would rescue African children.

Twins especially were considered cursed and doomed to die.  But Mary spared their lives, took them as her own, and raised them to serve God.  From the heathen darkness of their culture they turned to receive the light of the Gospel of Christ.  Their plight of doom was exchanged with the privilege of deliverance! 

Doomed to utter desolation and destruction, we who once were unsaved are like these twins whom Mary rescued.  Now, God desires for us to raise twin attitudes in our lives which are prepared to bring glory to him.  These are the attitudes of praise and thanksgiving.

Traveling throughout the Masai Mara on Kenya’s border with Tanzania, my husband and I recently found ourselves surrounded by God’s magnificent creative genius.  What human would have considered forming a hippo or framing an elephant, who eats up to 350 kg a day?  Which of us could have tailored the cheetah, the wildebeest, the giraffe?  Our God, who owns the cattle the world over, is Designer of all.  As such, He needs nothing.  And yet He desires two beautiful attitudes from us, His children—the twins of praise and thanksgiving.

The children of Israel called God the Lord.  They came to Him with drink offerings, with meat offerings, with valuable sheep and oxen from their folds.  The tribal Masai people’s wealth is likewise in their cattle.  Women collect cow dung to construct houses.  Men bring a dowry of cattle to purchase the bride of their choice.  A savory Masai drink is blood and milk mixed together, which one young Massai villager told us on our recent trip would help make him “healthy and strong.”

God asks an interesting rhetorical question in Psalm 50:13: “Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?”  God neither “needs” anything that we have, nor will He take from us that which is not offered of our own free will: “I will take no bullock out of thy house, nor he goats out of thy folds” (verse 9). It seems to me that what God really desires is our hearts, for He states, “Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High:  And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me” (verses 14-15).

How can I make God’s wishes my own?  How can I embrace God’s vision for me--to view this world with a heart of praise to Him and thus daily present to Him an offering of thanksgiving? 

First, I can embrace a joyful attitude regardless of the circumstance in which I find myself.  The Africans’ smiles, offered sincerely and regularly, speak of their pervading sense of contentment.  Many live in three-room houses, with bare floors, little to no furniture, and an outhouse in the backyard.  Goats, chickens, and vegetables, placed behind fences around their homes, are luxury items from which they receive many good things.  They don’t own many outfits, and many aren’t consumed by materialism. Yet they offer hearty welcomes and extend meaningful gratitude about the common things of life.  They joy in relationships and work with a song in their heart.

Joy and thanksgiving often work hand in hand.  By choosing thankfulness, I exchange an inaccurate perspective on any circumstance in an instant.    My heart can easily deceive me into viewing life incorrectly.  Feelings of discouragement can be washed away by purposeful praise. Let my life be characterized by what one author calls “thanks living.”  She says, “Thanksgiving is good, but thanks-living is better.”  When it is easier or feels natural to complain, make it a point to praise instead. 

Second, I can give the Lord all of my heart.  Such yielding is a moment by moment decision.  Discontentment zaps joy.  And yet, every daily experience--whether easy or challenging, expected or unpredicted--I can embrace as a gift from Him.  As I obey in this crucial matter of surrender, I will more readily offer God what He so longs to hear:  praise.  Thus, I will fulfill my purpose on earth--to glorify Him!  

As Mary Slessor raised twins for the Lord, may I likewise allow the twin attitudes of praise to God and surrender of self to glorify God in my life.  As I yield myself to His way, I no doubt will be able to watch Him put thanksgiving (or “thanks-living”) into my heart and life, so that the theme of my  heart is blessing the Lord at all times, regardless of any external circumstance about me!