1 Thessalonians 5:12-18 – Give Thanks

Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (NIV)

A lot of problems would resolve themselves if gratitude was a default way of life. Giving thanks in all circumstances creates peace; causes encouragement to flow freely; warns those who are busybodies; builds patience; and spreads goodness.

It can be easy to give thanks when things go our way.  It is quite another matter when circumstances are difficult, and our expectations are not realized.  The Apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica was written to people caught between a rock and a hard place.  In fact, it was so hard that the believers focused completely on the return of the Lord. 

When times are tough, Christ’s second coming comes forth from the recesses of our minds and straightaway to the forefront of our thinking.  Gratitude is typically not a first response to trouble and hardship. Instead, we may look to escape. We long for Christ’s return as a way out of trouble.

Although we know we should be thankful, we often are not.  Envy and resentment are the twin enemies continually looking to subvert our gratitude. In our frustration of missed expectations and unwanted situations, ingratitude can easily slip into our spirits.

A life of unhappiness awaits those who are resentful of what they do not possess. Those who envy shall never be satisfied because they are always dreaming about how much better life would be without their troubles.

No matter how good we have it, someone else has it better.  To envy is to be overly future-oriented, like the Thessalonians, always thinking about how the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. And it squelches gratitude. For example, according to a study by the Templeton Foundation, gratitude has all but gone missing from the workplace.  Their research found that only 39% of people are grateful for their current employment; 74% of employees have rarely or never expressed gratitude to their bosses; and, 60% have rarely or never expressed gratitude to anyone of their fellow employees.  Workplace dissatisfaction is nearly a guarantee apart from gratitude.

If we want to live happy contented lives, then we will observe the biblical exhortation to give thanks in any kind of circumstance.  It can be a challenge to give thanks during hard times.  Yet, that might be the most important time to do it.

In her book, The Hiding Place, the late Corrie ten Boom tells about an incident that taught her the principle of giving thanks in all things. It was during World War II. Corrie and her sister, Betsy, had been harboring Jewish people in their home, so they were arrested and imprisoned at a concentration camp.  The barracks was extremely crowded and infested with fleas.

One morning they read in their tattered Bible the reminder to give thanks in all things.  Betsy said, “Corrie, we’ve got to give thanks for this barracks and even for these fleas.”  Corrie replied, “No way am I going to thank God for fleas.” But Betsy was persistent and persuasive, and they did thank God even for the fleas.  During the months that followed, they found that their barracks was left relatively free, and they could do Bible study, talk openly, and even pray in the barracks. It was their only place of refuge. Several months later they learned that the reason the guards never entered their barracks was because of those blasted fleas.

Sometimes we neither understand what God is doing nor perceive that the Lord is up to anything.  You may feel as if you are sitting still right now, yet, planet Earth is spinning around its axis at a speed of 1,000 miles per hour.  We are also hurtling through space at an average velocity of 67,108 miles per hour. Even on a day when you feel like you did not get much done, remember you traveled 1,599,793 miles through space!

That is amazing, yet we do not feel it. So, it is off our spiritual radars.  When was the last time you thanked God for keeping us in orbit? I am guessing you likely never prayed, “Lord, I wasn’t sure we’d make the full rotation today, but you did it again!” Yet, we are to learn to thank God in every circumstance, both big and small.  If we can trust God to keep our feet on the ground with a big thing like gravity, then we can have faith in any and every situation we experience.

Here are three simple ways of being intentional about gratitude

Pray with prayers of thanksgiving. 

I am a believer in using biblical prayers for ourselves rather than just saying what is always on our minds and hearts – because we might never get around to gratitude. But Scripture does. The Apostle Paul typically began every discussion with gratitude. For example, when beginning his letter to the problem filled church at Philippi, he said: 

I thank my God every time I remember you.  In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus….  And this is my prayer:  that your love may abound more and more in knowledge of depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:3-4, 9-11, NIV).

Write your thanksgiving.

Cards, letters, emails, social media messages, and whatever other ways are available, use them to express thanksgiving to God and others. Again, Paul ended his letter to the Philippians just as he began it, with gratitude:

It was good of you to share in my troubles.  Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need” (Philippians 4:14-16, NIV).

Keep a gratitude journal.

Identifying and writing down at least three things you are thankful for everyday has healing power. Any common fool can bellyache about how bad things are and play armchair Deity about how to fix all the world’s ills.  However, it takes a wise person to find gratitude and choose to give thanks for all the good things God has done and is doing, being careful to give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will in Christ Jesus.

Almighty God, we give you humble thanks for all your goodness and kindness to us and to all whom you have made. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life. Above all, we are grateful for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, for grace and the hope of glory. Give us such an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days. We pray with thanksgiving through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.

Don Moen – Give Thanks | Live Worship Sessions

Psalm 63:1-8 – Divine/Human Connection

O God, you are my God; 
    I earnestly search for you. 
My soul thirsts for you; 
    my whole body longs for you 
in this parched and weary land 
    where there is no water. 
I have seen you in your sanctuary 
    and gazed upon your power and glory. 
Your unfailing love is better than life itself; 
    how I praise you! 
I will praise you as long as I live, 
    lifting up my hands to you in prayer. 
You satisfy me more than the richest feast. 
    I will praise you with songs of joy. 

I lie awake thinking of you, 
    meditating on you through the night. 
Because you are my helper, 
    I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings. 
I cling to you; 
    your strong right hand holds me securely. (NLT) 

Regular readers of this blog know I believe the book of Psalms to be a vast resource for devotion, worship, and prayer. In dark or distressing times when we don’t know what to pray, how to lament, or what to say to God; in the joyful and peaceful times when we want to proclaim praise, give thanks, or express our blessings and longings; and, in every season of our lives, the psalms offer us robust theology, human emotion and need in all its vulnerable reality, and a connected path between the two. 

Today’s psalm was originally uttered to God when David was roaming in the wilderness avoiding King Saul’s malevolent and murderous intent. David expressed his yearning desire and hope to connect with God and gain solace and guidance, step by step, by the Lord who sees and satisfies. David praised God within a life-and-death circumstance, longing to be satiated with spiritual food and drink. 

Whatever situation we find ourselves in, and wherever our path takes us, the psalms help form and shape a profound spirituality of deep connection with the God we long to know and experience. 

The psalms are so much more than ancient poems, prayers, and songs; they are words alive with the potential to bridge us to God. I often write my own translations and personally contemporize the psalms which helps me to approach God during my own wilderness experiences. So, here is my take on this psalm: 

O God, you are my God; I am putting all my effort into seeking you. 

            my soul is thirsty for you. 

my body is weak looking for you, 

            like in a desert where there is no water. 

I am no stranger to you because I have seen you work before, 

            and I have gotten a glorious glimpse of your power in the past. 

I have experienced that your steadfast love is better than life itself, 

            and I now bank on those times and praise you despite my trouble. 

I choose to keep on remembering you and blessing your holy name. 

            In the mighty name of Jesus, I will lift my hands in praise, even if it looks weird to others. 

I know that my soul will be satisfied in you, just like when I get a medium rare T-bone steak and corn on the cob. 

            And I will use my mouth to praise you with joy, no matter the circumstances, 

when I remember you on my bed and cannot sleep, 

            and meditate on your wonderful grace as I lie there with my eyes wide open. 

for you have always been my help, 

            and sitting on your lap I will be supremely confident and sing for joy. 

Oh, my soul clings to you through this trial, 

            and your mighty hand upholds me.  Amen. 

O God, You Are My God by Fernando Ortega

Psalm 42 – Sadness and Hope

As a deer gets thirsty 
    for streams of water, 
    I truly am thirsty 
    for you, my God. 
In my heart, I am thirsty 
for you, the living God. 
    When will I see your face? 
Day and night my tears 
    are my only food, 
    as everyone keeps asking, 
    “Where is your God?” 

Sorrow floods my heart, 
    when I remember 
leading the worshipers 
    to your house.  
    I can still hear them shout 
    their joyful praises. 
Why am I discouraged? 
Why am I restless? 
    I trust you! 
And I will praise you again 
    because you help me, 
    and you are my God. 

I am deeply discouraged 
    as I think about you 
from where the Jordan begins 
at Mount Hermon 
    and from Mount Mizar.  
Your vicious waves 
    have swept over me 
    like an angry ocean 
    or a roaring waterfall. 

Every day, you are kind, 
    and at night 
you give me a song 
    as my prayer to you, 
    the living Lord God. 

You are my mighty rock.  
    Why have you forgotten me? 
    Why must enemies mistreat me 
    and make me sad? 
Even my bones are in pain, 
    while all day long 
my enemies sneer and ask, 
    “Where is your God?” 

Why am I discouraged? 
Why am I restless? 
    I trust you! 
And I will praise you again 
    because you help me, 
    and you are my God. (CEV) 

Sadness. Every human on planet earth knows the feeling. Since we are emotional creatures, profound sadness even to the point of depression and/or despondency will happen. Yet, despite the universal nature of discouragement and tears, many Christians buck the sadness.

Far too many believers focus so exclusively on victory in Jesus through his resurrection, ascension, and glorification that they use religion as their denial when unwanted emotions like sadness come banging at the doorstep of their soul. 

So, I most emphatically say: Depression is not sin. To be discouraged is not the Enemy. Experiencing sadness is neither wrong nor selfish. Quite the opposite, in fact. It is necessary to sit with our emotions and feel the breadth and depth of them. Both our spiritual and emotional health come through an awareness and robust engagement with our feelings. To refuse to feel is to put the stiff arm to God.  

The psalmist does anything but deny his feelings. He brings them before the Lord and spreads them out before the Divine. Why am I discouraged? Why am I restless? Why the sadness? Could it be that God has forgotten me? Where is the Lord? Is God angry with me? Are my troubles the result of divine wrath? 

To blandly say we have never uttered or thought such questions is a telltale sign of denial. The bottom line for many folks is that they do not want to feel because such emotions complicate their lives. Besides, discouragement and sadness hurt. “Why feel,” we reason, “when it only brings pain?” 

Ah, yes, the avoidance of pain. And there is no pain quite like emotional and spiritual pain. Much like an open wound which needs a liberal application of painful peroxide, so our spiritual wounds must sting with the salve of emotional feeling. Healing is neither cheap, easy, nor painless. It typically hurts like hell. 

The psalmist’s own pain revolved around feelings of alienation from God, being cut off from fellow worshipers, and harassed by others around him. Understandably, he experienced despondency and loneliness. The psalmist wondered if anyone, including God, even cared what he was going through. In other words, he is desperate for God to show up. 

I am going to make a simple observation about this psalm: The psalmist did not get any answers to the several questions he posed. He even repeated them, to no avail. The only form of comfort the psalmist received was to remember what God had done in the past. Somehow, someway, this will help with the difficulties of the present. 

There are times in life when we must recall what we know about God, ourselves, and others. If the Lord has delivered in the past, God can do it again. If others helped before, perhaps they will be present in the here and now. And just maybe, even likely, you and I will discover a resilient spirit within. We already possess everything we need to not only survive but to grow and thrive in life. 

Hope arises from holding the big picture of the past, present, and future together at the same time. When present circumstances are difficult, and it appears we are about to swallowed up into the now, we must hold the past and future along with it, in careful tension. Then, we shall find the ennoblement to keep going. 

Trust in the future, a confident expectation of hope, is born from the trustworthiness of the past. A prayerful song in our heart will carry us through till our hope is realized. 

Psalm 130 – Waiting in Hope

waiting

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.

If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel
from all their sins. (NIV)

This psalm is the miserable cry of a nobody from nowhere. Yet, because the Lord is attentive to the righteous, the cry penetrates heaven and is received. The psalmist only wants to serve God with a new beginning and fresh obedience – and he will wait and hope for liberation from his misery.

We typically use the term “hope” in a wishful thinking sort of way. That is because we are not quite sure if things will shake-out like we want.  But biblical hope is not wishful thinking.  Rather, it is a confident expectation of what is to come. Hope is like anticipating the seasons.  In the dead of winter when it is bitter cold with little sunshine, we hope, and not wish, for Spring because we know it is coming.  It might come in early March, maybe in late April. The trees will bud, the grass will turn green, and the temperature will warm – you can bet your britches on it.

This old world might be messed up and broken right now, but it will not always be this way.  Because of the person and work of Jesus Christ, there is hope, the confident expectation that deliverance from sin, death, and hell will be fully realized. We are saved from the bondage of sin through the cross and resurrection of Christ.  We are delivered into an inheritance which can never perish, spoil, or fade – kept in heaven for us until the time is right. Meanwhile, we hope with the confident expectation of Christ’s coming again.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. (1 Peter 1:3-6, NIV)

Until our hope is fully realized, we cry out to God and watch for his deliverance. Regarding our salvation, it is accurate to say that we have been saved (from the realm of sin); we are currently being saved (through being made holy in this life); and, we will be saved (when Jesus returns). Liberation from both our personal struggles and the evil machinations of this world is an ongoing process that will only reach its complete fulfillment at the end of the age.

That is why we experience such a weird existence on this earth, a strange amalgam of good and bad.  We not only get mixed messages from the world, but also internally, within our souls, we experience the struggle between right and wrong.  Outwardly, we suffer in all kinds of earthly grief from others who do not understand us.  Inwardly, we have the silent pain and terrible wrestling of wanting to forgive but desiring revenge; of seeking to be gracious but seething with anger; of looking to express kind words but having hate speech blurt out instead.

It will not always be this way. We have a living hope.  Jesus has risen from death. He is alive. He is coming back to judge the living and the dead.  He will take us to be with him forever.  It is the confident expectation of unhindered relationship, with no obstacles of difficult people, and without any systemic evil from organizational structures giving us a hard time.

MLK hope quote

Hope is real. It is just as real as anything we will ever know this side of heaven. We might not always find what we are looking for in this life, yet, in the next life, we shall find the life that is truly life in Jesus Christ, who is our hope. Until then, we are to wait neither idly nor passively. Instead, it is sage for us to do the following:

Occupy the time. One of the best ways to avoid becoming anxious while waiting is to do what we are on this earth to do: be a blessing to others.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited…. Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:14-16, 21, NIV)

Don’t try too hard. Trying to use willpower to squelch anxiety will only prompt even greater anxiety. Accept that we will have to wait and that we are not privy to God’s timetable.

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. (1 Peter 3:7, NLT)

Wait with other people. Waiting with others through talking about our shared hope helps redeem our time in the here and now.

Be still in the presence of the Lord and wait patiently for him to act. Don’t worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes. (Psalm 37:7, NLT)

Think of patience as compassion. Becoming impatient about something in life is entirely normal and happens to all of us. Our impatience is a stress response to a situation. Learning to be more patient is a way of being more compassionate to ourselves and others.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. (Colossians 3:12, NIV)

Lord God Almighty, your hope arises with each dawn, pushing back the rubble of our lives. Each new day reminds us of your grace as you paint hope across the sky. Into the deafening cry of hopelessness, you whisper love that catches and holds us. There is no end, just new beginnings. No finish, just new starts. Into your resurrection we follow you into hope. You are alive in the world and in us. So, we carry your hope within our spirits always. Help us to lift our eyes and experience Christ’s resurrection hope arise in our lives through Jesus our Lord. Amen.