Find Strength to Give Thanks
Find Strength to Give Thanks
Text: Philippians 4:10-20
This Thanksgiving stuff is a lot of work. It takes a lot of energy and strength to pull off a successful Thanksgiving. Hours are spent cleaning every nook and cranny of the house. After all, it’s been a while since you cleaned the dust bunnies off your ceiling fan and that would be embarrassing if your company saw that! All the sheets and towels need to be washed and put in place. All the fine china needs to be unpacked and washed off.
Then there’s the Thanksgiving menu. How many visitors are we going to have again this year? 15? Wait cousin Sal has three kids now? Ok, 16. How big of a turkey do we need? 18 pound? 20 pound? Can we trust Jennie-O’s calculations of pounds per person? Do you think we need a ham too? What sort of stuffing should we make this year? Do we need three pies or four? When am I going to have time to bake those pies, because I need the oven all day on Thanksgiving for the bird.
What time should we eat? Well, what does the football schedule look like? Which games do we want to watch? Definitely not the Lions game. Boring! We have to plan dinner properly so we can watch football and so we can also plan when we pass out in a turkey-tryptophan coma. (By the way, the tryptophan in turkey making you sleepy is not true and just an urban legend.) Oh, and most important of all—Black Friday sales start as early as 7pm on Thursday now! Which store do we want to stand in line at first? We need to finish our Christmas shopping ASAP so we have time to put up the Christmas lights and tree on Friday.
Hopefully this year we all get along, too. If we can just play nice for about 36 hours we’ll be in good shape. If uncle Dave and aunt Sarah get in another fight I might just lose it. Can’t we just have a peaceful, stress-free holiday once. Just once. That’s all I ask!
This Thanksgiving business is a lot of work! It takes a lot of energy! It takes a lot strength to pull off Thanksgiving!
As we frantically hurry and scurry about in a mad dash to prepare for family, friends, and feasting and then Black Friday foolishness, all the while we lose track of the true meaning of Thanksgiving. Maybe that’s because it takes even more energy and strength to actually give thanks.
Give thanks? Who has strength for that? Do you know how busy my life is? Do you know how hard my life is? I work hard every single day. I pour in the hours for work. Day after day. Week after week. The same old thing. Sure I get a vacation here and there. But then I go right back to the daily grind. And what do I have to show for it? I have gray hair. I’m out of shape. I have calloused hands, a sore back, and arthritis in my joints. Not too mention that after all that hard work I have nothing important to show for it. I see red in the bank account. I worked my whole life and I still don’t have a mansion. And I’m pretty sure the government is going to take most of my income and my pension.
Who has strength to give thanks? Do you know how tired my kids make me? I was up all night every night with a sick kid last week. Now the other one is sick and I’m up all night with that one too. All they do is whine and complain and moan and groan. Which reminds me of my extended family. I haven’t seen them in years because I can’t stand them.
Who has strength to give thanks? I work hard. I’m a pretty good person. I believe in God. I go to church. But do you see how much I suffer? Do you see how many problems I have? Do you know how many tears I’ve cried? Do you know how difficult things are? Do you know the weight I carry or the burden I bear? Who can keep up with all this? Who has the energy for all this? Who has strength to give thanks?
I’m tired. I’m worn out. I’m beat down. And this exhausted heart of mine is losing perspective quickly. Bogged down with the “big things” of life, I forget that I wouldn’t have one pair of pants, one Pepsi, or one penny in my pocket without the Almighty God himself willing that I have it in the first place. My busy mind blurs focus on what Scripture so clearly says: “Every good and perfect gift is from above.”
So as I lose perspective and as I lose focus I also begin to lose strength of faith. There was a time when I trusted wholeheartedly in the Lord. There was a time when I put all things into his hands. There was a time when I was thankful for every minute and every minute detail of my life. But I was young then. I was naïve then. I didn’t have the weight of the world on my shoulders then.
Or maybe . . . maybe I actually had the faith of a child then. Maybe I trusted like the little child who repeatedly sings in bed Jesus Loves Me This I Know. It’s not that I don’t know that Jesus loves me any more. It’s that I don’t put every ounce of strength into trusting that Jesus loves me any more.
What a woeful heart I have! My problems are real and are great, but then compared to the apostle Paul, I look like a big crybaby. What immense troubles he had! He had been beaten and flogged and stoned and left for dead. He had been shipwrecked. He went hungry. He was threatened. He had physical ailments. As if this wasn’t enough, he was also locked up in Rome in prison unsure if his likely execution might come sooner or later.
Yet this battle-beaten, sore, aching, and suffering man wrote from prison these words to the Philippians: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” How could he do that? How could he be content? How could he be happy? How could he rejoice? I can’t even be happy and content with my troubled life, but he had it far worse. How could he find strength to give thanks? What’s the secret?
Graciously, he goes on to share: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I am strong in all things through the one who strengthens me.”
It didn’t matter if Paul was starving or if he had a big, fat, juicy Turkey with stuffing in front of him. It didn’t matter if he was being flogged or being beaten. It didn’t matter if he was sitting at home watching football in his recliner or sitting in prison watching rats eat crumbs. Paul knew that in any and every situation he was strong through the one who gives him strength—the Lord.
But this wasn’t something special Paul experienced because he was an apostle. He didn’t get special dibs on strength because he had God on speed dial on his iPhone. This blessing of the Lord’s strength was also for the Philippians, and it is also for us. So we can also say, “I am strong.” I am strong when I have to put in overtime. I am strong when the bank account is red. I am strong when my house is foreclosed. I am strong when my kids are a pain. I am strong with Obama instead of Romney. I am strong with persecution and mocking and ridicule. I am strong each and every day. Why? Because, “I am strong in all things through the one who strengthens me.”
How can this be? How could God continually give me strength? How could God love someone so weak, so feeble, so forgetful? How could God love me so much? Paul has the answer for that also in verse 19: “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”
You think you are poor? You think the economy is bad? You wish you had a little more? Well listen to Paul tell you just the opposite. You are rich! In fact, you have glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
Paul explains more in his second letter to the Corinthians: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”
You want strength? Jesus has strength. Jesus made the entire universe and rules over it with great power. You want glory? Jesus has glory. Jesus dwells in the eternal kingdom of God where saints and angels sing his endless praises. You want riches? Jesus has riches. Jesus owns everything because he made it and it belongs to him now and forever.
Yet he set all that aside so that you could have it too. “Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” Jesus set aside strength and glory and riches to take on weakness and humility and poverty. He set aside righteousness to become sin and to carry sin. He set aside life to take on death. The result of this humility? The result of this suffering? The result of this death? “That you through his poverty might become rich.”
No bank account could pay for forgiveness. No platinum Visa could pay for salvation. No check could contain enough zeros to pay for heaven. But you own them all. Through his poverty we have become rich.
This is what Paul means when he says back in Philippians, “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” What else do you need? Do you really need a mansion? Do you really need a sports car? Do you really need stainless steel appliances? Do you really need an easy life, an impenetrable 401K, and a successful retirement?
Those are nice. But those aren’t real riches. Peace from knowing your sins are erased. Joy from knowing your guilt is gone. Hope from knowing that a better life is yours forever. Those are real riches. In fact, those are glorious riches.
And with that love and those riches graciously given, God even promises to meet all your other needs. He’ll give you shelter. He’ll give you your daily bread. He’ll be with you. He’ll watch over you. He’ll guide you to his heavenly kingdom. He’ll meet your every need in every situation and give you his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
Suddenly I’m feeling more strength. Suddenly I’m realizing how I can be strong in any and every situation. Suddenly I realize the strength that is mine each and every day. God doesn’t strengthen me with good credit or hurricane shutters or mutual funds or a cupcake life. God strengthens me each and every day with his grace. His mercies are new every morning as he pours out boundless forgiveness and love. “As high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.” That’s our strength.
It’s no wonder those Philippian Christians were so lovingly concerned about the well being of Paul in prison. It’s no wonder they contributed to the special offering for the mother church in Jerusalem. It’s no wonder they sent Paul aid again and again and then sent even more gifts to him in prison. And it’s no wonder that Paul says these thankful gifts, “Are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.” The Philippians found strength to give thanks because of the glorious riches of Christ Jesus!
It’s no wonder then why tomorrow is such a big deal. Family time is fun. Turkey and stuffing are delicious. Football is fantastic. Black Friday is, well, it’s Black Friday. But that’s not what makes Thanksgiving spectacular.
Thanksgiving is a grand day to stop, pause, and reflect upon what our God has given us. Surely he meets our every earthly need. That’s important. But he has also lavished us with glorious riches now and for eternity. It is that boundless grace that gives us strength today, tomorrow, and every day to join Paul and say: “To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever.”
Posted on November 22, 2012, in Church, Sermons and tagged Barack Obama, Church, Content, Contentment, Detroit Lions, Discontent, Focus, Happy, Joyful, Mitt Romney, Paul, Perspective, Philippians, Philippians 4, President Obama, Sermons, Strength, Thankful, Thanks, Thanksgiving. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.