A Thanksgiving Meditation: Prayer with Thanksgiving is a Shield Against Fear and Self-Absorption

Have you ever noticed that often when Paul instructs the churches to pray he admonishes them to pray with thanksgiving?

“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving“. . .”do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. . .”Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (Colossians 4:2; Philippians 4:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

Why does Paul place such an emphasis on praying with thanksgiving? For at least two reasons: Because prayer with thanksgiving is a shield against fear and self-absorption.

1. A Shield Against Fear

The one who never thanks God is easily given to fear and self-absorption. You see, thanking God for past and present blessings casts out fear and fuels confidence for future grace. This is why it is so important to pray thankfully. When you are daily reminding yourself of God’s grace to you in Christ and thanking Him for all of the temporal and eternal blessings that you have from his good and sovereign hand it encourages you to trust Him for the future. You can say, with confidence, “I know not what the future holds, but I know who holds it. . .He is a good God and he has proven it to me ultimately in Christ” (Romans 8:31-37).

Commenting on Psalm 136, Charles Spurgeon once wrote,

“Let us thank him that we have seen, proved, and tasted that he is good. He is good beyond all others; indeed, he alone is good in the highest sense; he is the source of all good, the good of all good, the sustainer of good, the perfecter of good, and the rewarder of good. For this he serves the constant gratitude of his people.”

As Spurgeon notes, he is serving the “constant gratitude of his people”, including you! Have you noticed lately how he has served your gratitude daily and prayed thankfully? The sooner you start noticing his goodness to you in daily temporal blessings, and the all-sufficient eternal blessings that are yours in Christ by faith, the sooner you will stop worrying about the future.

Gratitude is a shield against fear! This is why Paul says, “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” (Philippians 4:6-7)Notice the connection between the exhortation not to be anxious and to pray with thanksgiving. Prayer with thanksgiving is a vital element in the kind of prayer that casts out anxiety and experiences the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.

2. A Shield Against Self-Absorption

And not only is gratitude a shield against fear it’s also a shield against self-absorption. The one who does not thank God on a regular basis is also given to self-absorption. Why? Because the blessings that they have they take for granted as if they earned them apart from God. It’s a form of practical atheism and a practical denial of our sinfulness and God’s grace. It’s also a form of idolatry as it worships the gift rather than the Giver. And thus, a lack of thankfulness is a turning within, a form of self-absorption. This is why we need to pray thankfully, namely because it’s a shield against fear and self-absorption. When we pray thankfully we live in confidence and are rightly absorbed with God and praising Him for who He is and what He’s done for us in Christ. And this is what will bring us ultimate delight and satisfaction in this life and the next.

And for us who know the AMAZING GRACE of God in Christ, thanksgiving should be a natural, joyous, and constant disposition. Joel Beeke writes,

“We are so prone to count our one or two troubles and so quick to dwell upon that one unkind word more than upon another hundred kind words for which we should be so deeply thankful. True thankfulness brings us close to the heart of God, to His love and grace. True thankfulness realizes that anything short of hell is grace.”

Conclusion

And so, pray with thanksgiving, and “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus!” And God is worthy of our thanksgiving! So let us, “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever”. . .“Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift [Christ]!. . .AND. . .“from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen!” (Psalm 136:1; 2 Corinthians 9:15; Romans 11:36)

Is Christian courage the absence of fear?

I recently have been preaching on the Fruit of the Spirit and have reached the end of Paul’s list of nine fruits in Galatians 5:22-23. For various reasons I have decided to extend my sermon series for a few weeks to include some “bonus fruits.” Paul’s list is not exhaustive. He says, “against such things there is no law,” implying that there are more fruits than the nine he lists. And when you think about it, surely we could add such fruits as humility, compassion, forgiveness, and others. One “bonus fruit” of the Spirit I recently preached on was the fruit of courage. I spoke of courage in the face of persecution, conflict and disaster and we could certainly add other situations.

As I continued to reflect on fear and courage in the Christian life after my sermon, I wished that I had nuanced things a little better. Here is what I mean: Is fear in a fallen world in and of itself a sin or is there a place for responsible fear/concern? When we talk about courage in the Christian life, does that mean that you aren’t afraid or worried about anything at all? I would say no. In fact, I would call that a counterfeit form of courage. Christian courage is not the complete absence of all fear and worry. That’s a sort of Stoicism, in other words, the absence of emotions, and a sort of “oh well, whatever will be will be.” The absence of fear and worry may also be a form of being hopelessly optimistic where wisdom calls for a more realistic approach to life. Or when it comes to conflict, the one who appears to be courageous in the face of conflict, may just not care about what other people think or feel.

I think when it comes to real Christian courage it means recognizing that something is indeed terrifying but trusting that God is MORE terrifying and that if God is on your side, who or what can ultimately be against you? The Bible says to Christians, “be angry, and do not sin” (Eph. 4:26). While it may not be as explicit, I think it also says to Christians, be afraid in a fallen world, but don’t sin in your fear. The question is not whether or not we worry or fear, but what do we do with that worry or fear and whom do we ultimately fear? There is a kind of worry and fear that is sinful, a form of practical atheism or deism (i.e. acting as if God didn’t exist or that he is aloof) and there is a kind of worry or fear that arises out of a genuine love and concern for people and the problems of this world. The same Paul who said, “do not be anxious about anything,” said of Timothy in the same letter that he is “genuinely concerned/worried” for the welfare of the Philippians (Phil. 2:19-21). And Paul was commending him for his genuine concern/worry! Paul also spoke of his own “anxiety for all the churchesin 2 Corinthians (2 Cor. 11:28). It is this kind of responsible loving concern/fear/worry that leads us to pray and to experience the peace of God which surpasses all understanding” so that we have courage in the face of genuinely fearful situations (Phil. 4:6-7).

And when we view fear and worry in this way, we then can say that this kind of courage in the face of genuine concern is truly a fruit of the Spirit that only Christians can possess and express. And that is because in these situations only a Christian bows his knees to his heavenly Father and prays, “Father I know that this is a big concern, but YOU ARE FAR BIGGER than this concern, and you are able to be my refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble, you have proven this to me in Christ, whom you sent, to free me from my biggest concern, namely your just and eternal wrath, and so I trust that if you are on my side, who can be against me, you who did not spare your only Son, how will you not also with Him freely give me all things, for I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate me from your love for me in Christ Jesus my Lord, Amen” (Ps. 46:1-3; Jn. 3:16; Ps. 27:1-3; Rom. 8:31-39). In this fallen world, fear and courage can and do coexist in a Christian, just as sorrow and joy coexist in a Christian, but ultimately courage conquers and casts out fear in a Christian because of the Spirit that has been given to us (Rom. 8:15-17; 2 Tim. 1:6-7).

The amazing thing about all of this is that though Christ had nothing to be afraid of, being the eternal Son of God and the one who perfectly obeyed God in the flesh, He wrestled with the worst fear imaginable in the Garden of Gethsemane on our behalf (Luke 22:39-46). He was genuinely afraid of the cup of God’s wrath for His people and yet he pressed on in the the most amazing and true courage any human being has ever exhibited in this world. The question is not so much did Christ experience fear in the Garden, no doubt he did, but what did he do with that fear? He took it to his heavenly Father in prayer. And He entrusted himself to Him who judges justly and works all things ultimately for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose (1 Pet. 2:23; Rom. 8:28). It was for the joy that was set before him, the joy of being raised and returning to his Father’s right hand in glory, the joy of seeing the innumerable multitude of His offspring from all nations whom he would justified through his blood, the joy of bringing great glory to his Father, that he endured the cross, despising it’s shame (Jn. 17:5; Isa. 53:11; Phil. 2:9-11). And He who now rules all things for the sake of His church is interceding on our behalf and knows the kinds of fears that we face in this world as our sympathetic High Priest (Eph. 1:19-23; Heb. 4:14-16).

Therefore, let us trust that His work was not in vain and that surely Christ has conquered all of our fears and we can trust that, because of Him, our heavenly Father will surely work all things for our ultimate good in Christ (Rom. 8:28-39). Beloved in Christ, be afraid in this fallen world, BUT don’t sin in your fear, take it to your heavenly Father in prayer and trust that He is for you in Christ and that, by His Spirit, He will grant you the courage to face life’s terrifying situations and will bring you into the unimaginable glories of the age to come for the glory of His Triune Name! Even so, come, Lord Jesus, come quickly (Rev. 21:1-7; 22:1-5, 20)!