It has been some kind of year hasn’t it? I remember when we were ending 2019 and looking into 2020 with such hope and expectation. We had no idea did we? We had no idea that Covid was on the way, that social unrest was on its way, or that an ice storm was on its way. Add to all of that the election and, well, it’s been quite a year…and it’s not over yet.
It has been some kind of year and many are wondering, “Is there anything to give thanks for this Thanksgiving?” I read some articles this past week that were echoing that sentiment, so I thought I’d test the waters. I sent out an email on Wednesday morning and asked about 400 people on my email list, “Are you thankful? What is it that you are most thankful for at this time?” Pretty simple question. In one day I received more than 100 emails with answers. I can’t share them all with you, but let me share just a few.
I am most thankful for a God that doesn’t get overwhelmed even when I am. There is worry over coronavirus, politics, hate based on skin color, then add the usual stress of the holidays and it is completely overwhelming. But, through all of this, even when I forgot to go to Him and I get caught up in this world, He is still setting my path, walking with me, protecting me, and most importantly, loving me so much. When I think of that love, it in turn, overwhelms me! (Beth)
O man! I am SO thankful! Tears come just thinking about ALL God has done! Losing my dad at the end of last year, was (looking back) in God’s perfect timing. He never once sat in the hospital alone!!! His whole family was able to surround him on the day he went home. Praise God!! If it had been the same date this year, he would have gone alone. So for that, I’m thankful!!! (Piper)
In the spring when everything was shut down, we really got to spend lots of great time together and I feel like I really got to see WHO my kids are. Sometimes we are so busy, we miss these times of just digging deeper with them. We played board games, read books, made a list of movies to watch together, did some devotionals and bible study together, and even tried new & fun recipes we didn’t have time for before…things that often just get thrown to the wayside because of lack of time. (Alee)
I am thankful for electricity and that the election is over and that our church is open! This past year has made me realize what is important in life like faith, family, friends, and all the things we take for granted like a roof over our heads, a car, health, etc. (Valerie)
Wow what an interesting question! Last year “I” would have listed so many of the things “I” have received joy from during the year. The amazing thing is this is also the year “God” is showing me the real meaning of “His” Words of John 3:30 “He must increase, but I must decrease!” This year going through many trials this verse stuck in my head, and it seems the more I focused on what “God” wanted and less focus on what I felt, the more comfort “HE” gave to me! After losing my mom, dad and close sister-in-law, being out of power for 8 days in the epic ice storm, along with the covid tribulations that all experience there is no other way to explain the Comfort and Joy in my heart except “HE” is teaching and showing me the power behind “HIS WORDS” on my heart. (Sonny)
I’m so grateful for all of you who emailed me. I could have included all of them, but then we wouldn’t have time to do anything else. Reading your emails throughout the day did something to me; they lifted my spirits, gave me so much to think about concerning my own life, and led me to thank God over and over again throughout the day. Earlier in the week I was reading 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. Throughout the day on Wednesday the Scripture was with me as I read your emails. Read it with me.
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV)
I’m certain that some will hear these words, written by Paul, and think, “No way! How can I rejoice after all I have been through this year?” If this is your mindset then I am so glad you are watching online today. This is one of those opportunities for you and me to understand how God uses His Word through the work of His Holy Spirit to transform our way of thinking and living.
First, let’s remember the person who penned these words. Paul knew suffering. Suffering wasn’t an occasional experience for Paul. From the time he began serving Jesus, Paul suffered in many ways. He was run out of town, persecuted, and would eventually be beheaded for no other reason than his commitment to sharing the good news about Jesus with others. Paul wrote about some of the things he had been through when he wrote his second letter to the church in Corinth. Listen to him describe his experiences in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28.
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 pelted with stones, 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 fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 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 through it and he was still going through it when he wrote to the people of Thessalonica: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
It is one thing to receive advice about giving thanks and having an attitude of gratitude from someone who has just hit the lottery. It’s a totally different thing to hear one who is familiar with suffering urging us to “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Now, there is no doubt in my mind that you and I both want to follow the will of God for our lives, but the question is, “How? How can I rejoice, pray, and give thanks when I’m discouraged and overwhelmed by life’s problems?” That’s a great question! I’ve got some ideas I want to share with us that I believe can help us tremendously.
First, we need to be reminded that following Jesus and being conformed to God’s will can never happen if we rely on our feelings. We must rely on God’s truth and not our feelings. Have you noticed how our feelings cause us to focus solely on us? “My” and “I” come before everything and everyone else when we are trusting in our feelings to inform us.
Now, we all have feelings, we all feel “this way” or “that way” about the experiences we encounter in life, but we do not have to trust our feelings or allow our feelings to dictate our behavior and decisions in life. Many couples have divorced because they didn’t feel for their husband or wife like they once felt. All of us have made poor decisions at one time or another, or over and over again, because we allowed how we felt at the moment to direct our decision-making. If you are like me, you later regretted the decision you made and thought, “What was I thinking?” The answer is, “I wasn’t. I made a decision based on how I felt at the time.”
So, how do I stop allowing my feelings to dictate my behavior and decisions? You can’t get rid of feelings and neither should you try, but you can reign in your feelings, keep your feelings in check, with God’s truth. You can set your mind, fix your thoughts, on God’s truth found in God’s Word. Let me give you a couple of examples. Turn with me to Colossians 3:1-2.
1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. (Colossians 3:1-2 NIV)
If we are in Christ then we have been raised with Christ to a new life, we are no longer to live and think like we did before we came to know Jesus, before He took control of our lives. Therefore, we are now to “set our minds on the things above, not on earthly things.” We are to set our minds, fix our thoughts, on the truths of God and not on what we feel or think about anything in life. Let’s practice this for a moment.
Right now fear and anxiety are the order of the day for so many people. I admit, there are so many things going on that can make us fearful and so much for which you and I can be anxious about right now, if it weren’t for God’s truth to correct our thinking. What does God’s Word say to those of us who are fearful? Turn with me to Isaiah 41:13.
13 For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. (Isaiah 41:13 NIV)
What greater comfort could there ever be than to hear the God of glory, the Omnipotent God who possesses all power say to us, “Do not fear; I will help you.” What is it that has you frightened right now? Name it. Speak it out loud. Now, hear the Lord say to you, “Do not fear; I will help you.”
Oh, there are so many verses I could share with you, the truths of God hidden in plain sight in His Word, to help you and me when we are fearful, but I’ll share only one more at this time. Turn with me to Psalm 34:4.
4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. (Psalm 34:4 NIV)
Did you notice what David said? He said, “he delivered me from all my fears.” It’s not like David was never fearful. I’m certain he was frightened many times during his life, but when fear came knocking at the door of his heart, David knew what to do: He ran to God each time fear would come knocking and the Lord delivered him from them all. Oh, that’s good stuff!
You and I have resources that this world knows nothing about. We have the Word of God, the promises of God, and the ministry of the Holy Spirit who takes God’s Word and brings it to mind, nudges us to try it and apply it, and strengthens us to stand on the promises of God.
Let’s review step one: You and I will never follow Jesus and walk in God’s will if we trust in our feelings, we must stand on God’s truth. Let’s move on to step two: You and I can’t follow the crowd if we want to follow God’s will for our lives. Turn to Romans 12:2 and let’s read together.
2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is– his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2 NIV)
Every generation of parents talks to their kids about not giving in to peer pressure. All of us who are parents know from firsthand experience that giving in to peer pressure can lead to disastrous results and therefore we don’t want our kids to make the same mistakes that we made. Paul tells believers of all ages, “Don’t conform to the world! Don’t do life like the world does life!”
J.B. Phillips was a minister in London during the 1900s. He translated the New Testament into modern English and his translation is still a big seller today. I love his translation of this same verse.
Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity. (Romans 12:2 JB Philliips Translation)
“Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within…” I love that, but how does God “re-mould” our minds? He works through His Word and the ministry of the Holy Spirit. God’s Word tells us that it is a “lamp to our feet and a light to our path” (Psalm 119:105). Ezekiel said God’s Word was “like sweetness to his mouth” (Ezekiel 3:3). The writer of Hebrews said God’s Word is a surgeon’s scalpel revealing the true thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).
The problem we have is that we, the followers of Jesus, don’t know God’s Word. We spend more time scrolling through Facebook or Twitter than we do turning the pages of God’s Word. We know far more about the trades the Thunder have made during the last week than we do the truths of God’s Word. The result is twofold: First, we follow the ways of the world, we act just like the people of the world act and we think just like the people of the world think. Second, the Holy Spirit has nothing to work with in our lives because we don’t know the Word of God. Let’s use our Scripture for today as an example of what I’m talking about. Paul wrote,
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV)
If you know this verse, then when the difficult days of life come your way, the Holy Spirit will reach into your heart and mind and pull out God’s Word to counsel you in the midst of your hardship. Rejoice! Pray! Give thanks in all circumstances! Paul doesn’t say “give thanks for all circumstances,” but “give thanks in all circumstances.”
If you and I will trust God’s truth instead of trusting our feelings and if we will refuse to get caught up in following the crowd, the ways of the world, then we can begin to walk in God’s will for our lives. When we begin to walk in God’s will then we will see gratitude and a thank-filled heart begin to emerge and blossom in our lives regardless of what circumstances we find ourselves in.
I love the prophet Habakkuk. Habakkuk was really troubled by what he saw taking place in the world around him. He wanted God to do something and then, when God told Habakkuk what he was doing, Habakkuk was even more confused and perplexed. Eventually, Habakkuk came to the place where he realized that God was to be worshiped because He was God and not because He did what Habakkuk wanted. Habakkuk then wrote,
17 Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. 19 The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights… (Habakkuk 3:17-19 NIV)
If Covid never goes away, if social unrest continues throughout our lives, if more storms come and we never we get our electricity turned on again, if they lock us in a room and play political ads every moment of every day for the rest of our lives…will we choose to rejoice in the LORD? Will we choose to be joyful in God our Savior? Can you give thanks in your circumstance this morning? It has been a tough year no doubt, but can you give thanks this morning? Can you take out a piece of paper and write down what you are most thankful for at this time? I want to encourage you to do that, not just today, but every day before you go to bed.
The man or woman who knows Jesus and knows the love of Jesus can see light in the midst of utter darkness. The man or woman who knows Jesus and knows the mercies of Jesus can give thanks even in the midst of brokenness and sorrow. We, you and me, the followers of Jesus have so many reasons to give thanks, to praise Him for His saving grace, His endless mercy, and His unending faithfulness.
I’ve discovered a new friend this week that I want to introduce to you as we get ready to end our study. His name is Martin Rinkart. From the time he was a kid, Martin wanted to be a pastor. He went to school, did his studies in theology, and folks from his hometown of Eilenburg invited him to come home and be their pastor. The invitation went out and Martin accepted the call to pastor. Martin began his ministry one year before the Thirty Years War broke out in Europe in 1618. Martin was 31 years old at the time.
Eilenburg was a walled city and when the war broke out thousands of Germans rushed to the city for their safety. Overnight the city was overcrowded which caused food shortages. People literally were fighting in the streets over dead cows, cats, and birds. Along with war and a crippling famine, a plague hit the town in 1637 that wiped out 8,000 people in one year. Martin and three other pastors began holding ten or more funerals a day. One of the pastors left the city and the other two died of the plague. Martin was left alone to care for the sick and dying. Martin began burying up to 50 people a day, including his own wife. History shows that by the time it was over Martin had conducted nearly 4,500 funerals.
Martin did everything he could to care for the people of Eilenburg, to get food to those who were hungry, to care for those who had lost loved ones, and continue to share God’s Word and God’s love. He gave away nearly everything he had to the poor and needy, so much so that he could barely clothe and feed his own children.
The Thirty Years War ended in 1648 and when it ended Martin was still in Eilenburg, worn out, wrung out, but faithfully serving the Lord and His people just as he had done for the past 30 years filled with hunger, death, and heartache. Martin died just fourteen months after the war ended, but he has left for us an incredible testimony of the grateful heart that sustained him throughout his life of serving the Lord. Martin wrote a song for his kids to sing at the dinner table to remind them to always give thanks to God. The song is called, “Nun Danket Alle Gott,” or in English, “Now Thank We All Our God.” It was the theme of Martin’s life through war, famine, disease, and death–and it should be the theme of ours as well. I want us to listen to this song and then we will close our time together.
“Now thank we all our God” through thirty years of war, famine, plagues, suffering, 4,500 funerals including his own wife, and who knows what else Martin had to endure. Martin chose to thank God, to praise God, through tears, heartache, and sorrow.
Now thank we all our God, with hearts and hands and voices; who wondrous things hath done, in whom His world rejoices; who from our mother’s arms hath blessed us on our way, with countless gifts of love and still is ours today.
O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us; with ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us; and keep us in His grace and guide us when perplexed, and free us from all ills in this world and the next.
We’ve had a tough year, but God is good. He is so good. Rejoice. Pray. Give thanks in all circumstances. Give thanks for His grace. Give thanks that He has opened your eyes and stirred your heart so that you might know your need for Jesus. Give thanks for this day that is a gift from His gracious hands. Give thanks for those He has directed into your life who love you, who take time to care for you. Give thanks for the trials and hardships that He has brought you through. Rejoice. Pray. Give thanks in all circumstances.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
November 22, 2020
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18