“In everything give THANKS…” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
I find myself in the midst of a challenging season, where every system, habit or consensus - are seemingly ripped out of their established place, and keep on crashing against the breakwater called “COVID-19”. We can most assuredly drown in never-ending debates and arguments as to what and why, and the timing of it all, and who’s responsible, and what conspiracies surround the matter, and how everything started in the first place, and what will happen tomorrow. But at the end of the day, if we surround ourselves with these futile discussions - I can guarantee you’ll experience one thing - emptiness. Emptiness seasoned with two spoons of frustration, a handful of anger, a dribble of worry, and a whole bowl of anxiety.
And now that we’ve taken all this negativity out, we can carefully put it aside and concentrate on what really is going to make a difference. No, not political stances, demonstrations, calls for radical changes in our local communities or congregations, neither a call for new governments, or moving to a different country (and here also we can debate till kingdom come over each and every matter… But all of the above are not the essence of it).
Let’s concentrate on worship.
And… With your permission - a few words about “Worship”.
Over the years, the word worship has received a strong connotation to song and singing, until today most Christians around the globe would most likely describe this word as “a song that expresses praise”. At the same time that worship can indeed be expressed through song, or singing, and is even encouraged in a myriad of verses throughout the Bible - worship is not necessarily song, or singing. One can sing many songs of praise but not worship God. In like manner, one can dance, paint, serve, and teach - but not worship.
Worship as defined in the online dictionary is: “the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity”. And, as defined in the Bible, in the book of Hebrews 13:15: “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name”. At the heart of the word “worship” is the intent of the heart. Simply put - the way God commanded us to relate to Him. If my heart is tuned to Him, wishes to please Him, serve Him, bless Him, praise Him - then every act I do, will be an act of worship.
Therefore, worship, and a life of worship (a life in which every detail, thought, and action are aimed at and focused on the Lord) - is a legacy which began long before we were born, continues throughout us daily in extraordinary and unique fashions, and is weaved onward in the hearts of all those with whom our paths cross.
Psalm 100:4: “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise.” Not lying, one of the last concepts or phrases that run through my mind recently, especially in light of all I’ve stated above, is being “thankful”, or “thankfulness”. There are plenty of reasons, difficulties, disadvantages, circumstances, incidents, and occurrences (both for me personally, and for the general global public) - in light of which the word “thankfulness” seems detached and out of place. However, this word and everything that it entails, is scattered throughout the Bible in various intellectually challenging contexts that question what our response to them might be.
In Hebrew, the concept of “thankfulness” appears 102 times in the Old Testament, out of which 72 times are with the root y.d.h (that generate different variations of the word “thankfulness”). The most simple definition of this word is found in 1 Chronicles 16:34: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever” - it is recognizing everything which is right and true about God, while being in a state of continuous gratitude and praise. In the New Testament the Greek word used is “Eucharisteo”, which appears 71 times and its meaning is to be grateful, feel thankful, to give thanks.
So why choose this particular verse from Psalm 100? Because like a dear friend once penned - thankfulness is like a code, a password. If we wish to reach God’s presence, to dwell with Him - then in order to advance through the outer gates, we must “type the code” of wearing thankfulness for all His deeds, His grace, miracles, sacrifice, gifts, Presence, workmanship and grandeur. After entering, in order to traverse His courts straight into His arms - we must “type the password” - thank Him and glorify His Name.
Countless writers wrote countless articles about the subjects of thankfulness and gratitude. A simple google search can immediately present you with any of them. Hence, my goal is not to write you a bunch of details you can find anywhere else. I’d want for you to pause for a moment, right now actually, and think of all the things you can be grateful for. Of all the people you are blessed by. Of all the hardships God has helped you with, through or out of. And looking ahead, I’d want you to look at how the following day might look like, maybe even the following week - with a “gratitude filter”. Even before treading a single step on the path ahead - give thanks to God for His wondrous works, His magnitude and splendor. Acknowledge His goodness, grace and many gifts to you - maybe even before they were given. Allow the decision of being grateful to lead you before important meetings, crucial crossroads and fateful circumstances. And yes. Gratitude is a decision. Not always an emotion. Very much like love which is not always accompanied by a feeling, but is ever a decision to stand alongside, support, accept, and hold the ones we chose to love.
And this is one of the most beautiful things about being grateful to God. This thankfulness to Him is all about HIM, His character, who He is, not us. Whatever occurs in my life, and whichever circumstances surround me - being grateful to God is all about who He is and nothing about where I’m at. Books cannot contain the amount of goodness God has shared with humanity, with us, and consequently (at least theoretically) thankfulness should be the easiest response ever! However, it’s this “subduing our old self”, our “flesh”, that makes it so hard for us to walk continually in this attitude of gratitude; It’s those negative news, and all-encompassing negativity that snatches our ability to refocus on being thankful; It’s this vengeful feeling, or anger, or disappointment, or pride (and many others) that build a barrier, a division between us and the gates and courts of God's Presence. But at the end of the day (or rather, in its beginning), we hold the power of deciding what our course of action and reaction might be. Will we sink and drown at the waves of difficulty and negativity that threaten to overtake the world today? Or will we simply decide to thank God? For every small and big thing? Every seemingly insignificant matter, and all those that mean the world to us?
For years I thought that the only way to pass any lesson on - is to first perfect my knowledge of it. As none of us are ever going to be perfect this side of heaven, I decided to open my life and heart and walk through this life journey together with you. I’m right there with you, struggling to be thankful all the time, forgetting at times that that’s the code I’m searching for. Remembering only after fuming or feeling defeated that I simply have to type the code and then the password to change any circumstance that threatens to take over, and experience that peace that transcends all understanding.
This is a challenge for us all, me included. Today, now, of all times, in spite of and in the face of everything that stands against us, precisely when we can’t think of or see any way out - let’s wear gratitude. Let us simply give thanks to God Almighty. Let us bow down and open our hearts to the One we crown as King, the One we call Lord, Savior, Creator, Maker, Redeemer. Let us fill our hearts with thankfulness, and our lips with ever-growing gratitude for what He’s done in our lives, His miracles, tremendous might, eternal salvation, His tangible Presence. And mostly, mostly let’s remember that being thankful and giving thanks is a decision that’s subject to our will at any given moment. It’s a response we must habituate, make sure is the first instinct to any incident and occasion. Simply because thankfulness is not about us, it is all about Him.
Each one of us has been given an individual code and a password, a way in which we appreciate and give thanks. So what are you waiting for? Start typing the code and password. Start worshipping.
(Thank you to Rafael Bastien-Herrera for your words and direction!)