“The first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day is to have my soul happy in the Lord” George Müller
One of the things I love to do in holiday seasons is to visit the stories of familiar and unfamiliar heroes of the faith to be inspired by their lives and stories and learn from the habits which led them to leading such lives of significance. This summer I read a biography of George Müller, a hugely significant pastor in the 1800’s in Bristol. In addition to seeing many people come to faith in Jesus Christ, Müller established several schools and ran orphanages for several thousand children never asking for donations, yet they received today’s equivalent of millions of pounds. He always insisted on the fact that he didn’t have a particular gift of faith but rather he learnt to experience the grace of God.
Before reading this biography I had heard someone tell the story of the day that Müller was told that the bread and milk in all the orphanages had completely run out and that they were in trouble. His first response was to say to his team “Let’s see what miracle will happen now, this is a great opportunity to see our Father at work”. By something like 9.30am, half an hour later, the local milkman had felt the need to drop by and offer the orphanage container loads of milk and 10 minutes later there was a knock at the door and it was the local baker. It is an astounding story of provision but what caught my attention was Müller’s immediate faith response.
I think if we’re honest our first response to a crisis isn’t like this. After some anxious thoughts and words and a bit of worry and strategising, we then realise there might be no other way but God’s way.
Cultivating a thankful life –
Is your glass half-full, or half-empty?
It was interesting to me to then read this man’s biography and to discover what lay behind such a faith mindset – the discipline of thankfulness. Every day as Müller got up he looked in the mirror and began thanking God for all His blessings. He deliberately called to mind and listed out loud different things that he was thankful for each day. It would appear he became not only thankful but joyful and full of faith.
“According to my judgement the most important point to be attended to is this: above all things see to it that your souls are happy in the Lord. Other things may press upon you, the Lord’s work may even have urgent claims upon your attention, but I deliberately repeat, it is of supreme and paramount importance that you should seek above all things to have your souls truly happy in God Himself! Day by day seek to make this the most important business of your life. This has been my firm and settled condition for the last five and thirty years.
For the first four years after my conversion I knew not its vast importance, but now after much experience I specially commend this point to the notice of my younger brethren and sisters in Christ: the secret of all true effectual service is joy in God, having experimental acquaintance and fellowship with God Himself.”
Two years ago I personally experienced some difficult unforeseen circumstances when I lost my job and my sense of purpose overnight. I remember the first morning I got up and looked in the mirror after hearing the news (with some sad thoughts in my head). I felt compelled to start giving thanks out loud for everything good in my life. It was food to my soul and soon my glass seemed half-full rather than half-empty. Some months later I had experienced more joy than ever before in my life.
The Hebrew people of the Old Testament believed in a God who was consistent, good, merciful and for that they gave thanks. By contrast, the other gods of the day were temperamental, vengeful, inconsistent and unforgiving. The children of Israel were different as a people, they had a relationship with their God. The New Testament church had such a revelation of God’s grace and the joy of Jesus they overflowed in thankfulness:
“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus”. 1 Thessalonians 5:18
As Christians we are heirs with Christ which means we get to share in both the glory and the grit and the suffering (Romans 8). We are called to surrender our lives, listen and obey, go to the cross, take up our cross but very importantly to Enjoy God and be Full of Joy! Interestingly, I have heard that the church in China today, which is so fruitful and expansive, talks about joy and thankfulness being the energy of the Holy Spirit!
In my family we are learning about laughing together and enjoying life as we spend time together (amidst a good few arguments too!). As a church we are learning about having a lot of fun, so it’s not all too serious or we take ourselves too seriously. Over Christmas I noticed that for both the church and the family this is very important. But the gateway to this (so it’s not false or just frivolous) is always thankfulness. A life that begins the day with a thankful heart.
As a mum, a wife and a leader I took time this last week to review the year gone by through the lens of thankfulness, speaking it out loud! I’m currently reviewing the present and the future and choosing to do the same. May I encourage you to begin this year seeing your glass as half-full, at the very least!