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On the Giving of Thanks

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (I Thessalonians 5:16-18, ESV)

My work with churches is sometimes happy and sometimes difficult and tragic. Doing training through workshops and retreats as well as times of mentoring or just mulling over with a pastor a decision he is about to make are happy things. Working with leaders whose churches are in turmoil, or whose decisions have not panned out, or whose pastor needs to retire but won’t, or which has been rocked by scandal, or which has run out of time, energy, and attendees and is about to die are difficult and even tragic. I find it hard to be thankful during those times, and that’s something to talk about.

Growing up in church, and even as an adult, I was often told that I should be thankful in all circumstances because that was God’s will for me. But sometimes I am not thankful. It just hurts or feels too difficult.

Later in life, though, this idea began to make sense. As I read the verses above, something dawned upon me. Giving thanks in all circumstances was only part of God’s will – there were two additional components. Rejoicing always and praying without ceasing combined with giving thanks in my circumstances were a triad of what God willed for me in Christ Jesus and, by extension, for our churches.

Without having a lifestyle of rejoicing and the practice of being in continuous communion with God and in prayer, I had little chance of being thankful in the difficult circumstances I and other church leaders find ourselves. The rejoicing comes from living a life where I revel in the goodness and grace of God and his provision for me and our eternal hope in Christ Jesus. This, coupled with a life of communion with God through prayer, provides for me the proper perspective on the things of this world and this life which allows me to be thankful in the midst of the difficult circumstances of life, including those attached to the ministries of leadership and shepherding the people of God in a local church or as part of a denominational team.

Here are a few ideas to stoke the flame of thanksgiving in our individual lives and in the teams with which we work.

  • Discuss with your team how the triad of rejoicing always, a life of communion with God and thanksgiving in all our circumstances work together. What happens when one of these is missing?
  • When our leadership team gathers, do we spend time rejoicing? Praying? Expressing thanks in our circumstances? Is our team excited about what God is doing? Do our conversations and discussions that God is in control? When we encounter a difficult situation, what do we usually do?
  • When was the last time we gathered, both as leaders and as a church, to truly express to God our thankfulness for His presence in all our circumstances? When we pray for others, do we just tell God what we want Him to do (generally, make the tough thing go away…), or do we thank Him for what He is doing in our circumstances?
  • In our public worship, do we rejoice, pray, and give thanks? Why or why not? Are we too busy doing other things?

Oftentimes people think of Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation of a day of thanksgiving during the civil war during our Thanksgiving holiday season. Yet there have been presidential proclamations of thanksgiving since George Washington. Washington’s proclamation is included at the end of this article. I recommend you read it, not from the perspective of judging the correctness of his theology or from that of debating his eternal state. Rather, notice the simplicity as well as the thoroughness of the events and things for which he encouraged our fledgling nation to give thanks.

If you were to make such a proclamation of thanksgiving for yourself or your church, what would you include? Perhaps taking some time this month to write our own proclamations would help us understand just how much we have for which to give thanks to our Great God.

I thank God for you all and for the opportunity to serve you through EFCA/EFCA West.

Let us know if we can help and how your conversation goes. Contact Bob Osborne by e-mail at bob.osborne@efca.org

This is one of a series of articles intended to facilitate and guide church leaders’ conversations about significant issues that often are not talked about among pastors, boards, and church leadership teams. Visit the EFCA West website to see prior Something to Talk About articles.

George Washington

George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness. Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks, for His kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of His providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which He hath been pleased to confer upon us. And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best. Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

— George Washington

Bob Osborne

Bob Osborne is the director of church health for EFCA West. He is passionate about equipping, encouraging and strengthening church leaders: “Our good intentions are not enough; we actually need to implement them.”

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