“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:13)
Growing up in Michigan I recall Thanksgivings where snow covered the ground and relatives filled our home. It was quite the festive time! I remember being very excited to see family I saw all too infrequently, and how wonderful it was to smell all the different kinds of food being prepared by my mom and my aunts. To me, it was the greatest time of the year!
And yet, like many Americans, my day of “thanks” consisted mostly of earthly, self-centered joys and contentments, which revolved around eating too much and watching football on TV, rather than a heavenly focus on WHY we were to be giving thanks! Sure I had (public) school to tell me about the pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock; how the Indians helped them overcome the obstacles of a harsh winter; and the feast of thanks they had to celebrate - but the truth of WHY we gave thanks never registered in my heart! Until my eyes were opened to the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ, I failed to understand the importance of people giving thanks to God for His many blessings!
The apostle Paul was like that too. Until Christ confronted him on the Damascus road, he gave thanks for things that were earthly. Things like his nationality, his family lineage, his education, his religious standing, and his zeal of the law of God (Phil.3:4-6). But when his eyes were opened to the Christ of God such earthly joys and contentments were quickly replaced with a heavenly focus! All things that were once counted as “gain” to him, were now counted as “loss”. He regarded them as “rubbish” for the sake of knowing Christ the Lord. (Phil. 3:7,8)
Out of that knowledge of a living relationship to Christ, Paul knew how his life was to be lived! Now his eyes would always be lifted up to God in deepest thanks for the rich blessings he received in Christ, no matter what paths he had to travel down, or situations he would find himself in! A beautiful picture of that “thank-ful-living” is seen in that letter to the church in Philippi. Paul was imprisoned in Rome and unable to be among them as he wanted to be. Nevertheless, Paul never lost that heavenly focus while in chains! In fact, the things that had happened to Paul actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel - including witnessing to the palace guard, and those of Caesar’s household! Such things brought joy to his heart and thanks to his lips! And further, it also strengthened Paul within himself that Christ would continue to be glorified by him, either in his continuing work, or even by his death! What a focus the apostle had on a thank-filled life!
Do we give praise and thanks to God -in spite of our circumstances and trials? Does that heavenly focus stay with us as much as it should? I don’t know about you, but as a redeemed sinner (emphasis on the latter) in need of daily grace, I know that I fall far short of the praise and thanks I ought to give especially in trying circumstances! It’s easy to whine and pout about the difficulties of life, or to complain about your situation, or even to grow frustrated when life’s chains shackle you to people, situations, or experiences that you don’t want to be shackled too!
At times, instead of giving thanks to God as we should (Col. 3:17; I Thess. 5:18), and redeeming the time we’ve been given (Col. 4:5), we respond with ingratitude! We become hardened to that person God has put in our way, or that situation we’ve been placed in, and we forget, and even refuse at times, to give thanks to our heavenly Father who has given us those opportunities to make a difference in the lives of our family, our church, and our neighbors!
It’s at those times when I’m humbled to the dust, and shaking my head at my own failings and sins that I think of how Paul himself responded to similar situations,
“I have learned in whatever state I am in, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:11–13)
Aren’t Paul’s words amazing? Notice how all situations and areas of life are covered here: (1) “whatever state I am in...” (v.11); (2) “Everywhere and in all things I have learned...” (v.12)! And why? Was it because Paul, as an apostle, was kept from sinfulness in his life? Was he perfect? A first century “superman”? No. Paul was just like you and me. A man who was imperfect, weak, and who even had a thorn in his flesh to keep him humble.
The reason Paul can say these bold things is because of Christ! “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” No situation, circumstance, or area of life escapes the sovereign rule of Christ the Lord! He IS LORD over our entire life -inward and outward! Through that mighty King, we as His subjects, can keep our heavenly focus and do earthly good, no matter how chained or shackled we may feel by the trials and challenges that God has apportioned to us! That same Christ will see to it that we have all we will ever need, for whatever path we are called to! Paul says to these Christians in their particular circumstance, “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:19) Notice the comfort of that passage: God shall supply! That expresses the certainty of God‘s daily provision for body and soul. It provides hope and confidence to the weary and depleted, and above all it creates joy and thanks in the heart of the child of God!
When I step back from reflecting upon what Paul says, and then look upon my own life, past and present, I can’t help but give thanks to God for all His blessings to me in Christ! I can’t help but be in awe and amazement at how the Lord works mightily and generously for His covenant children! He is so gracious and good; patient and kind; compassionate and merciful even though I myself am so undeserving! Think of it: I can live the life God desires of me and HE will see to it that I can do it! Christ’s great supply will be mine; for my blessing and for His glory! Incredible!
How can I not be filled with thanks to my God?
Even with that wonderful truth, you and I need to remember something very important! Such thanks MUST cause us to express that thanks; and to live out that thanks in our daily lives! That means you and I need to respond to God’s grace with “thank-filled” lives. We need to give thanks for our daily bread, for our homes, for our health, for our churches, for our jobs. We are also to give thanks in all of life’s circumstances and situations just as Paul does! That means we are to thank our heavenly Father for all our opportunities to serve Him and make the best of them! We are to do so with the crabby co-worker; the tired housewife; the grieving neighbor; the needy fellow Christian. Such must be part of our lives!
May it never be said of us that we fail to show thanks for all God has done for us! May others see God’s love and grace in all our words and deeds.
We can do this because we know that God will supply us with what we need for the tasks at hand; He will not fail us! As a result, we will continue to be stirred to praise Him and to give thanks to Him for all His daily goodness!
Therefore, as we celebrate this thanksgiving season in Canada and in the U.S., may our focus always be heavenward! Let us enjoy the food and the fellowship! Let us make a point to gather together for worship as God’s people! But most of all, may our thankfulness overflow to our Triune God for all we’ve been given in life! For we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us!
Rev. Ancil Merwin is the pastor of the Grace URC in Oro-Medonte, Ontario. Wm.