Dale D. Meredith
University Baptist Church
Getzville, NY 14068
November 19, 2017
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Good News Bible, The Bible in Today’s English Version, copyright ©1976 by American Bible Society. Used by permission.
16 Be joyful always, 17 pray at all times, 18 be thankful in all circumstances. This is what God wants from you in your life in union with Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
INTRODUCTION: Most of us want to be happy. We do lots of things trying to find happiness. We may do something and feel good for a brief time, but that time often passes quickly and once again we are searching for happiness. We don’t really know what makes us happy. There are really two types of things that contribute to make us happy: those things we cannot control and those things we can control. When we are trying to find happiness, we should not spend our time and effort trying to change those things we cannot control.
We cannot control our genetic makeup. Our DNA is set. Some of us seem to be naturally happy and some of us seem to be always down. We must recognize that some of our overall happiness is from our genetic makeup, and we can’t do anything about that. However, there are other areas we can control.
We cannot control our external circumstance. We cannot control the past in which decisions and events occurred to contribute to our circumstances of today. Furthermore, we cannot control the actions of other people or nature which contribute to our circumstances today.
We cannot control our genetic makeup or our external circumstances. In terms of mathematics or engineering we call those our boundary conditions. That means our search for happiness has to be solved within the constraints set by our boundary conditions. That leaves our attitudes and behavior as the only things we can control. It happens that our attitudes and behavior do contribute significantly to our happiness. In fact, there are at least nine attitudes and behaviors that definitely influence our happiness. We have discussed the practice of generosity and a focus on the present as two behaviors that contribute to our happiness. Today we will discuss what being thankful has to do with being happy. Let us look at 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: 16 Be joyful always, 17 pray at all times, 18 be thankful in all circumstances. This is what God wants from you in your life in union with Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
BE JOYFUL ALWAYS: We have seen that to be happy is to be content and satisfied. This is a present condition. Joyful is happiness sustained. That is, your happiness continues beyond right now. You are happy now. You will be happy tomorrow. This means that your happiness will continue from day to day. The next sentence says God wants you to be joyful. Thus, there must be something you can do to make your happiness last.
PRAY AT ALL TIMES: In Daniel 6:10 it says that Daniel went to his house, knelt down at his open window, and prayed to God three times a day. He didn’t pray just when he was facing a problem or crisis. It was his regular routine. I know adults who call their mother more often than that each day.
In Psalm 119:164, the psalmist said, “Seven times each day I thank you . . .” Note that these were prayers of thanks. If you think about the length of your day that would mean that you would pause to thank God about every two hours. In addition, you would have times during the day when you would tell him you were sorry for something you did. There would be times when you would ask God for something. You would not be able to stop what you were doing, go to a private place, and get into a particular position each time you prayed as Daniel did. Your praying would be like your breathing. It would be an ongoing conversation with God. Many of your prayers would be silent prayers as you went about your normal activities. Not only a daily time of prayer, but moment by moment conversation with the Lord: listening and speaking to the Lord during the time you are awake. Sometimes I will be looking for a particular book in my study. I will say, “Lord, where did I put that book?” When I find it I will say, “Lord, thank you. You didn’t hide it from me, but you helped me find it.”
BE THANKFUL IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES: Notice that it says, “be thankful in all circumstances” and not “be thankful for all circumstances.” There is a difference. When you pray thanks prayers you are thanking God for something he has given you. God only gives good things. He does not give us bad things. In Matthew 7:11 Jesus said, “As bad as you are, you know how to give good things to your children. How much more, then, will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him.” God does not give us “bad” circumstances. James 1:13 says, “If a person is tempted by such trials, he must not say, ‘This temptation comes from God.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one.”
Bad people can contribute to your bad circumstances. Therefore, you do not thank God for the circumstance, but you can thank God in the circumstances. That is because Hebrews 13:5 says, “Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, ‘I will never leave you; I will never abandon you.’” Even in a terrible circumstance you can be happy because you know that God will keep his promise and be with you in the circumstance. We have examples of this from the Bible.
Daniel 3:18-25 tells how Daniel’s three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, were thrown into the hot furnace because they were obedient to God. Suddenly, the King saw not three, but “four men walking around in the fire (Daniel 3:25)” “and the fourth looks like a divine being (Daniel 3:25, Tanakh).” God had not left the three men in the circumstance by themselves. God or an angel appeared visible to the observers and went through the circumstance with them.
There is a similar situation reported in our reading this morning from 1 Samuel 30. David returned to the town where he and his army lived. They found the town had been burned, their wives, sons, and daughters had been kidnapped, and their possessions all stolen. In these circumstances David and his men cried until they were exhausted. The men of his army were bitter and even threatening to stone David. What terrible circumstances! In times like these you are tired, can see no way out, and become depressed. In the Revised Standard Version the later part of verse 6 is translated as, “David strengthened himself in the Lord his God” (RSV).
I like that translation because I believe that David strengthened himself by doing what he had done many times. David wrote many of the Psalms where he gives thanks to God for what God had done. When David began to give thanks to God for what God had done his courage returned and he was strengthened because he remembered what God had done before and he would do again. What had God done? And What would God do again? God had always been with David. Do you remember David’s statement to King Saul before David went to fight the giant Goliath? He said, “The Lord has saved me from lions and bears; he will save me from this Philistine” (1 Samuel 17:37a). Even in this terrible circumstance, David was assured of God not leaving or abandoning him. He experienced what is promised to us in Hebrews 13:5b where God said, “I will never leave you; I will never abandon you.” David got up and with God’s help led his men to victory over the invading army and received their families and possessions back.
You can be happy today when you remember what God has done for you, what he has given you, and you further remember he will never leave you or abandon you. You can remember when you express thanks for what God has done for you, what he has given you, and that he has been with you before and has promised to always be with you.
EXPRESS THANKS: What should you express thanks for? Let us look at some examples from the Bible. Jesus would be a good example to begin with. In Matthew 11:25, he thanked God that even those without college or seminary degrees could know God, know how to serve God, and would be accepted by God. In Matthew 14:19 and 15:36, he gave thanks for the food they were about to eat when he didn’t have enough to feed the multitudes. When he gave thanks for it, he had more than enough.
A leper came back to thank Jesus for healing (Luke 17:16). A man thanked Jesus for giving him sight (Luke 18:43). Paul thanked God for the members of the church at Rome (Romans 1:8). In 2 Corinthians 9:11, Paul wrote that people would thank God for the gifts from the church at Corinth. And in 1 Timothy 1:12, Paul wrote, “I thank him [Christ Jesus our Lord] for considering me worthy and appointing me to serve him.” Once David even thanked God for Abigail’s good sense (1 Samuel 25:33).
WORKBOOK: Here is a small workbook you can use each day to review what to be thankful for and how to express thanks. The Bible verses will help get your thinking started. We considered some of these verses this morning.
What should you be thankful for?
1.God’s love for you (1 John 4:9-10). 2.Things you have received from God (Acts 14:17). 3.People God has given to encourage and help you (Philippians 4:14-16). 4.Family members and friends (2 Timothy 1:5; Psalm 127:3; 1 John 4:7; Proverbs 17:17) 5.Talents and abilities God has given you to serve him (1 Timothy 1:12). 6.Times God has been with you in circumstances when you needed Him (1 Samuel 17:37). 7.Promises not yet fulfilled (Hebrews 13:5).
Where should you express thanks?
1.Privately when you receive the gift from God or others (Luke 17:16; 18:43) 2.When with others such as meals or gatherings (Matthew 14:19) 3.In the assembly – at church (Psalm 35:18).
How should you express thanks?
1.Prayers of thanks a.Private prayers i.At beginning of day thank for another day ii.At noon for provisions of day iii.At night for gifts of the day iv.Whenever you think about someone or something b.Public prayers i.In small groups like our Wednesday night Bible study and prayer times ii.In assembly; in church (Psalm 35:18). 2.Write letter of thanks Paul wrote to thank the church at Philippi for help (Philippians 4:16, 18). 3.Keep a journal of thanks (Philippians 4:8)
I AM ABOUT DONE: When you begin to compare what you have and can do with what others have and can do you will often develop envy for what they have. This can lead to depression. Giving thanks lifts you out of depression as it did David. You should notice the wonderful gifts in your life and give thanks at least once a day. Thankful people are happy people. Psalm 95:2 says, “Let us come before him [the Lord] with thanksgiving and sing joyful songs of praise.”
There are things you can’t control. You shouldn’t spend time and effort trying to change things you can’t change. You can change your attitude and behavior. Being thankful and giving thanks will greatly contribute to your being happy. Use the little workbook section as a guide each day as we approach Thanksgiving Day and tell me next Sunday what you noticed different about your life as you began to express thanks.
Working through the workbook may also suggest things you are thankful for that you can share when you and your family gather for you Thanksgiving dinner.