A Royal Inauguration

A Royal Inauguration

Isaiah 9:1-7

James C. Denison

Christmas is the season for miracles. Someone with too much time on his hands has calculated that if Santa brought a Beanie Baby to every child on earth, his sleigh would weigh 333,333 tons. He needs 214,206 reindeer to pull that sleigh (plus Rudolph, of course). To deliver his gifts in one night, Santa has to make 822.6 visits per second, sleighing at 3,000 times the speed of sound. It’s a miracle that all his toys get delivered each Christmas.

We need more miracles from Santa this year, don’t we? You don’t need me to depress you with the week’s reports of continuing financial crisis, the terrorist attack in India, threats made against New York City’s subways, job losses close to home.

While President-elect Obama is announcing financial advisors in preparation for his inauguration in January, we don’t have to wait to learn about the administration of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He has already been installed on the throne of the universe. We have never needed the help of this Wonderful Counselor more than we do today. Where do you want his counsel this morning? How can it be yours?

Admit that you need a counselor

Let’s begin with good news for hard times. Isaiah’s promise that a child was coming to be inaugurated as the Messiah was announced to a nation in crisis.

Their world was at war, as ours is today. Assyrian would soon destroy the ten northern tribes of Israel and threaten the southern nation of Judah. Babylon would then overthrow Assyria and enslave Judah for 70 years. War clouds were brewing, with no blue sky in sight.

In the face of such chaos and calamity, the people were seeking counsel from everyone but God. They turned to “mediums and spiritists,” consulting “the dead on behalf of the living” (Isaiah 8:19). They were ignorant of the “law and testimony,” the revealed word of God (v. 20). As a result, they saw “only distress and darkness and fearful gloom” (v. 22).

Now they are “walking in darkness” and “living in the land of the shadow of death” (9:2). They feel the “yoke that burdens them,” the “bar across their shoulders,” the “rod of their oppressor” (v. 4). They have known the “warrior’s boot used in battle” and the “garment rolled in blood” (v. 5). Their nation was in chaos, distress, spiritual confusion.

Sound familiar?

To them and to us, the Lord promises a “Wonderful Counselor.” “Wonderful” is used throughout the Hebrew Bible to describe God and his works. It means “so full of wonder as to be divinely miraculous.” “Counselor” describes a person of such wisdom that he advises kings, the wisest man in the land. The words together can be translated, “He who plans wonderful things.”

Think of all the ways Jesus proved Isaiah right. As a boy of 12, his wisdom confounded the greatest scholars of his nation. Repeatedly the Gospels report that Jesus knew the thoughts of men before they spoke them. When he was accosted by the sharpest lawyers and debaters of his day, he left them defeated and astounded.

As the God of the universe, his wisdom transcends all time. This Counselor knows what the markets will do on Monday and two years from Monday. He knows what will happen in Iraq and Afghanistan and with your job and health and family. He has all of eternity to hear your next prayer and to advise your next decision.

But you must seek his help, of course. A counselor can’t do much for your marriage unless you’ll first admit that you need counseling. A husband or wife dragged into the counselor’s office is not going to experience much help.

If you think that you can solve your problems in your wisdom, you won’t seek God’s. If you buy into the self-sufficiency gospel of our contemporary culture, you’ll leave this sanctuary in the same shape as when you entered it.

If you’re listening to this sermon just because it’s Sunday rather than because you know you need a word from God, I won’t say much today that you’ll remember tomorrow. That’s why Jesus began his Sermon on the Mount with the observation, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” literally “blessed are those who know their need of God” (Matthew 5:3). If they didn’t know they needed what he would say, they would miss his wisdom. So will we.

The first step to getting help from the Wonderful Counselor is admitting that you need such a counselor. Why do you?

Why do you need this counselor?

We’ve seen the good news: the God of the universe is ready to be your Wonderful Counselor. Now let’s ask some hard questions. First: why should we trust him? If the Christ of Christmas is such a wonderful counselor, if God is truly on his throne, if Jesus is really omniscient and all-loving and all-powerful, why is his creation so broken?

Many of us ask that hard question every day. We know we should love and trust the God who made us, but the rest of his creation doesn’t often inspire such a commitment.

The atheist Sam Harris says that a single innocent, suffering child anywhere in the universe calls into question the existence of an all-loving, all-powerful God. Of course it does. If Jesus is such a Wonderful Counselor, why are times so hard? Why is there so much innocent suffering in a world created by such a wise God?

I was once having such a discussion with a skeptical friend, thinking of all the ways I could justify God’s wisdom with regard to the problems in our world today. You’ve heard the familiar arguments: God made us with free will so we could choose to go to heaven; when we misuse our freedom, the fault is not God’s but ours.

And that’s true for suffering we deserve, as when a drunk driver smashes his car. But it doesn’t help much with innocent suffering, as when a drunk driver smashes your car. It doesn’t explain why greed on Wall Street has to traumatize the global financial system and cost you your job or your pension.

Then I heard myself ask my skeptical friend, “How would we do better?”

Of course, if I were God there would be no innocent suffering. The consequences of misused freedom would not be allowed to cause another 9-11 or Holocaust. So let’s say that we draw the line at murder—every time someone is about to kill someone else, God must prevent the consequences of their freedom. I don’t want a world where drunk drivers can kill my sons driving back to college today.

But I don’t want them to injure Ryan or Craig, either. I don’t want my sons to spend the rest of their lives in a wheelchair because of the choice someone else makes, so God must prevent that consequence as well. Now that I think of it, I don’t want my sons to be the victims of emotional or verbal abuse either, from a professor or friend or employer. I don’t want them to get cancer from secondhand smoke or heart disease from living in this fallen world. Once God starts preventing consequences of free will, where does he stop?

One day, this Wonderful Counselor will remake the world and “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). But in the meantime, we don’t reject all medical science because a particular drug or doctor didn’t help us.

We don’t refuse all education because we had a bad experience in freshman English. When we’re sick, we need a doctor the most. That’s why Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick…I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12, 13).

This Wonderful Counselor redeems all he allows. His wisdom gets us through the hard places and the hard times. Nothing can separate us from his love. He is with us always, to the very end of the age. He is preparing a place for us in glory right now, and will come and take us home one day. In the meantime, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, where he ever lives to make intercession for us. Admit you need a counselor, this Counselor, and his wisdom will be yours.

How can you know his counsel?

How do we receive his counsel? You know the essentials of the spiritual life: God reveals himself rationally through his word, practically through people and circumstances, and intuitively as his Spirit speaks to our spirits. So seek his will by reading Scripture; ask for his direction in prayer; listen for his voice in other people; pay attention to circumstances, to open and closed doors and opportunities.

Well and good. But if God really wants to counsel and direct our lives, why is it sometimes so hard to be sure that we know his will?

Over the years, God has blessed me with some wonderful counselors, advisors, very wise mentors. I think immediately of Russell Dilday and John Newport at Southwestern Seminary, of Virgil Wilson at New Hope Baptist Church and James Mims at First Baptist Church in Midland, of Lee Burge at Second-Ponce in Atlanta and of some dear friends here at Park Cities. Each time I have needed their counsel, it was readily available to me and very easy to comprehend.

But when I need a word from the Lord, it’s seldom that easy. Is this open or closed door his doing, or life in a fallen world? Should I trust this feeling or that friend? Does this Scripture intend to apply to my problem? If God is truly our Wonderful Counselor, why isn’t his counsel easier to know?

I’m reminded of the time G. K. Chesterton was invited to submit an essay in a contest titled, “What’s wrong with the world.” His submission: “Dear sirs, I am. Sincerely yours, G. K. Chesterton.”

Every time I have been confused about the will and counsel of God, the fault has been mine. I would not spend time listening to his voice; even God cannot speak to those who won’t listen. Or I would not do what he says; the God of the universe does not reveal his will as an option but an order.

Or I wanted to know something I could not yet understand. We cannot teach trigonometry to two year olds; the great mysteries of life are not beyond God’s ability to communicate, but they are beyond my ability to comprehend.

Or I wanted an answer today to an issue I will not understand until tomorrow. God is still preparing me to understand what he wants me to know. He’s still working in circumstances, opening and closing doors and speaking to the people who will be his voice in my life. His ways and timing are seldom mine.

Or I want an answer when he wants a relationship. Prayer is how God molds me into the character of Christ, not an Internet search engine where I type in a question and get a reply. Prayer is how I connect with my Father, not just how I get his counsel.

But there have been times, all too rare, when I have come to the God of the universe, willing to make time to listen to his voice in Scripture and prayer and creation, ready to do whatever he says, trusting him for what I cannot comprehend, choosing to wait on his timing, wanting above all to know him more intimately.

And every time, he has been a Wonderful Counselor to me. Every time.


On January 20, our nation will inaugurate our 44th president. As a speech major in college, we were made to study the “rhetoric of great issues,” including each of the inaugural addresses. My favorite was George Washington’s second address, as it was only 135 words long; my least favorite was William Henry Harrison’s, at 8,445 words (the longest in history). It is ironic that Mr. Harrison caught a cold while delivering his speech and died a month later of pneumonia.

Every four years we inaugurate a president. Every morning and before every decision, you and I inaugurate a Wonderful Counselor. Let’s choose wisely, right now.

Strength in Seismic Times

Strength in Seismic Times

Acts 4:23-31

James C. Denison

These were the headlines one day last week:

Pakistan quake kills 170, leaves thousands homeless

Paterson calls for federal rescue package for states

Fighting in Congo approaches Goma

Suicide attacks kill dozens in Somalia

China investigates tainted eggs in new food scare

Boy is 23rd child abandoned at Nebraska hospital

Market motion sickness to continue

Panel rebukes FDA on plastic bottle safety

It makes you want to throw away the paper before you read it and refuse to open the Internet, doesn’t it? Sixteen years ago, historian Francis Fukuyama spoke of the times as “the end of history.” He meant that history defined as the clash between nations and cultures was at its end. The demise of the Soviet Union ended the Cold War and would bring democracy to Russia and Eastern Europe. The technological revolution would create a new global economy, one in which progress was inevitable. “The world is flat,” Thomas Friedman wrote—the Internet would make the world smaller and the nations more cooperative and synergistic than ever before.

How different things are today. Russia has turned to autocratic leadership; the rise of radical Islam and the war on terror has embroiled America and the West in protracted armed conflict; the dot.com bubble burst, then the housing bubble burst, and now we are dealing with the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Consumer confidence is at an all-time low. Anxiety abounds.

We’ve been here before. Believers in the first months of Christian history were facing a challenge even more dire than ours. We are not on trial for our lives, but they were. Our families are not facing systemic persecution and even annihilation, but theirs were. What they did then, we can do today. If we do, the God who helped and blessed and empowered them will do the same for us. Here’s how to find strength in seismic times.

How to turn to God

When we left them last week, Peter and John had just experienced the first healing miracle in Christian history. Crowds had run to hear the gospel; multitudes were brought into the Kingdom. But it didn’t take long for the enemy to strike back. The two apostles were quickly arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin, the assembled Supreme Court of ancient Israel. This body had the power to confiscate their homes, to flog and imprison them, even to ask Rome to crucify them.

Prior to this time, the fledgling Christian movement was not on the authorities’ radar. Jesus had been executed; with his death, they assumed his movement would die out. They had done nothing to seek or persecute the first Christians. But now all that has changed. Now their group is out in the open, their lives threatened, the future of their movement in doubt.

Peter preached the gospel fearlessly before them; the fisherman who had cowered before a serving girl proved again that the Holy Spirit can empower anyone to do anything. But the authorities were not persuaded. They “commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:19) and let them go. If they broke the law again, the consequences would be severe.

Now Peter and John have returned to their Christian family and reported all that they had heard (v. 23). What would the movement do? They could tremble before the threats made by the Sanhedrin, abandoning their Great Commission and even their faith commitment to Jesus. This was the safe route to take, to be sure. Christian history could have ended here. The New Testament could have become just another ancient religious book describing a bygone spiritual movement, now interesting only to historians of antiquity. Everything was hanging in the balance.

Rather than retreat, these brave Christians advanced.

First, they sought God in prayer. They raised their voices together in prayer to God (v. 24a)—nothing private or secret about this.

Second, they trusted God’s providence. They announced that their God is the One who “made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them” (v. 24b). Not Caesar, not the high priest. They refused to recognize the authority of the Sanhedrin or anyone else before that of their God. Quoting King David and Psalm 2, they chose to see this as yet another time when “the kings of the earth” and “the rulers” stood against the God.

Third, they asked for God’s provision. They described their specific challenge: “Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed” (v. 27). Someone said that when a person persecutes your faith, “tell God on them.” They gave their struggle immediately to their Father, as nothing surprises him (v. 28).

Fourth, they experienced God’s power. In direct violation of the Sanhedrin’s order, they asked God to do two things:

Enable them to speak his word “with great boldness.” They knew that continuing to preach could cost them their lives and families, so they asked God for the “great boldness” they would need. Then confirm their message with his own power—heal, perform miraculous signs, and do great wonders. But they wanted him to do them “through the name of your holy servant Jesus,” so that no one could misunderstand the Source of this power.

With this result: “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly” (v. 31). In seismic times, they had seismic power. And the movement continued; the word of God spread; the Kingdom marched; and today two billion people name Jesus their Lord.

The pattern continues

Was this prayer meeting an isolated event, something which happened on the other side of the world but bears little relevance for our lives and times? Absolutely not. There have been four Great Awakenings in American history. Every one of them followed the pattern we have seen this morning. Every one of them shows us that what God did in Jerusalem, he wants to do again today. When there is a crisis, if we will seek God in prayer, trust his providence, and ask for his provision, we will experience his power. He will shake the meeting, and fill his people, and glorify himself. Always.

The First Great Awakening came in 1734. The crisis in the colonies was severe. Moral conditions were dire. Not one in 20 people claimed to be a Christian. Samuel Blair, a pastor of the day, said that religion lay as it were dying and ready to expire its last breath of life in the visible church.

But Theodore Frelinghuysen, a Dutch Reformed minister who had come to the colonies from Holland in 1720, would not give up on his adopted homeland. He began praying fervently for revival to come to the colonies, first with himself and his church, and then with his larger community. Others began joining his fledgling prayer movement. The Spirit began to move.

Then Jonathan Edwards, an intellectual recluse who studied 12 hours a day and read his sermons, face buried in the manuscript, experienced the anointing and power of God. Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God shook his church and then the young nation. The preaching of George Whitefield gathered and galvanized thousands. The First Great Awakening was the result. As much as 80 percent of the colonial population became identified with a Christian church.

It started with a group who prayed, trusting God’s providence, asking for his provision and experienced his power.

The Second Great Awakening began in 1792. After the War for Independence, social conditions became even more deplorable than before.

Drunkenness became epidemic; out of a population of five million, 300,000 were confirmed alcoholics; 15,000 died of the disease each year. Women were afraid to go out at night for fear of assault. Bank robberies were a daily occurrence.

John Marshall, Chief Justice of the United States, wrote to James Madison, Bishop of Virginia, that the Church “was too far gone ever to be redeemed.” A poll taken at Harvard University found not a single believer. Two were found at Princeton. Tom Paine claimed that “Christianity will be forgotten in 30 years.”

But he was mistaken. In 1784, a Baptist pastor named Isaac Baccus gathered together a number of ministers. They wrote a circular letter, asking believers to pray for awakening. Prayer groups spread all over New England. In 1972, revival broke out on college campuses, where hundreds were converted. “Camp meetings” spread across the frontier; eventually more than a thousand were meeting annually. Churches doubled and tripled in membership. One Baptist church in Kentucky with a membership of 170 baptized 421 during a single revival meeting.

In that year, William Carey began the modern missions movement. The American Bible Society, American Tract Society, and a variety of missions organizations began as a result of this Awakening. All because God’s people sought God in prayer, trusted his providence, asked for his provision and experienced his power.

The Third Great Awakening is dated to 1858. The Gold Rush of 1848 had led to a booming economy which crashed in 1857. If it were not for the Great Depression of the 1930s, the collapse of 1857 would have that title. Fear of civil war was increasing. Turmoil was everywhere.

In the midst of such fear and anxiety, a group of laymen began meeting for prayer on Wednesday, September 23, 1857 at the Old North Dutch Church in New York City. They were led by a Presbyterian businessman named Jeremiah Lamphier.

The first day, six people came to his prayer meeting. The next week there were 14; then 23; then the group began to meet daily. They outgrew the church and began filling other churches and meeting halls throughout the city. The movement spread across the country.

The result was one of the most significant movements in Christian history. More than a million were saved in one year, out of a national population of only 30 million. 50,000 were coming to Christ every week. The revival continued into the Civil War, where more than 100,000 soldiers were converted. Sailors took the revival to other countries. Thousands of young people volunteered for mission service.

All because God’s people sought God in prayer, trusted his providence, asked for his provision and experienced his power.

The Fourth Great Awakening began in Wales in 1904 in the heart of a coal miner named Evan Roberts. He became convicted of his sins by the Spirit, and turned to God in prayer and repentance. He then began preaching to the young people in his church, calling them to prayer and repentance.

Prayer meetings broke out all over Wales. Social conditions were affected dramatically. Tavern owners went bankrupt; police formed gospel quartets because they had no one to arrest. Coal mines shut down for a time because the miners stopped using profanity and the mules no longer understood them.

The revival spread to America, where ministers in Atlantic City, NJ reported that out of 50,000 people, only 50 adults were left unconverted. In Portland, Oregon, more than 200 stores closed daily from 11 to 2 so people could attend prayer meetings. In 1896, only 2,000 students were engaged in missionary studies; by 1906, 11,000 were enrolled.


Do you see the pattern? God’s people seek God in prayer, trust his providence, ask for his provision, and they experience his power. The Bible says that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). All God has ever done, he can do today.

You have discovered today the secret to the power of early Christianity. Why do you need to join their movement this morning?

The Battle is Not Yours, But God’s

The Battle Is Not Yours, But God’s

2 Chronicles 20:20-26

James C. Denison

Matthew Henry, the great Bible scholar, was once attacked by thieves and robbed of his wallet. He wrote these words in his diary: “Let me be thankful. First, I was never robbed before. Second, although they took my wallet, they didn’t take my life. Third, although they took all I had, it was not much. Fourth, let me be thankful that it was I who robbed and not I who did the robbing.” There’s always reason for thanksgiving.

Can you remember a Thanksgiving week more difficult than this one? The markets are down 1,600 points in three weeks. America’s automotive companies are near bankruptcy. Last Thursday, America’s Office of Director of Intelligence released a 110-page report titled “Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World.”

They predict a global shift in power and economic wealth from West to East on a level “without precedent in modern history.” They see a world increasingly conflicted over scarce food and water supplies, rogue states and terrorists, and global warming. They fear that extremists will have access to increasingly lethal technology, including nuclear and biological weapons.

What are the headlines of your heart? Why give thanks in hard times? This week we need a very simple message with a very practical application for our times, whatever we are facing today. Let’s begin with a story.

When we give thanks

Jehoshaphat (“Yahweh judges”) was one of the greatest kings in Jewish history. He came to the throne around 873 B.C., at the age of 35. By this time, the ten northern tribes constituted the nation of “Israel,” while the two southern tribes constituted the nation of “Judah,” centered in Jerusalem. Jehoshaphat was the fourth king of this southern nation.

Immediately he began to institute religious reforms, rejecting the worship of Baal and banishing idolatry from the land (1 Kings 22:46).

He soon sent religious officials across the nation to instruct the people in the word and will of God (2 Chronicles 17:7-9).

His good and godly reign ushered in a period of remarkable peace and tranquility. He even made peace with Israel, the nation to the north, establishing a truce and common cause which aided both peoples.

He created a national system of jurisprudence built on the law of God, fostering a period of great integrity and character (2 Chronicles 19:7).

Nonetheless, despite his diligent leadership and service, this good and godly man would face the greatest crisis the Jewish people had seen since leaving Egypt. Innocent people still face enemies and hurt. They still lose their savings and jobs. They still face recession and calamity and fear. What happened to him still happens to us.

Judah’s ancient enemies, the Moabites (living east of the Dead Sea) entered into a military alliance with the Ammonites to their north and the Meunites to their southwest, for the purpose of attacking Judah from all sides. So it was that “some men came and told Jehoshaphat, ‘A vast army is coming against you from Edom, from the other side of the Sea'” (2 Chronicles 20:2).

If these invading armies are successful, they will not merely occupy Judah—they will destroy the nation. They will kill every man, and take the women and children as their slaves. The very survival of the nation is in jeopardy.

And so their king does the right thing. He goes to God first (v. 3a), not last as we are prone to do. He calls the nation to come to God as well, through a national fast and prayer meeting (vs. 3b-4). Then he leads the people to do something remarkably unexpected—praise God.

He praises the Lord for his power over all the nations (v. 6). He honors him for his blessing to the people throughout their history (v. 7). He defines the crisis before the people (v. 10). He declares his absolute trust in the Lord: “We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (v. 12). The entire nation, in peril for their lives, joins him in worship before God (v. 13).

And God answers their cry.

He gives them a prophet to announce: “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s” (v. 15).

He instructs the nation to march against their enemies, knowing that “you will not have to fight this battle.” Why not? “Take up your positions, stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you” (v. 17).

Go out to fight this army of vastly superior numbers and forces? Don’t surrender to them, or flee from them? March out to certain death and destruction? Don’t give up or give out or give in? Here is the king’s response: “Jehoshaphat bowed with his face to the ground, and all the people of Judah and Jerusalem fell down in worship before the Lord. Then some Levites from the Kohathites and Korahites [the worship leaders of the nation] stood up and praised the Lord, the God of Israel, with very loud voice” (vs. 18-19).

Now watch what happens on the day that saved a nation. The king calls to the people, “Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful” (v. 20).

Then he arranges his army for battle. What soldiers did he station at the front—his best and most experienced veteran warriors? No—the worship leaders. The king “appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever'” (v. 21, quoting Psalm 136).

Now to the central event of our Thanksgiving story: “As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated” (v. 22). The armies attacked and slaughtered each other (v. 23), so that when the army of Judah arrived behind their worship leaders, “they saw only dead bodies lying on the ground; no one had escaped” (v. 24).

The people take so much plunder that three days were required to collect it all. On the fourth day “they assembled in the Valley of Beracah, where they praised the Lord. This is why it is called the Valley of Beracah to this day” (Beracah means “praise” in Hebrew).

And they return to Jerusalem in triumphant procession “for the Lord had given them cause to rejoice over their enemies” (v. 27). It all happened “as they began to sing and praise,” not before.

Why we give thanks

Why is praising God, even and especially in hard times and places, the key to the power of God? For the simple reason that we enter God’s presence through praise.

Psalm 100:4 is clear: “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise.” This is how we connect with God. This is how we connect to the power of his Spirit. Then the power that created the universe is available to us, no matter what enemies we face.

The Bible says that “God inhabits the praise of his people” (Psalm 22:3). Praise moves the power of God: “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose” (Acts 16:25-26). And the jailer and his family came to Christ, and the Kingdom of God marched on.

Scripture implores us to “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Paul commands us to “rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). We are told, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (v. 6). With this result: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (v. 7).

When we praise and thank the Lord, we enter his empowering presence. We experience the power and victory and joy he can give only to those who are close enough to receive them.

But we must praise him first. Thank God for what he will do, before he does it. The greatest expression of faith is to thank someone for what they will do for you, even before they have done it. To thank the surgeon before you have the operation, or the pilot before you take off.

“With thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Thank him after he has provided, but first thank him before he does. Thank him for hearing you and giving you what you asked or whatever is best. Thank him when you pray and when you obey. Thank him by faith before you can thank him by sight. And you will be in position to receive all that the perfect will of God intends.


When last did you thank God first? The culture sees God as a means to your end, a provider of your needs. If he disappoints you, you owe him no gratitude. If your job is threatened or your bills are overwhelming or your family is struggling, clearly God hasn’t done his job and doesn’t deserve the reward of your worship. He has to do his job to receive his pay. If you’re mad at God, drop out of church or stop praying or reading or trusting. It’s only fair.

The Christian worldview says that God redeems all he allows. He uses all he permits. If we thank him before he acts, our faith positions us to receive all he intends. He is as much Lord in the fall of 2008 as he was in the fall of 2007. He is God even when the Moabites invade. All of God there is, is in this moment. So name your enemy, your Moabites and Ammonites. And thank him for the victory before it comes, and you will experience the power of God.

The Hiding Place tells the astounding story of Corrie ten Boom’s imprisonment at Ravensbruck Concentration Camp during the Holocaust.

She and her sister Betsie were assigned to Barracks 28, one of the most ghastly places in the entire camp. The plumbing was backed up, the bedding was soiled and rancid. When they lay down on their straw mats for the first time, they discovered that the place was covered with fleas. Can you imagine the horror?

Just then Betsie reminded Corrie of 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” So they began thanking God for Barracks 28. They thanked him that they were assigned there together. They thanked him that the barracks was so crowded that more people would hear them pray and share the word of God. And they chose to thank him for the fleas, even though they had no idea why they should.

1,400 women were quartered in barracks designed for 400. Each night, Corrie and Betsie led in times of prayer and Bible study. To their surprise, no guards ever came near them. They soon had to hold a second service for all those who wanted to attend. There were guards everywhere else in the camp, but none in Barracks 28.

Then, one day, they discovered why. It was because of the fleas. They wouldn’t go into the barracks because they were flea-infested. Corrie and Betsie had thanked God for the fleas, and now they knew why.

Let’s join them.