Giving Thanks

Title: Giving Thanks

Text: Philippians 4:6-7

Time: November 23rd, 2003

Around Thanksgiving every year we remember the familiar scene of the Pilgrims and the Indians meeting together for the very first Thanksgiving. The Pilgrims were thanking God for the many blessings they had received, including the Indians, in their thanksgivings to God, because without the providential help of the Indians it’s doubtful the colonists could have survived that first year. They thanked God for what they had and put aside their complaints about what they didn’t have. As Christians, they were probably aware of this biblical principle — taking stock in what one has, giving thanks for what one has, and not just focusing on one’s 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 early 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 Pilgrims had to learn how to survive in the wilderness, they had to learn how to face difficulties with patience and faith, they had to learn to ask the Lord for his blessings, but just as important, they had to learn to thank the Lord for his blessings. It’s a pattern for our lives as well. But before we hear what the Apostle 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, DO NOT BE ANXIOUS ABOUT ANYTHING. Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything. . . .” Now this is an amazing teaching because it doesn’t say to not to be anxious about most things, or nearly all things, it says do not be anxious about anything. It reminds us of the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 6:25 and 34. If you remember, “Therefore, I tell you do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?” And verse 34: “Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” The very same New Testament Greek word, MERIMNATE, is used by the Apostle Paul – the very same word used by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. Now if you stop and think about life, there are a lot of things to worry about. Jesus mentions a few things people worry about: food, drink, clothing, but these are just few examples. We have housing, finances, employment, health, security, transportation, health care, standard of living, safety and health of family and friends, and on and on. The famous psychologist Abraham Maslow came up with a hierarchy of needs, and Jesus gave a few of the top needs of life on Maslow’s list. But humans have a tendency of expanding their lists of needs when one level is fulfilled. For example, if you are seeking housing, basic housing, a place to live, an apartment for example, while you are searching, that need is high on your list, you may be tempted to worry a lot about it. But when you find an apartment, when you fulfill the need for housing, is that one less need you have now on your list? Nooooo. We put some other need on our need list and start worrying about it. Let’s say you have a need to be married with a wife and kids. So you worry about that, until you get it, now once you get a wife and kids, is your list less than it was before? Noooo. Now you need a bigger housing unit, you need more money, and so on and so on and so on. And so the needs of a human being, like you, like me, are endless. We can always think of more things we need. But the Apostle Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything.” Or as it literally reads in Greek, “Nothing anxious be.” So if we were to ask the Apostle Paul, “Do I hear you right? Are you saying that we do not have to be anxious about anything?” Yep. Nothing. Not of losing all you have in a fire, not in losing your health, not in losing your job, not in losing your marriage, not in losing your children, not in losing a war, not in anything. That’s what Paul is saying. And that is what Jesus is saying also. Do not be anxious, worried, about anything. Be responsible, be reliable, but don’t worry about things. No the $50,000 question is: how? That’s the next point of the passage.

Two, PRAY ABOUT EVERYTHING WITH THANKSGIVING. Philippians 4:6, “But in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Now why would God inspire the Apostle Paul to teach us to pray with thanksgiving? Why not just prayer? Isn’t prayer enough? Why do we have to add thanksgiving? Someone might say, “Well is it for God’s sake?” How so? Well, He just might get tired of hearing people simply coming to him with gimme prayers — gimme this, gimme that. Maybe we are told to pray with thanksgiving for God’s benefit, so that God doesn’t have to listen to just a long Christmas list from people all the time, just like a child might tell Santa Clause at the Chautauqua Mall. Have you noticed there is a large red seat situated exactly in the middle of the Mall? I bet I know who that is for, how about you? I’ve never seen anybody seated in that chair but I’ve got an idea who that might be. Every year around Christmas, just to have fun, just to play games, kids go and sit on Santa’s knee, and what do they say to Santa? They give him a wish list. I’d like this and that, and more of this and more of that. Has anybody ever done that when you were a kid? Ok, now does God want us to pray with thanksgiving because he simply doesn’t want to only hear what we want, what we need? But instead might want to hear some gratitude for what He has already done? Do you think? I don’t know. I can’t speak for God on this issue, but there may be a little of that, but the main reason we are asked to pray with thanksgiving is to remind us of how much we have. And we always forget that, don’t we? If we don’t stop and give thanks to God for all the blessings he’s given us, we can find ourselves in depression and anxiety and worry. If we focus only on our needs instead of our blessings, we can fail to have the peace of God in our lives. But if we don’t consciously try to remember to give thanks, we will naturally forget about it. Think of the story of the 10 lepers in Luke 12:11-19 (read). 10 got healed by Jesus but only 1 came back to thank him for the healing. Isn’t that a lot like us? We pray and pray for something important in life, and then when we get it we forget to go back to the Lord and thank him for it. That’s why Paul is encouraging us to make thanksgiving a regular part of pray. Do not just pray for what you need. Don’t just make petition prayers to God for your needs, but rather mix thanksgiving in there. For every two or three prayer requests you pray, mix a thanksgiving in there. Keep things balanced. Do you know, I hate to say it, you can get depressed going to a prayer meeting? Yes, if everybody is focused on their problems and needs and forget to thank God once in a while for blessings. There is an old hymn that goes: “When upon life billows you are tempest tossed, when you feel discouraged thinking all is lost, count your many blessings name them one by one, and it will surprise what the Lord has done.” If this were an afro-American church the organ would be playing already and the choir would be singing! But be that as it may, it’s a great song to remind us to thank God for what we have, not just think about what we don’t. The crew and ground control of Apollo 13 knew the same thing, that’s why they kept thinking: ok, what is working on the ship? We must keep in mind what we have, not just what we don’t have. But that’s not all, there’s more.

Three, GOD’S PEACE WILL GUARD OUR HEART AND MIND. Philippians 4:7, “And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Remember what Jesus said in John 14:27, “My peace I give unto you, not as the world gives I give unto you?” Remember that verse? Now what kind of peace does the world give? Situational peace – based on how things are going for you in your life. For example, if you get a big promotion at work you are happy, you feel good, you’ve got the peace. But it’s situational, because what happens next year when the company downsizes? You don’t have peace, you worry, you are anxious. Or say you find the house of your dreams, you make an offer, and you are over to the real estate office to go out there to sign the papers and someone else gets there ahead of you and buys it. The world’s peace is dependent on the situation in the world. World peace is dependent on whether there are nations at war. But the peace Jesus gives is not dependent on situations. He gives peace that is above and beyond the things of the world. With Jesus you can have peace no matter what is going on. I once saw a picture, I can’t remember where I saw it, but it was a poster, an inspirational poster somewhere, that showed a little bird seated on a huge rock next to a raging sea cost with wind and waves, but the little bird was seated calmly on the rock as if nothing where wrong. That’s the kind of peace Jesus gives. And that’s the kind of peace that will guard your heart and mind when you mix thanksgiving in with your prayers of request to God. How does it work? It’s simple. Whenever you pray, whenever you get out your great big long list of all the things you request of God, simply make sure that you sprinkle in prayers of thanksgiving. If you have a prayer time on your way to work in the car for ½ hour, don’t just ask God for health and the health of family members, thank God for the health you have. Don’t just bring to God your requests for finances to pay your bills this month, thank God for His assistance in paying your bills in the past. Don’t just ask God to find you home, thank God that He’s helped you always have some place to stay up to this point. By thanking God and counting our blessings, past and present, we begin to realize that God has been faithful and God will be faithful, not always in the way we think he should be, but in his own way.

Now how many here will stand up and before all of us thank God for something He’s done for you in the past year, since last Thanksgiving.

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