Even before Thanksgiving gets here, we start to get the tons of sales papers that tell us Black Friday – the biggest shopping day of the year is almost here. Some stores are already jumpstarting the sales process and holding early Thanksgiving day sales. People will line up on Thanksgiving for a chance to save $20 when the doors open.
I guess that even the Pilgrims had to knock off Thanksgiving early to get in line for the big sale at Ye Ole Mercantile.
And then there’s the so-called Thanksgiving Day Parade. The turkey just doesn’t get its props because there’s always that guy in the red and white suit to pull up the rear. It’s just our way of saying, Thanksgiving, we love you, but we don’t want to stay with you. Christmas is on the way!
Then, there’s the meal. Families get together and do more assault on the waistline than one could possibly imagine. A meal that took 18 hours to prepare is consumed in 15 minutes with enough leftovers to supply a small army, for a month.
And then, people spend the rest of the day falling in and out of a turkey-induced coma while the NFL puts on some more turkeys — those generally lopsided match-ups.
Oh Thanksgiving, how we love thee and how we love to see you go away – just so we can get to Christmas.
But what if Thanksgiving was more than just a one-day event? What if our thanksgiving could be a way of life that connects us to the real joy and real peace of God?
If you think that sounds like something you could go for, then let me tell you, Paul has a letter for you.
Philippians is a books that opens our eyes to the ideas of joy and thanksgiving. Before I read this text though, I want to do the job of a storyteller. I want to set the scene for you.
Paul was once someone who took pleasure in tracking down, arresting, persecuting, generally tormenting Christians. He has this moment on the road to Damascus when he comes face to face with Jesus and, well, everything changes. Paul gives his life over to God and he becomes one of the greatest missionaries in human history.
But something goes along with that mission. For the success that Paul had in telling others about Jesus and in setting up churches, Paul paid a personal price. He was beaten, he was stoned and left for dead, he was arrested, he was shipwrecked. Some of those who once had been his friend turned their backs on him. Paul gave up everything of himself to hold on to God.
And as he pens the words we are about to read, Paul is sitting in a dirty, musty prison cell. He’s might even be wearing chains or leg irons and receiving very little in the form of human comforts. The conditions are probably terrible.
And it is in that dimly-lit prison that Paul puts pen to paper and writes this passage we’re going to read from Philippians 4:4-9.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
I think we hear that phrase “rejoice” and maybe we wonder, “How can I really rejoice in what I see happening around me?” Remember, Paul is finding ways to rejoice in God even inside a prison! Rejoicing doesn’t mean that we are going to be immune to pain, to suffering and sorrow, but it is a way of saying that no matter where you find yourself, you can count on GOD. And that is something to rejoice about.
5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
I don’t know of anything that destroys the witness of a believer more than being judgmental and critical of others. It seems to pull the rug out of the message. Paul’s urging us to show mercy in the way that we treat others. We have been grace and are to be graceful to others.
6 Do not be anxious about anything (I’m sorry, worriers, this one is for us!), but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Have you ever hit a reset switch? The purpose of a reset switch is to get things back on track and to get things working again. As much as we want to sound churchy and centered in God, the truth is that we all have worries. The more worries and anxieties we have, the harder it is to focus on God. Prayer and thanksgiving becomes our “reset” switch. Prayer connects us to the God who has loved us as much in the past as he does right now. It reminds us of all that God has done for us and is doing for us. Prayer gives us hope which the confident expectation that God will do what God has promised.
7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
My background is not in electrical work. You don’t want me wiring your house. I really don’t know how the electricity works or how it gets to our home, but I know that I certainly appreciate that it does. I flip the switch and the lights come on!
In much the same way, I really don’t know or understand how the peace of God works, but I’m so glad when it shows up. It can show up in some of the absolutely craziest of place and situations and that piece of God helps us to remain connected to Jesus.
So, we have this set up steps that push us toward a life of Thanksgiving — Rejoice in God and do it again. Don’t worry — instead life up prayers and thanksgiving. Experience God’s peace. And now all of that leads us to this final statement about what that looks like and what we should be doing. This isn’t simply a list — this is what a life rooted in Thanksgiving to God looks like:
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
The word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
How do we take a passage such as this and sum it up? Let’s try it this way: Prayers and thanksgiving raise our standard of living.
I have a lot of memories of Thanksgiving. We lived across the field from one of my sets of grandparents and every year, we would go to their house for lunch. It would be my grandparents, my aunts and uncles and their families and my family, my parents, my sister and I.
My grandmother, my mother and my aunts would work hard to prepare that meal. It was a labor of love. My grandmother would start a day or two ahead of time in getting her part ready.
When the time came, we’d all gather into the kitchen and dining area and we’d have a time of blessing and prayer. While my Grandfather was alive, he would say that blessing. Then, after his death, my father would have the honor. And I’ve even said it a few times.
Then, we’d share in that meal together. Turkey and dressing. Green beans and macaroni and cheese. All of the casseroles that appeared their every year. The area that was set up for desserts.
There would talk and laughter. The kids sat together at a table and tried to finish early so we could be the first to play. The adults would share in conversation. There were questions about family and life and where and things were going. At times there were stories and memories of years gone past and of those who were no longer able to physically share in that meal together.
And looking back at it now, what stands out to me most about those thanksgiving isn’t the food — even though it was very good. What stands out to me most was the sense of connection. We shared a common family name, but we shared in more than that. We are connected in our journey together.
I get the sense that Paul is doing the same thing for us in this passage that we just read. He’s showing us the importance of seeing beyond what is right in front of our faces and being able to connect to something even bigger. Paul is giving us the menu, the recipe, for a life of Thanks-living.
It begins with an appetizer of joy. Rejoice! And Rejoice again in the God who loves you.
He follows that up with a healthy main dish of prayer. Prayer has the power to hold back our anxieties. Prayer is what brings us to the table with God. Through prayer, we lift our our adoration and praises. In prayer, we’re able to bring our confessions before God. There’s opportunity in that conversation to offer thanksgiving to God and ultimately we can lay our needs before the God who loves us (we call that petitions, supplication.)
And it is a meal that is topped off with a dessert of God’s peace — that amazing, unfathomable peace that shows up in the least likely of places.
When we open ourselves up to God that way, we experience more than just a one-time meal, we experience a life-changing connection that keeps us grounded in the God who truly, truly loves us.
Our prayers and our thanksgiving truly will raise our standard of living.
So what do we do now?
We’re approaching a day of Thanksgiving, but we have the opportunity to live out thanksgiving every day of our lives. So, over the next seven days, over this next week, I’m going to challenge you to do something.
Begin and end every day with a prayer of thanksgiving to God. We should be bringing those needs and concerns and worries that we have to God, but how many times do we skip over praise and adoration and thanksgiving and get straight to the prayer wish list? For this next seven days, be intentional in your prayer.
Our prayers and our thanksgiving raise our standard of living. How are you going to let your thanksgiving and praise raise your standard of living in Christ over the course of this next week?