Call upon God, adore, confess,
Petition, plead, and then declare
You are the Lord’s; give thanks and bless,
And let the Amen confirm the prayer.
One of the items of prayer in this poem by the famous hymnist Isaac Watts (1674–1748) is to “give thanks.” Numerous passages in the Bible command us to give thanks to God, and 1 Thessalonians 5:18 is all-encompassing: “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Are you in Christ Jesus? Do you desire to do the will of God? Whatever your circumstances may be, give thanks to God. In his book A Guide to Prayer (1716), Watts explains thanksgiving in prayer as taking place in two ways.
First, we should thank God for the good He gives us apart from our having asked for such. Among the infinite blessings He grants to us, we can thank Him for being made in His image and the means of salvation that were provided for us as sinners who could do nothing for ourselves. We can thank Him for daily protection and His countless mercies which are new every day. We can thank Him for food, shelter, and clothing and the luxuries of life beyond these simple things with which we should be content (cf. 1 Timothy 6:8).
Second, we should thank God for the good He gives us in answer to our specific requests in prayer. We often think to pray when we are in need and desire His help in some way. But how often do we stop and think to look back and see how He has specifically answered our prayers? Some people keep a written list of prayer requests and keep a column next to the requests to record when they have been answered. Others keep journals. At the least, we should pause in prayer to reflect upon how God has been good to us, note where this goodness is in specific answer to prayer, and give God thanks accordingly.
“Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!” (Psalm 100:4).
“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Ps 90:12).
How do you use your time each week? If Christ examined your schedule today, would your claimed commitment to Him and His church be reflected in how you spend your time with His people each week?
As Christians, we are to be “making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Eph 5:16). We do so not by living according to our former sins but rather by the Spirit in every avenue of life (cf. Eph 5:15–18). We do not seek our own interests, but the interests of Christ as the Spirit leads us to do so. Theologically, the interests of Christ typically means serving His people or being with His people in some way (cf. Phil 2:20–21).
For those who claim to be committed to their local church, one would hope their claim would be more than words and thus matched by at least being a part of their church’s weekly schedule as much as they are able, as well as the occasional events that the church uses to advance its mission. All things considered, this really is not as much time as one might think.
Everyone on earth has 168 hours a week to use or not for the glory of God. If you sleep 8 hours a night, use 9 hours a day to commute and work, and use 3 hours a day for meals, a shower, et cetera, you still have over 40 hours a week to yourself. Perhaps a couple hours a day to tend to children, groceries, and the tasks of life could put your time left over to 25–30 hours a week. Committing yourself to a service, a couple of Bible studies, and a Wednesday prayer meeting hardly seems too much to ask, especially when the example of the early church was that they devoted their schedules to these kinds of activities (Acts 2:42).
Sometimes we run to excuses that we would never use if really thought how meager they were. Skipping church on Sundays or Wednesdays because we are merely tired, ducking out early on a Sunday and missing the Christian Life Hour so we can get to lunch earlier, foregoing the Sunday night Bible study so we can watch our favorite sports team—do we really expect that Christ’s eyes of fire upon His churches will look the other way (Rev 1:14)? Or maybe the problem is a lack of self-control. How much time do you spend watching TV, checking social media, or giving your life to frivolous pursuits? Sometimes we find little time for God and His people because we love lesser matters more.
A church is only as strong as the commitment of its people, and the commitment of one may look very different than that of another. As much as you are able, devote yourself and your time to the people of God when they have covenanted to meet with each other.
The kingdom of Israel divided into southern and northern divisions under the reign of Solomon’s son Reheboam in roughly 930 B.C. (2 Chron 10). Reheboam then ruled the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin in the south while Jereboam ruled the other ten tribes in the north.
It is interesting that these two sets of tribes were taken captive by foreign powers roughly 200 and 350 years later. The northern tribes were taken captive by Assyria in 722 B.C., and the southern tribes were taken captive by Babylon in 586 B.C. Why is that one set of tribes would be taken captive by about 140 years earlier than the other?
Many reasons could be given, but we find one significant factor for the earlier captivity of the northern tribes just after the kingdom divided―leaders for godliness left the north to go to the south, and many of God’s people followed them (2 Chron 11:13–17).
To keep his people from following Reheboam once again, Jeroboam created two calves of gold and appointed non-Levitical priests to facilitate this system of false worship (1 Kgs 12:25–33). Along the way, Jeroboam cast out the true priests from the Levites, provoking the godly people in the north to follow these priests to the south (2 Chron 11:13–16). Their influence on the southern tribes was noticeable: “They strengthened the kingdom of Judah, and for three years they made Rehoboam the son of Solomon secure, for they walked for three years in the way of David and Solomon” (2 Chron 11:17). One can easily assume that the strengthening of the south was surely matched by the weakening of the north. After Israel’s division, the northern tribes instituted a system of idolatry, and it no surprise that they hastened God’s judgment all the sooner than the south. Unfortunately, the southern tribes, too, would be taken captive for their idolatry in time as well.
The northern tribes of Israel illustrate an interesting lesson for us today―a nation is stronger when its people fear the Lord. Remember that the priests were expelled from the north, provoking those who truly followed the Lord to follow these priests to the south. It is no surprise that the northern tribes took roughly half the time than the south to exhaust the patience of God.
Putting the above into a broader perspective, we know that Christ will judge the world at the end of this present age, just as Israel’s divisions were judged long ago. Until then, however, let us be a godly people who strengthen the nation in which we live because of who we are in Him. May it be that the influence of His people stays His hand in judgment for a time so that more may join us in knowing Him.
Pastor David Huffstutler
Pastor Huffstutler regularly writes articles for our Sunday bulletin. See his bio on our pastoral bio page.