As little children, we learned to say “thank you” when we received a gift or when someone showed us a kindness. A little later, we were taught to write thank-you notes on similar occasions. Such formalities are a good exercise for young children and following that practice stands us in good stead as adults as well. But Scripture enjoins us to more than the merely oral or written expression of words of thankfulness. True thankfulness comes from the heart; it suggests an attitude toward or perspective on life that reflects a proper view of God and of ourselves.
Writing to the church at Philippi, Paul says: “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (3:6). In this brief verse, we find a three-ingredient recipe for a life that pleases God and blesses us.
1. Don’t worry or be anxious about anything. Anxiety or worry is a sin. For starters, it denies the sovereignty of God. It denies the omnipotence of God. It denies the goodness of God. It denies the truthfulness of the Word of God. A godly concern that draws us to God and to His Word for direction and strength to serve effectively is one thing. A fear of means or a dread of outcomes is another. No one enjoys suffering and sorrow. But we are not to become consumed by the thought of them or motivated by the dread of them.
2. Pray to God about everything. Here is the antithesis to the preceding ingredient. Just as nothing is just cause for anxiety, so everything is just reason for prayer. God’s omnipotence and love are magnified in things both big and small. When God supplies a big need or takes care of a large problem, we see that nothing is too big for His omnipotence. And we also see that His love is not exhausted by our coming to Him frequently or with large problems. And when we come to Him with a minute thing, we realize that His love is so great that the smallest of our concerns interests Him and that, since He is omnipotent, we are not overloading His circuits, distracting Him from bigger problems or more important people. He can handle it all. It is only the issues, whether big or small, that we fail to pray about that get us into trouble.
3. Be thankful in everything. That little two-word prepositional phrase—“with thanksgiving”—is not a parenthetic expression or an afterthought. It serves as a stop sign—dangerous to ignore and blow through, but just as illegal to make a pretense of obeying while merely slowing down and creeping through. Even our greatest needs should be arrested by thankfulness that the Lord knows, orders or permits, and controls every situation in our lives, and that He both loves us and does all things well. The antidote for anxiety and worry is a view of God that produces thankfulness in our hearts in each and every circumstance. Prayer requests fraught with worry and anxiety suggest that we are coming to God as though He ran an ethereal Complaint Department. True prayer is the fruit of faith that finds rest and rejoicing in the ways of God and is thankful for the assurance that all He does is right and good. In fact, it is instructive (is it not?) that many of the most thoroughly and genuinely thankful believers are those who have walked with the Lord through severe trials. It is the very things that would most provoke us to fear and dread that often bring us closest to the Lord and His fellowship and produce in us a knowledge and an experience of the Lord that nurtures thanksgiving. A submissive heart, an obedient walk, and a close relationship with the Lord will not guarantee us an easy life. But it will promote the thankfulness that will fill us with peace, joy, and power.
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