I started working on this post last week with every intention of posting it last Friday afternoon. Obviously I didn’t, and just barely got “Songs for Sunday” out. Last week’s song fit the kind of week I was having. You know the kind; when it seems that nothing goes right, and everything you put your hand to turns to slop. I was really getting discouraged. We all have times like that, but how we handle them can make a big difference in our lives, and the lives of those around us. This week wasn’t that much better, but my attitude has been, and that has made all the difference.
Paul wrote his letter to the church in Philippi, probably when he was under house arrest in Rome. Philippians is a wonderfully encouraging letter from a man who was in difficult circumstances. If you haven’t read it recently, I encourage you to revisit. If you have never read it, you need to. God as a lot to say to you there. Toward the end of the letter, Paul writes,
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Phil 4:4-9)
This is about renewing our minds; changing the way we think. In Romans 12, Paul says,
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. (Rom 12:2)
That sounds challenging, doesn’t it?
Take another look at the passage from Philippians. While we are rejoicing, not being anxious, praying and petitioning, there is a little phrase that might get overlooked: “with thanksgiving”. We’re supposed to be thankful. In his letter to the Ephesian church, Paul said that they should be
always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Eph 5:20)
and to the church in Thessalonica, he says,
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thess 5:18)
I know what you’re thinking. Always giving thanks? Rejoice Always? Only think about good things? Are you crazy?
No I’m not, and neither was Paul. He had discovered something, and so have many others in the two millennia since. I think I’m just starting to get it…Sometimes the key for me isn’t getting it, but remembering it for more than 30 seconds, but that’s another blog post.
When I started writing last week, I just had an inkling of what God was trying to tell me, but I couldn’t quite grasp it. (I’m so glad God is patient!) We had one of those “one thing after another” weeks. We had plumbing issues, animal issues, home school issues and work schedule issues. We were all tired and getting snappy.
Then, a few days ago, I was reading the devotional book based on Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts, when I caught a glimmer of understanding. She writes about a time when her sons were fighting at the breakfast table, and she was super angry (I can relate to that), and at the same time she’s asking God for guidance (I can relate to that too…when you just want to wring their little necks, but you’re pretty sure that isn’t part of God’s plan). For two or three pages, she relives the struggle and then the epiphany. She writes,
“How did Jesus do it again? He turned His eyes. ‘And looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave…’ (Matthew 14:19) He looked up to heaven, to see where this moment comes from. Always first the eyes, the focus. I can’t leave crowds for mountaintop, daily blur for Walden Pond – but there is always the possibility of the singular vision. I remember: Contemplative simplicity isn’t a matter of circumstances, it’s a matter of focus. I take a deep breath, say nothing to them, but I look up to heaven, and give thanks aloud, in a whisper: ‘Father, thank You for these two sons. Thank You for here and now. Thank You that You don’t leave us in our mess.’ My heart rate slows. Something hard inside softens, opens and this thanks aloud feels mechanical. But I can feel the heart gears working. ‘Thank You for toast. Thank You for Cross-grace for this anger, for the hope of forgiveness, and brothers and new mercies.’ I look for the ugly-beautiful, count it as grace, transfigure the mess into joy with thanks and eucharisteo leaves the paper, finds the way to the eyes, the lips.” (Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts Devotional, p. 155. If you’re not familiar with Ann Voskamp, you can check her out here.)
I finished with tears in my eyes. I understood. When we give thanks, our circumstances may not change, but we do. I said, “Lord, thank you that I can sit here and read Your word, and this book. Thank you that I have eyes to see and a mind to understand. Thank you that I can sit here in freedom. Thank you for this table and chair, for the pen in my hand.” Yes, I felt a little silly, but I also felt better.
I knew I needed to share this insight with my husband, but I also knew that his week was going like mine. We had some exasperating plumbing problems, but I decided to put what I had read in Philippians and in Ann’s book to practice. I said, “Lord, I thank you that we have indoor plumbing and running water. Thank you that we have the tools we need to fix the problem and the hands to use them.”
Ed may have thought that I had lost it for a minute, but I think the Lord enlightened him too. A little while later, he said that when he was a kid, he lived in a house with “four rooms and a path”, and that our home is a mansion by comparison. Yes, we are incredibly blessed. Now, we’re both trying give thanks always. I have a feeling its going to be one of those things we need to constantly remind each other about, like being mindful of what comes out of our mouths (Ephesians 4:29).
However, we need to give thanks in all things, including those things that we might not normally be thankful for. That’s challenging too. Thankfully, we have the Holy Spirit to help us.
The following YouTube video, posted by Route66EBC, is an excerpt from The Hiding Place, by Corrie Ten Boom. The video is about ten minutes long, but it is a remarkable story about how God honors gratitude.
Have a wonderful week, and remember to give thanks!