“Be joyful always; Pray without ceasing; In every circumstance give thanks; for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” I Thes. 5:16-18
Or, then again, we can eat turkey and stuffing till giblets and gravy runs out of our ears. Thanksgiving is a holiday I usually have taken for granted–celebrating, but without much true thankfulness. I have always enjoyed the feasting but most years didn’t take seriously what I had to be thankful about. For many years, being an avowed agnostic, I had no One to thank. I ran from the Lord from age 13 until 1979, when in my mid-30s I had a most unexpected born-again experience.
These three short verses cited above from Paul’s first letter to the house church at Thessaly have meant the world to me since they were first illuminated by the Holy Spirit during one of Pastor Joel’s sermons way back in April, 1995. In that moment I knew that I’d been given a powerful tool in my battle with chronic despair.
Churchill’s black dog, the despair, was there again this morning. Nipping at my heels and infecting my thoughts with all sorts of negative voices—the ongoing litany of what a useless slug I am, and how there is not now, nor ever has been, any hope. But, as usual, I went for my morning walk. Boiling grey and black clouds were being driven across the sky by a stiff wind out of the northwest bringing in our first real cold snap of the autumn, and yet, bracing my spirits. I thought of Shelley’s “Ode to the West Wind” ~ “O wild West Wind, thou breath of autumn’s being, Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing.”
Like a ghost from an enchanter fleeing indeed. But the faster I walked, the better I felt, and I did what the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul and Pastor Joel taught me 18-years ago. I gave thanks; I enumerated my blessings: “I thank you God for this most beautiful day. . .I than You for the beauty of Your Creation. . .I thank you God that I can still walk and walk fast. . .I thank You for music. . .I thank you God for Your Son’s gift of Life. . .and so forth.
In a comment on the above verse from First Thessalonians, Graham Cooke said something to the effect that prayer is most effective when it’s bracketed by Praise and Thanks-giving. I think he’s right; without praise and giving thanks prayer does seem rather hollow.
So give thanks in every circumstance; it wasn’t a suggestion—it was the God of All Creation giving us an order on how we should proceed, and as our friend Steve Brown says: “You think about that!”