First penned twenty years ago for Lifeway.com. the story and message below captured a moment in my life when the act of thanking God became a deeply personal and profound act of faith. I have never viewed my problems in the same way, as each has become a fresh opportunity to trust Him… and to thank Him!
Several years ago our Thanksgiving celebration was in trouble! With no money to afford even a small turkey, we were determined as a family to enjoy one another and express grateful hearts no matter what we had on the table. As a father it broke my heart for my children to experience want, but as a father I explored the possibilities of this being a teaching time for my kids — and for me — to learn about the miracle of thanksgiving.
Through giving thanks in difficult circumstances, I wanted to model and teach the kind of thanksgiving modeled by Jesus Christ. How can we express genuine thanks in the face of overwhelming needs?
1. Do Not Panic
Therefore, when Jesus raised His eyes and noticed a huge crowd coming toward Him, He asked Philip, “Where will we buy bread so these people can eat?” (John 6:5)
Quite suddenly Jesus and the disciples were confronted with an overwhelming need. Jesus did not respond as if something terrible or unusual has happened. He does not panic.
We will always have needs. It is the nature of being human. We were not created to be self-sufficient. Needs are a normal part of life.
But sometimes we can be surprised by needs. Needs can hit our lives with such fury that it leaves us breathless or fearful. Bills come when least expected. Poor health can arrive without warning. Crises often arrive unannounced.
It might be helpful to remind ourselves that we will always need something. The fact that some needs surprise us does not mean that God is surprised. Far from being unprepared, our Father is well aware of our needs. All of them. All the time.
2. Throw Away Your Safety Nets
He asked this to test him, for He Himself knew what He was going to do. (John 6:6)
Jesus asked Philip where they were going to get the food to feed the huge crowd. Jesus was conscious of the need and already had a supernatural solution in mind, but was calling it to Philip’s attention. It was a test!
More than any other life situation needs expose and test our internal support systems. Needs reveal the true object of our trust. Where do we turn for help in a crisis? Do we cry out to the Lord? Do we confidently trust Him to give what we need when we need it?
Or do we look for our quietly-constructed, emotional safety nets? Safety nets are those just-in-case solutions we maintain in case the Lord doesn’t come through. The places where we run for shelter and help when we feel abandoned.
Needs will show you who or what you are really trusting in. They serve a purpose.
To a casual observer, Jesus was asking Philip how they were going to feed the crowd. However, John explains that Jesus was really testing Philip to see where he would run when confronted with a need so great, that no human safety net would work.
Your Father in heaven is calling you to live without safety nets. No matter how great the need, He desires that you run and call upon Him. Your needs are designed to draw your heart into greater dependence upon your Father, and not upon yourself or your resources.
3. Keep Your Eye on the Lord
Philip answered, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread wouldn’t be enough for each of them to have a little.” One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, “There’s a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish–but what are they for so many?” (John 7:7-9)
Philip ran to his personal ability to feed the crowd, asking himself how long he would have to work to feed the group. He did the math. His calculations were flawless but his formula was flawed. He left God out of the equation.
Andrew looked at what was immediately available as a solution. The small lunch was feast for the boy, but it could not begin to eliminate the need confronting the disciples.
Phillip was saying “What I can DO is insufficient and inadequate.” Andrew was saying “What I HAVE is insufficient and inadequate.”
Not only were the disciples’ safety nets ripped apart by the overwhelming need, but their theology was exposed. God was not a powerful provider, but a distant spectator. God was not an interested Father, but an absentee creator.
They did not really believe that God would take care of them. They had become distracted from the basic truths of faith. Their view of God had become distorted.
Paul warns the Romans about the warped view of God that can result from an attitude of ingratitude:
For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles. (Romans 1:21-23 NIV)
As a consequence of ingratitude, lost men and women cannot see God as He really is. They miss His glory. They replace Him with gods of their own creation.
It is vital that we maintain a grateful, trusting spirit in the face of our needs. Otherwise our view of God will be skewed and false. We can seek Him and call upon Him, believing in our hearts that He is an incredibly gracious and generous Father.
4. Choose to Thank God for All Things
Then Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, so the men sat down, numbering about 5,000. Then Jesus took the loaves, and after giving thanks He distributed them to those who were seated; so also with the fish, as much as they wanted… Some boats from Tiberias came near the place where they ate the bread after the Lord gave thanks. (John 6:10-11, 23)
The disciples were astounded. Jesus took the resources they had—which were inadequate—and gave thanks to God. It was a choice. Two miracles resulted.
There was the miracle of the inadequate becoming more than adequate. Everyone ate as much as they wanted!
Then there was the miracle of understanding. The disciples never forgot what they had witnessed. The day after, John described a boat that touched ashore near the place where they ate the bread after the Lord gave thanks. (John 6:23) The spot was branded into their memories. They never forgot what had happened there and the lesson they had learned.
Armed with a deep, fulfilling relationship with God, the disciples realized they could thank God for everything—even needs that were overwhelming or unmet—just like Jesus had demonstrated.
5. Do it Together
The people closest to Jesus were His disciples. They were His friends and intimate companions. It would have been easy for Him to have acted quickly to remove all anxiety from their hearts—but He didn’t. He asked questions and moved deliberately to train their hearts to be grateful at all times. They were learning together.
Some lessons can be mastered alone. Other lessons are learned in fellowship with other believers.
When I have to learn a new lesson that’s one thing. But to walk with my family through a real-life application of His teaching is not always easy. In my desire to meet the needs in my home, my tendency is to rescue my kids from experiencing difficulty.
During that Thanksgiving several years ago, I had no alternative: we had to face the need together. We prayed and thanked God for His care, determined to honor the Lord as a gracious, loving Father, no matter what needs we faced.
Shortly before Thanksgiving Day a friend arrived on our doorstep offering our family a turkey. It was an extra one they had received from his wife’s employer. Unaware of our need, that friend was really an instrument of God.
It was not a life-and-death need. It was a small thing. But it was just like the Lord!
While feeding my family of eight is not equivalent to feeding the 5000, the unexpected arrival of that turkey impressed our children with the importance of maintaining a grateful spirit in the face of needs. We experienced the miracle of thanksgiving!