Lately God has been teaching me a lot, and I wanted to get all the thoughts swirling around in my head down in an organized fashion. Here is what came of that:
For starters, I wrote the following on the closed Facebook Group “Building Up” back in mid-November 2013.
“I have been thinking a lot about contentment lately. I am thinking that it must have to do a lot with thankfulness. I am wondering if one chooses to be thankful to God in every circumstance, then contentment would follow.
I have also been thinking about Paul saying he "learned" to be content (Phi. 4:11). How does one learn something? My husband & I were discussing this. Some ideas we came up with are: one learns how to do something by continually trying (also known as practice), or by being taught by someone who already understands what you are learning about, or as a process of perhaps trial & error. Neither of us figured a person could learn something in an instant, or that it "stuck" forever in a moment of trust or a moment of decision; that learning is something more gradual.
So I am curious as to how Paul learned contentment, and I would like to ask him if he learned it by choosing to be thankful to God in every situation, or perhaps he learned it by choosing to trust God that He knew what He was doing in every situation and had everything under His control.”
Paul goes on to say he has learned the secret of facing both good times and bad (vs. 12). And then in verse 13 he says “I can do all things though Him who strengthens me.” No doubt it was God alone who gave Paul the strength to be content. Perhaps Paul’s secret to the ability to face every situation with contentment was God Himself being Paul’s strength – and placing no trust in his own ability.
There is no doubt, though, that we are instructed throughout Scripture to continually be thankful to God. And why would God give us an instruction that would not cause contentment if followed? Not necessarily a life of ease as the world sees it, but an inner contentment that circumstances cannot sway.
“I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together!” Psalm 34:1-3
“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into His presence with singing! Know that the Lord, He is God! It is He who made us, and we are His; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture. Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise! Give thanks to Him; bless His name! For the Lord is good; His steadfast love endures forever, and His faithfulness to all generations.” Psalm 100
“…giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…” Ephesians 5:20
“Through Him [Jesus] then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name.” Hebrews 13:15
These are just a fraction of the verses that tell us to praise God!
I would like to make a side note on the last verse, Hebrews 13:15. Note that we are to acknowledge God’s name. It can seem very noble to decide to have a “positive attitude” or to try and look for the good in everything. But unbelievers try this all the time. We are to be different. We are to acknowledge God in our praise. After all, without Him we would have nothing to be thankful for!
The following verses really confirm to me that thankfulness to God is one of the things that brings about contentment and peace in a Believer.
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:4-9
Now I would like to look at 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
I recently read a book lent to me by my brother’s father-in-law, a man I am really thankful to God for placing in my life. It is titled His Banner Over Us Is Love by Muriel Rae. It is the story of a missionary couple to China in the 1930’s. In it Muriel shares the thoughts her husband, Bill, had on 1 Thessalonians 5:18.
“In giving of thanks to God, you are acknowledging His perfect will, and when you can do that, you are prepared to withstand any obstacle to Christ’s cause, because you will view every circumstance from God’s vantage point. Remember it is “in” the circumstance, not “for” it that you are to give thanks. But always take into account, too, that God permits the circumstance, and it will not always be a “sacrifice” of praise. It will become a spontaneous outpouring of your being to God. Then you will enter on a new plateau of your Christian experience…The secret of service lies in an unreserved commitment to Christ, letting the beauty of Him shine through your life. And thanksgiving is the Royal Road to Victory. Acknowledge God’s sovereign will, and yours will become one with His.”
Much of this book had an impact on me, but this particularly did. The only point I am a little uncertain on is if we are to praise God for everything or not, because although it does not indicate so in these verses, it does in Ephesians 5:20 (see above). But I am not sure how major of a point that is or not. As Bill Rae says, when we give thanks to God and in so doing acknowledge His perfect will, our praise will become a spontaneous outpouring to Him, perhaps even for, and definitely in, the circumstances He allows.
I find it hard to put this clearly, so I hope you can follow, but it seems God has lately been showing me that my desire needs to be for His will to be done, and not for my will to be done – but even more than that, that in desiring His will, my will will become His will. If that was not clear, perhaps I should just use Bill’s last sentence: “Acknowledge God’s sovereign will, and yours will become one with His.” And I believe the way to do this is summed up best in his first sentence, “In giving of thanks to God, you are acknowledging His perfect will…”