The Surrender of Thanksgiving

Grabbed by Gratitude

It stopped me in my tracks. Twice. In the same morning even. What was it? Thankfulness. The first time, a song provoked it, and the second time, a story in an upcoming film about a changed life connected to my heart. I felt genuinely thankful, particularly for my wife and children. Lyrics and stories have a way of moving and stirring our emotions.

Hooray for Word Studies: Εὐχαριστέω

Bible readers find the theme of thankfulness throughout the pages of Scripture. In the New Testament, the verb εὐχαριστέω primarily conveys the act of expressing

. . . appreciation for benefits or blessings, give thanks, express thanks, render/return thanks (BDAG).

It is used 37 times in the New Testament. The occasions for these usages vary: (1) regarding provisions from God (Matt. 15:36), (2) in the Lord’s Supper (Mark 14:23; Luke 22:19), (3) in reference to answered prayer (Luke 17:16; John 11:41), (4) obligatory thanksgiving (Luke 18:11; Rom. 16:4), (5) thanksgiving for NOT participating in something (1 Cor. 1:14), but most often, (6) it communicates thankfulness about the fellowship of believers (Eph. 1:16; Phil. 1:3; 1 Thess. 1:2).

Spontaneous or Deliberate Thankfulness?

However, the Apostle Paul fashioned the word in a unique way in 1 Thessalonians 5:18. He issued it as a command:

. . . give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

This is the one and only use in the New Testament of the imperative form—εὐχαριστεῖτε. “Give thanks; appreciate; surrender thanksgiving.” But isn’t thankfulness better when it’s spontaneous? Is thankfulness genuinely thankfulness when it is commanded? I mean how many “You-should-be-thankful-s” are chronicled in the history of parenthood, right?!?! Our experience of the feeling of thankfulness is often unplanned, which may cause one to ask, “How does one get better at such a command? Do I simply try harder to feel thankful?”

This command is interesting to me, especially in light of the holiday anticipation building as we enter Thanksgiving season. As I experienced a surge of thankfulness this morning about my family, provoked by song and story and genuinely enjoying how I felt, I wondered if there is yet a deeper experience of thankfulness available . . . something more consistent, longer-lasting, sustainable, solid. Is thankfulness something that must come from outside of me; is it out of my control; a dormant emotion only stirred by some kind of external stimulus? Or is it something to which I have constant access, an affection internal and awake, and able to be wielded, controlled, surrendered, and given? If the latter, then where may I find such an endless reservoir of gratitude?

The Surrender of Thanksgiving: Exposition of 1 Thessalonians 5:18

In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, God reveals some things to us about giving thanks that cause pause. First, he qualifies the command “Give thanks” with a prepositional phrase that describes the circumstances during which we should obey it—in all circumstances. Wait, what? Literally, the translation is “give thanks in any and every, or in every respect or way.” Most Bible translations have adapted the English to read, “in all circumstances.” We are commanded to give thanks for any one circumstance that may come at us from the sum total of all circumstances. In other words, E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G. Yikes.

Thanksgiving Commanded by God

Remember, a command implies that God has or is able to supply you with the necessary resources to obey the command. Notice also that the circumstances are not commanded to make people thankful, which would be worded like, “Circumstances, go and cause thankfulness among the people.” Rather, the readers (like you and me) are commanded to give thanks while living under varied circumstances. The command implies that the believer is in possession of thankfulness and then must choose to give it. Now, I think all of us can easily imagine turning over thanks for the joyous moments—straight A’s, making the team, winning the game (Go Lady Norsemen, btw), graduating, getting married, having the baby, going on vacation, church growth, career advancement, and the list could go on and on.

However, are we really to turn over thanks when we fail the class, when we don’t make the team, when we lose the big game, when circumstances delay graduation, when the boyfriend/girlfriend bails, when finances crumble, when the consequences of one bad decision keep piling up, when a child or a parent gets sick or dies, when the marriage fails, when the church splits, when the career tanks, and on and on? Does God really expect me to give him thanks in all circumstances?

Yes. Maybe the surrender of our thanks looks a little broken sometimes, but this is the command. He wants our thanks in any and every circumstance. Biblical thanksgiving seems to be the turning over of something that is both provoked and supplied by God again and again, rather than some uncontrollable emotion that suddenly sweeps over you by positive, external, spontaneous provocation. The giving of thanks is a matter of relationship between you and God. You can choose to give it or not to give it to God.

Thanksgiving in the Fullness of God

Back to the Bible in 1 Thessalonians 5:18. The next sentence offers an explanation for the command to give thanks in all circumstances, “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” A similar statement follows Paul’s command to be filled or controlled by the Spirit in Ephesians 5:18–20,

. . . giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In that passage, the giving of thanks is evidenced in the life of the believer who is yielding to the Spirit’s control. There again, as in 1 Thessalonians, the circumstances in which we give thanks are broad—always and for everything. In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Paul explains that this always-giving-thanks-in-all-circumstances is God’s will. Comparing this to Ephesians 5:18, we may say that it is the Spirit’s aim.

I see here both the external motivation and the internal capability—both provided by God. The command to give thanks is the external word that comes from God to us, and that word is met in the believer with the aim of the Spirit, who dwells within and who aims to transform the believer into one who turns over thanks to God in all circumstances—making him or her thankful. In this way, the Christian is prompted both externally and internally to give thanks. The uniqueness of the Christian understanding of thanksgiving is that seemingly random circumstances are not in the driver’s seat, but rather our experience and relationship with God while living under a variety of circumstances.

Thanksgiving Under the Influence of Christ

Finally, the phrase “the will of God” is modified by two prepositional phrases: (1) in Christ Jesus and (2) for you all. What do these mean? Paul commonly employs the phrase “in Christ” or “in Christ Jesus,” and what he seems to mean by it is the idea of “under the control of, under the influence of, or in close association with” (BDAG, 327–28).

Let me expand that a bit. We are commanded to give thanks in all circumstances because this is the will of God for people under the influence of the person and work of Jesus Christ. Something so influential, at the soul-level, has happened in Jesus Christ for believers rendering them capable of fulfilling God’s will and command to give thanks in all circumstances. What happened? His death and resurrection happened. In other words, Christ’s gospel is the key to your ability to obey the will of God by giving thanks in all circumstances—good or bad, hopeful or despairing. You function in every circumstance with death-defeating, eternally-securing, resurrection-powered love.

Thanksgiving Surrendered to God

Now, let’s get real for a minute. The influence of the resurrection of Christ moves the believer to give thanks to God in painful circumstances. It is truly a surrender of thanks. These surrenders surface on the battlefield of the soul against the sinful nature that longs to withhold thanks from God. This is why Romans 8:26 says,

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

Later on during the same day that I felt thankful for my family, I received a call from a friend that makes a pastor’s heart shudder and ask, “Why God?” And I, of course, don’t have that answer. Yet, I know that the greatest power and love on heaven and earth is available to those who call on the name of Jesus. When you or I see the hurting person give thanks in all circumstances, we witness that power and love on display. We witness firsthand the external command of God and the internal working of the gospel by the Spirit uniting to produce a thankful believer.

 

Abram: Believer, Worshiper, & Proclaimer

The song titled “I’ve Been Everywhere” sparks a connection for most to Johnny Cash. Cash recorded the song in 1996. However, the song has a long history and broad impact. It was originally written by Geoff Mack, an Australian country singer, in 1959 and made popular by Lucky Starr in 1962. In the U.S.A., the song was made popular first by Hank Snow (1962), then Lynn Anderson (1970), long before Johnny Cash gave it a go. In addition to North America and Australia, the song also took flight in New Zealand, Great Britain, Ireland, parts of Asia, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Germany, and a number of other places. Literally, the song has been everywhere (Yes, I did use wikipedia for this info ;-)).

In his day, Abram was a globetrotter. His family’s journey to follow the Lord (cf. Josh. 24:2; Gen. 31:53) took them on a +1,000 mile journey from the Ur of the Chaldeans to the land of Canaan, and eventually into Egypt and back to Canaan. We know that there was a stop at Haran along the way (11:31–32), where Terah spent his final days. In Haran, Abram received the call from the Lord, apparently the God of his father Terah, to leave his familiar land, relatives, and reputation and trust the Lord to give him a new land, a new people, and a new reputation. (12:1–2). The Lord then commanded him to be a blessing, promising that he would bless those who blessed Abram, curse those who took Abram too lightly, and that in him, the Lord would bless all the families of the earth. Later on as Scripture unfolds (cf. Matthew 1; Luke 3; Romans 4; Galatians 3–4), we learn that Jesus Christ is the divine aim of this promise, in whom God would succeed in bringing blessing to all the families of the earth.

Returning to Genesis 12:4–9, we find an example of obedient faith in Abram, in spite of tremendous obstacles—Sarah’s barrenness (11:30), Abram’s age (12:4), the pagan religion that permeated Canaan (12:6), and later on a forbidding famine (12:9). Not only do we see obedient faith in his leaving and clinging to the new things God promised him, but also we see two expressions of faith as he travels through the land of Canaan.

First, Abram worshiped God in a hostile environment. While he was surrounded by people who worshiped other so-called gods, Abram built altars in their midst as visible markers and expressions of his faith in the Lord. He built altars in 12:7 and in 12:8. The altar he built in Shechem, near the oak of Moreh, is significant for a number of reasons. First, he built it in response to God appearing to him. It marked God’s confirmation of his verbal calling to Abram while he was in Haran. Second, his worship was significant because of what the Lord promised—offspring and land—neither of which Abram had in his possession at that time. Third, his altar was significant because of where he built it. The oak of Moreh was most likely the location of a Canaanite shrine of worship. Abram was expressing his faith in the Lord in a very bold way. Lastly, his worship is significant because this place would not be forgotten by his descendants. His worship became legendary. Joshua would choose this place to call Israel to covenant renewal with the Lord at this same location (Josh. 24). The location of Abram’s second altar—between Bethel and Ai—would also not be far from the Israelite reader’s mind, as they recalled significant events that unfolded in those cities. Bethel, “the house of God,” was where Jacob had his dream (28:10–22) and became a place of covenant renewal for him (35:1–15). Ai recalls the battle that stifled Israel’s confident conquest due to disobedience and led to another time of covenant renewal (Joshua 7–8).

Second, Abram not only worshiped the Lord, but he also proclaimed the name of the Lord. This is most likely the meaning of the phrase “called upon the name of the Lord” in 12:8. Two commentators—Cassuto and Ross—believe that Abram had a history of proselytizing even before this. They understand the phrase “the people that they had acquired” in 12:5 to refer to proselytes, not to slaves or servants, because of the use of the Hebrew word nepes for “people.”

The beginning of Abram’s story is remarkable. It’s no wonder that Israel and the Church look to him as the quintessential father of faith. He left the familiar. He believed in the face of amazing obstacles. God spoke; Abram obeyed. He worshiped openly. He proclaimed so that others knew the Lord. He did all of this in a hostile environment and as he waited for God to accomplish what was yet unseen to him. Saint Augustine is quoted as having said,

God does not expect us to submit our faith to him without reason, but the very limits of our reason make faith a necessity.

Now, we are not Abram. Abram is a unique, one-of-a-kind figure in Scripture. If you don’t think so, when was the last time God asked you to do what he asked Abram to do in Genesis 22? The answer is never! Nor would he. God was doing something special in and through Abram. Something that you and I benefit from by being found in Christ—the long-awaited “seed of Abraham” (Romans 4; Galatians 3–4). We also benefit from Abram’s example in spiritual living. It is impossible to please God—no matter who you are—without faith. Genuine faith obeys God’s word. Faith many times forces us to leave what is familiar to meet and serve God in something new. It has been said that the African impala can jump to a height of over 10 feet and cover a distance of nearly 35 feet in a single bound! Yet these amazing animals can be kept in an enclosure in a zoo with even a short, solid wall. The animals will not jump if they cannot see where their feet will fall. There are always obstacles to trusting God—infertility, age, health, finances, hostile work or family environments, foggy futures, unexpected catastrophes. Abram shows us how to worship and proclaim the name of the Lord by faith, when the solutions and provisions are still distant and haven’t yet taken shape.

What Is Revival? Part 2

Revival

Last month, we began to give our attention to Dr. Timothy Keller’s words on revival as it is portrayed in the Bible. He defined it as

. . . the intensification of the ordinary operations of the Holy Spirit.

Those ordinary operations are (1) conviction of sin, (2) conversion, (3) giving of assurance, and (4) sanctification. He also suggested that in biblical revival three things happen: (1) sleepy Christians wake up; (2) nominal Christians are converted; and (3) hard to reach non-Christians are powerfully converted. A revival of the adoration of God and the gospel, that begins within the church, beautifies the church in such a way that makes it attractive to even the hardest to reach unbeliever.

This brings us to Keller’s next movement in his teaching on biblical revival. He expresses five marks or theological descriptors of revival. First, whenever there is a season of revival in the church, it usually goes hand in hand with a recovery of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is recovered from legalism and lawlessness. The gospel is neither of these things. The faithfulness of Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection is better than sacramental traditionalism, and the faithfulness of Jesus Christ is also better than the antinomian (i.e., anti-law) chaos that James would call “demonic” (2:19). We have been saved by grace through faith, and the faith that saves is a faith that works (Eph. 2:8–10; James 2:14–26). The new birth only gives birth to a persevering faith that saves and works. Keller instructs that the recovery of the true gospel is the first theological mark of revival.

The second theological mark of revival is repentance, not emotional bubbly-ness, but awe, even silence and stillness, not necessarily noisy. Preachers may be in revival with the gospel when the church gets quiet . . . no fighting or quarreling or bickering, but rather peace, unity, love, mercy, and listening.

A third theological mark of revival is anointed, corporate worship. On Tuesday, February 3rd, 1970, the students of Asbury College assembled for their normal, routine, required chapel service. Instead, a testimony from Adademic Dean Custer Reynolds gave way to testimonies from students, students pouring to the altar in prayer, songs, and repentance among both the student body and faculty. People began seeking forgiveness from one another for sins committed, and others committed their lives to Christ for the first time. The revival continued throughout the week, and then it spread through the students and faculty into other churches and places as they were invited to speak. Evangelism and mission flowed out of the revival that broke forth on the Asbury campus. Anointed, corporate worship happens when people show up at church expecting to encounter God, instead of treating church like their regular meeting at the local social club. Do you go to church expecting to meet God? Paul discusses in 1 Corinthians 14 that the presence of God during the church’s worship should be tangible enough to “cut to the heart” of the unbeliever who may show up.

Fourth, revival also sparks real church growth. You can have some church growth without revival, but you cannot have revival without church growth. Also, I say real church growth, because there is mostly fake church growth being peddled these days. When churches “swap sheep,” that isn’t real church growth. It can be terribly unhealthy, and it could mean that church members are failing to reconcile relationships and conflicts at their previous house of worship. Others leave their church because another church “offers so much more”; therefore, consumerism rather than commitment becomes the basis for choosing. They fail to recognize that if all the people who left to attend the “Grass Is Greener Church” remained at the church to which they had originally committed, God could use them to be a part of a fresh work and a new season at their former church. Instead, they find themselves at a church where there are already tons and tons of gifted people, and their former church finds itself struggling to meet all of its ministry needs. Local pastors (including myself) should commit to healthy growth for their church and area churches by holding attenders accountable to their membership covenants. We aren’t helping people grow into mature Christians by turning a blind eye to unreconciled conflicts or to consumeristic tendencies. After all, a recovery of the gospel means a recovery of reconciliation and a recovery of perseverance. There’s probably only two reasons why a person should ever leave the church where they are members: (1) a geographical move, or (2) heresy (i.e., doctrinal or ethical deviance from core biblical truths). Real church growth in numbers results from conversions caused by evangelistic activity, and real church growth in maturity results from effective discipleship and Christians learning experiences. People transformed by the gospel in revival turn out to be bold and humble evangelists themselves.

Lastly, prayer marks revival. Extraordinary, kingdom-centered, prayer. Simple, yet sincere prayer, like that of the little girl named Florrie Evans, who sparked the great Welsh Revival of 1904–1905, who simply testified to Pastor Joseph Jenkins,

I love Jesus with all my heart.

The revival that followed saw more than 100,000 people profess Christ as Savior. You see, all of these great revival movements of the past were preceded by Christians burdened to pray. A dear friend always says to me, “Prayer isn’t everything, but everything comes by prayer.” A call and commitment to pray may very well lead us into a revival, and if revival comes, people will not want to stop praying for they will have found that sweet presence of God. Some of the Welsh Revival prayer meetings extended into the early morning hours, some lasting until 3:00am.

The gospel, repentance, worship, church growth, and prayer mark true revival. How do you seek revival? Go after these theological marks. In the First Great Awakening, there was the method of outdoor preaching, but outdoor meetings are required. In the NYC revival between 1857–1859, noon-time prayer meetings led by lay people catalyzed the Spirit’s work. Keller states, “Revival is like Narnia—you can’t get in the same way twice!” Keller goes on to explain that one of the tragedies of the Welsh Revival was that people got “stuck” in their method. Revivals, instead, oftentimes spark through new, creative methods of ministry as major cultural upheavals are taking place. Keller closes with two exhortations for today’s church to seek revival. First, for the church to experience revival today, sexuality must be addressed from a biblical perspective. The bible has much to say on the topic that we as a culture are neglecting and suppressing—even in the church. This is one of the major cultural upheavals we are facing. We must find a way to speak truthfully and lovingly about sexuality from God’s perspective. Second, revivals start with small things, much like avalanches begin with pebbles. Pastors and church leaders need to be willing to faithfully start with something small. Fabricating something huge from the popular church down the road may make us as famous as the next guy, but it isn’t  likely to spark revival. Don’t neglect that little group that wants to gather for prayer once a week.

Psalm 65 praises the Lord,

Praise is due you, O God, in Zion, and to you shall vows be performed. O you who hear prayer, to you shall all flesh come. When iniquities prevail against me, you atone for our transgressions. Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple! By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas; the one who by his strength established the mountains, being girded with might; who stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples, so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs.

O how we need such a God in our day, friends. May we pray to him, and may he hear, forgive, act, and maintain our cause in the gospel of his beloved Son.