Six Marks of an Excellent Ministry
(25) The Spirit-Led Church in its Labour of Love
“The Will of God in Christ Jesus for You”
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. “ 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
“The will of God in Christ Jesus for you” is a remarkable phrase. It occurs only once in all of Scripture. Yet, it surely encompasses a great deal more than the three exhortations which come immediately before it. We may say with great confidence that the will of God in Christ Jesus is not limited to rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks, but includes every exhortation to believers towards Christlikeness. Indeed, the apostle has already instructed us, telling us that our sanctification is “the will of God” (1 Thess. 4:3). He then speaks of that sanctification in terms of abstinence from sexual immorality and impurity. So, we must not limit God’s will for us to three exhortations.
Having said that, we must pay attention to how Paul speaks here. He does not speak of “the will of God” only, but “the will of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul is very specific. He speaks of God’s will in Christ Jesus, not outside of or apart from Christ Jesus. This will is not in the church. Nor is it in any mere man or church office. We must rid ourselves of the false idea that the pope is a conduit of God’s will, that he somehow reveals God’s will to and for humanity. Beloved, I tell you the truth. The will of God for us is in one man and one man only. And that man is the Word made flesh now ascended to the Father’s right hand, having made purification for sins by the cross!
We must also purge ourselves from the habit of looking to Moses and the ten commandments as “the will of God” for Christians. Yes! The ten commandments informs the believer’s walk; Christians do not, for example, go about bearing false witness or coveting their neighbour’s wives. Nor do they wish to be idolaters! But the will of God in Moses pales in comparison to his will in Christ! Moses is but a dim shadow of the full revelation of deity in Christ! Ah, Christian, always be about the business of looking to Christ! Behold Christ! Fix the eyes of your heart upon Christ! He is the exact imprint of God, the fullness of deity, the radiance of his glory, the complete expression of the divine will. So, when you ask yourselves, “What is God’s will for me?” look at Jesus. It is in him that God has revealed his will for us. Look at Jesus and you will see God’s will for you in the flesh. And in our text, Paul spells it out in three exhortations: Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances. Constant joyfulness, ceaseless prayerfulness, and unrelenting thankfulness: this is the will of God for us in Christ Jesus. Let me unpack these for you.
The one who reads his New Testament discovers that joy is spoken of with frequency. In fact, joy, or joyfulness, is descriptive of every Christian in the Bible. In his letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul tells us that joy is Holy Spirit-produced (Gal.5:22). We understand this means that the joy of a Christian is different than the joy an unbeliever. Of course, we see many happy people who are not Christians. We know many who do not love Christ and his truth, but still know something of happiness. But the joy they know is not biblical joy. They know nothing of the joy which is from heaven. Unbelievers only experience the joy and happiness that comes from things destined to pass away. You know what I’m talking about. I’m talking about those warm and fuzzy, sentimental feelings we get when we see an old friend or hold a cute, furry kitten for the first time. If you’re a soccer fan and your team wins the championship game, you know a certain, undeniable joy. Countless men and women know the undeniable joys of the wedding day and night. And there is that so-called happiness which is nothing more than a carefree mindset and foolish, irresponsible approach to life. I need not waste our time describing those who live this way, at least not with detail. We all have known people like this, those who walk through life as though nothing disturbs and unsettles them and they have no problems. There is nothing grave or serious about them. All they want is to have fun and not think about the consequences of their actions. Of course, we may argue they are not really happy. Deep down inside, they are sad. Maybe. Maybe not. Whatever the reality, their taste of and search for happiness cannot be denied.
I speak of this common joy and happiness because we must make a distinction between it and the joy, the heavenly joy, of those in Christ. They are not the same. All joy is not heavenly joy. All joy is not the fruit of the Spirit. The Christian will, of course, experience the joys common to man. But all joys are not created equal, if I may speak this way. I will even go further and say not all joy is true joy. Indeed, there is true joy and false joy. False joy is an empty joy. I want to press this and imprint it on your hearts. I think we must be mindful of this as we seek to understand biblical joy and what it means to obey the exhortation “rejoice always.”
Biblical Joy Defined
What, then, is biblical joy? Biblical joy is Gospel happiness. It is gladness on account of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. “Joy,” writes Pastor John MacArthur, “is the deep down sense of well-being that abides in the heart of a person who knows all is well between himself and the Lord.” What is the source of this joy? From where does it come? We’ve already mentioned this, but I do not hesitate to repeat it. Indeed we must state it again. In the very first chapter of this epistle, in the sixth verse, Paul writes that these Thessalonians “received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” There it is. This joy is “of the Holy Spirit.” He is the source of true joy. The Holy Spirit is the inexhaustible well of everlasting blessedness. So, this joy does not come from anything in this world. Our favourite sports teams do not generate it. Our achievements cannot produce it. It does not come to us by way of sex. We cannot buy it with our money; we can own the best and the most stuff, but not have biblical joy. We might be happy, but we would not know anything of what Paul speaks of here.
Furthermore, since this joy is of the Holy Spirit, circumstances cannot quench this joy. We may know many sorrows and griefs in this world. The apostle has just written of such an occasion “that [we] may not grieve as others who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). And we must remember that our Lord himself was a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). To be sure, the Thessalonians themselves were in far less than ideal circumstances for they “received the word in much affliction” (1Thessalonians 1:6). They knew suffering. Because they loved Jesus and received the word, they evidently knew the hatred of their fellow countrymen. And yet joy marked these same believers. My dearest brethren in the Lord Jesus Christ, be not discouraged when your faith makes you targets of much hostility! You are in good company should you know the persecution of those who oppose Christ! Know beyond any doubt, that Biblical Christianity and the world’s hostility against it has always been found together! Know, too, that the joy of the Holy Spirit cannot be conquered. It might be subdued. It might be quenched. But because it comes from the Holy Spirit, one’s circumstance, as terribly painful as it might be, cannot extinguish this heavenly joy. Know also, that true, biblical joy does not mean one is without sorrow. We can know both joy and grief at the same time. So, when you are downcast and mourning, I mean truly grieving, you can also know this joy. For the Christian, real joy and grief can exist at the same time.
What then, does it mean to “rejoice always?” Well, first, we must ask what it is to rejoice. It is a simple question. But we must ask it. To rejoice is, I suggest, to express the delight of the heart. To rejoice is to exult, to feel or show the joy of the soul. To rejoice always is, therefore, to express that delight “without ceasing” and “in all circumstances.”
“It is Well with My Soul” is one of my favourite hymns. And I am convinced it profoundly illustrates what it looks like to “rejoice always.” Just listen to the words and drink them in:
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Why is it well with the hymn writer’s soul? He tells us in the next verse:
Though Satan should buffet,
Though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
Gospel happiness! This is it! In good times, in times of peace and plenty, and in bad times, times of trial and testing, when the gates of hell crash against your soul in waves of temptation and discouragement abounds, let this blest assurance reign over our hearts and minds: Christ has looked upon us in our helpless, pitiful, sin-laden, wrath-deserving, hell-bound condition, and died in our stead. For us God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Christ we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). Christ bore our sins in his body on the tree that he might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18)! Indeed, Christ “was delivered up for our transgressions and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25). Christ alone, and all by himself, satisfied the righteous and just wrath of God on behalf of each and every soul for whom he died!
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul.
I think we all too often forget the Person and Work of Christ on our behalf. We allow distractions of various kinds to eclipse the glory of the cross. We become preoccupied with the cares of this world. We allow the perceived urgent to dull our sight of Jesus. Beloved, we must wake up! We must keep alert! As children of the day, we must be sober! We must preach to ourselves and stir ourselves up to behold him who is our Supreme Sovereign, Suffering Servant, and Sweet Saviour. Let us not forget all his benefits, who forgives all our sins, who heals every disease of the soul, who redeems our lives from the pit of hell, who crowns us with steadfast love and mercy, and satisfies us with good (Ps. 103:1-5).
The hymn writer continues:
And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.
The best is yet to come, brethren. The best is yet to come because Jesus is coming back! And for us, for all united to Christ by faith alone, that will be a day of unspeakable joy, unsearchable grace, and indescribable wonder. Our salvation will be brought to full completion. And we will be in the very presence of Jesus forever.This is our hope, brethren. And this hope never disappoints! Without a doubt, ‘the hope of the righteous brings joy.’ O that all would see the connection between Gospel hope and Gospel happiness! Gospel happiness: purchased by Christ, produced by the Holy Spirit, enjoyed by all who are given the Holy Spirit (1 Thess. 4:8). So, let’s keep in step with the Spirit and rejoice always! This is not to say we will not feel the many pains and griefs of life; Christians are never instructed to deny adversity and the existence of various trials. But rejoicing always does mean we will not grieve as those who have no hope.
“Pray without ceasing” is the next instruction Paul gives to us. It is important for us to understand Paul is not calling us to pray every waking moment. He isn’t commanding us to pass every minute of every day in petitions and intercessions before the throne of grace. There are too many commands in this letter to be busy with daily life for that to be the case. What Paul urges upon us, rather, is a life of constant, ongoing, habitual, unrelenting prayer. The prayers of Christ’s people, the New Covenant community, are to be a commonplace activity. Prayer is to be a natural reflex in various places and circumstances and not limited to certain times of the day. In other words, we are to be a company of those marked by prayer. We should not give up praying (Luke 18:1). We are to be “constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12), “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication (Ephesians 6:18).
But what is prayer? And why does the apostle draw our attention to it exactly at this point?
However one might define prayer, we must acknowledge that true prayer is an expression of absolute reliance upon the sovereign God who reigns over all things. Yes, prayer is sweet communion with our precious Jesus. In prayer, we tell Jesus whatever concerns us. We open our hearts to him. We express our joys and sorrows, knowing that he is more than able to sympathize with us. In our most memorable prayers, we enjoy sweet fellowship with him, captivated by a heightened sense of his presence. But in prayer, do we not also ask for all things needful? Do we not ask the God who created all things and gives to all “life and breath and everything” to give us our daily bread? And what of our spiritual needs? Surely we all agree that God himself is the source and giver of all things, including our salvation! Salvation belongs, after all, to the Lord (Ps. 3:8; Jonah 2:9). He gives grace and mercy to his own! So, when we feel we need more grace, it is ours for the asking!
Why the apostle draws our attention to prayer at this point I cannot tell you for certain. However, we do know for certain that prayer is basic to Christian life. We are called to pray. It’s that simple. And is it not true that children wish to, indeed they must, communicate with their fathers? It might be the cries of infancy at first. But as the infant matures, so does his ability to express himself with words. Likewise, when we are born again, from above, we desire to speak with our Heavenly Father. It’s a kid thing! Fathers and their sons and daughters!
But allow me to suggest something more specific. Could it be that Paul placed the call to continuous prayer immediately after the call to rejoice always because rejoicing and prayer are somehow linked? Maybe, just maybe, rejoicing depends on praying. He who prays much will be caused to rejoice much. Or, he who rejoices much will be moved to pray much. Or, maybe there is no cause and effect relationship; maybe praying and rejoicing go together, like a hand and glove. So, where there is much rejoicing (much gospel happiness), there shall also be much prayer – ongoing prayer. The reason I think this is crucial is because the longer I live, the more convinced I become of the reality of the winter time of the Christian’s heart and soul. What do we do when we don’t desire God and we begin to lose heart? (Brethren, for countless reasons, life is hard, right?)
The answer is a simple one. When we begin to be discouraged, we must not listen to ourselves. To do so is absolutely dreadful! Instead, we must preach Christ to ourselves! We must fix our eyes on our Sweet Saviour who lived and died in our stead! We must gaze upon the One who is our satisfaction, having satisfied the righteous wrath of God for us, securing an eternal redemption from sin and hell for everyone who would ever believe in him. O brethren! We need to remind ourselves always – and always be mindful – that “according to his great mercy, [God] has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven” for us (1 Peter 1:3-4). When these truths captivate us, we will consider our present trials incomparable to the glories yet to be revealed to us. If we only keep sight of the bigger picture and not allow ourselves to get lost in the here and now, and we see our present trials in view of Christ and eternal realities, then our perspective would be correct. Look at him, brethren. Look up at the cross. He died, was buried, and rose again according to the Scriptures, having made purification for our sins. The riches of Christ and eternal glory belong to us, to all who by faith are united to Jesus. Therefore, let us pray without ceasing.
The third instruction is that we “give thanks in all circumstances.” We do not need to look too far to see that believers are thankful people. The Scriptures not only press believers to be thankful and to give thanks, they reveal genuine, Godward thankfulness is a mark of new life. In a number of places, Paul makes it clear to us that giving thanks is not optional, but essential. In his letter to the Ephesians, for example, he commands believers to “[give] thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20). In the fifteenth verse of the third chapter in his epistle to the Colossians, the apostle presses us to “let the peace of Christ dwell in [our] hearts, to which indeed [we] were called in one body. And be thankful.” He continues (v. 16-17): “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” So we see in this brief survey that thankfulness and giving thanks is, as I have said to you, not an option for the believer in Christ.
Giving Thanks is Giving Praise
Allow me to draw your attention to two phrases. The first is “give thanks.” This is a command, not a suggestion or piece of advice. This is not hard to understand. And we know what it is to give thanks. In biblical terms, however, and in light of the present context, to give thanks is far more than a mere verbal “thank-you very much.” Just listen to it: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances.” One sentence. Three commands. We are the ones commanded. God is the One to whom our actions are directed. This is no aimless thankfulness, void of precise direction with no clear or defined receiver. Neither is this the vague ‘thank-you’ often expressed in the humanistic, atheistic air that we breathe everyday. This giving of thanks is Godward. It is intentionally aimed at God. Why? This is so very basic. And were it not for the thousands of anti-God messages that bombard us everyday, to say nothing of indwelling sin & our own bent to forget God, there would be no need to mention it. But it must be said- “In the beginning, GOD created the heavens and the earth.” “… all things come from [Him], and from [His] hand we have given [back to Him].” ‘[God] opens His hand and satisfies the desire of every living thing.’
Furthermore, giving thanks is linked with ‘rejoicing always’ and ‘praying without ceasing.’ All three are in concert with each other. The writer of Hebrews put it like this: “Through Him then, (i.e. Christ), let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” So to give thanks to God is to offer up a sacrifice of praise through Christ. Praise is “the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.”
So do not let the world strip your giving thanks of the immense richness of the act. Giving thanks to God through Christ is giving praise to God. When we give thanks to God, we give praise to the One who owns the pillars of the earth and has set the world upon them. We praise the One who sits above the vault of the earth, in Whose eyes the inhabitants of the earth are but mere grasshoppers. We praise the One who stretches out the heavens like you and I pull open and shut a curtain. We praise the One who sees the nations as drops from a bucket and as mere, minute specks of dust. We praise the One who is infinitely superior in all His authority, infinitely supreme in all His supremacy, and infinitely perfect in all His perfections. O let us bless the Lord at all times and may his praise be in our mouths always!
Giving Thanks in All Circumstances
Second, note “in all circumstances.” “Give thanks in ALL circumstances,” not some circumstances. Nor does the apostle say ‘most’ circumstances, or even ‘happy’ circumstances. He says “all circumstances.” Whether healthy or not, bank account fat or not, makes no difference. In good times and bad times, which is all the time, we are to give thanks. Not just at meal time. Nor are we to limit our ‘giving thanks’ to one weekend a year. This is a mark and trait of the believer. Believers are thankful all the time. For the Christian, giving thanks doesn’t depend upon whether or not we or loved ones are free from pain and suffering. Paul’s relationship with the Thessalonian church is a clear example.
I remind you once again of the mutual affection between Paul and the church. The letter oozes it. A few verses serves to remind us of this. In the second chapter, beginning with the 5th verse, Paul writes:
“For we never came with words of flattery, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed – God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from people, whether from you or from others, though we could have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.”
Verse 17, same chapter:
“But since we were torn away from you, brothers, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face…”
And finally, chapter 3 and verse 6:
“But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and has brought us the good news of your faith and love and reported that you always remember us kindly and long to see us, as we long to see you…”
It’s undeniably loud and clear, isn’t it. Paul loved the Thessalonians. And they loved Paul. And both knew what it meant to suffer. Paul writes in 3:4 –
“For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were about to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know.”
So don’t think for a second that Paul was in a vacuum and somehow removed from real life when he commanded “give thanks in all circumstances.” He wasn’t removed. He was very intimately involved.
On the other hand, we must not think it’s any easier to give thanks when things are all rosy and the sun is shining and everything goes our way and worries are conspicuous by their absence and there is plenty. Giving thanks in tough times might be tough. But being thankful in good times may be tougher – to our shame. Good times can, and often are, godless times. Remember what the Lord said concerning Israel pre-Promised Land? He spoke beforehand of that which came to be. “When I bring them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to their fathers, and they have eaten and are satisfied and become prosperous, then they will turn to other gods and serve them, and spurn Me and break My covenant” (Deut. 31:20. NASB). Moses warned them of this. He told Israel to watch out lest when they ate and became full, and built good houses and lived in them, and their herds and flocks and silver and gold and all they had multiplied, they say in their hearts, “We did this.” ‘Our power and the strength of our hands made us this wealth’ (Deut. 8:11ff).
Are we any different? Is there not even an ounce of this is our hearts? We build our empires, whatever that may look like. Perhaps it’s a business. Perhaps it’s a wider sphere of influence. Perhaps it’s a well-deserved, growing paycheck. Pride begets self-worship. Pride begets self-praise, making much of “me.”
How to Give Thanks in All Circumstances
So, here’s the question: How do we give thanks in all circumstances, good and bad? Twelve practical helps:
- Remember that giving thanks in all circumstances is God’s will in Christ Jesus for you.
Jesus, who’s Spirit lives in every believer, is our source of power. We obey God’s will because we have been crucified with Christ and it’s no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us (cf. Gal. 2:20)! The Christian life is the resurrected life, new life, Christ in us! We are thus not powerless in the face of God’s will. Not at all! In fact, he works in us what he wills for us. God’s will is in Christ Jesus. And Christ Jesus is in the believer! So, let us give thanks in all circumstances!
- Think biblically about hardship.
I remind you of the troubles Paul had. He was often so burdened that he despaired of life itself; feeling as if he had received the sentence of death. He was afflicted in every way, struck down, thrown in jail, the object of countless beatings. He was stoned, shipwrecked with no search and rescue teams, always in danger, danger from rivers, from robbers, from all men, including his own people. He often went without sleep and food. He knew what is was like to be cold, exposed to the frigid air of night. And he felt the tremendous weight of responsibility for all the churches. And what was his attitude? Doubtless, he had his days. He no doubt had his moments when he cried, “Wretched man that I am!” But just listen to what he says in response to such things: “… that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Cor. 1:9). Hardship puts us in our place, destroys self-reliance, and causes God-reliance; which is the right stance.
Furthermore, after weighing all his troubles on the balance of eternity, he considered them as nothing. What did he say? He said that he considered “the sufferings of this present time” are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” There is a higher throne with emerald courts and sapphire skies! Where only righteousness dwells! Listen to what John saw: He saw “the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned [made beautiful] for her husband.” She will radiate the glory of God like a rare jewel, “like a jasper, clear as crystal.” Its wall was built of jasper, while the city was pure gold, clear as glass. The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel: jasper, sapphire, agate, emerald, onyx, carnelian, chrysolite, beryl, topaz, chrysoprase, jacinth, amethyst. The city has no need of sun or moon because the glory of God gives its light, and its lamp is the Lamb (Rev. 21).
How did Paul view his afflictions light? By viewing them from an eternal perspective. Why do we view our griefs to be so heavy? Because we do not view them as Paul did. We are so prone to spiritual myopia. We only see what is near. We fail to see our griefs in light of that which far outweighs them.
There is yet another truth to grasp in all this. Terry Johnson summed it up masterfully when he wrote: “The problem is not a problem of pain but of pleasure. Strict justice lands each of us in hell. Anything less than that – sickness, injury, poverty, hunger, or heartbreak – is mercy.” “Why,” asks Jeremiah, “should any living mortal, or any man, offer complaint in view of his sins” (Lam. 3:39. NASB)? Answer: He should not. He should only keep his mouth shut in light of his countless iniquities. Shall we who are united to Christ then not praise him and give thanks to him who graciously gives us all things (Romans 8:31)? Think about it! Be astounded!
- Pray for the grace to obey.
Grace does more than pardon. Saving grace disciplines. It enables and empowers obedience to God. It trains “us to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age (Titus 2:12). So, when I echo the apostle Peter and say or write, “May grace be yours in fullest measure,” I mean to say may that grace which both pardons disobedience and empowers obedience be yours in full. So pray for grace that you would give thanks in all circumstances.
- Be humble.
I love what our beloved Spurgeon once wrote – “The last remedy for affliction is submitting to the providence. What can’t be cured must be endured.” “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He might exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.” So get this: Humble yourself and sit down. Only the truly humble are really thankful.
- Cultivate genuine humility.
Ask yourself: “What do I have that I did not receive?” Start from the very start, with life itself. Every breath, every heartbeat, every joy, every blessing, everything without exception has been received. It has been received from God because everything is from God.
- Meditate on and study the works of God.
“Great are the works of the Lord; They are studied by all who delight in them” (Psalm 111:2. NASB).
I will tell you of something inconceivable to me. It is beyond my comprehension that a regenerate soul gaze westward, see the setting of the sun, and remain thankless. It is beyond my understanding that a regenerate soul feast upon the Hawaiian coastline with his eyes and not “offer up a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” I do not understand how a believer can fix his gaze upon the cross, study the Scriptures that explain the cross, and not give thanks to the One who predetermined the cross. So, study the works of God and you will, regardless of your circumstances, give thanks.
- Preach the gospel to yourself.
Only the gospel of grace is balm for the guilt-laden, defeated believer. And it’s real tough to be weighed down with guilt and thankful to God at the same time. So, preach this to yourself guilt-laden sinner! By grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, I am righteous. Christ’s righteousness is my righteousness. I am justified by His performance, not mine. God accepts me because of Christ’s doing and dying, not mine.
There is no sin that I have done
That has such height and breadth
It can’t be washed in Jesus’ blood
Or covered by His death.
There is no spot that still remains,
No cause to hide my face,
For He has stooped to wash me clean
And covered me with grace.
There is no wrath that I will know,
No wormwood and no gall;
For though such wounds and grief I earned
My Savior bore them all.
There is no work that I must add
To stand before His throne.
I only plead His life and death
Sufficient on their own.
Preach that to yourself. Hide it in your hearts. And give thanks.
- Suffer well.
What does it mean to suffer well? Suffering well does not mean denying the providence. Life sometimes hurts. And pain is real. And grieving is okay. It is not sinful. In the context of death, Paul did not say, ‘Do not grieve.’ What he said was “we do not want you to be uninformed … that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.” Christians grieve. And that’s okay. But we are to grieve a certain way. We are to grieve as those who have hope. That kind of grieving looks far different than the grieving of the world. We have hope. We have Christ! And this makes all the difference!
But what does suffering well mean? I think it means something like this. It means saying, ‘Okay, Father, this day, this hour, this time, like all other times, is in and from your hand. I deserve far worse. Grant extra supplies of grace that I might suffer for your glory, even as my Saviour suffered much for your great purpose.’
Spurgeon tells the story of one Old Betty. She was converted late in life and though poor, was very active. She visited the sick, gave to the poor out of her poverty, and told many of Christ’s love. She became ill with rheumatism and lay in bed for months with pain. A good minister went to see her and questioned her as to whether the change from her activity was hard to bear. “No, sir, not at all, “ she said. “When I was well, I used to hear the Lord say, ‘Betty, go here, go there, do this, do that.” And I did as well as I could. Every day I hear him now say, ‘Betty, lie still and cough.’ Suffering well means embracing this: “God’s will is the very perfection of all reason.” Suffering well says “Because it is the Lord’s will,” and being satisfied that it is so.
Suffering well makes it difficult to be thankless.
- Never forget God.
Forget God and you’re done. You’ll be thankless. One or two verses is all that is required. Moses is the preacher. His aim is to warn Israel as it prepares to cross the Jordan. Deuteronomy 8:11 and 17 –
“(11) Beware lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments… (17)”Otherwise, you may say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.’” Forget God and you boast in yourself. Forget God and thankfulness ends. So never forget God by disobedience.
- Forget yourself.
Every year millions & millions of people flock to see the Rocky Mountains, the Grand Canyon, & Niagara Falls. Every so often a few courageous men and women desire to climb Mt. Everest. Every year many take the trip up the tallest free-standing structure in the world to see what they might see. Every year people spend millions of dollars to be entertained, to sit in front of a giant movie screen with huge surround sound. Why is that? To be mindful of self? To think about themselves and the mess they’re in? Whether we are in the foothills of the Rockies or on the edge of the Grand Canyon or getting sprayed by the mist of Niagara or taking in the view from atop of Mt. Everest or the CN Tower, whether we’re sitting in a movie theatre or pursuing the lust of the eye, or whether we’re buying something just because, we are all seeking to be lost in something bigger than ourselves. We want to be happy. We seek pleasure. And there are many things that we can do and places to go and see in which we can lose ourselves in the moment. Some go to the heights of a tower. Others go with a man or woman to the pit of a motel room and feast upon a banquet that leads to death. But in that moment, perhaps a larger than life moment, there is no pain. The cares of the world vanish. And there is satisfaction. The emptiness inside is, at least for the moment, filled with something, something larger than life.
The psalmist was also a pleasure seeker. But he was one with a difference. He looked up at night and heard and saw the heavens, in their starry expanse. He looked around during the day, and in the evening he was moved by the sky that was flooded with the deep red of the setting sun. And he saw, not just the power of God, but the product, the expression, the evidence of the very mind of God. And his heart was warmed and he was moved as adoration swelled from deep within and adoration gushed forth, almost uncontrollably, into that fountainhead of praise. “For Thou, O Lord hast made me glad by what Thou hast done...(then v. 5) How great are Thy works O Lord! Thy thoughts are very deep.”
Every work of God reveals the mind of God, works not only of creation but the work of redemption! After reading a good book or awesome quotation by some brilliant author, we may say to one another, “Who thinks like that?” But look at the books of Divine revelation! Who thinks like that??!! The finished work of Christ on the cross! How great is that work the Father planned before time, Christ performed and procured in time, and the Holy Spirit effectually applied in the fullness of time! “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:39). “I am the good Shepherd; the good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep” (John 10:11). “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor. 5:21). “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and … His ways” (Romans 11:33)!
So forget yourself! You’re not that interesting anyway! Lose yourself in the glories of God and the riches of Christ. And give thanks. And finally…
- Be content.
What is it to be content? To be content is to be a “rare bird.” To not be content is to break the 10th Commandment and be covetous and sin against God. To not be content is to not truly be thankful. How can one want more and be thankful at the same time? He can’t! He can only grumble. The one who knows his Bible will know that grumbling and the like is ungodliness. Speaking of the ungodly, Jude says (v.16) “These are grumblers…” We might think that because we are not guilty of a host of flagrant sins like drunkenness, that we somehow have attained a level of maturity rarely achieved. But are we marked by that rare jewel of Christian contentment? To learn with the apostle to be content in whatever situation we find ourselves, to learn the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need, how to be brought low and how to abound, is monumentally important if we are to be truly thankful.
Jeremiah Burroughs wrote a classic on contentment called, “The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment.” He writes: “A Christian comes to contentment, not so much by way of addition, as by way of subtraction.” The world says, ‘I will be content when I have everything I want.’ That’s contentment by addition. The problem with that is Proverbs 27:20 – “Sheol and Abbadon are never satisfied, Nor are the eyes of man ever satisfied.” Again, Burroughs writes:
“Now I say that a heart that has no grace, and is not instructed in this mystery of contentment, knows of no way to get contentment, but to have his possessions raised up to his desires; but the Christian has another way to contentment, that is, he can bring his desires down to his possessions, and so he attains his contentment … Some men have a mighty large heart, but they have straightened circumstances, and they can never have contentment when their hearts are big and their circumstances are little. But though a man cannot bring his circumstances to be as great as his heart, yet if he can bring his heart to be as little as his circumstances, to make them even, this is the way to contentment.”
Guard your heart, in other words. Do not allow it to gain affections for things beyond your … providence. Be satisfied with what God has provided. God owes us nothing, though he gives us the riches of Christ.
So, beloved, whatever the circumstance in which you find yourself, give thanks. May the sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name, spring from our hearts on this day and every day. For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for us, that we be a people of constant joyfulness, ceaseless prayerfulness, and unending thankfulness. Amen!
 Terry L. Johnson, “When Grace Comes Home: How The Doctrines of Grace Change Your Life.” (Christian Focus), p. 47.
Pastor Braye studied at Canadian Theological Seminary and the University of Alberta. Presently he labors for “Pastoral Leadership Development at Action International Ministries” In the past he served as pastor of Sovereign Grace Baptist Church and Beckwith Baptist Church. He is From Edmonton, Alberta