Give Thanks – To Whom, For What, When?
By Lawrence Guido
In writing to the Philippians, Paul has an unusual message for his dearest friends: “The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
In these few words, Paul reminds us of one of the advantages of being a child of God. In times of happiness or sadness, in times of health or sickness, in times of wealth or poverty, in times of pleasure or pain: “The Lord is near! Be thankful!” And, because of this comforting fact, which is a gift of the grace of God through Christ, His Son and our Savior, we do not need to be anxious about anything.
Anxiety is a serious mental health issue. It is something we all deal with at one time or another. However, for some it is a daily event in their lives. Consider the fact that anxiety is a “way of living” that affects 18.1 percent of the population in America. It is considered to be the number one mental health issue of our time.
Simply stated, anxiety exposes our fear of the future, of what may or may not happen to us or a loved one. Anxiety includes the basic threat of an unknown tragedy that could erupt in our lives when we least expect it; or, it may be the fear of an accident that might involve us and harm us that is beyond our control; or we may imagine an unexpected event that could change what we planned to do or accomplish with our lives. Anxiety drains our energy, creates doubt and mistrust in ourselves and others, and fosters worry and fear about conditions over which we have no control. Anxiety fills the gap between what is and what isn’t – the unknown. Anxiety is “what happens” inside of us when we doubt the greatness and goodness, the power and presence, the care and compassion, of God in our lives. And, most certainly, it creates questions in our head and heart about the fact that God has a unique plan for each of our lives.
Anxiety is what we sense when we lack God’s peace “that passes all understanding.” Anxiety is also a wonderful weapon that Satan injects into our lives when we least expect it and places him in control of our actions and attitudes, our thoughts and emotions. Anxiety robs us of one of the best gifts God has to give us and cancels our memories of His love and mercy, grace and goodness, faithfulness and protection. Anxiety erases the pages of history that contain reminders of God caring for us and comforting us when we walked through valleys filled with dark, threatening shadows into pastures of light and hope.
Paul’s life, at times, appears to be one example after another of someone who was constantly and continually faced with the unknown and unwelcomed, unwanted and unexpected. Yet, he always successfully overcame the unanticipated, and no matter the context, persevered relentlessly through threats of danger and destruction. In spite of it all and through it all, he never allowed anxiety to overcome him, distract him, or deter him. He overcame his anxiety with a simple, straightforward solution that worked for him – and will work for us – in all of life’s challenging situations. When facing the unknown, confronted by fear, or overwhelmed with anxiety and being threatened, we are to “present” to God, by “prayer and petition,” our requests for God’s solutions to the issues of our life.
At the very heart of this, however, Paul states the condition to avoid the “anxiety” factor: we do our “asking” for God’s solutions to our problems with “thanksgiving.” Why? He gives us the answer in 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Rejoice always. Pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
There have been many times in my life when I chose not to give thanks to or praise God for unwelcomed circumstances, debilitating or life-threatening illnesses, overwhelming disappointment, painful experiences, and extreme losses. I would ask one of the world’s most familiar questions: ”Why, God? Why me? Why now?” It was then, and is now, only natural and normal to question God when I did not understand what was happening in my life at that moment.
However, one day, rather than asking “Why?” I accidentally asked “What, God, are you trying to teach me? What, God, do you want me to do in this situation? How, God, can I witness your love, grace, mercy, or hope in this situation to others? Which of Your promises are you trying to remind me?
Wherever I am is where God wants me to be, and, whatever is happening or occurring in my life is what God wants to happen or occur to me at that moment! He placed me there for His purpose to do His word in His world. As Paul said, “this is God’s will for Larry, in Christ Jesus.” If this is true, then it is my responsibility to be faithful to God to display His love, mercy, grace, salvation, and hope to others at that moment – or to take the lessons from that moment and use them later as I serve Him.
All throughout life, Christians live with past, present and future blessings and opportunities to serve and honor God. So, first and foremost, we must always express our gratitude for what we have received from God, are about to receive from God, or will eventually receive from God. Pausing to reflect on His answers to our prayers in the past and the blessings He has given us or opportunities to serve Him in the present will give us confidence that He will answer our prayers immediately or in the future. What He has done for us in the past assures us that He will do so today or in the future! However, we must be aware that it is not on our schedule but on His schedule. So, God’s grace and gifts in our past is the guarantee of His grace and gifts for our future in Christ! And, I can thank God for what is because it is His will for me.
When our attitude matches Paul’s attitude, we are acknowledging our willingness to accept His will in and for our lives. Our hearts are to be full of trust in and gratitude for God’s love, mercy, grace, salvation, and hope. And, we must constantly acknowledge – with prayer and thanksgiving – that “God Himself, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, causes everything to work together for the good of those who love Him and are willing to accept His plan for their lives.” When we willingly accept the gifts God has for us, we will know, understand, and experience perfect peace, His peace. We will know and believe that what “is” is what God has designed for us and that He will be with us and comfort us as we walk with Him in days of doubt and darkness, as well as days of peace and prosperity.
The result of “believing prayer” is knowing that we have the blessings and peace of God in our hearts and lives. Thanksgiving is a great time – this month especially – when we think, plan and enjoy the day that is dedicated to Thanksgiving – to express our deepest gratitude to God, in everything, because of everything, and for everything. Remember, He is working His will in His way in His time in everything in our lives so that one day we will become the person that He created us to be!