Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (I Thessalonians 5: 16-1-8)
One of my favorite scriptural texts for this time of year comes from I Thessalonians 5: 16-18. But given the world in which we live today, it is a challenge “giving thanks in all circumstances.”
Just look at the ‘circumstances‘ in which we find ourselves as a nation and world. There are a lot of things wrong in this world. Are we in what Walter Brueggemann has called a modern day exile? I believe this metaphor of exile comes close to describing the realities of he world in which we live! Some examples.
I just finished listening to the evening news learning about two more murders on the streets of Saginaw. Another father has been incarcerated for abusing his young son. Have I been naïve in thinking things were getting better in the city where I live, Saginaw, Michigan?
This is also election night. The GOP is going to take over the congress. Instead of listening to election results I have decided to turn to writing in this journal. I fear that all we will see as a result of all the malicious robocalls and political television commercials is more gridlock in Washington. Have I been naïve in thinking things were getting better in our nation’s capital, Washington DC?
Through faith in Jesus Christ with scripture in hand, I want to understand what it means that there is plenty to be thankful for in this world—as Paul suggests, “in all circumstances”. I am grateful for family and friends and health. It’ still good to be an American, though I worry that we are no longer seen as the greatest nation in the world. There are a lot of reasons to give thanks to God for blessings received. At the same time, there is also a lot of suffering!
Globally, the internet talks of ISIS killing little boys in northern Iraq. The BBC story yesterday asked: Will the schoolgirls abducted on April 22 from the Borno state, Nigeria ever be found? And what about western African and the Ebola virus that is indiscriminately killing thousands of people? One news commentator said that Ebola has moved to the second page of the newspaper. The election has become the new first page. I suppose Ebola, heaven forbid, will have to come once again onto the shores of America for this to become front page news once again.
Another story that really got to me was about a 90 year old man and two ministers arrested in Ft. Lauderdale for feeding a homeless man in public. A new law in Ft. Lauderdale forbids “public food sharing”. The police officer approaches these food-sharing citizens with the demand: “Drop that plate!” – as if they were carrying guns. These advocates for the homeless are going to face a fine of up to $500 and 90 days in jail. Where is their thanksgiving in these circumstances?
What has come of this world in which we live. Literally, dozens of heart-breaking issues that can easily fill us with despair. And yet we are called to give thanks to God in ALL circumstances? Where are we going to find within our hearts and minds the hope that leads to thanksgiving? Where is the “Help, Thanks and WOW” Anne Lamott calls us to pray through tough times and with hard issues? As Anne says,
Everywhere you turn, our lives and marriages and morale and government are falling to pieces. So many friends have broken children. The planet does not seem long for this world. Repent! Oh, wait, never mind. I meant: Help.
Feeling bombarded with an overabundance of global and domestic issues, it is time to turn to prayer. It’s time to turn to God. It’s time to renew our faith in Jesus Christ. And prayer is not a switch we can turn off and on. We cannot turn the ugly things we see in and experience in this troubled world just because it’s close to thanksgiving or Christmas!
We cannot deny the fact that we may be afraid for loved ones who are suffering. As the 46th Psalm says and I believe, “God is our refuge and strength—a very present help in times of trouble” The phrase that catches my attention as I often meditate on this Psalm: “Be Still and Know God”. Is this the prayer I have been looking for? The prayer that will restore hope in the presence of God in our lives? Be still and search for the presence and stability and hope that comes only from God!
My daughter Emily lives in California. She is now facing for the fourth time major surgery on her neck. She will have this surgery a week before thanksgiving. In my prayers, I need to affirm again and again and again and in all circumstances that God is always with Emily and her family. I know this to be true. This truth rests deep in my heart: God does not abandon us. Even when the world is topsy-turvy with horrible things happening all around us, God is always with us. In all circumstances because God is always with us, we can have hearts filled with gratitude and thanksgiving.
So back to prayer: Genuine prayer is not just putting on happy faces in hiding our true feelings. The fear we face in challenging/difficult times is real. We need to share our fears to God. We need to “Be Still” in searching for the ever presence of God amidst the fears. This will be my prayer for Emily when she has her surgery. This will be my prayer for her entire family as she recovers. God is always with her/us! We thank God that she has found some good doctors and a surgeon who will do the operation. I am thankful for great hospitals and caring staff. In all circumstances, I am thankful for all the family who will be around Emily as she recovers.
This is also my prayer for the troubled world in which we live. We’ve experienced the promised land that emerges from exile before. We can and will again emerge from these feelings of being exiled in lonely and parched places of the soul.
Faith in Jesus our Lord who lived and suffered and died for us anchors us in love and hope, so that in all circumstances, we can behold what it means to thank God for life and this world God has placed us in to live.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (I Thessalonians 5: 16-1-8)
 Exilic Preaching, Edited by Erskine Clarke, Walter Brueggemann , Sermon on page 9.
 All stories I picked up from the Internet on November 4, 2014.
 Huffington Post, Impact, November 4, 2014
 Help, Thanks, Wow, by Anne Lamott, page 11.