Over the last two days we have been considering how thanksgiving is a really important ingredient in being a follower of the Lord Jesus, and in practically discovering joy and peace in the Lord being my shepherd, and me being a sheep who is learning to hear His voice and so follow Him. We reflected on how thanksgiving can help to keep us close to Him and that it is an important ingredient in following His lead in so many situations in our lives. Most of us want to follow Jesus and do God’s will most of the time! There may be situations where it seems a hard road or where we are quite unsure what His will is in a particular circumstance or decision, but bottom line, we usually want to do His will.
As a young Christian the importance of doing God’s will was something that we picked up. There were books about how to discover God’s will but I still, at times, found it difficult to know God’s will for sure both in small daily and bigger life decisions. It created anxiety for me – I wanted to get it right. Paradoxically after I encountered the Holy Spirit (or more correctly probably He encountered me!) I seemed to experience more anxiety at times because now I felt that, with the Holy Spirit’s help, I should know God’s will better – I had no excuse for not knowing and doing His will – after all, the Holy Spirit is definitely in tune with God’s will.
A great blessing and significant help came to me when I heard a talk by Roger Forster on 1 Thessalonians 5. His talk to us as young people was so helpful. I think he understood how easily we could get ourselves tied up in knots trying to find out what God’s will was for us that day, or in our life, and then we could end up feeling either clueless or anxiously conflicted about what the will of God was. Its feels hard to follow Jesus if you don’t know God’s will! So he drew our attention to verse 18 of 1 Thessalonians 5. “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”.
As I remember it, it strongly and simply spoke to me that when my head and heart are in whirl, anxious or numb, and I feel I don’t know God’s will, the Holy Spirit has made it plain and simple. God’s will is that I give thanks in all circumstances. Full stop. Take that to the bank and deposit it. Just do it. Give thanks. It applies to whatever the question is, in whatever situation you are asking it, because the Holy Spirit says “in all circumstances”. From the sublime to the ridiculous – big questions – should I be a medical missionary or a psychiatrist? Should I get married or be like Paul single for the gospel? Or the ‘small’ questions ‘will I offend fellow Christians if I go to church today without a tie on?’ ‘Should I cycle round to meet someone to tell them about Jesus or just eat my lunch?’ Now you may have never got yourself tied up in knots about God’s small daily or big life will for your life like I did, but that message more than 50 years ago has stayed with me and nourished me on numbers of occasions since.
Taking on board this exhortation, I can change track from fretting about what God’s will is on a specific matter to knowing God’s will is to give thanks and act on this. This is likely to release me from negative paralysis, or anxious confusion and bring increasing peace (as we learnt yesterday). Also, as we have considered before, it is almost impossible for thanksgiving not to release and grow faith. As I thank God that He is (not ‘I hope He will be’) my guide, He is my helper, He does give wisdom, He is my good shepherd, I am His well loved child and much more; all this thanksgiving stirs up, nourishes and renews me and my faith in these truths. Then in that place of faith, peace and gratitude I am likely to be in much better place to go forward hearing my Good Shepherd’s voice, as Stella has been describing over the last couple of days.
Sometimes God’s word seem so simple that we can be tempted to think it feels almost trite or superficial, when in fact it is profound and far reaching. Whilst simple it may take some determination on our part to do. Simple doesn’t always mean easy. There is a verse in the hymn ‘There’s a wideness in God’s mercy’ by F Faber which goes “If our love were but more simple, we should take Him at His word, and our lives would be all sunshine, in the sweetness of our Lord”. Let’s be ‘more simple’ in recognising and practicing that whatever else I do (maybe later) in a situation, it is God’s will that I give thanks and it is best to do it early on, in fact now! Then we can notice what a difference that simple choice makes.