Category Archives: God’s Will

On Giving Thanks in All Things

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess. 5: 16-19, OSB)

Life as a Christian offers us the challenge of trying to follow God and fulfill His will for our life as best we can. Throughout our life, we wonder, “What is God’s will for my life? What should I do? What choice(s) should I make that will align with His will?”

When we read the scriptures, we find the answer to those questions in one of St. Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess. 5: 16-19, Orthodox Study Bible) God in His mercy has offered us these three doable tasks which accomplish His will for us. His will is that we do everything with rejoicing, prayer, and thanksgiving.

These actions of rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks are not big projects, jobs, or major decisions, are they? But neither are they simple: they require effort! They demand that we make a conscious (and constant!) endeavor to act in ways that may not come easily to us. Each requires us to have a certain attitude (of joy, prayerfulness, and thanksgiving) and then to act on that attitude (by rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks).

We have written before about the “pray without ceasing” portion of God’s will for us (see https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/08/09/on-practical-reminders-to-pray/). At this time of year, those of us who are Americans are thinking about being thankful as we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, so it seems a natural time to ponder the next part of God’s will for us: giving thanks in everything.

St. Paul writes, “in everything give thanks.” At Thanksgiving, it’s fun to think about what we’re thankful for – our Lord’s great mercy towards us, our home, our family, our Church, our food, etc. We should be thinking of those things, and it is right for us to give thanks for them. But St. Paul does not write, “in the good things in your life” or “in the things that you like about your life give thanks.” Nope. He writes “in EVERYTHING give thanks.”

Wait, so if we are to give thanks in everything, that means that in our illness, in our loneliness, in our depression, in our anxiety, in our loss, in our struggle, we give thanks?!? How do we really do that? And why?

The how is perhaps the most difficult part. When we are experiencing struggle, it is so hard to reach outside of that struggle; or to even think beyond it. Our struggle is a black cloud, suffocating (sometimes literally) even our ability to breathe. How can we give thanks in that?!? Fr. Stephen Freedman’s blog post “Giving Thanks for all Things” (see link below) states that genuine thanksgiving is centered in accepting God’s will. “The acceptance of God’s will is the very heart of giving thanks. To give thanks is to recognize first that what has come your way is a gift, and second, that the giver of every gift is the good God. Many become troubled at the thought of giving thanks for something terrible (a disease or accident). This giving of thanks is not a declaration that the thing itself is good, but that God Himself is good and that He works in and through all things for our salvation.” He shares the struggles of Elder Thaddeus of Vatovnica, who experienced anxiety and depression for years before coming to understand the importance of accepting God’s will and truly trusting His control of our circumstances (as well as His promise to carry us through our trials). He said, “I realized that we all worry about ourselves too much and that only he who leaves everything to the will of God can feel truly joyous, light, and peaceful.” Fr. Stephen’s article goes on to offer a prayer that he prays when he finds himself in such circumstances. This prayer may be helpful to us, as well: “For myself, I pray, ‘Give me grace, O Lord, to accept all that you give, for you are good and Your will for me in all things is good.’” Then he continues, “I often add words such as, ‘Blessed be the Name of the Lord.’” Abba Macarius offered a similar – though more brief – prayer. He said, “There is no need at all to make long discourses; it is enough to stretch out one’s hand and say, ‘Lord, as you will, and as you know, have mercy.’ And if the conflict grows fiercer say, ‘Lord help!’ God knows very well what we need and He shows us His mercy.”

Besides the how of giving thanks in all things, the why is also a challenge. Why should we give thanks in painful experiences? St. John Chrysostom said, “The mark of a soul that loves wisdom always gives thanks to God. If you have suffered evil, give thanks and it is changed to good… Give thanks even in disease, lack of possessions, or false accusations.” (Note: St. John didn’t just say this—he lived it. He was old when he was exiled because of an empress who didn’t like that his teachings did not support her vain and selfish lifestyle. While still traveling to his place of exile, he became sick and departed this life. His final words? “Glory to God in all things.” Even old, ill, unjustly exiled, and in pain, St. John gives thanks to God.) So, according to St. John Chrysostom, giving thanks to God in all things can help to change evil to good in our life. As Elder Thaddeus mentioned above, giving thanks in all things demonstrates that we truly trust God, that He is truly in control of our life, and that He will indeed not give us more than we can handle. 1 Corinthians 10:13 offers us hope in this regard: “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” (NKJV) In the Philokalia, St. Antony the Great offers this reason to give thanks in all things: “The truly intelligent man pursues one sole objective: to obey and conform to the God of all. With this single aim in view, he disciplines his soul, and whatever he may encounter in the course of his life, he gives thanks to God for the compass and depth of His providential ordering of all things. For it is absurd to be grateful to doctors who give us bitter and unpleasant medicines to cure our bodies, and yet to be ungrateful to God for what appears to us to be harsh, not grasping that all we encounter is for our benefit and in accordance with His providence. For knowledge of God and faith in Him is the salvation and perfection of the soul.”

Perhaps, (especially if we are celebrating Thanksgiving) in addition to noticing all the good things in our life and taking time to thank God for them, we can also select one of the difficult things in our life to think—and thank—about. Just one, for now: everything might overwhelm us! Let’s take a moment to look objectively at our life and compare ourselves now to how we were before this difficult thing happened or began to happen in our life. Have we grown at all? Thanks be to God! Do we see Him rooting out some sin in our life or beginning to bringing healing to us through this thing? Thanks be to God! Is this thing helping us to reach out to others because we need their help in this thing, or because it helps us to better understand some similar thing that they have experienced? Thanks be to God! Can we see no growth in us except a deeper trust in God’s goodness and love? Thanks be to God! As we learn to give thanks for this one thing, we can begin to give thanks for a second, third, and so on. One day, God willing (and by His grace), we will truly give thanks in everything. That is, after all, the will of God in Christ Jesus for us!
Find Fr. Stephen Freedman’s article mentioned above, here: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2017/06/21/cross-gods-glory-things/

Here are some links related to giving thanks that may help us in this effort:

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The Akathist of Thanksgiving is a favorite akathist to pray, especially at this time of year. Here’s a blog post that introduces the akathist, in case you are not familiar with this beautiful way to give thanks: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2013/11/27/giving-thanks/

This Akathist is a beautiful one to share with your students, either in class, or to send home with them that they can pray with their family at home.

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If you are celebrating Thanksgiving at this time of year, you may want to encourage your students to incorporate the Akathist of Thanksgiving into their celebration. Here are a few suggestions of ways to do that: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/11/21/incorporating-the-akathist-of-thanksgiving-into-a-thanksgiving-celebration/

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Want to help your students think about thanksgiving and/or being thankful? Here are a few books that could help. What others do you recommend?  https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/11/20/to-celebrate-picture-book-month-with-books-about-thankfulness/

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Perhaps these practical suggestions will help you to build gratitude in your students’ life: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2015/11/27/on-living-a-life-of-gratitude/

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Gratitude is one of the virtues. This blog will help you teach your students about this virtue (in case you missed it):  https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2018/03/23/on-pursuing-virtue-gratitude/

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“The life that we are called to live as Christians is the ‘eucharistic’ life [eucharistein = to give thanks]. It is the most essential activity for humanity… That for which we cannot or will not give thanks is that which we are excluding from the Kingdom – from the possibility of redemption in Christ… The limitations of our thanks (which is quite common) is also a limitation on God’s grace, refusing for His grace to work in all the world and for it to work in the whole of our own lives.” ~ from “The Difficult Path of Giving Thanks” by Fr. Stephen Freeman https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2011/02/09/the-difficult-path-of-giving-thanks/

This blog post offers insights into the importance of living thankfully, and will challenge (and encourage!) its readers. Older students could read this blog post and discuss it in class!

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On The Lord’s Prayer: On Earth As It Is In Heaven

 

“On earth as it is in heaven” is so easy to pray. But how easy is it to live? In heaven, God’s will is perfectly carried out everywhere, by everyone. How are we doing with that on earth?!? So often we allow petty little things to cloud our minds and affect our obedience, or we just flat out refuse to do – or even go against – what God has asked of us. Regardless of the “size” of our sins, each is a step away from “as it is in heaven.” May we keep this phrase ever in our minds and pray that God will help us to live our life in such a way that reflects our desire for His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven!

Here are a few related quotes and an idea that you can use as you discuss this phrase with your Sunday Church School students:

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“There can now be no grander prayer than to wish that earthly things may be made equal with things heavenly: for what else is it to say ‘Thy will be done as in heaven so on earth,’ than to ask that people may be like angels and that as God’s will is ever fulfilled by them in heaven, so also all those who are on earth may do not their own but His will?” ~ St. John Cassian

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“Grant that we might imitate the way of life in heaven, so that we would will what Thou Thyself dost will” ( St. John Chrysostom, On living in a godly way, PG 51.45).

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“…In all the trials and tribulations that we all face or will face in life, there is perhaps no prayer that can bring us the peace of acceptance and the resolution to forge on than this petition in the Lord’s Prayer. In the midst of circumstances that we don’t understand and that cause us suffering, we nevertheless say with faith and with humility, ‘Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ And then for a moment, it takes us up out of our small world into the expanses of heaven, we leave behind those who surround us, but don’t understand us, and enter into the presence of God’s faithful ministers who are as ‘a flame of fire’ (Hebrews 1:7), and there, lifted up on angels’ wings, we find that ‘peace which passeth all understanding’ (Philippians 4:7) in the will of God. We may not understand it; we don’t need to. We just need to accept it, to embrace it, and to make it our own, and then we return to our surrounding with a resolve to continue to ‘fight the good fight, finish the course, and keep the faith’ (2 Timothy 4:7) even as the angels do in heaven. Yes, ‘Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’” ~ http://ancientchristianwisdom.com/2015/04/19/thy-will-be-done-in-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven/

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Idea: This lesson plan on the phrase “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” can easily be adapted and used in an Orthodox setting: http://www.calvarymv.com/childrensresources/childrensministry/topical-teachings/LordsPrayer/05Prayer_May_Your_Will_Be_Done_On_Earth.pdf

On The Lord’s Prayer: Thy Will Be Done

 

This third petition in the Lord’s Prayer (after “hallowed be Thy name” and “Thy kingdom come”) is a pretty serious request. “Thy will be done” implies that we want what God wants, not what we want, to be what actually happens. In order for God’s will to be done, we must completely trust Him while fully laying down our own expectations and desires —our very will. Then and only then can His will truly be done.

 

Here are related quotes, as well as an idea for how to help your Sunday Church School students learn about this phrase of the Lord’s Prayer:

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“How do we discern the will of God for our lives? …Submitting ourselves to the will of God involves our entire being, not just our leftovers: not just our leftover time, our leftover talents, our leftover treasures… How committed to this Christian life are we, really? If God chooses to intervene in our lives, to overturn our well-laid plans, to rip us out of our comfort zones in order to insist upon our spiritual growth, are we essentially down with that?!?” ~ from http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/rain/the_lords_prayer_part_two

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“In the third petition, we beseech God the Father that He not allow us to live out our earthly lives according to our sinful ways, but according to His will, which is always good, and acceptable, and perfect (Rom. 12:2). By obeying the will of God, we begin to establish the Kingdom of God within ourselves.” ~ from http://www.antiochianarch.org.au/OrthodoxPrayer.aspx#prayer06

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“…when we truly desire God’s will be done in our lives, we recognize that the Lord, in His great love for us, knows what we need. We don’t want our prayers to be some sort of dictation to God, but rather reflecting our trust in God as a loving father Who desires that which we really need for our salvation.” ~Abbot Tryphon, http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/morningoffering/2015/03/thy-will-be-done/

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“I would have to say that precisely this petition, ‘Thy will be done’ is the ultimate yardstick of faith, the measure by which one can discern, in oneself first of all, profound from superficial faith, profound religiosity from a false one. Why? Well, because even the most ardent believer all too regularly, if not always, desires, expects, and asks from the God he claims to believe in that God would fulfill precisely his own will and not the will of God. The best proof of this is the Gospel itself, the account of Christ’s life. ” ~ Alexander Schmemann, “Our Father,” p. 46.

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“What do we together and individually really desire from Christ? Let’s admit it — the fulfillment of our will. We desire that God will assure our happiness. We want him to defeat our enemies. We want him to realize our dreams and that he would consider us kind and good. And when God fails to do our will we are frustrated and upset, and are ready over and over to forsake and deny him. ‘Thy will be done’ — but in fact we are thinking, ‘our will be done,’ and thus this third petition of the Lord’s Prayer is… a kind of judgment on us, a judgment of our faith. ” ~ Alexander Schmemann, “Our Father,” pp. 48-49

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“‘Thy will be done.’ This means first of all: grant me strength and help me to understand what is your will, help me to overcome the limitations of my own reasoning, of my heart, my own will, in order to discern your paths, even if they are unclear at first. Help me to accept that which is difficult and seemingly unbearable or impossible in your will. Help me, in other words, to desire that which you desire.” ~ Alexander Schmemann, “Our Father,” p.51

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Idea: explore the meaning of “Thy will be done.” Ask your Sunday Church School students what it means for someone’s will to be done. Discuss the fact that the phrase “Thy will be done” means that what someone wants (in the case of the Lord’s Prayer, what God wants) is done in the way that they (He) want(s) it to be done. Talk about whether or not we each actually always do God’s will, which is what we pray in the Lord’s prayer. Ask your students how they think God must feel when we do not do His will.

Demonstrate the concept with this object lesson: select a simple process that one of your students will be knowledgeable about and would have a desire to do (such as getting ready to go outside to play; making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for a snack; or drawing and coloring a picture). Tell the child that he/she is in charge of you, and that they should give you directions of their “will,” which you will carry out to complete the process. As they direct you, at times follow their directions, allowing their will to be done. However, once in a while do not follow the child’s will/directions. (Be careful not to unduly frustrate the child by always disobeying! After all, in life, we sometimes DO obey God – just not always. Demonstrate that with your obedience.)

When the task is finally finished, talk about how the process went: when was it the best/most smooth? When was it frustrating or challenging for the person with “the will?” Did the final product turn out the way the student imagined or intended? Apply this experience to each person’s journey with God. Encourage each other to work towards always following God’s will, thus fulfilling what we say when we pray, “Thy will be done!”