By Ward Shope
6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:6-7)
I don’t usually think of myself as an anxious person, but recently there were a number of large projects looming. I could feel my stomach twist and my mind race. Sleep was tardy and wakefulness was premature—all signs of a heart not at rest.
Over the years, I have repeatedly memorized Philippians 4:6-7 to apply to these periods of life. The discipline of memorizing God’s Word (again) has a positive impact on me, forcing me to meditate on the specific phrases and words. In this case, the content addressed cogently the state of my heart. Paul says anxiety is a reminder to ask God for what we can’t do ourselves. Our dependency on him allows the God of peace to settle the apprehension we feel. And it “worked”—though not as mechanically as it sounds. Rather, God worked as my heart was submitted to him.
Part of that submission is remembering all that he has done before. Paul reminds us to ask “with thanksgiving”. I’ve traversed the world long enough now to know trouble, and to know that while there is joy in the journey with Jesus, until the Kingdom comes, sorrow is no stranger. Remembering God’s faithfulness in that past is what makes requests for the present and future more than the sound of one hand clapping. In thankfulness, the answers of the past echo loudly enough to make requests for the present and future an exercise of conviction that God will see us through.
Christianity is a historical faith. We live within the sweeping story of salvation. If we can’t find the reasons for thanksgiving in our current circumstances, we have thousands of years of covenant promises kept to draw upon—which have now become part of our story. And if that’s not enough, our faith is anchored in the real death and resurrection of Jesus and flows toward a certain end as the Spirit pilots us. Most of us have many tangible reasons to thank the Lord, but until we dive deeper into the bottomless pool of God’s grace as he has worked in others’ lives—and, if we look close enough, in our own lives to rescue us—thankfulness can come and go. Paul confidently urges us to ask “with thanksgiving” because there is always thanks to give in Jesus—for every believer, in whatever circumstances they find themselves in.
This year for the first time, Debbie and I will sit with four generations of Shopes at the Thanksgiving table. From my own mother at age 92 to baby Rowan at 8 months, there is more joy and thankfulness than I could have imagined years before. But more deeply moving is the evidence of God’s promises being lived out in each of these generations, and that what I see is only a flat snapshot compared to the multi-dimensional, mega-generational Thanksgiving table to be spread for us at the beginning of the new age to come. It’s hard to be anxious when these truths touch my heart.