With Thanksgiving

“With Thanksgiving”

phil-4-6-dont-be-anxious-pray-instead

Philippians 4:4-7 (4:6) – November 20, 2016

It’s that thankful time of the year, and this service is where we all gather to say “thank You” to God. We say thanks for all sorts of good things. Wonderful gifts. Exciting opportunities. We gladly come before God and mention how thankful each of us is—to God.

One of my favorite biblical websites (and, I fully consider her a bible commentator) is “Worshiping with Children,” written by Carolyn C. Brown. This is what she had to say about Thanksgiving: “One of my favourite times with the children was the year we learned how to say “Thank you” in many languages from our congregation, and ended by using those words for our prayer together.” [1]

Saying “thank you.” I know I taught my children how to say “thank you” when they received gifts, and compliments, and lots of other things. It’s a common thing, for grown-ups, parents, and grandparents to instruct children in these considerate, valuable, and grateful words.

Our scripture passage for the morning comes from the letter of the Apostle Paul to the church in Philippi, in the last chapter. Paul previously said what he wanted to say in the body of the letter, and this is the final few paragraphs. What we have here are closing remarks. And, what remarks! Reading verse 4:6 again: “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

This letter Paul wrote to the Philippian church was, in part, a thank you letter. We can see how Paul weaves thankfulness and gratitude in several parts of this letter, including right here. Except—he throws in a number of last-minute recommendations and commands, too. Paul mentions worry, right up front. “Do not worry about anything.”

How can worry affect us? True, it can be so difficult to follow Paul’s advice! Everyone has something to worry about. Some people have lots of things to worry about, it seems. Let’s take a closer look, and see what the background to this advice is.

When Paul wrote this letter, he wrote it from prison in Rome. He had been sent to the emperor’s court on a capital charge. He was on trial for his life. And yet—the apostle Paul writes this joyful, thankful, gratitude-filled letter.

Let us count off difficulties and challenges that Paul faced: not only the upcoming trial—for his life, but on top of that, Paul considered himself to be responsible for many of the churches he had planted on his missionary trips in Asia Minor and throughout Greece. Such heavy burdens on Paul. Yet, here in chapter 4 we see him writing almost blithely to the Philippian believers.

When we look at the people who were on the receiving end of this correspondence, few of them were living comfortable lives. One of the commentaries I consulted said, “Many were poor, many were slaves and few of them would have known the meaning of security. In marked contrast, those of us who live in comparative wealth and luxury today are frequently those who are most worried and anxious.” [2]

Isn’t that a true description of us, today?

Sometimes there IS stuff to worry about! A lot of times, people (yes, even Christians) worry about all kinds of stuff! Aren’t we tempted to be worried and anxious when finances are a challenge or the car is giving big problems? Or, how about when we or one of our loved ones is unemployed? Or, in the hospital or dealing with a chronic illness? What about in an accident, or even in jail? Some would say it is natural, even part of the human condition to be worried.

Something to think about, certainly. Especially at this grateful, thankful time of the year when we are encouraged to count our blessings.

Let’s look at the next part of this verse, the part that comes after Paul tells us not to worry: “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Sometimes it can be extremely difficult to pray and request with thanksgiving. Sometimes exterior circumstances can make things such a challenge for us to be thankful. There are even worse things: sometimes people can be absolutely at the end of themselves, spiritually and emotionally. Look at people like Paul, when we consider him in prison, on trial for his life.

From a commentator comes this challenging illustration about Corrie ten Boom, a devout Christian who hid and saved dozens of Jews from the Nazis: “Imagine how difficult it was to pray and worship with thanksgiving in a concentration camp in Germany. ‘Corrie ten Boon’s memory of leading forbidden worship in a World War II concentration camp might shed some light for us. Almost crushed by the effort of offering praise amidst wretched, flea-infested, frigid surroundings, they worshiped God.  Always fearful of discovery and punishment, they lifted whispered prayers of thanksgiving not only for the beloved community in that unholy place but also for the hardships they helped each other bear.

‘Months passed as their cherished worship continued uninterrupted by the usually brutal guards, offering encouragement to their battered spirits. Decades later, Corrie encountered a former prison guard who admitted he had never ventured into her barrack because he feared the overwhelming flea infestation. God was indeed in that place, utilizing every means to bless those worshipers.’” [3]

If we “don’t worry,” and do the “requesting with thanksgiving” part, what happens then?

God’s peace will then guard our hearts and minds.

Yes, it can be a challenge to make our requests, and to pray with thanksgiving. Especially when we give thanks “while staring down hatred, injustice, poverty or sadness. It may strain our faithfulness. Discerning God’s love while receiving cancer treatments, caring for a critically ill loved one or agonizing over a wayward child may challenge our belief.” [4]

Yet, we have Paul’s testimony that—even though he was locked away in prison for a capital offence—he could still write this joy-filled, thankful letter to the Philippian believers. And, Paul reminds his listeners that there is a wonderful result of laying out our cares to God. “God’s peace, which is more wonderful than anyone can imagine, will stand guard over our hearts and minds. While we are still vulnerable, we are also assured of God’s concern and protection.” [5]

What a promise. God personally grants us peace. God has promised to stand like a sentinel over our hearts and minds. Yes, things can be difficult, and challenging, even heart-wrenching,  yet Paul reminds us: be thankful.

These thankful words came from Paul, and they are for believers all over the world. It does not matter who we are; we all are encouraged to say “thank you.” It doesn’t matter where on earth people are from, or what language they speak. We all can use these words for our prayer together: Dear God, thank you for Your good gifts. Merci. Danke. Sheh-sheh. Molte grazie! In Jesus’ precious, powerful name we give thanks, amen.

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2013/09/year-c-thanksgiving-day-october-14-2013.html

[2] Hooker, Morna D., The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary (Vol. 12,The Letter to the Philippians), (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2000), 547-48.

[3] https://fosteringyourfaith.wordpress.com/author/econgregtnl/

[4] https://fosteringyourfaith.wordpress.com/author/econgregtnl/

[5] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=470  Commentary, Philippians 4:4-7, Michael Joseph Brown, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2009.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2016: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

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