This morning I have a special message for you all of how to really know and do the will of God. And this might be news to you, but in the entire bible there are only two verses that say this is the will of God. And clearly the whole bible is about the will of God but only two verses say it with such precision and clarity and oomph that you would think that maybe I should obey that if it’s that clear. Both are in the New Testament and the first one is in a book called 1st Thessalonians. I know that’s a long name and it says this: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification, your being made holy, that you abstain from fornication.” Now basically this is saying that sex is always within the context of marriage and no fornicating means no sex outside of marriage. It is the will of God. To the relief of many of you this morning that is not what I’m going to be preaching about today. But if this verse is a problem for you then feel free to make an appointment with any other pastor.
Our verse this morning is this: “Give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” When the bible says this is the will of God it means duh, this is the will of God. You know if you go back to the original language in Greek it means, duh this is the will of God. So when the scriptures make it that clear then maybe we should follow it on a daily basis, give thanks in all circumstances. Most of us don’t have a problem with the first part “give thanks.” Sure it’s good to give thanks, but we might have a problem with being aware enough of our blessings. In Hawaii we can take it for granted that we have a lot of great things, a lot of great food, a wonderful sunset, a sunrise, clean air, clean water.
All of us can be thankful for something; great friends, our health, our education, a great mentor, a great coach that we had. However, being thankful for things big and small can be a challenge. I do believe it is very hard to be depressed when thankful. Part of the nature of depression is that we lose the capacity to be grateful for many things. We forget. We develop amnesia or gratitude dementia. On any given day a healthy person should be able to write pages and pages of things for which to be thankful. The nature of thanksgiving lifts us out of “it’s only about me” to “wow look at all the great things God and others have done to bless me.”
But that is not what I want to dwell on today. I want to go further into the scripture verse beyond the give thanks part to the fourth word because I think that is where most of us struggle. The fourth word and that is where the spiritual battle should be, the fourth word, which is “all.” Our verse says “Give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God.” It’s in the word all that we will find despair or forgetfulness or hope. Let’s not water down the fact that it’s hard to give thanks in all circumstances. When God says yes we often forget or we take the credit. When God says no we can get mad and uppity and feel entitled towards God. Let me put it in a vivid context.
Remember the old TV show called touched by an angel? There was an episode called Jones versus God about a fictional town named Clarion County and for the longest time Clarion County had no rain. The farmers suffered from a long drought. Unlike you all here in Southern California where you just had a flood of rain. But for Clarion County, no, a drought. And they kept praying to God to send them rain. When no rain happened, a farmer named Justinian Jones decided to sue God.
So God hears of this suit up in heaven against Him and He sends down to earth two angels to represent Him. One is Tess who appears as an African American lawyer who defends God and the other is Monica who takes the witness stand as an angel with an Irish accent. And the farmer Justinian Jones decides to be his own attorney to prosecute God. The question Justinian Jones peppers Monica with questions we might ask God when we find it hard to give thanks in all circumstances. For some of you today maybe it’s not a drought that you’re facing, but something else in which you are frustrated that God has not answered yes to your prayers.
So hear this dialogue. Maybe there’s a reason you’re here this morning. Hear this dialogue between the prosecuting attorney Justinian Jones versus Monica in the witness box. Jones starts off and asks “tell us why has God given us this drought? Can you explain what is happening here?”
Monica, the angel, responds “we live in a world where accidents happen. The floods and earthquakes, droughts, deaths, bad things occur everyday sir, but it doesn’t mean God isn’t good because He is.”
“Good?” asks Jones. “God has maliciously withheld rain from Clarion County. He has intentionally inflicted distress.”
Monica replies, “When will you stop condemning God and start commending Him? When there was rain did you give thanks for it? No, you said your crops were because of your hybrid seed and that farmer over there named Stretch said it was because of the fertilizer that he sells. Everyone takes credit when things go right but when they go wrong who gets the blame? God?”
And farmer Jones zips back and says, “Well let me tell you something. This trial is not about the good times, it’s about deprivation. You have appeared as a messenger from God. What’s the message?”
And Monica responds, “God loves you.”
Jones retorts, “Well if He loves us then why did He give us this drought? Would you care to hazard a guess? Maybe it’s a lesson. Is it a lesson we need to learn? Is it a lesson that’s worth the price? You don’t know much about anything. Oh ignorance is bliss. That’s a tired old excuse and it’s not good enough. Or is it God works in mysterious ways? These people are hurting here. They want to hear something that makes sense; why? Why is God giving us this drought?”
So when we return to court in the next scene Monica, the angel, has since talked to God and says to farmer Jones, “You have prayed for rain and God has answered your prayer. And the answer is no.”
Jones is crestfallen. “No? God said no?”
And Monica softly answers, “When Clarion County prayed, who asked God what can I do about this? Has anyone asked God for guidance or direction? Or was the only thing you asked Him for was rain? God allowed the drought yes, but you were all responsible for your faith. God answered your prayers for rain and said no, but there are so many gifts He wants to give you if you are just willing to ask.”
Maybe for some of us here this morning those questions are our questions of farmer Jones. Exchange the word drought to illness or pain that God doesn’t seem to take away and our hearts and our souls can have that same kind of anger and rage against God. We desperately want Him to answer yes to all of our prayers, yet how can we be thankful in all things when the answer is no? How do we take a no from God? I know what that’s like. I have personally heard God say that to me. No Dan, your mom will die. No Dan, you will lose your first marriage. No Dan, I cannot promise you an easier life.
So how can we be thankful in all things? How can we be thankful when God says no? For me I can be thankful when I first realize that God does love us. He really wants the best for us. He has a plan for our lives. It says in the Old Testament in a book called Jeremiah, God says, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans for your welfare, not for your harm, to give you a future with a hope.” He may not let us in on the plan but He has a plan. His architectural designs of my life may be too complicated for me to understand but He does have a plan for my life. His ways may not be our ways but my first step in climbing out of a deep, deep hole of questions or depression is to claim the promise that God says that He has a plan for me and it will be not for harm, but for a future with a hope. It’s the same God who allowed a young man named Joseph in the Old Testament to be kidnapped and sold into slavery for thirteen years, but later he rose to the number two position in Egypt, which allowed him to save his family from a drought. Yes a drought. Even in the midst of a drought God was forming His plan to save Joseph and his entire family and to bless them richly.
We need to believe that God has no harm in mind for us, but the bible does say we are children, heirs of God, provided that we suffer. Suffer? We live in a world where suffering is part of the deal especially if we live in a world that doesn’t follow Jesus. Without pain though, our muscles do not grow. Without pain there is no birth. Without pain there is no thankfulness. If anyone says to you that to follow Jesus means you will not have any pain then know that that person is selling you a false bill of goods. Part of understanding God is to acknowledge that it isn’t all about us. God is in charge of human resources. God is in charge of management. We’re just in sales.
We need to start every day our devotional by getting up and looking at the mirror as we’re brushing our teeth or washing our face and say ‘I am not the messiah. I am not in control.’ And when we wonder why God doesn’t answer all of our prayers, we should direct instead all of our focus to the blessings and His hand in those blessings given to us. Blessings He planned for us since the beginning of time. And yes God can utilize the bad to make good. When God says no, let’s not dwell on the no or the why, but ask Him what shall we do next now that the no is really a no. You see God doesn’t promise He will always take away the pain, but He does promise to give us hope and strength in the midst of our pain. Sometimes God says no because He has a better yes that comes later. That can only happen if a no happens now. People in business see that all the time. A door closes and by waiting and searching for options a better yes comes later.
Sheila mentioned earlier Pete Carroll, the USC football coach, and he’s a prime example about a no turning into a great yes. You know I’m a University of Southern California alumnus and USC football coach Pete Carroll, hear his story. He was fired from the New York Jets; he was fired from the Boston Patriots. Talk about hearing a no from God and feeling like a loser and then he was reportedly the fourth choice to become the new coach of the USC football team, but guess what happened - he flourished there. USC won two national championships. Pete Carroll was called college coach of the decade and had the second highest winning percentage in the history of division one college football and received one of the highest salaries of college football coaches in the land. That’s accepting a no to see a later great yes. And now he returns to professional football. He’s going to be the new coach of the Seattle Seahawks and we’ll see how he does in that new challenge.
You know when I was a singles pastor here in Northern California, in fact I learned under Jim Smoke one of the very first singles pastor in the country so you’re so innovative entrepreneurial back then on that one also. And when I was a singles pastor, people would break up with their boyfriend or girlfriend or worse yet when I would tell them in the office that I think they’re dating the wrong person and that one shouldn’t be their future spouse, oh they would cry understandably and say ‘then I will never find the love of my life’ and they would despair and they didn’t want to hear a no. But then later they would find the right spouse and they would thank me for giving them the hard no earlier so that they could be blessed by an unseen yes. If we get bitter about the no's in our life then our life will never get better. Bitterness is a self-inflicted wound, bitterness is when we choose our own poison and then we hope God or others die.
Make a list this week of all of the things you can be thankful for. And it should be a long list. Don’t be like the nine lepers. You know in the bible, in the gospel story, Jesus once healed ten lepers but only one out of the ten came back to thank Him. Isn’t that hard to believe? The life of a leper meant being a major social outcast. I mean people threw stones at you and your limbs and your fingers and toes would fall off and there’d be big sores on your face or all over your body and you would think, you would think that all ten lepers after getting healed instantly by Jesus would say ‘praise God, thank you Jesus for healing myself,’ but only one said thank you. Nine took off and went running and rejoicing in their healing but only one turned back, fell at the feet of Jesus and said thank You, thank You. He said thank you when God said yes. And we could be pretty hard on those nine lepers, but maybe in an honest moment maybe we too have not said thank you enough to God for the blessings He’s had in our lives.
Friends may this be a joyful weekend that starts a new chapter. Yes, life is hard but this may be the beginning of a life of gratitude. I close with a quote from a girl named Elma Cabigting whom our church supports through Compassion International who is being raised from poverty in the Philippines. In her last letter she wrote this and this is amazing because her house was destroyed by the floods over there. She wrote this, “There’s a revelation in me that if we put our trust in the Lord there will never, ever be bitter endings.” Wow, let me read that again. “There’s a revelation in me that if we put our trust in the Lord there will never, ever be bitter endings.”
May this be a time when we remember the yes’ from God and say thank You. May this be a time when we acknowledge the no’s in our life and still have faith in God. May this be a time when our cups overflow with appreciation for we have indeed so much for which to be thankful. Amen? Amen. God bless you all.