Thanksgiving In The Midst Of Turmoil
THANKSGIVING IN THE MIDST OF TURMOIL
Oct. 13, 2002
Text: “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
How many times has someone said to you: “Don’t worry!”
If you’re really in a turmoil and terribly upset about something, this kind of advice can be down-right maddening. “How can I stop worrying, with all this going on,” we’re apt to say.
And so, we might well feel a bit annoyed with the Apostle Paul when we read the words of our text from his letter to the Philippians. “It’s fine for you, Paul, you lived in a day when life was a lot simpler. But what are we to do today.”
Ø Our world is on the brink of another major war;
Ø Here in Canada, our jobs are demanding more and more from us everyday, - the stress is unbelievable;
Ø With down-sizing, market slow downs, and dramatic changes in how business is conducted, even our jobs are not certain anymore; and
Ø Look at the family pressures we face. Its getting harder every year to raise our families:-
Ø we have less time available for family activities, (even meal times together are hard to arrange);
Ø the kids are into a host of after school programmes; and
Ø look at all the temptations that threaten our teenagers: the internet, school violence, sex; drugs life is extremely stressful today.
HOW CAN ANYONE NOT WORRY!!!
Some of you might think - this is a strange topic for Thanksgiving Sunday; but stop for a moment and think. How can any of us be truly thankful so long as we are in a “worry mode”?
Maybe that’s why Paul linked ‘worry’ and ‘thanksgiving’ into the same sentence:
“Do not worry about anything,” he wrote, “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”
So perhaps the place to start preparing for ‘thanksgiving’ is by doing something to get rid of our worries.
With that in mind, let’s start by listing some of the anxieties that can our energy, making it difficult for us to express ‘thankfulness’.
1. Here’s a business professional, worried almost to the breaking point because of threatened layoffs;
2. Over there are a couple of anxious parents, stressed out because their teenaged son is acting strangely and they’re worried that he might be getting into drugs;
3. Over here is a young student, weighed down by the stress of school work, compounded by the demands of a part-time job.
4. Then there’s the teacher torn between the desire to achieve excellence in the classroom, and to keep up with the political and administrative demands of the Board, the Teacher’s Federation and the parents.
5. Or think of the young man with high ideals, who’s expected by his boss, to be involved in practices he knows are unethical.
6. Or what about that middle aged person with a family, who has just been told by the doctor that he or she has a terminal illness.
7. And we mustn’t forget that person who’s let his animal instincts overrule higher moral standards, and is engaged in an extra marital affair, yet is overwhelmed with worry & guilt because he really doesn’t want to lose his spouse and his children.
The list of anxieties is almost endless. Some of course, are of our own making, others beyond our control. But when worry dominates our lives, - how can anyone say to us: “Don’t worry?” We’ve got plenty to worry about. And all these worries make it so hard for us to be truly thankful.
Nevertheless, Paul says to us: “Do not worry”, and “be thankful”. So how can we accomplish this?
I. PRAYER PUTS THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE
Paul gives us the first clue when he says: “but in everything by prayer”.
‘Prayer’ is probably the most under-utilized tool in the Christian arsenal.
Prayer is not some quaint activity employed by Christians to make worship services more interesting. And it certainly shouldn’t be something we employ only when everything else fails.
Like the two men who found themselves in a field with an enraged bull. As soon as they saw the danger, the two men started to run toward the nearest fence. But as the bull was gaining on them, the one terrifed man shouted to the other, "Say a prayer for us, John. It’s the only thing that will save us!"
In reply John sputtered, "I can't. I don’t know how to prayer in public."
"But you must!" implored his companion. "The bull is going to catch us."
"All right," panted John, "I'll say the only prayer I know; one my father used to say. And with that he said: “'O Lord, for what we are about to receive, make us truly thankful.”.
Praying when all else fails, is not what Paul is talking about. But rather, he is talking about prayer as our direct link to the power and presence of God. When we use prayer to connect with God, then prayer becomes the most effectively method we have - to deal with stress.
Prayer puts life in perspective.
Just as an artist, working on a canvas has to step back from time to time to view his handiwork from a distance; so too, you and I have to stand back occasionally from the noise and confusion of our lives, and look at our lives from God’s perspective. Prayer, gives us the opportunity to do just that. To step back and look at our problems using God’s perspective.
During August, Ralph examined the theme of a number of the Old Testament Psalms. As we read the Psalms, one of the first things that strikes us, is how many times the Psalmist communes with God in prayer.
Life may be totally overwhelming. The future may seem absolutely hopeless. But when he steps aside for a moment, and speaks to his God, the Psalmist gains a new perspective; and he is able to put his life in order.
Now prayer doesn’t have to be a formal affair. You don’t necessarily have to get down on your knees and close your eyes. [Although getting into that posture from time to time, isn’t a bad idea.] But prayer can be spontaneous. It can be something you do as you walk along the street. It can be a quiet moment between the phone ringing, and someone demanding your attention.
I remember a parishioner, in one of the congregations I served, many years ago. -- He used to engaged in, what he called ‘instantaneous prayer’; - believing very strongly that God didn’t need to wait for us to formulate our words. “God knows instinctively, what we wanted to say;” – was his reasoning, “He just waits for us to make contact”. .
Every once in a while my friend would say to me, “Let’s pray”. We’d stop what we were doing for a moment. Then he would say: “Thanks, for sharing a prayer with me.”
The Apostle Paul is right in directing us to open the lines of communication with our Lord, as the first step in handling the pressures and distractions – that interrupt our thanksgiving.
II. PRAYER ALIGNS US WITH GOD’S WILL
So what’s the second clue, in this text.
“But in everything,” says Paul, “by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God”.
I wonder? Is it an oversimplification, to say, - that with many of the things that cause us anxiety and stress -- a good many lie in the fact that – our will and God’s are simply not in harmony?
We’re more apt to put ‘self interests’ ahead of God’s interests. A great many of the work related pressures – are motivated by the desire to get more; - to get a higher salary; to get more power; to get personal recognition. – Not the kind of goals that God probably wants for us:- to help others, to contribute to the improvement of the quality of life for all; - to be loving and kind.
But that brings us the question of ‘trust’. – Are we willing to trust that God is leading us in the right direction?
Ø So what if we loose our job. Maybe this is just going to open another door – that will lead us into a much more fulfilling career!
Ø Is it possible that the reason our teenager is getting into difficulties is because we simply haven’t taken time to really listen to our child’s needs and desires?
Ø Is it possible that the young student torn between the pressures of school and work, - really hasn’t taken time to discover God’s will for him or her, - so that proper priorities can be set.
You see, -- what should happen in prayer – is that we take our life and deliberately put it under God’s control.
That’s what Jesus did – on that dark night in the garden, when he laid out all his anxieties and fears before God. He really didn’t want to go into Jerusalem & deliberately confront his adversaries. But he concluded His prayer with: “But not my will, O God, but yours be done.”
That prayer didn’t take away Jesus’ ordeal. But it aligned His will with God’s – and it made it possible for Him to proceed with what He knew He had to do.
III. PRAYER RELEASES US FROM ANXIETY
So let’s review. First, prayer – puts life in perspective; then it aligns us with God’s will. But finally, -it releases us from anxiety.
“In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”.
Prayer opens the flood gates to the resources and power of the Holy Spirit. And by removing the agony of worry, - it gives us new energy to handle the difficult situations of life.
I’m sure we’ve all had days in which we felt hopelessly inadequate; - powerless to deal with the challenges of our lives. And it’s very easy, under such conditions, - to feel sorry for ourselves; - to feel that we’re hard done by.
But when prayer is part of our daily routine, and we develop the habit of opening ourselves to the inspiration of God’s Spirit, -- we connect with an unseen, environment - charged with creative power. / Prayer provides: new insights, - new focus, - new motivation; --- so that – we can take on those hard tasks, - or cope with that stress - which was destroying us.
Paul speaks about “God’s peace!” -- It means the very peace that dwells in the heart of God. That calm in the midst of the storm - that the disciples experienced out on the Sea of Galilee, when Jesus stood up in he storm tossed boat, and said: “Be still!” / /
My friends, - when once you have experienced that peace; -- that total calm that comes to those who communicate with God in prayer, -- then, and perhaps only then, -- words and feelings of genuine thanksgiving will flow from you spontaneously.
Do you remember what Jesus said when He was preparing His disciples for His impending death? He said:- “I’ll not leave you desolate. I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you will live also.” [John 14:18-19]
And then a short time later He said: “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, - neither let them be afraid.” [John 14: 27]
That’s the legacy - Christ has given us. A legacy that gives us ample reason to rejoice and to give thanks, -- for when we experience this inner peace, -- life becomes a gift for which we are truly thankful.
This is Thanksgiving Sunday. It’s fine for us to gather with our families and friends; - to celebrate a feast together; - and to name the gifts for which we are thankful. It’s right and fitting - we should participate in these thanksgiving rituals.
But if we wish experience real thanksgiving. If we wish to get to the heart of thanksgiving, - experiencing that overwhelming, spontaneous outburst of joy that comes to those whose lives are in harmony with God; - then we must make connecting with God through prayer, a daily experience.
Listen to the Psalmist’s - spontaneous expression of praise and thanksgiving: “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart. I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and exult in you. I will sing praises to your name, O Most High.” [Psalm 9:1-2]
These aren’t the words of someone merely mouthing ‘thanks’. This isn’t someone searching for a reason to be thankful. Here is someone so overwhelmed by his experience of God, -- that he can’t stop being thankful. Words of thanksgiving flow from him. He is so overjoyed, he can’t contain himself. / / /
In 1636, amids the darkness of the Thirty Years' War, a German pastor, Martin Rinckart, is said to have buried five thousand of his parishioners in one year. That’s an average of fifteen a day. His parish was ravaged by war, death, and economic disaster. It was a time of unbelievable anxiety and worry for him. But in midst of that darkness, this great man of faith sat down and wrote a table grace for his children. You know the words, for they have become the words of a favoured thanksgiving hymn.
Now thank we all our God
With heart and hands and voices;
Who wonderous things hath done,
In whom his world rejoices.
Who, from our mother's arms,
Hath led us on our way
With countless gifts of love
And still is ours today.'
These are words, that to this day, inspire countless thousands of Christians to give thanks to God.
The secret of thanksgiving lies not – in the abundance of our blessings; -- but rather in the strength of our union with God through prayer.
So, let us pray, - and give thanks.