Doesn’t it seem like things look bad and are getting worse? As you survey the social, political, and even religious landscape of our nation and world, don’t you feel a sense of dread? Is it time to panic? As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving Day this year, we could address this temptation to be afraid by comparing what we are now facing with the adversity of the first pilgrims. How did they respond to the overwhelming trials, testings, and dangers that they faced in the New World? Among other things, they responded by focusing on God and His sovereign grace and power, praying and giving thanks to Him for His gracious providence over all things.
Let us now go back even further in time to the situation that the covenant people of God faced during the life and ministry of the prophet Habakkuk. As Habakkuk struggled to understand and respond to the challenges in his time, he turned to the only true source of understanding and help, namely God. His prayer conversation is recorded in the Bible in the book that bears his name. He began by crying out to the Lord and asking how long the Lord would allow violence and economic oppression to continue (Hab. 1:1–4).
The Lord graciously responded to his question by revealing that He was going to render just judgment. He even revealed that He was going to do so through the Babylonians (1:5–11). Habakkuk did not like that answer. He questioned the Lord on how He could use such a wicked Gentile nation as an instrument of judgment upon God’s chosen nation (1:12–17). Even while asking this question, Habakkuk knew that he was in need of correction and instruction, for he ended his petition with the statement “I will stand my watch, and set myself on the rampart, and watch to see what He will say to me, and what I will answer when I am corrected” (2:1).
Again the Lord graciously answered his prayer by instructing and correcting Habakkuk. The Lord contrasted those who rely upon their own wisdom and ability with those who conduct their life by faith in the living God. This important truth was summarized thus, “Behold the proud, His soul is not upright in him, But the just shall live by faith” (2:4). It is interesting to see the evidence of God’s gracious gift of faith in the heart of Habakkuk as he declared at the end of the book, “Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls—yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills” (3:17–19). In other words, Habakkuk declared that even if complete economic collapse occurred, he would trust and rejoice in the Lord. Do we have that same measure of faith?
You might be tempted to say at this point that things are different today. Under the circumstances, how can I not be concerned? This response reminds me of the first of two perspectives on life found in the book of Ecclesiastics. It is in the often repeated phrase “under the sun.” The message that we receive from Solomon the preacher is that life “under the sun” is full of frustration and emptiness (vanity). Fortunately, he presented another perspective, namely life “under heaven”—a life lived from the perspective of God’s sovereign ordaining and ruling over all things. Note that this perspective is reflected in a number of places in our catechism. For example, the answer to Heidelberg Catechism question Q28, “What does it profit us to know that God has created, and by His providence still upholds all things?” states, “That we may be patient in adversity; thankful in prosperity; and for what is future, have good confidence in our faithful God and Father, that no creature shall separate us from His love; since all creatures are so in His hand, that without His will they cannot so much as move.”
We are to have “good confidence” and find true comfort knowing that we live under the sovereign rule of our Heavenly Father. Habakkuk (Hab. 2:4) and Solomon (Eccl. 12:13–14) learned and passed to us the truth that the way to overcome the temptation to be overwhelmed and discouraged by times of adversity is to focus on the Lord, to trust Him, and to do what He has commanded us to do. Isn’t this what it means to be a Christian, or better yet, to be a disciple (follower) of Jesus Christ?
Turning now to the teaching of our Lord and Master-Teacher Jesus Christ, we find two important truths that He taught His disciples while here on earth concerning how to handle the various uncertainties of life. They can be summarized with the words “trust” and “pray.” This teaching is recorded in the Gospel of Matthew in what has been labeled the Sermon on the Mount (Chapters 5 through 7). Consider the following:
“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worryabout clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matt. 6:25-34).
Jesus addressed “trust” when He commanded three times “do not worry.” Is it because we face the continual temptation to take things into our own hands, including things that are beyond our control, that He provided an antidote, namely to turn our eyes away from that temptation and to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness”? As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to walk by faith and “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).
The second important truth that Jesus provided to enable us to roll our burdens on the Lord is through the gift of prayer. The Heidelberg Catechism addresses the necessity for prayer in Q116 which asks, “Why is prayer necessary for Christians?” and the answer is, “Because it is the chief part of the thankfulness which God requires of us; and because God will give His grace and Holy Spirit only to such, as earnestly and without ceasing, beg them from Him, and render thanks unto Him for them.” Prayer is faith in action and it includes thankfulness.
The apostle Paul said it this way in his letter to the Philippians, “Be anxious for nothing, 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 minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6–7). Let us explore the point mentioned in the catechism that “prayer is the chief part of thankfulness.” We will use the Lord’s teaching on prayer as recorded by Matthew earlier in the same chapter as the primary source for our considerations. After correcting the misuse of fasting and prayer, our Lord proceeded to provide a model prayer. The following is a brief attempt to apply the principle of thankfulness using this prayer.
“Our Father in heaven”—Thank You Father for our redemption in Christ. Thank You for adopting us into your family. Thank You for giving us the Holy Spirit who enables us to cry to You Abba, Father. Thank You for providing access whereby we know that you hear our prayers. Thank You for preparing a place for us to be with You forever in heaven.
“Hallowed be Your name”—Thank You for the revelation of your person and works through your name that is been placed upon us by baptism. Thank You that You have called us to be holy (set apart from the world), granted us your Holy Spirit, and will continue to change us from glory to glory into the image of your Son, Jesus Christ.
“Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”—Thank You for revealing your perfect will for us through both the Bible and internally in our hearts and consciences. Thank You for the knowledge that You reign over all things and are working all things together for our good and more importantly for your own glory. Thank You that through You the gates of hell cannot prevail against the church.
“Give us this day our daily bread”—Thank You for providing us all things necessary for life and godliness. Thank You for commanding us to ask, seek, and knock, and for your promise that You will certainly answer us.
“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors”—Thank You Father for the forgiveness of all our sins through the sufferings and death of Your dear son Jesus Christ. Thank You for the grace that enables us to forgive those who have offended us.
“And do not lead us into temptation, But deliver us from the evil one”—Thank You for the awareness of the spiritual warfare that is happening all around us. Thank You for protecting us from enemies both from without (the world and the devil) but also from within (the flesh). Thank You for your abiding presence as our chief shepherd, leading and guiding us through the valley of the shadow of death unto your heavenly kingdom and glory.
“For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever”—Thank You for providing a future and a hope. Thank You for being our Lord and King and that You have “power over all things, Thou art both willing and able to give us all good; and that thereby not we, but Thy holy Name may be glorified forever” (from Q128).
“Amen”—Thank You that that “my prayer is much more certainly heard of God, than I feel in my heart that I desire these things of Him” (Q129).
Remember that this is only the beginning attempt at applying the principle of thankfulness while focusing on the model prayer that Christ has given to us. It is hoped that you will be inspired to continue to add your own thanksgivings to this list. To conclude, we can summarize what we have learned using this rhyme.
Trust God and pray,
Thank Him and obey,
For that is the way,
To live day by day.