by Pastor Martha-Jean Fitch
November 25, 2018
TEXT:   Daniel 6:1-10, I Thessalonians 5:16-22


            When I was growing up, my parents taught my two brothers and me a grace to say before meals:   It went like this:

For all we eat, for all we wear,

For all we have, we thank Thee Father.   AMEN


It was definitely a prayer of Thanksgiving.


            If you grew up saying prayers before a meal, what was the prayer you learned?  I knew some of you learned:

God is great, God is good,

Let us thank Him for our food.


            Or how about:

Come O Lord and be our guest

And let this food to us be blessed.


            What were some of your prayers?


            When you gathered this past week as a family on Thanksgiving, what did you say in your prayers around the table?   Did you thank God for everything you have?   Did you thank God for all you eat and all you wear?   Or did you thank God for all the problems you are facing as a family? 


            Think about it.   In our prayer times, do we ever say a prayer like:


For the times when we cry, for the times when I hurt,

For every trial we face, we thank Thee Father.


That doesn’t sound right does it?   But isn’t that what the holiday of Thanksgiving is really all about - about people who were facing incredible trials and sorrows, who took the time to say thanks to God?


            We date Thanksgiving back to 1621, when the Pilgrims gave thanks to God – even though they had been through a bitter winter and only 51 of the original 102 passengers on the Mayflower survived.   In the midst of their grief and pain – they gave thanks.   Then in 1777, Americans were losing battles with the British and General George Washington led his weary army to Valley Forge where they would camp for the winter.   Conditions were terrible there.  These 12,000 men suffered from inadequate food and clothing and diseases like typhoid and pneumonia were rampant.   An approximate 2,000 soldiers die.   Morale was at an all-time low.1

            But Washington and the Continental Congress made sure there was a day of Thanksgiving.   As you can see on this sign that is posted at Valley Forge today, it reads, in part: “The first Thanksgiving of the United States was proclaimed by the Continental Congress with chaplains performing the divine service this Thanksgiving IN SPITE OF SUFFERING the day before the march into the Valley Forge – showing the reverence and character that was forging the soul of a nation.”2


            “In Spite of Suffering” …. note it doesn’t say that they had a day of Thanksgiving because everything was going well…that they were winning battles and had enough to eat.  No, they were thankful in spite of the suffering.  


            Decades later, in 1863, Abraham Lincoln, right in the midst of the bloody Civil War, issued a presidential proclamation of an annual day of Thanksgiving, asking God to heal the wounds of the nation and restore it to peace and harmony.


            In the midst of war….in spite of suffering…Thanksgiving!  You know it seems to me our forefathers and mothers left us a legacy to not be grateful just when everything is going well.   But to be grateful “in the midst of…. or in spite of” times when things aren’t going well.   Their gratitude was not for something or for good circumstances but rather in something – and specifically in Someone – God!  


            That really is the message from the Apostle Paul in our passage today from the book of I Thessalonians.   Turn with me in your Bibles to the New Testament and to I Thessalonians – right after Colossians.   And we are going to look at verses 16-18 from chapter 5.  As we look at this passage, I want you to keep in mind, what Paul’s life was like.  So many times, he was stoned and beaten, thrown in prison and shipwrecked.   He had so many reasons to be bitter or angry or just plain weary and discouraged.   But that is just the opposite of how he feels.   Look at how he challenges the Thessalonians – and us – to:   16 Always be joyful. 17 Never stop praying. 18 Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.


            Notice, he doesn’t say, “be thankful for all circumstances.” As it says in the Life Application Bible, “Paul was not teaching that we should thank God for everything that happens to us, but in everything.   Evil does not come from God, so we should not thank Him for it.  But when evil strikes, we can still be thankful for God’s presence and for the good that He will accomplish through the distress.”3   God never tells us we should be thankful when we are abused or when tragedy strikes, or we face financial difficulty.   Rather in spite of our circumstances – or in the midst of them – we are to chose to recognize God and honor Him through thanking Him.   And that choice really does make all the difference in the world.   In fact, choosing to be a grateful person really is good for you and can give great benefits.


            When we are in the midst of pain and struggling with difficult circumstances, if all we do is keep our focus on them – dwelling on all that is going wrong - we become weighed down from the burdens of it all.   We won’t sleep well because we are so anxious or fearful.   We will be depressed and miserable – and often become bitter or angry.  

            But if – in the midst of those difficult circumstances – we changed our focus and looked to God – it can lift our spirits and calm our restless souls.   To thank God for being with us through the difficult times and for carrying our burdens, we will find ourselves lighter and more hopeful and at peace.


            All of us for one reason or another will go through difficult times.   We are even told in Scripture that in this world we will have trouble (John 16:33) …. there will be times when we will walk through rivers of difficulty and the fires of oppression (Isaiah 43).   But - and that’s the important word – but we are not alone!   We will do not have to be overcome by all that pain – because God is with us and He will give us the strength to make it through.   As it says in Psalm 16: “I know the Lord is always with me.  I will not be shaken, for He is right beside me.”


            The best way to be thankful in the midst of our struggles is to first change our focus – away from our troubles and sorrows to the goodness of God.


            And the second thing is really related to changing our focus and that is start claiming God’s promises.   Instead of listening to that deceptive tape that runs in your head that says everything is falling down around us and that all hope is lost, we need to start listening and claiming the promises of God.    Hebrews 12:28 says “Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful, and please God by worshipping Him with holy fear and awe.” – Hebrews 12:28 There is nothing in this world – no pain or sorrow, not even death itself – will be able to shake God’s kingdom; and nothing in this world will be able to separate us from the incredible love of Jesus.   That is the promise we need to claim in the midst of our trials.   When our focus is on God’s promises, we can be thankful!


            You’ve heard me share before Corrie ten Boom’s famous phrase:    “If you look at the world, you'll be distressed. If you look within, you'll be depressed. If you look at God, you'll be at rest.”


            We can be thankful – IN everything – by changing your focus and claiming God’s promises.   And then we need to avoid complaining. Oh, how easy it is to fall into the trap of always complaining and looking at the negative side of things.   And I really believe that the more we complain and grumble, the worse we feel.   But if we start and looking for the good – the better we feel.


            Dr Dale Robbins writes: “I used to think people complained because they had a lot of problems.   But I have come to realize that they have problems because they complain.   Complaining doesn’t change anything or make situations better.   It amplifies frustration, spreads discontent and discord and can invoke an invitation for the devil to cause havoc with our lives.” 5


            Complaining really is the archenemy of thanksgiving.   Or to say it another way a grateful person is the enemy of Satan.   Being grateful and complaining literally cannot co-exist in the same heart.   Nothing changes your attitude and your perception of life better than gratitude.

Whenever you start to hear yourself complain and grumble, you need to immediately check yourself and turn your comments into something that is praiseworthy.   Look for a promise you can claim in the midst of your situation.  


            One pastor challenged his congregation to fast for 6 weeks from complaining.   And people actually admitted that they were noticing that the quality of their lives was actually improving since they quit complaining and started praising.   What do you think would happen if you took on that challenge?    Would it make a difference?


            Philippians 2:14-15 says, “14 Do everything without complaining and arguing, 15 so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.”  Stopping complaining would do a lot to make you feel better – it would help you as you relate to others – and it would bring glory and praise to God as you lived as a grateful person. 


            One more thing we can do to have a spirit of thanksgiving in the midst of difficult times is to develop a daily discipline of giving thanks.  We need to make the effort every day to find something for which we are grateful…even when – and maybe especially when, we are in the depths of pain and sorrow.   Regularly giving thanks to God will help us have an attitude of gratitude so that our first response will be to look for what we are grateful for instead of what to complain about or worry about.


            The prophet Daniel was one who knew how to do this.   We read in Danie 6 that there were some evil men who were out to destroy him. In fact, he was told that if he were to bow down to anything or anyone other than King Nebuchadnezzar, he would be thrown into the lion’s den.  Now if you heard that, what would you do?   Well, Daniel was not deterred.   He believed in God and wanted to serve him.   So, in Daniel 6:10, we read that Daniel “got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.”  Daniel got down on his knees three times everyday and prayed and gave thanks to God.   That was his routine – so when he was faced with his possible arrest and execution, he did what he always did – he gave thanks!   My guess is that is what kept him calm and at peace, even in the midst of a very difficult situation.


            Two-time academy award-winning Denzel Washington is one of the great actors of our day.   He not only spends time in Hollywood in films and on the stage on Broadway, Washington also spends a lot of time in church – and on motivational speaking tours, where he sounds a lot like a preacher, challenging people to live in a constant attitude of gratitude for God’s goodness. 


            He says: “Give thanks for blessings every day.  Every day.   Embrace gratitude.   Encourage others.   It is impossible to be grateful and hateful at the same time.   I pray that you put your slippers way under your bed at night so that when you wake in the morning you have to start on your knees to find them.   And while you are down there, say ‘thank you’.   A bad attitude is like a flat tire.   Until you change it, you’re not going anywhere.”6   


            Change your focus – claim God’s promises – avoid complaining and daily express your thanks to God.   That’s the way to living with a grateful heart – IN everything.   Because I believe – there is always, always, always, something for which to be grateful!


            In 1636, amid the darkness of the Thirty Years War, a German pastor, Martin Rinkart, is said to have buried 5,000 of his church members in one year – an average of 15 a day.   His church was ravaged by war, death, and economic disaster.   In the heart of that darkness, with the cries of fear outside his window, he sat down and wrote out a table grace for his children to say.  It went like this:


            Now thank we all our God, with hearts and hands and voices.

            Who wondrous things hath done, in whom His world rejoices.

            Who, from our mother’s arms, hath led us on our way,

            With countless gifts of love and still is ours today.


            May that be our pray today.


PRAYER:   Come thou fount of every blessing, tune our hearts to sing your praise.   Tune our lives to share Your love.   We give You our hearts God – take and seal them.   Take our hearts and our perspectives and attitudes and shape them to be more like you.   Use us God to witness of Your hope and Your power, for we pray in the name of Christ, our Savior.   AMEN




            Jesus is calling today.   He is calling all of us to discipleship and faith.   He is calling us to be a joyful and prayerful and grateful people.   And what will be your answer?   Will you come and give your heart to Christ?   Will you make a decision to serve Him in this particular body of believers?   Will you decide to reaffirm your faith and rededicate yourself to serving the Lord?


            Jesus is calling today.   What will be your answer?


            Won’t you come now – today – and make that great decision for the Lord?   And we will welcome you and rejoice with you!   Come now as we stand and sing.          




1” The Continental Army at Valley Forge, 1777, “EyeWitness to History, www.eyewitnesstohistory.com (2006))


2 Sheilah Vance blog, “https://sheilahvance.com/2011/12/18/day-6-dec-18-1777-george-washingtons-army-celebrates-the-new-nations-first-thanksgiving-at-rebel-hill-and-gulph-mills-and-prepares-to-set-up-camp-at-valley-forge/


3Life Application Bible, The New Living Translation, 2013.   Page 2047.  I Thessalonians 5:18 Note.

4Quote by Corrie ten Boom.  https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/32394-if-you-look-at-the-world-you-ll-be-distressed-if


5Quote of Dr. Dale Robbins, as mentioned in a sermon by Rev. Deniray Mueller, “Being Thankful, No Matter What”, www.sermoncentral.com


6Quote from Denzel Washington, in part, is found in this commencement address found at https://speakola.com/grad/denzel-washington-everything-i-have-is-by-the-grace-of-god-full-2015