Thanksgiving is so many things to so many different people: it is the beginning of the holiday season; it is the beginning of a steady diet of large quantities of good food; it marks the time that kids can begin to make their Christmas wish list; it begins the count-down to that time of the year when there is nothing on T.V. but college football bowl games; and for some it is an opportunity to stop and express heartfelt gratitude for God?s bounteous blessings!
Thanksgiving, like the other holidays we as Americans celebrate, has a stereotyped image which makes for a beautifully decorated puzzle if all of the pieces are in their right place. When we hear the mention of the word, “Thanksgiving,” we automatically envision a long table with enough food to feed the troops in Iraq. We see families together enjoying one another’s company, laughter, and prayers of “thanks” for all that God has given. However, for most of us those pieces don’t always fit together so perfectly. Sometimes a piece is missing as in the first Thanksgiving when Grandpa was no longer with us to celebrate. Sometimes pieces are missing because divorce has torn some members away from the table. Sometimes the puzzle is not quite complete as in the case when several of the men of the family lost their jobs working in the oil field and the flow of money slowed to a standstill. The pieces of the puzzle which comprise the beautifully decorated table with all of its lavish food choices fit nicely together when everyone is working and there is money to buy food. The Thanksgiving dinner that we all envision is only made possible when families have survived another year of cross-country job transfers, divorce, and death.
Some families gather around the table, join hands, and praise God with overflowing hearts for a year of blessing. A new baby in the family, a new job, a fiftieth anniversary, a high school graduation, a marriage, cancer which has gone into remission, or a little one taking her first steps. Some families gather around the table, join hands, and give thanks choking back the tears which have accumulated throughout the year. The loss of a spouse or friend, a failed marriage, a new baby born with severe challenges, loss of job, loss of your home, extended illness, or a child who is struggling with life. Thanksgiving is, for the most part, not the stereotypical celebration it is made out to be for the people I know. It is in reality a diverse celebration — sometimes joy-filled and sometimes saddened by somber situations.
There is to be one constant thread that runs throughout each and every home across this great country as we prepare for our Thanksgiving get-togethers and that is the attitude of gratitude. We are to be grateful for God’s provision, God’s guidance, God’s steady hand, and God’s goodness. No matter what your situation may be, no matter how “bad” your year may have been, no matter how many of your loved ones have gone on to be with the Lord, no matter how many jobs you may have lost, no matter what…be thankful! That may sound cold and insensitive to some of you here this morning, but I am convinced that we only have two options and they are — give up or give thanks! The Apostle Paul teaches us a great lesson here in this final chapter of Philippians. Let us read together from Philippians 4:10-23.
(10)I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. (11)I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. (12)I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (13)I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (14)Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles. (15)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; (16)for even when I was in Thessolonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. (17)Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. (18)I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. (19) And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. (20) To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (21) Greet all the saints in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me send greetings. (22)All the saints send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household. (23) The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen. (Philippians 4:10-23 NIV)
Paul is ending his letter to the Philippians in the same way that he opened the letter — by giving thanks. In Philippians 1:3-5 Paul wrote,
(3) “I thank my God every time I remember you. (4) In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy (5) because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” (Philippians 1:3-5 NIV)
Here in verses 10-23, Paul thanks the Philippian church for the gift that they have given him although he never uses the phrase, “Thank you.” As a matter of fact he is very business-like in expressing his gratitude to the Philippians. I want us to focus our study this morning on verses 10-13 so that we might realize that we have two choices to choose from in facing the predicaments of our lives — give up or give thanks. That is a difficult choice to make for many people, but I am convinced that Paul gives us a solid foundation on which to make the decision to give thanks no matter our situation. We can be content whether we find ourselves with plenty or in want, whether we are going through good times or experiencing the worst of times — we can be content and give thanks. We can learn from Paul how to be “self-sufficient in the Lord” and therefore have the tools necessary to choose to give thanks. “Self-sufficiency in the Lord” sounds like a contradiction in terms, but that is exactly the idea that Paul expresses to the Philippians.
In verses 10 Paul says, (10) “I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.” (Philippians 4:10 NIV)
Paul had been cut-off from the Philippians for an extended period of time. Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter. I am sure that Paul had wondered from time to time if the people in Philippi had lost their love for him or had become convinced that his mission was not as important as when they first became familiar with Paul. Whatever had gone through Paul’s mind the most important thing was that now the Philippians had renewed their concern for him. The word that Paul uses for “renewed” is a highly metaphorical word, filled with beauty and boldness. It conveys the idea of trees and flowers bursting into bloom again in the springtime or plants sprouting from the ground after a hard winter. Paul wants the believers in Philippi to know that he is not complaining but marveling in their concern for him. He wants them to know that he understands the long period of silence was not brought about because of their lack of concern, but because of their lack of opportunity to demonstrate their concern. Finally, the Philippians found the occasion to send Epaphroditus to Paul’s aid and when Paul learned of Epaphroditus’ mission he was thrilled.
I don’t know about you, but I find a tremendous principle glimmering forth like a diamond field under the blazing sun. We who are followers of Jesus need to constantly be on the look-out for those, who like Paul, need our encouragement and support. Procrastination has plucked more jewels out of the crowns of the followers of Jesus than any other barrier to service. I have no doubt that we have the right motive, that we want to show our concern for people, and that we will get around to it some day. The hard reality is that sometimes we don?t get around to doing what we know we need to do. A person checks out of the hospital before we ever “get around” to getting by to visit. A terminally ill friend dies before we ever “get around” to working up the courage to stand in the presence of death. A friend commits suicide before we ever “get around” to finding the words to say to someone so depressed. A couple divorces before we ever “get around” to sticking our nose in someone else?s business and try to help bring about healing in a broken relationship. We need to get to it?not some day, but now! We must be the ones who will find a way when there seems no way to intervene and God will provide an avenue and an outlet for us to intercede and intervene on someone’s behalf.
That is just a side road to the heart of what I would like for us to concentrate on this morning, but it is a very important principle we need to apply to our daily lives. If we choose to neglect our responsibility to intervene in the lives of others, then the lesson left to be learned in verses 12-13 will probably not make any sense. If we don’t understand God’s call to reach out to others then we will most likely become an isolated, secluded, self-preservationist who neglects the needs of others so as to survive our own predicaments in life. In verses 11-12 Paul says,
(11) “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. (12) I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Philippians 4:11-12 NIV)
Paul has learned to give thanks, to be joy-filled, to survive in any situation. We need to hear this morning that Paul has learned how to be content. So many of us who are full of anxiety, stress, worry, emptiness, sorrow, and strife fully expect to be changed in an instant when we decide to follow Jesus. We need to know that becoming a disciple of Jesus is not another “self-improvement” course we can use to better our lot in life. When we pledge our allegiance to God we are setting out on a life-long journey which demands our full and focused attention, our undying faith, and our willingness to learn of God’s ways.
It is imperative that we learn from Paul’s experiences how to give thanks and to be genuinely content in all circumstances, rather than giving up. One question that quickly comes to our mind is, “Where do I enroll? What book do I need to read? How can I learn to give thanks, rather than give up?” A more relevant question for us to ask today would be — “How did Paul learn to be content in all circumstances?” Paul gives us a good indication of his learning experience in 2 Corinthians 11:23-29. Paul was enrolled and taking an active part in the school of life. He wasn’t sitting on the back row doodling on a pad while the lessons were coming his way. Paul was sitting up straight with pen in hand, his face was focused, his ears were open, his mind alert, and his glasses were firmly fixed on his face so that he might clearly see the lessons at hand. He peered through the lens of his unwavering faith in Jesus at every experience, hardships and victories, that came his way! In 2 Corinthians 11:23-28, Paul in comparing himself to others who claim to be servants of King Jesus says,
(23) Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. (24) Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. (25) Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, (26) I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. (27)I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. (28) Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:23-28 NIV)
Paul had been abused and afflicted, beaten physically by the Romans, conned by the Jewish religious authorities, and he had faced death for his beliefs. On the plus side, he had seen the effectiveness of his mission, the power of the Gospel he proclaimed, he had learned from battling favoritism in the Church, and he had gained everything for God’s Kingdom through losing anything that could be considered an advantage in the world. He was enrolled in the “College of the King” and he was learning new, important, and oftentimes difficult lessons from the Master Teacher.
Paul had not originated this idea of learning for it was mandated by Jesus as He said, (28) “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (29) Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29)
Jesus said, (31) “But the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded me.” (John 14:31 NIV)
Paul had learned, and was continuing to learn in each and every situation he faced how to be content and to give thanks. We must begin to learn how to be content and give thanks. I know that many of you here this morning are a lot closer to giving up this morning than you are to giving thanks. You are going through a tough time. Bills are over-due. You’ve lost a loved one. You found out that your teenage daughter is pregnant. Your son has gone to jail again. Your wife has had an affair. The young vivacious beautiful woman you used to be is not what you see in the mirror any more. You feel used up. Someone at work lied about you. You may be a senior citizen that feels like society has tossed you aside. It’s not that you haven’t been trying to serve God, you have, but it seems like the harder you try the worse the situation gets, so now you are ready to give up. Anybody here ever felt that way? I will be honest and say that I have on more than one occasion. If you don’t hear anything else from this sermon, you need to hear that you are not the first person to ever feel like giving up?but don’t do it! Some of the heroes of our faith have faced circumstances which caused them to want to die, but they didn’t! Don’t give up!
My favorite prophet in the Old Testament is Jeremiah and the reason is because he was a man who was honest with God. Jeremiah was a prophet who was not very successful in the eyes of his fellow citizens, as a matter of fact he was nothing more than a burr in their saddle, and because of that he suffered tremendous bouts with depression and feeling abandoned by God. One of the religious priests heard Jeremiah speaking for God one day and didn’t like what he heard so he had Jeremiah beaten and put in the stocks. Listen to Jeremiah’s prayer found in Jeremiah 20:7; 14-18.
(7) O Lord, you deceived me, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me…(14)Cursed be the day I was born! May the day my mother bore me not be blessed! (15)Cursed be the man who brought my father the news, who made him very glad, saying, ‘A child is born to you — a son!’ (16)May that man be like the towns the Lord overthrew without pity. May he hear wailing in the morning, a battle cry at noon. (17)For he did not kill me in the womb, with my mother as my grave, her womb enlarged forever. (18) Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame? (Jeremiah 20:7; 14-18 NIV)
Jeremiah felt like giving up?but he didn’t! Paul felt like giving up?but he didn’t! And you my friend, even though you feel like giving up?don’t! Be honest with God about your feelings and ask Him to teach you how to be content and to give thanks no matter your circumstance. Realize that you have a role in the matter as well as God. God can teach you, but if you choose to let your mind wander and doodle all day long, allowing life’s experiences to go by without paying them any attention, then you will never learn. You will only experience pitfall after pitfall, tear after tear, and sorrow after sorrow without the ability to give thanks!
Not only do you need to learn from your life’s experiences, but you need to understand your circumstances positionally. How you interpret your circumstances has everything to do with your position in the circumstance. If you and I were planning on sailing all the way to Hawaii from the California coast, our chances of making it would be determined by the manner in which we planned on making the trip. If I set out on an inner tube from my daughter’s bicycle and you set out on a tried and proven ocean going vessel, then when we hit the storm our futures would be distinctly different. The same storm bombards us both, but you are in a refuge, in a ship of safety, and in a shelter from the storm. I am in trouble! As we hit the storms of this life it is imperative that we be in a position to weather the storm and come out on the other side dry and healthy. Our position is primary because the storms are here and they will continue to roll into your life and mine.
Paul says in verse 13, (13)”I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” We can learn to be content and to give thanks if we will encounter the storms of life “through him.” Paul was a very self-sufficient man whose task in life was not predicated upon whether the crowds liked him or not, but he was also strengthened to meet the challenge and to give thanks in all circumstances through King Jesus. Paul in effect says, “I have the power to face all conditions of life, humiliation or exaltation, plenty to eat or not enough, wealth or poverty, as well as all other external circumstances like these. I can endure all these things. I have the resources in the Lord to master them. I am strong to face them down. I can prevail over and be absolute master of all the permutations, transformations, variations, deviations, fluctuations, vacillations, and modifications of life. But yet, not I through my strength, but, Jesus, through my weakness enables me to give thanks, rather than to “give up!” The secret of Paul’s independence was his dependence upon King Jesus. His self-sufficiency in reality came from being in relationship with One who is all-sufficient.
We can be full of thanks and content if we will allow our weaknesses to be channeled through His strength so that they can be transformed for our benefit. The key to our effort, the secret to our gaining a thankful heart and mind is found “in” and “through” Jesus. Just as that huge ocean going vessel gives you the confidence and security of knowing that although the waves are going to roll and the winds are going to blow, the ship will deliver you to your destination, you can also know that this life will beat and punish you, but Jesus will deliver you to your place of rest. Give thanks, don’t give up!
I received a phone call from a lady needing help. She didn’t want money, but she needed prayer. She described her situation to me — She is a married woman in her 30’s with two children ages 5 and 7, and has a job at a computer factory. For the first several years of her marriage her husband was a wonderful provider for the family in every respect, but within the past year he has started doing drugs. On the day that she called me he was sitting in prison in McAlester for armed robbery and possession. She was devastated that her husband would do such a thing, but she has also found it almost impossible to be mother and father for the two children. She finds herself snapping at them and raising her voice for the least little thing. The bills began to pile up to the point where all of the utilities were shut-off. She said that she broke down and cried when her little boy wanted a glass of water and she could not get it for him because the water had been shut-off. She moved in with her sister, the place where she and her children slept on the floor the night before her phone call, but it is extremely difficult for them there since her single sister has folk in the apartment all hours of the night and day. Her sister isn’t a Christian and she said, “You sure do have a lot of problems for somebody who is a Christian.” She is mocked and laughed at by those who live it up and do whatever makes them feel good.
I told Tammy, “Don’t give up! God hasn’t left you, He hasn’t given up on you!” She told me that she feels like God has abandoned her and left her to float on the high seas without even a life-jacket. We began to talk about the blessings in her life and then we shifted to specifics about her problems. I asked her if she had learned anything from the difficult months she had endured and she said, “For the first two weeks after I moved in with my sister I thanked God everyday that I went to the bathroom and was able to flush it or got thirsty and could get some water.” Her attitude began to change and she began to see that she only has two choices with her situation?she can give thanks or she can give up. The road is hard and rough now, but God has been too good to give up now.
You are facing problems as we quickly approach the holiday of “Thanks.” Get honest with yourself, tear away the masks, and drop the fa?ade?Thursday is not going to be the ?thank-filled? day that it is supposed to be, is it? It may not be for you now, but it can be if you will begin to learn from your life’s experiences and if you will view them through the lens of faith and be strengthened through the King who provides a ship of safety in the violent storms of life.
Britton Christian Church
922 N.W. 91st
Oklahoma City, OK. 73114
November 18, 2007