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‘Thanksgiving’ in America is one of the delights Judith and I experienced when we moved to New York in 2001. Despite the evil events of September 11 that year, people at the Thanksgiving Dinner we attended expressed their thanks for the way the Lord had used the events of 9/11 to build their trust in him.
When we think about it, thanksgiving is a theme that permeates the Bible – especially the Psalms. And while we do live in an uncertain world, there is still much for which to be thankful.
Come with me to Paul the Apostle’s Letter to the Philippians, chapter 4, verses 4 through 9.
Rejoice: Rejoice in the Lord always; Paul exhorts. And, as he doesn’t want us to skim over this, he repeats it, Again, I say, Rejoice.
Paul was in prison when he wrote these words. He is repeating his earlier exhortation, Rejoice in the Lord (3:1). God wants us to so value our relationship with Jesus Christ that we long for the smile of his approval in all we do. Nothing else matters. He is our joy.
Now notice Paul doesn’t say we are to rejoice in the Lord in all circumstances – some situations may be evil. Rather, we should rejoice that the Lord still has his hand on the helm of the world’s events and our personal affairs, working out his good purposes for his people. It challenges us to ask if we trust him in every situation – be it the loss of a job, disappointments, or sobering medical news.
Furthermore, in exhorting us to rejoice, he is not speaking about our being happy, always having a smile on our face. The joy he speaks about is the deep inner peace and contentment that springs from a personal trust in Jesus.
For this reason, he urges us to pray with thankfulness in our hearts: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Don’t be anxious … Timeless words and a universal remedy for anxiety.
So, Paul urges us to pray for concerns about life; petition the Lord with our particular needs, with thankfulness in our hearts for his goodness and mercy. Here is the antidote to anxiety and the prelude to the experience of peace. Such prayer and thanksgiving express trust in God in every situation.
Let me ask, can you honestly say you are assured that Jesus is not only in control but that he truly loves and cares for you?
Peace. In verse 7 we read: And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, and in verse 9: …And the God of peace will be with you.
Peace, Shalom is a word of security. Paul was in prison for his faith when he wrote these words. He knew what it was to be anxious, even fearful about life’s disappointments. He knew the barbs that can hurt – be they lies or literal persecution.
Encouragingly he speaks about God’s peace guarding our hearts and minds. Guard in this context conveys the positive idea of protection. As a Roman citizen, he may have had in mind the Praetorian Guard. It’s a great thought – God’s ‘Praetorian Guard’ providing security for our hearts and minds, and so giving us peace.
Furthermore, heart is the Bible’s way of speaking of what is deep within us – our desires and will, our emotions and our very soul. And mind refers to our thoughts that spring from our inner longings.
Now, if we remove God’s promise of peace from its biblical context, the idea of peace is lovely but without substance. Peace in the Bible is meaningful and profound, true and full of strength. The God of peace is the one who has made peace possible between himself and you and me.
On the day of his resurrection, Christ met with his disciples in a locked upper room. ‘Peace be with you’ were his first words. It wasn’t a conventional greeting, for he immediately repeated it.
The God of peace is also the God of power. It is the God of peace who brought again from the dead, our Lord Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus is the New Testament standard for God’s mighty power. Peace is associated with the kind of power that not even death can stand against. These great promises are grounded in the peace that God himself has secured. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection he is the author of just and everlasting peace.
How much there is for which we can be thankful. Is this real for you? How often do you express your thankfulness? Just at Thanksgiving? Or every day?
A General Thanksgiving.
Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we your unworthy servants give humble and hearty thanks for all your goodness and loving kindness to us and to all people. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your amazing love in the redemption of the world through our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace and for the hope of glory.
And, we pray, give us that due sense of all your mercies, that our hearts may be truly thankful, and that we may declare your praise not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be all honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.
You may want to listen to the song, May the Peoples Praise You from Keith and Kristyn Getty
© John G. Mason
Note: Today’s ‘Word’ is adapted from my book in the ‘Reading the Bible Today’ series, Luke: An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2018.
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