"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies [prophetic utterances, i.e., divine revelation]." 1Th 5:16–20
"O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken." Luk 24:25
As we approach Thanksgiving Day, in this year of our Lord 2011, it is crucial that we rise above the tendency of the day, which is that of an unthankful, complaining spirit, to consider these five injunctions of the great Apostle to the Gentiles (nations). In these present “perilous times,” it is easy to give in to fears, anxieties, and complaints—all of which do no good, but instead create in us an inability to rise above current personal and world conditions. Though we are assured in the Scriptures that “we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Rom 8:37), all our potential victories are turned by our sour and grudging attitudes into one defeat after another. Consider how dynamic these five practices—combined into a worldview and lifestyle—have a power to transform us from victims into victors. At the same time, consider how failure to heed God’s written Word will surely blind us to His presence and power at work around us, as surely as it did those disciples on the Emmaus road.
The Attitude of Faith
We are told that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). We believe—not on the basis of what we see around us—but because of the truth of God declared to us in His Word. A life of persistent faith in the faithfulness of God in time develops the quality of joy, because in every “crucifixion” in life there is a confident expectation of the resurrection to follow. Whereas happiness is the superficial and passing gratification of getting what we want in the moment, joy is the ability—when faced by adverse and painful trials—to anticipate God’s victorious outcome. If we believe that “all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28), then the greater the hardship we may be facing, the greater the victory which our gracious and mighty Savior will give to us, as we trust Him to display His glorious might in once again doing what He always does—triumphing over all evils. When our soul keeps on believing, even in the darkness, we see—not the wind and the waves about to engulf us—with the eyes of our soul fixed on our Redeemer, who comes to us in the storm. He has never failed, and He never will. “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1Co 15:57).
The Action of Hope
The attitude of faith produces an action of prayer. Jesus never spoke of prayer without the conviction that it would be heard and answered. Certainly, prayer must be offered in faith, otherwise it is not true prayer but rather a pretense (Jam 1:6–8, Jam 4:2–3). Prayer works together with faith to anticipate and to claim the things not yet seen, in order to bring evidence out of faith’s substance. We do not believe because we see the evidence, rather the evidence is manifested in accordance with God’s perfect wisdom and timing, just as we knew it would be. We pray—in good times and bad—because we know that our heavenly Father is at work in our lives to manifest Himself to our world. We are certain that nothing escapes His sovereign purpose, and we pray in response to His invitation to become “workers together with Him” (2Co 6:1). He urges us to be always praying, because He Himself is always working (Joh 5:17). We pray—not to change God’s mind, nor to bend Him to our will—but to submissively enter into His will. We pray because we are needy and because we know that God is Almighty. He has condescended to make Himself available to us, to hear and answer when we call, and in many cases to not act if we do not ask (Jam 4:2b). Our prayers are the expression of our hope in Him. The biblical definition of hope is "the absolute conviction that our trust in Jesus Christ and His Word is not misplaced" (Rom 8:24–25). If we believe, we are obliged to pray, for Jesus said “that men ought [a verb of obligation] always to pray and not lose heart” (Luk 18:1).
The Aim of Love
Just as faith results in hope, so hope gives birth to love. It is the nature of love to seek the best for its beloved. We know that “we love Him, because he first loved us” (1Jo 4:19). His love sacrificed everything in order to bring us out of the bondage of sin and into His abundant and eternal life (1Jo 4:9). We need nothing more than this to compel us to live lives of gratitude and thankfulness. It is impossible to be thankful to someone and not seek to show that gratitude in every way possible. One of the chief ways we demonstrate our love and gratitude to Jesus Christ is to maintain a thankful disposition in every circumstance, regardless how stony our path may be at the moment. If He gave us nothing beyond our so-great salvation, we would still have cause to be perpetually grateful, yet He showers us with blessings—great and small—on a daily basis. We often do not give thanks because we have not trained our eyes to spot His hand at work in our lives. It is because of the multitude of His mercies that we are called to offer ourselves without reservation to His service (Rom 12:1–2). The believer who thinks he or she has nothing to give thanks for is one who is blind to His intervention in his or her daily life (2Pe 1:8–9). The reason God’s will for us in Christ is to “give thanks in everything,” is because He desires us to see His hand in everything. When we give thanks, we divert all attention from ourselves and direct it to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The aim of all thanksgiving is the Giver of “every good and perfect gift” (Jam 1:17).
The Obstacles to Victory
Following the three positive commands come two negative ones. All our rejoicing, praying, and thanksgiving are dependent upon our lives being energized from above. The power of God to live supernatural lives of triumph—even while in trials—is based on the dynamic of divine power coming from within our being. If we “quench the Spirit” or “despise” prophetic Scriptures, we have no ability to fulfill the first three commands. Our triumphal march through this world is impossible apart from the indwelling Spirit and the inculcated Word. We grieve God’s indwelling Spirit when we sin (Eph 4:30), but we quench Him when we fail to obey His Word. In other words, sins of commission grieve the Spirit of God, but sins of omission will, in time, quench His fiery power in our lives. All omission begins by neglect of His Word. We choose not to read it, not to study it, not to hear it taught and proclaimed. Then, when we take time to hear or read it, we fail to do what it says. The Spirit of God who indwells every child of God (Rom 8:9–11) is then powerless to build into us the life of Christ for, having rejected the written Word, we fail to abide in the Living Word (Joh 15:4). Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, they are blind to the presence of Jesus because they have failed to give credence to the revelation of the prophets (Luk 24:25–27). When we become “dull of hearing” (Heb 5:11), we also become blinded to His grace. Like an automobile made to run on gasoline, our souls are equipped by regeneration and the indwelling Spirit to run on the Word of God. Nothing else can power the engine of the spiritual life. Only as long as we “walk in the light” (1Jo 1:7) of His Word, and “walk in the Spirit” (Gal 5:16) by conscious submission, will we be enabled to “rejoice … pray … give thanks” as an evidence to this dark and dying world that Jesus Christ is risen and His Word is true. Only America—of all the nations—celebrates a day of Thanksgiving. So far, this is the only holiday that Satan has not been able to co-opt by commercialism. It would be good for us as Christians who take His Word seriously, to make this Thanksgiving a time of true celebration for His continued blessings, at a time when most people in this nation can only see their trials.
We truly thank God for all of you who pray for us, and for our many co-workers around the world. Special thanks to the many who have made it a special mission to pray for our son Cody, and the men and women of our Armed Forces, who are far from homes and families. Give thanks for them all, for while our politicians have brought our nation to the brink of self-destruction, our military continues to serve with honor and integrity that we might enjoy this Thanksgiving season free from fear and invasion. May God richly bless each of you, according to His perfect wisdom, at this blessed season.
With thankful hearts,
Gene and Nan
[New York, 3 October 1789]
By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.
Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor—and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.
Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be—That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks—for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation—for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war–for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed—for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted—for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions—to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually—to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed–to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord—To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us—and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.
By the President of the United States of America. A Proclamation.
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.
By the President: Abraham Lincoln