Responding to Jesus by Giving Thanks – Week 3

“The Perfect Prayer for All Circumstances!”

 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NAS95)


Let me just confess, up front, that I have been tested on this sermon… every step of the way this week. I am preaching this message to you as a fellow learner of the Way of Jesus. So much has been going on and frankly, not a lot of it has been praiseworthy. As we approach this teaching, I do so with humility towards its application, but with conviction of its truth!


Please pray with me…


I was taught that when you don’t know what to pray, then you say the most important two words you can say to God—“Thank You!” Thanksgiving is worship!


Paul teaches us in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18,
“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”


Today, I am going to emphasize and try to make sense of “in everything give thanks” because Paul teaches us that “this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” As hard and nonsensical as this command sounds, Paul backs it up with a statement that cannot be denied… it is the will of God to give thanks in everything.


A chapter earlier, in 1 Thessalonians 4:3a, Paul teaches us,
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification.”

There is that big statement again, “the will of God”… but this time, it is for our sanctification!


Let’s play the wonderful systematic theology game called “connect the dots”: our ability to give thanks in all circumstances is connected to our sanctification. Here is the interpretation that has a built in application: I cannot fulfill the will of God to give thanks in all circumstances apart from the consecrating work of God to make me holy unto His plans and purposes—my sanctification. The only way to pray the perfect prayer of thanksgiving in all circumstance—to cultivate the attitude of gratitude—is by being in union with Christ, yoked to His easy yoke and light burden, abiding in His vine, carrying my cross, built on the rock…


In his next letter to the Thessalonians Paul once again makes this same connection. Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians 2:13,
“But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.”


This is getting deep! How deep are you willing to dive into God’s Word? Our ability to give thanks always for all the people who are the beloved brethren of the church is not dependent on our abilities, but is connected to the reality that we, each one of us, are the chosen of God, who have been set apart/consecrated for this purpose by the Spirit and faith in the truth.

Thankfulness is a work of God’s Spirit that has been gifted to us and is being worked out in us through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit as walk by faith and not by sight.


Let’s follow the logic loop here and see the importance of this to our discipleship: God’s will for my life is that I pray without ceasing while always rejoicing and giving thanks to God in all circumstances. This is possible because God’s will for my life is my sanctification, which is God’s work to choose me and set my life apart, make me holy, consecrated for God’s plans and purposes, for His glory and my good. When I am able to sincerely pray the perfect prayer, it is because I am on the journey of sanctification! Therefore, the more I can honestly say “Thank you” to God in all my circumstances the more God is at work in me for His glory.


“Thank. You. Those two hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying points to build courage when courage seems to fail, to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith, to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.”[1]


Your sanctified self, the best version of you to the glory of God, is always giving thanks and always rejoicing because the more we seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:33), the more we will then trust that God is working all things together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purposes (Romans 8:28)!


As Paul says in the very next verse, Romans 8:29, after that famous promise to make all things work together for those who love God and are called according to His purposes:
“For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son.”


Do you know the big fancy word for being conformed to the image of His Son? Sanctification!


The ability to pray the perfect prayer is intimately connected to God’s perfecting work in our lives. It’s that simple. Our gratitude and ability to intimately express it to God is a shining light to God’s glory in us—the reality that we are in union with the One to whom we give thanks!


It’s all about Jesus, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 9:15,
“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!”


Does it sound impossible to give thanks in all circumstances? Does it sound impossible to pray the perfect prayer every time in every situation?


Listen to Paul speak to the church (every you and your in this text is plural) in 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24,
“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.”


Say “Thank You” to the One who can bring about His will in your life in every circumstance. Turn to Him each and every time. He invites us to complete surrender—absolute dependence.


That is what this is about—it is about a life-perspective that looks for the opportunity to be a part of God’s perfect and pleasing will in all things, but it requires an emptying of self, a forsaking of the paradigm—my will be done. You have heard me say: “every crisis is an opportunity.” That is truth, but it requires a sanctified mind to see that truth and believe it in the way we respond.


Paul explains this in Romans 12:1-2,
“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”


What does it mean that this presenting of yourself as a “living and holy sacrifice” is “your spiritual service of worship”? It is the ultimate commitment of praying the perfect prayer no matter what—it is faith in God and trust in His will; it is thanksgiving unto God for who He is, what He has done, is doing, and will do in every circumstance!


Your spiritual service of worship is to be sanctified to a place of continual praise to know and walk in what is God’s will, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. It is the life of believing God for His promises!


The perfect prayer of giving thanks in every circumstance is God’s will for your life because it will transform you through the renewal of your mind. It is circular logic and it requires to grace to enter into the flow. It is the river of life and its current will nourish you and lead you.


We cannot live lives of gratitude until we have surrendered ourselves to the One who has given us all things and in all things teaches us to give thanks. We can only bear the fruit of gratitude as we love Him and give ourselves to Him. And the more we love Him and give ourselves to Him the more we learn to trust Him, the more we thank Him, the more we love Him and give ourselves to Him.


It is a perpetual cycle of thanksgiving, which is our eternal destiny—our perfect union in glory—the life of complete worship, which truly, to be frank, is the life of absolute surrender! This is the only way to have rest for your soul—it is the life of the yokefellow who has learned to be completely submissive to the will of the Father—gentle and humble in heart—like Jesus, who lived by the power of the Spirit. It is the life that abides in the Vine and bears much fruit.


The perfect prayer… those two hallowed words… Thank. You. I can’t think of a time when it is not the perfect prayer even though I can think of plenty of times in my own life when it was not the prayer I prayed. May the Lord close the gap between my will and His will until there is not a  circumstance in my life that thank you is not the first and last words on my lips.


May the Spirit teach and guide you to pray this prayer and you will find yourself making great progress on the road of sanctification. This is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.

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[1] I don’t expect many people to catch this, but I just want to point out that this is a modification of a memorized section of General Douglas MacArthur’s 1962 “Duty, Honor, Country” speech that all West Point cadets must memorize and recite so many times in their Academy years that it is tattooed to their brains. J