Friday, November 16, 2012

Choosing Thankfulness

by Rev. Len Keever

The apostle Paul wrote to the good folks in Philippi, "Do not worry 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 4:7).

All my life I have heard statements like, "Don't sweat the small stuff!" and "Ninety-five percent of the stuff we worry about never happens." When I studied Family Systems Theory we discussed how we spend so much time trying to change others when we only have control over ourselves. In other words, I can work to change me, but only you can work to change you.

Reinhold Niebuhr gave us the Serenity Prayer: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference." This is especially poignant knowing that Niebuhr was an American theologian active in trying to relate the realities of faith to a world embroiled in a Great Depression, the threats of Communism and Fascism, two World Wars, and the advent of nuclear armament. The wisdom to know the difference between what we can control and what is under the authority of God is indeed very valuable.

We worry so much about things over which we do not have control. So many thoughts come to mind when I think about how worry affects us: worry never fed anything but an ulcer; worry is a barren desert where faith can find no root; worry robs productivity and kills initiative. The opposite of trust is worry; the opposite of submission is anxiety (another word for worry). To worry is an attempt to take control from God.

When Jesus taught his disciples in the 6th chapter of Matthew, "No one can serve two masters," he immediately said, "Therefore I tell you, do not worry." Worry can become a false god when we give it a voice to influence us. The Greek word translated "therefore" connects Matthew 6:24 and 25; we can easily say, "You cannot serve God and worry." We are not fully listening to Jesus when we think that only wealth can become our master. There are lots of things that undermine a life of devotion. Worry is one of them.

Eugene Peterson translates this passage in The Message: 

Don't fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God's wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It is a wonderful thing that happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

It is no accident that Paul wrote just a few verses later, "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances...I can do everything through him who gives me strength."

For those not attuned to Christ, this can be a very anxious time. But for the Christian, it is a time to trust in God, to give our present and future to Jesus. God reigns over all creation. Let us praise God! Let us be thankful! God is still on God's throne. Why worry? Be peaceful!

Len Keever is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Dunn. This article originally appeared in their church newsletter, The Builder.

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