Give Thanks in Whatever I Do
Back during the dark days of 1929, a group of ministers in the Northeast gathered to discuss how they should conduct their Thanksgiving Sunday services. Things were about as bad as they could get, with no sign of relief. The bread lines were long, the stock market had crashed, and the Great Depression described both the economy and the attitude of the day. Some thought that they should only lightly touch upon the subject of Thanksgiving in deference to the human misery all about them. But Dr. William L. Stiger, pastor of a large congregation said that this was not the time to give mere passing mention to Thanksgiving, just the opposite. This was the time for the nation to get matters in perspective and thank God for blessings always present – in spite of intense hardships.
Those ministers discovered the great truth that the most intense moments of thankfulness are not found in times of plenty, but when difficulties abound. Think of the Pilgrims that first Thanksgiving. Half their number dead, men without a country, but still there was thanksgiving to God. Their gratitude was not for something but in something. It was that same sense of gratitude that lead Abraham Lincoln to formally establish the first Thanksgiving Day in the midst of the darkest days of the civil war.
How appropriate to gather to celebrate Thanksgiving 2019 and to be reminded to be thankful. As a child, my mother reminded my sister and me to say thank you whenever someone gave us something. If we forgot to thank them immediately, she would say, “What do you say?”
It is good to have Thanksgiving Day as a part of our holiday season. We start thankful & remain that way as we anticipate Christmas. A disciple is called by God to be thankful and Paul reminds us that there are three places where our thanksgiving identity is strengthened and deepened. To put it another way, there are three measurable ways to increase my thanksgiving.
THREE MEASURABLE WAYS TO INCREASE MY THANKSGIVING1
I am more thankful when I let the peace of Christ rule my heart.
“And let the peace of Christ, to which you were also called in one body, rule your hearts. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:15, CSB)
Paul reminds us in Colossians that the peace of God transcends all human understanding. Living into and living with the peace of God is something we cannot generate on our own – it is a gift of God that provides strength in the midst of our greatest struggles, worries and the “stuff” of life. God’s peace provides an outlook and lifestyle of thankfulness that radically changes us and our relationships.
Just out of school, a young man was being interviewed for the accountant’s job by a very nervous business owner of a small business that he had started himself. “I need someone with an accounting degree, but mainly, I’m looking for someone to do my worrying for me. I worry about a lot of things, but I don’t want to have to worry about money. Your job will be to take all the money worries off my back.” “I see,” the accountant said. “And how much does the job pay?” “I’ll start you at $80,000,” said the businessman. The accountant exclaimed. “80,000! How can such a small business afford a sum like that?” The businessman said, “That is your first worry!”
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could pay somebody to do our worrying for us? It is amazing how many things we can find to stress us out – even at Thanksgiving. We are thankful for the God who promises to always provide for our needs and that promise brings true peace, if we let God do our worrying for us!
I am more thankful when I let the word of God dwell in my heart.
“Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” (Colossians 3:16, CSB)
This is where worship and thankfulness intersect.
“speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music with your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Ephesians 5:19–20, CSB)
Ephesians points to our being filled with the Spirit, Colossians to our being filled with the Word of God, which dwells within us richly. Then, by psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, we partake in wisdom and teaching together. Combine the two passages and we see a melody and countermelody of being filled with God’s Word and God’s Spirit, responding with beautiful music in both cases.
We need both of these, the Spirit and the Word, to be Christians. Subtract either and it’s simply not possible. One reshapes the heart and the other the mind, and together they make us whole persons molded to the image of Christ. The Word of God provides the content; the Spirit of God applies it. He impresses the teachings of the Scriptures upon us, applies them to us, and reminds us of them at need. Throughout time, many believers have been inspired to create hymns as they’ve read God’s Word. Very often, they’ve told us they were convinced that God gave them the melody as well. How could powerful songs like “Amazing Grace” and “Joy to the World” have any other source but God?2
Here, Paul, the writer of Colossians shares with us three ways I can let the Word of God dwell in my heart through worship.
3 WAYS I CAN LET THE WORD OF GOD DWELL IN MY HEART THROUGH WORSHIP
The first way is through wisdom.
As this section reminds us, wisdom is a collected in the presence of others. I don’t know about you, but the Thanksgiving holiday becomes an opportunity to receive wisdom from others whom we may not see so often. In this context, the idea is that there is a collective wisdom that is found in the church. When we gather together, we share experiences and we gain insight and wisdom from each other.
The second way is through the effectiveness of the Word of God in teaching.
The Word of God provides wisdom through teaching. One definition of teaching is the orderly arrangement of truth and effective communication of it.3 This will include teaching that encourages others and teaching that convicts others. The positive encouragement comes form the teaching of God’s Word that has an impact on the life of others in a good way. The conviction of sin happens when one is admonished or corrected. Worship includes the Word of God and the Spirit of God developing the child of God.
The third way is through song.
Worship in song can affect me in a way that listening or reading the Bible never can. Here, we see three different kinds of song that God uses to bring the Word of God into me. The first are psalms. Psalms are songs from the Old Testament. Yet, psalms include songs that are lifted directly from the words of the Bible. Hymns were songs of praise to God written by believers but not taken from the Psalms. Perhaps the most famous example of someone who wrote hymns was Isaac Watts.
Isaac Watts faced criticism when he began writing hymns, for it was believed only psalms should be sung in worship. But the little songwriter had inherited spunk from his grandfather and father.
Grandfather Thomas Watts, commander of a British warship, was attacked once by a tiger in India. Running into the river, he turned to see the tiger swimming after him. He faced the creature, gripped its head, and forced it under water until it drowned.
Isaac senior fought a different kind of tiger—persecution. He rejected the state Church of England and joined British Nonconformists. That was considered treasonous, and he was thrown into Southampton Jail, a huge, gloomy place where Dissenters languished in iron shackles. He emerged from prison in time to marry Sarah Tauton on September 11, 1673, but the new couple was under constant watch. The stress caused Sarah to prematurely give birth to a weak, stunted baby, Isaac junior. Within weeks, the senior Watts was jailed again. He found comfort in his pocket Bible, but his wife worried endlessly. Every day she crept to the prison, sat on a stone outside, nursed her baby, and wept.
Watts was released at last, and a few years passed. One morning young Isaac “tittered” during family prayers. His father sternly demanded an explanation. “Because,” said the spunky boy, pointing to a bell rope, “I saw a mouse running up that; and the thought came into my mind, There was a mouse for want of stairs / Ran up a rope to say his prayers.” Isaac Senior, unimpressed, reached for the rod. The boy fell to his knees, begging and crying, “Oh father, father, pity take / And I will no more verses make.” But he did make more verses.
When sometime later he grumbled about the music in his church, his father told him to write his own songs if he thought he could do better than King David. So he wrote Joy to the World, O God Our Help in Ages Past, I Sing the Mighty Power of God, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, and 600 others.
He became the father of English hymns.4
Through worship, we learn more about God. The more we learn about God the more thankful we become! When we get into the word of God, the word gets into us and amazing things happen. We discover who God really is and what God is like. We also discover who we are – and that God has big plans for us.
Of the thousands of sentiments printed on greeting cards, perhaps one of the most touching is this simple statement: “Thanks for being you.” If you receive that card, you know that someone cares for you not because you did something spectacular for that person but because you’re appreciated for your essence. I wonder if this kind of sentiment might indicate for us one of the best ways to say “thank you” to God. Sure, there are times when God intervenes in our lives in a tangible way, and we say something like, “Thank You, Lord, for allowing me to get that job.” But most often, we can simply say, “Thank You, God, for being who You are – the Almighty God of the universe!” That’s reason enough for us to stop what we’re doing and praise and thank Him. Thank You, God, for just being You!
I am more thankful when I do everything I do for Jesus’ glory.
“And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17, CSB)
We cannot do anything to earn God’s love and grace – God chose to love us and to pour out his grace upon us. However, our attitude of gratitude is our way of thanking God every day for everything God has, is and will do for us. In a sense, gratitude is an expression of modesty. In Hebrew, the word for gratitude – hoda’ah – is the same as the word for confession. To offer thanks is to confess dependence, to acknowledge that God has the power to benefit us, to admit that our life is better because of God’s efforts.
We exhibit a degree of thanksgiving in life in reverse proportion to the amount of blessings we’ve received. Martin Luther wrote in his book Table Talk: “The greater God’s gifts and works, the less they are regarded.”
A hungry man is more thankful for his morsel than a rich man for his heavily-laden table. A lonely woman in a nursing home will appreciate a visit more than a popular woman with a party thrown in her honor. A Russian who finally gets his own copy of the Holy Scriptures after seventy-five years of state-imposed atheism is more thankful for his little book than we are for all the Christian books and magazines and translations that overflow our shelves.
The constellations appeared only once in a thousand years, imagine what an exciting event it would be. But because they’re there every night, we barely give them a look.
How well are you living into your calling of a grateful disciple these days? Have circumstances, struggles or challenges caused you to lose your focus on Jesus and make you forget your calling to be thankful in everything? Or perhaps it is like Martin Luther mentioned, you’ve been blessed too much that you forget to be thankful for what you do have.
One of the evidences of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives is a gradual reversal of that twisted pattern. God wants to make us people who exhibit a thankfulness in proper proportion to the gifts and blessings we’ve received.6
1 “Whatever You Do, Give, Give Thanks,” Colossians 3:15-17, sermon, 21 November 2018. Internet, https://www.bethiaumc.org/whatever-you-do-give-thanks-thanksgiving-eve-colossians-315-17/, accessed on 22 November 2019.
2 David Jeremiah, Sanctuary: Finding Moments of Refuge in the Presence of God (Nashville, TN: Integrity Publishers, 2002), 73.
3 Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 304.
4 Robert J. Morgan, On This Day: 365 Amazing and Inspiring Stories about Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1997).
5 Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 140.
6 Robert J. Morgan, Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations, and Quotes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000), 736.