Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7 NIV)
It’s often the uncertainty of crisis that create the most anxiety for us. How long will this last? Will my income still be there when this is over? Will I have enough toilet paper? (Sorry I couldn’t resist!)
With the unknown comes anxiety; it’s just true. Yet look at what God says in Philippians chapter four, which is often appropriately being quoted during these times: “Do not be anxious about anything.” Does “anything” include the unknown? Yes. Does “anything” include pandemics? Yes. Then the verse continues telling us exactly HOW not to be anxious about anything, including unprecedented crisis. It says, “but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
It says to present your requests to God by prayer and petition. Okay, got that. Check. I’m sure you’ve been praying and petitioning God for yourself, your family, your church, our nation, and the world to get through this pandemic – quickly. However, did you notice the next part? God says that when you’re anxious to present your prayer and petitions to him “with thanksgiving.” I wonder if you’ve been doing that during this crisis? I don’t think that comes as naturally to us as do petitions. Do you want God’s peace that passes all understanding? Do you need God’s peace that passes all understanding? Then include giving thanks to God during this, or any, crisis.
Why would God say “with thanksgiving” during unpeaceful times and hardship? One reason is because it gets our focus off of only the bad stuff going on. Yes, you’re struggling with uncertainty, fear, perhaps loneliness, and much more. It’s all real. It’s all hard. However, if you can find something to be thankful for during the struggle you will get your eyes off the bad and onto something good, at least for a moment. It helps.
So what are you thankful for during this crisis? Let me remind you of a few “thanksgivings” you might be able to present to God with your prayers and petitions:
1. You can be thankful that your identity and security are in Christ alone.
As a believer in Jesus you are God’s well-beloved child. That’s who you are. You’re not your
positions or possessions, which can come and go. You are God’s very own child, fully loved, and nothing can separate you from your identity and security in Christ. This couldn’t be said any clearer than in the book of Romans:
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:28-30,31,37-39)
Remember that God, the creator and ruler of the entire universe, is for you! You are his beloved child. You are not alone. He is with you. Nothing can take away his love, whatever may come from this Coronavirus crisis. That’s something to be thankful for!
2. You can be thankful for an opportunity to grow in the Lord.
Crisis and hardship tend to reveal what’s really going on inside of us. It’s like a tube of toothpaste. You don’t really know what’s inside until it’s squeezed out. We can think we are full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control when everything is “normal” and going the way we like. Then, when we get squeezed by hardship and pain, we find out what’s really in us. For example, the loss of your normal roles and routines could be causing you to be controlling. The uncertainty of how long this crisis will last could be causing you to be sad and/or depressed. The loss of freedom or having to homeschool the kids could be bringing out anger in you. The possibility of contracting the virus or losing your income could be causing you fear.
In James, chapter 1 and verses 2-4 (NIV), we read, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” If this trial is testing your faith and revealing areas of your character that are not yet “mature and complete,” be thankful, because now you know where God wants to grow you! You can let this trial be an opportunity to let God continue the good work he began in you. Although we can always find ways to fill our newly found “shelter in place” time with busyness or binge-watching, we can also choose to fill some of it with more quality time with the Lord. The ability to be with him and become more like him in this time is something to be thankful for.
3. You can be thankful that this isn’t the end of the story.
There has been much hand-wringing and Zoom-conferencing about how to administer the Sacrament of Holy Communion during this time, especially on Easter. It’s an important topic. Equally important, however, is the truth regarding God’s ability to abide with us despite our inability to gather and take Communion. God’s inward spiritual grace, which is received through the outward and visible sign of Holy Communion, isn’t limited to the sacrament itself. In To Be A Christian, our Anglican Catechism, number 110 asks, “Why did Christ institute the sacrament of Holy Communion?” The answer given is, “He instituted it for the continued remembrance of the sacrifice of his atoning death, and to convey the benefits the faithful receive through that sacrifice.” The fact is that if you trust in Jesus Christ and you believe in his sacrifice for you, you can receive the grace you need to walk this path of eternal life, even when you may be unable to receive Holy Communion. That’s good news and something to be thankful for!
This current crisis will end at some point, and our lives in both God’s Kingdom and this world will continue on in some way, shape, or form. We will gather together again, and we will commune with Christ and each other again through the sacrament. Yet even if this somehow was “the end,” it still would not be the end of our story, because it’s not the end of God’s story. We were created by God to live forever Him. Join with The Apostle Peter in giving praise and thanks, even in all kinds of trials, for our “living hope”:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:3-9 (NIV)
The message of Easter, the promise of salvation, our eternal relationship of love through Christ is definitely something to be thankful for in this current crisis. I encourage you to pray through or journal some additional thoughts as you work through this anxious time. What else can you offer thanksgiving to God for, along with your prayers and petitions?
In Christ’s Service,
The Rev. Canon Mark Eldredge