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.