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Description: If we have faith that God is in control of circumstances affecting us, we can give thanks to God for everything.
Who Controls Your Life: God or You?
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
I don’t know how much in the Catholic Church the term Eucharist was used. Certainly the Anglican
Church would use it and we (Methodists) would know it, but Eucharist is almost a direct translation
of the Greek verb “eucharistia” and it simply means “thanks” or “thanksgiving.” And that’s the
message of this verse which we’re about to study; that our whole life should be a Eucharist.
(Karl) Barth surprised me when he asked what the only attitude is that is appropriate to God in the
light of what he has done. It’s almost as surprising as his comment about what sin is and he says
that sin is sloth, and it surprises you that it means sloth. He means that it’s a failure to rise
in what Christ has done in you, and to rise with Christ to the right hand of God. So the heart of
sin is sloth.
He similarly then says what is the only attitude that we should have to God, and you immediately
think faith, etc, but he says “gratitude.” That is the only attitude that is appropriate in the
light of all that God has done. And that is what the verse is about that we’re studying today,
Ephesians 5:20, “always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God
the Father.” It’s the same verse as the one we found in the chapter we read in I Thessalonians
5:18 which is “give thanks in all circumstances” thank God for everything. And you know the
response in our minds; “for the holidays –yes; for the new car – yes; and for the Christmas present
that I’ve just got; and for this beautiful day and the sunshine and the flowers, and for my food,
and for all the things that are fun and for all the things that are obviously good.”
But the word is “give thanks in ALL circumstances” and the Greek word is “panta” meaning for
everything. But then you stop and automatically make exceptions in your own mind: “For cancer? For
what those people did to me? That unpleasant person that was so offensive yesterday? That person
that is so hard to along with? No. Those are parts of the world that are fallen, and they are
fallen out of God’s control and they are not his best for me. They’re not to be thanked for; they’re
to be forgotten as completely as I can forget them.”
Then you’re life ends up dicing between things: “this is not to be thankful for; but this other
thing yes, be thankful for.” Then it becomes something of a preoccupation trying to figure out if
this is good or if it’s bad. Is this something that I can thank God for – a gift from his own hand
to me, or is this something that the devil did or that this person did?
Then it somehow spoils it a bit; the black seeps over into the white. You get preoccupied with the
things that aren’t so good and that you “obviously” are not to thank God for, and then you’re not
sure whether the interludes are the “thanking” bits or the interludes are the “bad” bits.
But most importantly, your mind begins to take over its pivotal position of judging and deciding
whether this is a good thing, a “win-win,” a “win-lose,” or a “lose-lose” and it kind of spoils it.
It’s hard to burst into laughter and exhilaration in a controlled way. It’s hard to say “now you
laugh,” “now you smile,” “now you frown.” There’s some spontaneity missing somehow and it can end
up like the verse in Mark 4:7 about the seed sown among the thorns where the cares of this world,
and the delight in riches and the desire for other things chokes the word. It can end up choking
the spontaneity of your love and your joy and your thanksgiving.
Our dear Lord has such wisdom and says, “Thank me in ALL circumstances; for everything. Give me
thanks in ALL circumstances for everything.” And it’s a bit like his “Rejoice always.” And you
think, “Rejoice ALWAYS? Well if you ran the whole show maybe you’d….oh…you DO run the whole show.
And I’m to rejoice always. Then whether I understand it or not, I’d better look into this. Rejoice
always. Thank you in all circumstances for everything…well; you must know what you’re about.”
But I’m not sure that we do. (Francis) Schafer said that the one thing that saves a lot of people
is that they’re not logical – few human beings are actually logical. Now of course it applies to
the bad side in that way, but it also applies to the good side. We are not logical; we somehow
agree in ourselves that God runs the whole show that he knows what is what, but we do think there is
a little hyperbole here. “Give thanks in all circumstances for all things.”
We think that yes, God does know all things, but this is just not sensible. There are things that
occur in this life that are certainly not his will and it’s not right to give thanks for those.
Does God know everything? Does God know each one of us individually? Does he know the life that we
are living? Did he know that life before it ever started? Were all of our days written in his book
before there were any of them? Did he know everything that has occurred in our lives up to now?
Does he know everything that will occur in our lives in the future? Has he in any way dealt with
those? Has he provided for those? Does he know the sicknesses that we may come into in future
years? Does he know the difficult situations that we might meet next week? If he doesn’t know
that, is there somebody else who does know? And has he worked all of that into his plan for our
That’s where I think that one has to take seriously 2 Corinthians 5:19: “that is, in Christ God was
reconciling the world to himself.” “God was reconciling the world to himself.” When you reconcile
your bank account, you reconcile what the bank says you have with what you have in your checkbook.
That is, you make them both agree; you correct the one that’s wrong and you make it like the one
If God reconciles the world to himself it means he takes the world as it now has become and he fits
it in and adjusts it to the world as he planned it. And in Christ he did that adjustment. He took
the plagues and the sicknesses and the recessions and the mistakes of men and the wars on that side,
and he adjusted them so that they work into the plan that he had originally for them.
So he reconciled these two and that’s what enabled Jesus to say “I have overcome the world” he
didn’t mean that he’d beat the world up. He meant that he dealt with it the same way as the expert
making an Indian carpet does when he gets a wrong thread in; he doesn’t rip the whole thing apart
but he works it into the plan and the pattern that he had.
God knows everything about us, and of course he has known everything that we will meet. And of
course he has seen to the very end of time and he knows all the things that will happen in this
world and he has taken them all in Christ and he has reconciled them to his own plan so that he has
worked all things according to the council of his will.
That’s why he says “Give thanks in ALL circumstances, for this is my will for you in Christ Jesus.
I know the things that have happened to you and I know the things that will happen to you and
believe me; I have worked it all into my plan. And whatever they meant for evil to you, I am
working for your good.”
So you do not need to “dice” your thanksgiving; you can give thanks for everything that you come
into. Yes, you can give thanks for the cancer. You can give thanks for the failed sale. You can
give thanks for the vacation that has not worked out the way that you wanted it. Yes, you can give
thanks for the obvious contempt of these people for you because I have seen all that and I have
worked it into my plan for you so that it will turn out for your good. And you can greet those
trials as pure joy because I am working in that for you a steadfastness of faith that you would not
otherwise have. So, yes; that has ended up to be a gift from me. You can receive these things, not
from man’s hand, and above all not from the devil’s hand; you can receive these things from my hand
because I have worked them into my plan for you.
I don’t know if it may have been Pauline T, the Quaker lady, who wrote the song “My Life Flows On in
Endless Song,” but I do know that the Quaker’s faced the earth’s lamentations with great courage and
great peace and endured dreadful treatment at the hands of people because of their passivism. They
would not do anything but turn the other cheek and they, along with George Fox and all the other
leaders suffered things that we would not think that a human being should suffer. They did it
because they believed that those things were gifts from God to them; they received them as gifts and
they gave thanks for them as gifts.
I think that’s the freedom that our Father has called us to: to give thanks every moment of every
day in all our circumstances for everything that comes to us. Not because it’s perfect as it comes,
but because God has already known about it and has worked it into his plan and so it is going to
forward his will for your life.
So he says “give thanks in all circumstances for all things for this is my will for you in Christ
Jesus.” Actually, it just comes down to that; do we believe God? Do you trust God? Is your life
in the hands of God, or is it in the hands of men, or is it in the hands of others? I certainly can
see that it simplifies our life tremendously. It makes life a joy and a delight if we will accept
what God says when he says, “All of your life is in my hands; I have made all the adjustments to the
things that will happen to you so that my will will be fulfilled in your life, and I have only good
in mind for you because I love you with all my heart, so give thanks to me for everything that comes
to you – in all the circumstances that you are in.
What I can see is that is stops you “dicing” it. It stops you dividing it up into the good and the
bad, into the happy and the unhappy, into what is a blessing to me and what is a curse to me, into
what is God’s gift to me and what is man’s pain and harm to me. It stops you being preoccupied with
being the judge of what you should receive and it enables you to receive everything as from your
You can tell what it must do to his heart as he looks down on a little insect that he has lovingly
and carefully taken care of and that he has himself suffered for and he sees the little path that he
has carefully planned for it and cleared for it, and he sees that little insect waking up and
thanking him and walking forward with joy and delight.
The contrast is with looking down and seeing this little insect sweating it out, full of anxiety,
hesitant to go forward, hesitant to make the next step, wondering which way he should go. He must
think, “Oh my child, why don’t you enjoy it? I’ve made it all right for you, why don’t you enjoy
it? Just be grateful to me.” So, he has called us to a simple life of giving thanks in all
circumstances, for all things.
My wife will joke with me at times wondering if the sky had fallen because I looked at times like it
had! But the truth is for each of us to say to ourselves, the moment the Holy Spirit makes us
aware, “Am I thanking God for this?” And really what we should do is train ourselves — you can.
Leatherhead trained himself always to think of Christ when he had an evil thought, so when the evil
thought came up it prompted him to think of Christ immediately.
Whenever you feel sadness, or anything approaching a depression, look up and say from your heart
“Father, thank you.” And then keep saying it until your heart begins to lift and your heart begins
to thank him. That’s something you can do and you don’t need to wonder if that is right. You don’t
need to wonder if you’re playing games with yourself – maybe you are – but it’s the right game to
play, it’s the right thing to do.
Give thanks in all circumstances. Let us pray.
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