As the year draws to a close, Pastor Lin Junxian reminded the church to give thanks and recount the blessings they had received throughout the year.
The American tradition of Thanksgiving falls on 25 November, but the celebration has been adopted by millions of people around the world. Last weekend, City Harvest Church pastor Lin Junxian taught the church the reasons why giving thanks to God is important.
While commerce has turned Thanksgiving into a shopping extravaganza, it is in fact a time for reflection and celebration. “Thanksgiving is a time for us to prepare our hearts as we approach Christmas, to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and thank God for all the things He’s done for us,” the pastor said as he began his sermon.
Pastor Kong Hee, the church’s senior pastor has been teaching a series on spiritual disciplines. One necessary spiritual discipline a Christian needs to have is thanksgiving, said Pastor Junxian. However, some may find it hard to thank God amid negativity and crisis that is happening in the world.
He encouraged the church with Colossians 2:6-7, which reads, “As you, therefore, have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.” In some Bible translations, thanksgiving is translated as “overflowing with gratitude and thankfulness”. The Apostle Paul was reminding the church that their walk with God is meant to be abounding—which means to have large excess in both quantity and quality—with thanksgiving because of what Christ has done for them on the cross.
THANKSGIVING THROUGHOUT THE BIBLE
“God loves it when our hearts are full of thanksgiving toward Him,” the pastor assured the church. 2 Timothy 3:2 warns that ungratefulness is a sign of one’s heart turning cold. Reading Hebrews 12:28, Pastor Junxian taught, “One of the important keys for us to experience the Kingdom of God continually is to always stay in an atmosphere of thanksgiving. It’s not an occasional random act, but a continual discipline in our lives.”
Thanksgiving is both an inward heart attitude and an outward practice, it is the way of life in the supernatural Kingdom of God, and thanksgiving is a major theme in the Bible. In the Old Testament, as listed in Leviticus 23, God wanted His people to hold Him in remembrance and He instituted seven feasts throughout the year: the Passover (v5), Feast of the Unleavened Bread (v6), Firstfruits (v11), Feast of the Weeks or Pentecost (v16), Feast of Trumpets (v2), Day of Atonement (v27) and Feast of Tabernacles (v34).
Prophetically, the first four feasts speak of the fulfilment of the first coming of Jesus, and the next three feasts point Christians to the future where Jesus returns at His second coming. In every celebration, God wants His people to remember what He has done for them in the past and present, and what He will do for them in the future.
Regardless of where God’s people were—in the wilderness, in the Promised Land, or even in exile, they continued to celebrate these seven feasts to give thanks to God. “Likewise, in the Gospels, we see Jesus constantly giving thanks to the Father. Although He was the Son of God and 100 percent God Himself, Jesus practised thanksgiving throughout his life and ministry,” Pastor Junxian pointed out.
In Matthew 11:25, Jesus gave thanks to the Father for His disciples. On another occasion, Jesus gave thanks before feeding the 5000 with five loaves and two fish. When Lazarus was raised from the dead, Jesus gave thanks because God the Father had heard His prayer. Finally, even when Jesus knew He was facing death on the cross, He gave thanks at the Last Supper, putting God in remembrance and trusting Him for His life.
In the Epistles, Paul emphasised the importance of thanksgiving, mentioning it 40 times throughout his letters. Paul wanted the believers to know that in good times and the bad, they should always give thanks to God.
“Paul was more qualified than anyone to share this,” Pastor Junxian noted. In 2 Corinthians 11:23-29, Paul spoke about the troubles he had encountered in his life and ministry. Yet he concluded in v30, “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever.”
“Thanksgiving doesn’t mean our lives are perfect,” the pastor explained. “It doesn’t try to avoid the pain and heartaches and pretend that they are not there.” He went on to share about his fellow CHC pastor Tan Kim Hock, the academic dean of the School of Theology, who is currently receiving cancer treatment. His relentless faith to love and serve God inspires Pastor Junxian. Every time they meet, Pastor Kim Hock is always smiling and positive, talking about trusting God for his complete healing—he has never once complained about his ordeal. Moreover, he would continue to preach in the Chinese service and other meetings, and has never failed to encourage those around him to always give thanks and trust God in their own situation.
“Like Paul, there will be a period of time when we will go through doubt and despair, and if we are not careful, we may allow discouragement to overwhelm us and drain our faith away,” Pastor Junxian cautioned. Therefore, Paul kept up the discipline of thanksgiving and encouraged the church to do the same.
How does thanksgiving strengthen a believer’s walk in God? Pastor Junxian shared three ways.
1. Thanksgiving redirects us to God’s grace
Thanksgiving grants us access to God’s grace (Heb 12:28), which is the supernatural ability believers receive to do the impossible and to see the miraculous.
The word thanksgiving in Hebrew is yadah which comes in three pictorial Hebrew letters, the first letter yud looks like a hand and it means to do or to lead. The next letter dalet is shaped like a door and it represents a pathway. Finally, the letter heh looks like arms raised and it means to behold. “Therefore, giving thanks is the act that leads us to the pathway to behold God in His presence,” the pastor taught.
He related his own experience when CHC’s executive pastor Sun Ho gathered a few CityWorship members and staff for a time of worship. He admitted that he was not in the frame of mind to worship. But Sun encouraged them to pray aloud and tell the Lord what they were thankful for this year. As they began to pray, something broke in the atmosphere. “I felt as if Jesus had walked into the room and was receiving our thanksgiving one by one,” he recalled, adding that the refreshing presence of the Holy Spirit swept the entire room and filled them.
“Thanksgiving is the entry requirement to God’s presence,” said Pastor Junxian. “Only in His presence can we find His grace. But when we become ungrateful, we cut ourselves off His grace and His presence.”
3. Thanksgiving realigns us with God’s will
1 Thessalonians 5:18 reads, “In everything, give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you”. Giving thanks brings a believer into the will of God immediately. “As imperfect human beings, we all make mistakes and sin from time to time. Hence, we get out of line with God’s will. But rather than feeling condemn and lost, we should repent and begin to thank God for his forgiveness and mercy,” the pastor taught.
“Thanksgiving is always the doorway back to the will of God. When you feel as though you’re out of the will of God, give thanks and the Holy Spirit will realign your hearts to Him,” he said.
3. Thanksgiving results in God’s provision
The story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with five loaves and two fishes is one of the most amazing miracles recorded in the Gospel, and it was the only miracle that was recorded in all four Gospels. The emphasis of this miracle is not so much on the power of God but rather on Jesus giving thanks (Jn 6:11, 23).
“When we give thanks, God will multiply the little we have in our hands and turn it into an abundance of blessings for many others,” the pastor said.
George Müller, a Christian evangelist in the 1800s had a ministry that helped more than 10,000 homeless children through his orphanages. His ministry was filled with miracles of supernatural provision. On one occasion, 300 children gathered around an empty table but Müller trusted God for the provision and gave thanks for the food. Just as he finished his prayer, a baker appeared at the front door with baskets of freshly baked bread. A milkman came next and presented them with bottles of fresh milk because his cart had broken down right in front of the orphanage. “God is a God of supernatural provision. Thanksgiving always results in God’s provision, ” Pastor Junxian reiterated.
The pastor told the church about CHC member Ana Elbo, who provided all the IT support for the regional offices around Singapore. It was during the pandemic, and while most people were working from home, Anna was required to head back to the office daily to enable others to work from home. She was afraid and unsure of the Covid situation, but she continued to give thanks. Though she had to commute to work daily, she did not fall sick or catch Covid.
During the same period, Ana’s husband’s business took a major hit. Instead of complaining, she gave thanks to the Lord for her job and the protection of her family. While others were experiencing pay cuts and job losses, she had her job but had to endure a crazy work schedule.
Despite all that, she continued to serve God in her cell group, making sure to reach out to every one of her members during the pandemic. God continued to work behind the scenes as Ana continued to give thanks. The first year, Ana received a performance bonus, and in the following year, she received salary increments twice. This year, she was promoted to Senior IT and Systems Manager with increments and additional bonuses.
3 WAYS TO GIVE THANKS
Pastor Junxian went on to teach three simple ways Christians can practise thanksgiving. Firstly, they can start and end the day by thanking God.
He tells the congregation that he always gives thanks to God for the new day ahead of him. Before he sleeps, he would recall his day with his wife, focusing on the testimonies they have heard from their members to remind themselves of the goodness of God. On tough days, he thanks God for His grace that sustained him through the challenges that he faced.
A medical study by the National Institute of Health in America found that those who express gratitude and focus on thankfulness experience improved sleep and decreased depression. The study also found that being habitually thankful can reshape a person’s neural pathways and transform their minds into a healthier version.
Secondly, recount your blessings regularly. Psalms 103:2 tells Christians to “forget not all His benefits.” “Naturally, we always tend to remember the bad and forget the good. More than just counting the new blessings, we ought to recount the old victories that God has given to us,” said Pastor Junxian. “Thanksgiving isn’t vague nor general, it’s specific to what God has done for you in your lives.”
In a recent article by Harvard Health Publishing, “Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier”, two psychologists conducted an experiment in which one group of participants wrote about things they were thankful for, and another group wrote about things that frustrated them.
At the end of a 10-week study, those who wrote about thankfulness were more optimistic and thankful for their lives and exercised more regularly. They visited the doctors less compared to those who focused on their frustration.
“Personally, I tend to forget the good and focus on the bad. As a result, it takes more effort for me. But every time I come before the Lord and recount my blessings, I’m brought back to the goodness of God in my life,” the pastor shared.
He encouraged the church not to focus on what God has not done but to remember what he has already done.
Finally, believers can practice thanksgiving by speaking and singing the praises of God. Dr Dale Robbins, a Christian author and evangelist said, “I used to think people complained because they had a lot of problems. But I have come to realize they have problems because they complain. Complaining doesn’t change anything or make situations better, it amplifies frustration, spreads discontent, and discord…”
Instead of complaining, Christians can choose to speak and sing the praises of God (Heb 10:23).
In his sermon last weekend, CHC’s executive pastor Bobby Chaw taught the Greek word “homologia”, which means “to profess”. Pastor Junxian taught that Christians must choose to speak the same way as God (Heb 13:15). “So even when our circumstances are contrary, we can still choose to homologia—to agree with what God speaks into our situation.”
One way to do so is to sing to God during praise and worship (Eph 5:18). He encouraged the church to praise and worship the Lord even when they do not feel like doing so because “something changes when we come into agreement with what God says.”
In the Old Testament, God’s name is written YHWH. The closest way to pronounce would sound like a breath. That is why the psalmist wrote in Psalms 150:6, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”
In conclusion, Pastor Junxian encouraged the members to offer thanksgiving to God as 2022 comes to a close, because it will help them to look forward to the new year with faith.