Thanksgiving

Title: Thanksgiving

Text: Philippians 4:6-7

Time: November 23rd, 2003

This (video clip) is a dramatic scene from the movie Apollo 13 where the spacecraft develops all kinds of problems, thousand and thousands of miles from earth. The scene shows the ground control team working on the problems, and notice what is said, “Work the problem. What is working on the spacecraft? What do we have to work with?” They don’t know it but that is a biblical principle, taking stock in what we have, giving thanks for what we have, and not just focusing on our problems. We are approaching Thanksgiving Day and it’s a good time to take stock in what we have instead of focusing on what we don’t have. The Pilgrims had to do that, give thanks for what they had, instead of feeling bad about what they didn’t have. Compared to Europe, the settlers had very little in the way of a standard of living in the New World at the beginning. It was a hostile land, and many, many people died en route and shortly after they landed. It was a hard life, not for the timid at heart. So the Pilgrims got together to celebrate and give thanks for what God had provided for them. It’s a great tradition, and it’s biblical, it’s in the Bible. The Apostle Paul teaches us under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7. On this first day of Thanksgiving week, I’d like to unpack Paul’s teaching on thanksgiving this morning and demonstrate how we can always be thankful no matter how hard life is or how many problems we face. It’s really the key to contentment in life, thanking God for what we have, refusing to dwell on what we don’t have, or what is wrong or a problem in our life. Learning to give thanks to God can change our lives and revolutionize our spiritual lives. The crew of Apollo 13 is alive today because the team working on the ground refused to give up hope, but worked to overcome the obstacles of rescuing the spaceship through a combination of building on what they had, that is giving thanks, and working creatively on what they didn’t have. It’s a pattern for our lives as well. But before we hear what Paul has to teach, would you pray with me and ask the Spirit’s inspiration? (pray). Let’s look at three things about thanksgiving.

First, we are taught to not be anxious. Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything. . . .” And some would say, “Yea, easy for you to say. Better said than done.” It’s kind of like when someone tells you to not think of a pink elephant, it’s almost impossible not to. Try it. Try not to think of a pink elephant right now. It’s hard because in order to not think of it, you almost have to think of it so that you know you are not thinking of it. And so on, and so on, and so on. Anxiety is one of the most common problems in our modern 21st century. The pace of life is so fast today that anxiety is so common that if you aren’t anxious, restless, and worried, people think there is something wrong with you. If you aren’t all rushed and worn-out people think that you aren’t paying enough attention to reality. But the Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, teaching that it is possible to live a life free of anxiety. Now that gets your attention doesn’t it? A life free of anxiousness, free of stress, free of worry, free of frustration, wouldn’t that be nice. When we hear of such a life free of stress and anxiety we are tempted to write it off as just wishful thinking. Maybe it was possible in the old days, in the Old Country, but not today. Think about the days of old, in the United States, like in the 1800’s, like in Little House on the Prairie, or the Waltons. Or in Old Europe in the farming communities, in the little villages where life was simple and carefree. Or in the fields of the Middle East, a shepherd for example, tending the sheep in the serene pastures and out under the quiet stars at night. That is a peaceful scene. Like the scene of the baby Jesus in the manger, which we’ll be talking about more as the Christmas season approaches. But today, with rush hour traffic, with busy grocery stores after the working day, busy school activities, deadlines at work, and all the other stress producing things in today’s world, it doesn’t seem possible to be free of anxiety. But yet it must be so or else God would not have included the teaching in the Bible. It would be pretty cruel if God were to hold out the hope of a stress-free life, but then it be impossible. No. It is possible to live without anxiety and worry. But the question is how can we have it, this peaceful life that Paul invites us to? That brings up the next point.

Two, we are taught to pray about everything with thanksgiving. Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” According to the Apostle Paul this is the key to a stress free life, a life without excessive anxiety and worry. What is Paul saying? He’s saying that the way to avoid worry and anxiety and stress about our problems is to pray about them to God and mix in a little thanksgiving too. Now we all know we should pray about everything that causes us to worry. We’ve heard we should bring everything to God in prayer. In fact, there’s an old hymn sung in many churches still that goes: “Have you trials and temptations, is there trouble anywhere, we should never be discouraged, take it to the Lord in prayer.” It’s called “Take it to the Lord in Prayer.” Someone once said, “You can either worry about something or pray about it, but you can’t do both at the same time.” It’s true for the most part. Worry is your mind racing around and around and going over the same thing over and over, like when you get your car stuck in the snow drift. I’ve lived out here in Jamestown with the lake effect snow and I know and you know that it’s easy to get stuck in the snow or ice. What happens? Your wheels just spin and spin but you get nowhere. Now that’s what happens in your mind when you worry; you keep spinning the mental gears but you never get anywhere. But in prayer, you do accomplish something, and it’s something productive and healthy. But here’s something else to keep in mind: if all you do is bring God your problems, you can get depressed by doing that. In other words, if all you do is focus on your problems and pray about one problem after another, you can become depressed right while you are praying. I’ve been to prayer meetings where I came in feeling really good and left feeling really bad. Why? Because the prayer leader was focusing on all the problems he could think about instead of mixing in thanksgiving too. That’s why Paul says if you want peace and serenity and a worry free and stress free life, pray about all your problems or issues but mix thanksgiving in with it. Now the Greek word here in Philippians for thanksgiving is EUCHARISTIAS. You might recognize the word “eucharist,” if you come from a Catholic, Lutheran, or Episcopalian background. It means giving thanks or thanksgiving, and it’s used in some churches to describe communion or the Lord’s Supper. Now it’s quite simple how to do what Paul is teaching. Simply think of all the things you are worrying about right now, all the things that you are anxious about in your life, and just start talking to God about them. “Oh God I’ve got too much month at the end of the money, please help me to make ends meet.” But you’ll find if you continue too much in that kind of prayer, which is called petition, you will start to feel depressed because you are focusing on your problems and what you don’t have. So Paul says you must mix your requests with a healthy dose of thanksgiving. Which means, think of everything that you are grateful to God about, either in the past or in the present. No matter whom you are, no matter how many problems you have, you can always find something to thank God for. If you are not sick, you can thank God for your health. If you have a physical problem, you can thank God it isn’t worse. If you have financial problems, you can thank God for getting you this far on so little. If you have to walk because your car is broken, thank God you are strong enough to walk, because some people are stuck in a hospital bed. If you are in a hospital bed, there are many things you can thank God for as well. But unless we sprinkle thanksgiving in with our prayer requests we will get anxious focusing on all our problems. Ok, now what does praying with thanksgiving produce? That’s the next point.

Three, we are taught to expect a life of peace. Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” What happens when we pray about everything and include thanksgiving in our prayers? We get the peace of God. Do you have peace in your life today? It’s possible to have peace of heart and mind through faith in Jesus, through the salvation He offers. When we are forgiven our sins, we no longer have that terrible guilt and shame and fear of punishment. We are free to live in peace. But as Christians living in the secular world it’s easy to lose that peace because of all the worries, anxieties and problems of life. How do we hold on to the peace of Christ? We pray about everything, just like Paul teaches, and we include prayers of thanksgiving too. This is the Thanksgiving season and it’s a good idea to think about all the things you are thankful for at some point during the season. Better yet is to include a time of thanksgiving every day in your personal spiritual devotion time. Do you ever feel sad? Do you ever feel depressed? Do you ever feel down and out? Ever get discouraged? Than try a little thanksgiving praying. Start rattling off everything you can think of that you are thankful for: “Thank you God for food each day, thank you for a warm place to stay, thank you for a job (if you’ve got one — or if you’ve got the faith, thank God for the job you are going to get!). I guarantee that after a minute or so of giving thanks you will feel a whole lot better. It works for me. It works for the Apostle Paul. And it will work for you too. You see life has a way of emphasizing the negatives doesn’t it. If we go through a typical day, the negative or bad things stand out in our memory don’t they? If ten people tell you something encouraging in the day and one person tells you something negative, we’ll spend all day thinking about the negative. That’s why we simply must learn to give thanks in order to break us out of the cycle of worry, anxiety, and depression over our problems. Paul says that this peace from God will guard our hearts and minds. That’s referring to our thoughts and emotions. Sometimes we know what is bothering us because we can think about it, but other times something is bothering us that we simply don’t know what it could be, that’s because it’s in our heart, our emotions, our feelings, and not in our mind yet. But the peace that comes from prayer and thanksgiving covers both the mind and emotions. In other words, you’ll stop spinning your mental energy in an endless loop of worry, and you’ll feel better in your emotions. It’s really the cure for anxiety and stress. Praying with thanksgiving.

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