1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! What is it that will make this a good Thanksgiving Day for you? What is your “ideal” Thanksgiving Day so that at the end of the day you can sit back and say, “Now that was a good Thanksgiving Day.” What is it? Is it having all the family together? Is it if the turkey is cooked just right- moist and delicious? Is it if you get your fill of all the Thanksgiving feast trimmings? Is it if you get to do all your Thanksgiving Day traditions? Is it if the Packers come away with a win? What is it? What is it that will make this a good Thanksgiving Day for you? Perhaps another question: What is it that makes any day a good one? What makes one day good and another day bad for you? There could be all kinds of answers, right? But for most, good days are days when things happen like you plan or want and bad days are when things happen that you don’t want or don’t plan.
And knowing that there are such things as good days and bad days might make the words of our text this morning sound quite impossible: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is Go’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Really? Joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances? Always? Continually? In all circumstances?
No way! Right? There’s way too many bad things that happen in life to make this possible, right? There’s way to much garbage and trouble and problems that we have to deal with on a regular basis to make this even possible, right? But don’t we know God’s promises? God’s given us some pretty spectacular promises in His Word that extend for our entire lives- not just on good days. Surely I will be with you always to the very end of the age, I will never leave you or forsake you, God works all things out for the good of those who love Him, God will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways, cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. All kinds of promises and hundreds more. But isn’t there a little voice in the back of our heads that says, “Come on, show me the money God.” I need to see it to believe it. If things don’t happen the way I want or the way that I plan, then this can’t be a good day. And what happens? We make ourselves miserable. Jesus has given us more blessings than we could possibly use and is ready to load us down with even more, and we make ourselves sick wondering if God really means it and worrying that he might not! And hence our joy disappears, our prayers cease, and we find more things about which to complain than give thanks.
Historians have concluded that in Martin Luther’s day 6 out of 10 children died in infancy, life expectancy was about 40 years old, not long before Luther was born the black death wiped out a third of Germany’s population, in 1515 a law was passed that stipulated that German farmers could not be forced to work more than 15 hours a day. In the midst of all that, what did Luther write in his explanation of the First Article? “I believe that God still preserves me by richly and daily providing clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, cattle, and all I own, and all that I need to keep my body and life.” Where was the evidence, where was the proof? In his day, Luther didn’t have much of either. But he had a faith that believed he would receive because Jesus promised it.
And isn’t that the answer? How can we be joyful always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances? Is it not simply trusting that we will receive all we need no matter what simply because Jesus says we will? So we can rejoice always. The joy that every Christian has is a joy that underlies their whole life. It is the joy of the gospel. The joy of knowing their sins are forgiven, the joy of knowing Jesus as their Savior. The devil knows he can’t take away your salvation so he will try again and again to take the joy of your salvation away. He will use adversities and troubles and problems to get you to think that God doesn’t care about you or make your life miserable, or convince you that you have no reason to rejoice. But remember, Jesus’ promise to you: He works all things out of the good of those who love him –even “bad” things God is able to turn for our good to draw us closer to him, to purify our faith, and give us opportunities to share the hope we have to others. At Christmas time we let our children pick out presents for each other at the dollar store. Sometimes I am just shocked at what they pick out and think I’d never pick that out. Well, sometimes we think we understand life but really don’t. We think we know what would be best for us, but really don’t. God has a much greater idea of what we need when we need it than we do. A Christian rejoices always because he or she knows that God is graciously guiding all things to bring them to their eternal home in heaven.
How can a Christian pray continually? A Christian prays continually when he or she commits all things at all times to the one who cares for us. It’s an inward spirit of trust in God – a constant leaning of the heart upon God in all things. How is that possible? Because Jesus says that he hears all our prayers, listens to them all, and has made his home inside of us, His people. He hears the trust we place in him, he hears the thoughts in our heart as we think about him, he hears the prayers we speak from the heart that don’t even make it on our lips.
And give thanks in all circumstances? What happens when you receive gifts or blessings? Does it not lead you to give thanks? How can we be thankful in all circumstances? Isn’t it by recounting the great blessings God has given us: physically He’s given us air to breathe, food, water, clothes, house, cars, family, and an abundance of things we don’t even need, but even more importantly what has he given us spiritually? Faith, peace, joy, God’s presence, protection, guidance, care, love, His Word that nourishes our faith, His own body and blood in the Sacrament, Jesus’ perfect life credited to us, eternal life with him in heaven forever. You see, it’s when we see our blessings that we’re led to give thanks in all circumstances. And it really changes our entire outlook on life in general. People who are thankful see so many more things in life; they can see the blessing and mercy of God in every situation in life. I recently ran across a neat illustration: If you had a bowl of sand and in it mixed some iron shavings, it would be nearly impossible to dig through them with your hands to find them. But if you had a magnet you could find them all by mere attraction. Having an unthankful heart is like digging clumsily through sand and it’s almost impossible to find the blessings of God, a thankful heart is like a magnet that attracts and finds –even in the worst of circumstances- the blessings of God in every situation.
So, what will it take at the end of the day today to say this was a “Happy Thanksgiving”? The family, together or apart, wealth, much or little, health, good or bad, everything comes from God who wants his blessings to bring us closer to him. “What then shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things.”
I have no idea what blessings you’re thanking God for today. But pray God that he would give you a faith that receives those blessings and then sees those blessings in the light of God’s greatest blessings, that he has forgiven your sins in Christ, that he has joined you to himself by the blood his Son, and that he will take you to heaven to be with Jesus in Paradise. Then you will have a faith that leads you to rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances today and tomorrow too. Amen.