In the New Testament we are told that on at least two occasions Jesus fed a multitude of hungry people with only a tiny bit of bread and fish. As we try to understand what Jesus might model for us in this story we tend to focus on increasing our level of faith or contemplating the power of God. Certainly those are appropriate responses. However, in so doing we miss the simple lesson that is taught to us through the very first thing that Jesus does in each of those stories. Each time the action begins with, “He gave thanks” (e.g. Mark 8:6).
Our tendency is to assess the situation and become bewildered by what appears to be an overwhelming lack of necessary resources. We hear the demands of the circumstances and feel paralyzed by our inability to meet those demands. Not so with Jesus. He starts in the same place that we need to start. He starts with thanksgiving. Yet, while all of us recognize our need to be more thankful, it is finding the threshold for getting there that often proves tricky. How do we move our heart from the state of grumbling to the state of gratitude?
In Philippians 4 the Apostle Paul gives us what has become a famous exhortation for thanksgiving. He starts with rejoicing, tells us not to be anxious about our circumstances, encourages us to sprinkle our requests with thanksgiving, and promises that the incomprehensible peace of God will guard our hearts. It is truly a beautiful and deeply encouraging passage. However, once again there is a small, basic key in this passage that we tend to overlook. Right in the middle of the passage Paul pens these simple words “The Lord is near” (4:5).
Joy, thanksgiving, and peace all hinge on the hopeful revelation that God is near. This is the good news of the bible. Genesis begins and Revelation ends with the same unmistakable message that was proclaimed from the heavens at the birth of Christ: Immanuel, God with us (Matt. 1:23). This is the very good news that we carry with us everyday and the door through which we enter into the presence of God and become more aware of his nearness. The psalmist tells us that it is with thanksgiving that we are able to enter into the gates of God (Ps. 100:4). Thus, we see the never-ending cycle. We draw near to God with thanksgiving, and find thanksgiving as we realize that God is near indeed.