Thankful Even in Tough Times

Hi again, John Cress here, and I want to talk to you about being thankful even in tough times. Recently, I read a label on a can that said, "Warning: Contents Under Pressure." I thought to myself, "That should be a warning label on a lot of people I've met this year as they tried to navigate the coronavirus environment." Let's unpack Philippians 4:6-8, where Paul writes: "Don't be anxious about anything but in everything by prayer and petition with Thanksgiving. Present your request to God and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus." Then, he says, "Finally, whatever is true and noble and right and pure and lovely and admirable, think about such things and the God of peace will be with you."

This short passage contains four keys to successfully traversing tough times. First of all, verse six states, "Don't be anxious about anything." A few years ago, the Smithsonian Institute Magazine suggested we are living in the golden age of anxiety. We not only have micro worries, which are your personal worries, but now, we are also confronted with macro worries, worries of conditions in our nation and in the world, like racism and violence, global warming and terrorism and the pandemic. It's no wonder people have anxiety, but the problem with worry, even with about such legitimate issues, is it doesn't change anything.

It's a lot of stewing without doing; it accomplishes nothing. Jesus told us in Matthew 6:34: "Do not be worried about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough troubles of its own." I love the adaptation of this verse that says, "Don't open your umbrella until it starts to rain." You see, today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday. So leave your umbrella closed until it rains. Now what fascinates me is that when Paul wrote these verses to the Philippians, he was in prison in Rome in a dungeon, and yet somehow, there in prison, he was able to write, "Don't worry about anything."

Secondly, Paul writes, "In everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God." I saw a sign the other day that said, "Worry is a conversation you have with yourself about things you cannot change. Prayer, on the other hand, is a conversation you have with God about things He can change." You may say, "I don't have time to pray." Let me suggest that you don't need to add time to your schedule. Just find time to pray in the time you worry. Turn your worry time into praying time. Now, Paul says "in everything"—not just some things, but pray about everything now.

Some people think God just cares about religious things, like how many people I talk about Christ to or how many people I invite to church or by giving or my tithing. But God is interested in everyday stuff, too. He's interested in every detail of your life. In fact, I liked the Phillips translation of this verse" "When you pray, tell God every detail of your life." God is concerned about the big things and the small things. The God who made every thumbprint unique, who made every voiceprint unique, who made every snowflake unique has no problem handling the details of your life. The Apostle Peter writes, "Unload all your worries on Him since He's looking out for you" (1 Peter 5:7). That word "unload" in the Greek literally means just drop it. It doesn't say toss it. It doesn't say throw it. It doesn't say heave it 15 feet. This is a kind of load that is so heavy you couldn't hoist it if you had to! So just let it go, dump it. Dump it on God. Learn to unload your stress through prayer. Give God every detail of your life and unload all your worries on God.

Thirdly, notice that Paul writes, "When you pray, pray with thanksgiving." The Good News Bible puts it this way: "Always asking Him with a thankful heart."

When you pray, you should always pray with a thankful heart. Psychologists, interestingly, have found that the healthiest human emotion is not love, but it is the emotion of gratitude. It increases your immunities. It makes you more resistant to stress and less susceptible to illness. The attitude of gratitude is a healthiest emotion. There used to be an old song. You probably remember it: "Count your blessings. Name them one by one." Now that's a good idea. Unfortunately, too many of us count our blessings on our fingers, and our miseries on a calculator.

I love the story of a group of visitors at a summer resort who are watching the sunset from the gallery of a hotel. There was a heavy set man lingering until the last glow faded from the sunset, and he seemed to be absolutely thrilled by what he was experiencing. Someone asked him, "Sir, are you an artist?" "No, madam, I'm a plumber. But I was blind for five years." Helen Keller once observed, "It would be a blessing if each human being were stricken by blindness or deafness for a few days."

George Herbert wrote my favorite Thanksgiving poem called "Gratefulness." Let me quote part of it: "Thou has given so much to me. Give me one more a grateful heart. Not thankful when it pleases me, as if Thy blessings had spare days, but such a heart whose pulse may be Thy praise." So worry about nothing. Pray about everything with a thankful heart.

Fourthly, the Apostle Paul writes, "Finally, brethren, whatever is true and noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable. If there's anything that's excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things." Interestingly to me, the Anglo-Saxon word "think" actually means "thank." In other words, to be thankful means to be thankful. Maybe that's why Colossians 4:2 states: "Devote yourself to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart." Now, listen to this. It's really powerful, listen closely: The way you think determines the way you feel, and the way you feel determines the way you act. 

The way you think determines the way you feel, and the way you feel determines the way you act.

Paul is saying if you want to change your life, if you need to change your being, then you need to change the way you think. So Paul suggests we think about things that are true and noble and right and lovely and admirable. The writer of Proverbs declares "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he." What do you think about most? What dominates your mind? Whatever you think about the most is what you are becoming. We always move toward what we focus on. If you want to be like Christ, then think about Him.

Finally, notice the results when we worry about nothing, pray about everything with a thankful heart and keep our minds in the right things. Look at the results in verse seven: "If you do this, you will experience God's peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will keep your thoughts and your heart quiet and at rest as you trust in Christ." What a guarantee! He's guaranteeing peace of mind. His peace will keep our thoughts. Now that word keep is a military term. It means "sentry guard" or "garrison of soldiers." You see, when Paul was writing these words to the people of Philippi, Philippi was a Roman city protected by a Roman legion. These Roman guards kept the peace of the city. God says that when I trust Christ, He puts a sentry guard on my mind. He keeps me at peace, even when everything around me makes me want to be unsettled and disturbed and troubled.

And so may you discover the joy of living one day at a time. May you be able to find prayer as a replacement of worry. May you learn to thank God in every circumstance, developing a thankful heart. And may you think on what is good and fix your eyes and your mind on Jesus, the author and the finisher of your faith.