Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Philippians 4:4-9 Sermon
November 24, 2010
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
450 "We Praise Thee O God Our Redeemer Creator"
443 "Now Thank We All Our God"
363 "Come Ye Thankful People Come"
444 "For The Beauty Of The Earth"
364 "We Plough The Fields And Scatter"
TEXT (vs. 4-7): “ 4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
"What are the magic words?" I think that this phrase has become rather well-worn amongst parents and school teachers of young children. And you know the situations where this phrase is used.
Let's take the dinner table for example. A child asks the question, "Will you pass the spinach?" And mother, with the bowl in her hand just out of the child's reach will say, "And what's the magic word?" And supposing that the child has been well-trained, they will say: "Please!" And after they have received it, they will then say: "Thank-you!" It would also take a well-trained child to say "please" when asking for a bowl of spinach.
"Please" and "Thank-you" are indeed what we're looking for when we ask for the "magic words." And as the child grows up, they began to do this as more of an automatic thing. They no longer need to be reminded of "the magic words" by their parents or teachers. When they want something, "please" is always attached; and when they receive something, there's always a "thank-you" that follows. That's common courtesy.
This carries over into adult life too. When you go to a shop that sells greeting cards, there's always a whole section of "thank-you" cards, with a large variety of different ways to thank somebody for something. Hallmark is banking on people being thankful; that's why they print the cards.
One business executive always had a package of thank-you note cards in his desk drawer. Whenever somebody did something nice for him, he would take a few minutes, pull out one of those cards, hand-write a few sentences of personal appreciation, stick a stamp on it, and mail it out. This was no act either; this man was truly thankful for what people did for him, and he wanted them to know it. And the people appreciated receiving them too. They knew that their random acts of kindness did not go unnoticed.
You've probably experienced some frustration in your life in this regard as well. You give somebody a gift, and they never even so much as acknowledge it, let alone say "thank-you" for it. For some reason, they've gotten the idea that such gifts are "owed" to them, and they expect them to come without so much as a whisper of gratitude in exchange.
People like this take so much for granted. I've known people who have stopped giving gifts to people who can't take the time to express appreciation for them. They think, "Well, if that person doesn't appreciate the birthday check I sent, I'll just keep my money this year." And that's what happens.
One lady wrote into an advice column about giving gifts to her brothers two teenage sons. It seems as if these two boys were the "thankless" types, and would never acknowledge the gifts of money from their aunt.
Because of this, the aunt decided to take the money she would have normally given to them, and made a charitable donation in their name. Then on Christmas, they opened up their "cash" envelopes to discover a receipt from the charity instead of the money.
The boys were dumbfounded, and the father was very irate about this. When he complained to his sister about what she did, she replied: "Since your boys never appreciated my gifts enough to say 'thank-you,' I decided to give my money to somebody who needed it and appreciated receiving it."
In our Epistle lesson for this evening, the Apostle Paul has recorded some closing words for the congregation at Philippi. Verse 6 gives a good summary of Paul's instructions: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God."
In effect, Paul is telling the Philippians to remember those two magic words. He starts off this sentence by first assuring the people they have nothing to be anxious about or to worry about. Everything is in God's hands, and he will act according to their best interest.
In Matthew chapter 6 verses 7-8, Jesus is talking about prayer. He says, "7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him."
I've said numerous times that when it comes to prayer, it is quality and not quantity that counts. Praying about something for an hour and a half isn't going to be any better than praying for something for a minute and a half. But for one reason or another, people think that by engaging in lengthy prayers, God is somehow impressed. But Jesus assures us that our Father already knows what we need even before we ask him.
So why does Paul exhort the Philippians to present their requests to God, if he already knows what they need? In fact, why pray at all if this is the case?
A lot has to do with our attitude. When we present our requests (or supplications if you prefer) before God, it's with the knowledge that he is the one providing the blessings. He is the ultimate "go-to" man in our lives. And even though we always know he will provide for us, he still wants to hear the magic word "please" in our vocabulary.
This brings us into the whole area of recognition. God wants us to be fully aware of our blessings. This can be in the form of every bite of food we consume, to the water we drink, to the air we breathe. And when we look at the entire picture of our lives, we can see how God has interacted with us in so many ways.
One pastor tells about an elderly woman in his congregation, and what her attitude was. Every morning, she would leave her house and walk for an hour. She told her pastor, "As I'm walking, I'm recounting all of the things for which I'm thankful to God, and I tell him so. I've been walking like this for many years, and I still haven't run out of things to say."
That's quite an attitude, wouldn't you say? But that's what Paul is also talking about today in our Epistle reading. He says in verse 6: "with thanksgiving present your requests to God." That's the other magic word we learn: "thank you."
This is what brings about a good balance of things. People often get the idea that prayer is something like a laundry list of items for which we are asking God. But this act of supplication, or asking for things, is tempered with the attitude of thanksgiving. God indeed likes to know that we appreciate receiving what we have been given. It's just like when we give a gift to somebody else--we appreciate a thank-you note, or at the very least a personal word of acknowledgement and thanks. God appreciates this as much, or even more than we do.
We not only receive and give thanks to God for the physical and material blessings of life, but for the spiritual blessings as well. The physical and material blessings are good for this life, but the spiritual blessings will last into eternity.
Just like with the material blessings, we also take our spiritual blessings for granted. We have the attitude that we can sin just as much as we want to, because we know Jesus paid for our sins, and our eternity in heaven is guaranteed. So why be concerned about what we do here?
Just as we need to recognize our blessings, so we also need to recognize our sin. That's part of the process. We aren't as ready with those magic words "please" and "thank-you" as we ought to be. Our sinfulness tends to make us take things for granted and become lackadaisical in giving thanks.
The same Lord that provides so well for our earthly needs is the same Lord that provides for our spiritual needs. God's love and forgiveness are evident in everything he does for us. That's why we give thanks for God's ultimate act of love, which happened when Jesus came to this earth to pay the price for our sins.
God's love and care can also be seen in the activity of the Holy Spirit. He gives us faith, strengthens our faith, and keeps us in the faith. On our own, we have no ability to do this. But through God's power, we can accept the gift of our Saviour through faith alone. That's how our sins are forgiven, and that's how we know without a doubt that we shall inherit a mansion in heaven one day. We have much for which we can be thankful in the spiritual areas of our lives too.
So what are the magic words? We know them to be nothing more than a "please" and "thank-you." We can say these words to just about anybody, and we know that they'll be pleased to hear them. Parents and teachers try to impress the importance of these words upon children. They know that a child will be well served by them throughout their life. Those two words, along with the proper attitude will go far in a person's life.
In our Epistle reading for this evening, the Apostle Paul reminds us that God also appreciates those same magic words. The Apostle James focuses our attention in this area as well. In chapter 1 verse 17 he writes, "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows."
And so, we pray that our entire lives will be lives filled with thanksgiving to our gracious God in heaven. We thank him for the physical blessings we have in this life, and for the spiritual blessings we have in Christ Jesus that will take us into eternity. Therefore we can say with the hymnwriter: "Thanks we give and adoration for thy Gospel's joyful sound. May the fruits of thy salvation in our hearts and lives abound; ever faithful, ever faithful, to the Truth may we be found!"