By Victor Knowles
He was a prisoner of war, far from home in a foreign country that did not recognize the sovereignty of Almighty God. In fact, a new law had just been passed that if anyone prayed to any god or man other than the imperial king, he would be summarily executed. What was the young POW to do?
“Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before” (Daniel 6:10). As far as Daniel was concerned, being thrown to the lions or not, he would still pray. With his windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day. On his knees. And most important of all—“giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.”
Despite Dark Days
It is fairly easy to be thankful when you have something to be thankful for. When everything is going smoothly. When there’s money in the bank, the bills are paid, and good friends are coming for supper. But it’s quite another thing to be thankful when everything seems to be going against you. When your own country that you love seems to be drifting from God. When there is hatred, lawlessness, and violence in the land. When those who are trying to live for Christ are being “persecuted for righteousness” (Matthew 5:10).
How is it possible to be thankful in times like those described by the apostle Paul? “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God—having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people” (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
Yet the same apostle declared, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). And Paul practiced what he preached. He was thankful in all circumstances, even when he was in prison, writing four letters to churches or individuals, including what is sometimes called “the epistle of joy” (Philippians) where he wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (4:4).
Ivan Prokhanov (1869-1935) was a great Russian reformer who led an amazing “Christians only” movement that resulted in nearly 4 million baptized believers during some of the darkest days of Russia. Like Paul, he was imprisoned on several occasions. Sentenced to a prison hard labor camp in Tver, a city near Moscow, he and other Christians sang and preached to the prisoners night and day. “I said, ‘Here we are, Christians, in the midst of about five hundred prisoners. God has given us a great field. Let us work!’”
It wasn’t easy for converts from Judaism in the first century either. Because they had accepted Christ as their Savior, many of them faced much suffering. “Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions” (Hebrews 10:33, 34). Yet the Hebrew Christians found three things for which they could be thankful in spite of the terrible times in which they lived.
The Word of God
The early Christians’ property may have been confiscated, but they had something better: “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). Elton Trueblood said that the Bible is a center of certitude. J. R. Packer said that the Bible is God preaching. Scripture is divine—it is the Word of God! The Bible is our daily bread. It is our staff for life.
Notice that Scripture is alive. That’s because its author, God, is still living. The Bible is the heartbeat of God. There is vitality in this special volume. Notice too that the Bible is active. Some translations say “powerful.” In 1961 a believer was on a train traveling from Vienna to Budapest. Hungary was under communism at the time. Uniformed guards discovered the Bible and threw it out the window. Several years later the Bible was returned to the traveler with a note explaining that some children playing along the railroad tracks found the Bible. “You might like to know that we are now a secret band of about 30 who have baptized each other and seek to follow Jesus in our daily lives.”
A Great High Priest
The early Christians suffered the loss of many of their fellow believers, but they still had a great high priest. “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:14, 15).
How thankful we should be for our “great high priest” (the only time this phrase appears in the Bible). He has ascended into Heaven for us. “Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:34). A young Scottish minister once said: “If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet distance makes no difference. He is praying for me.”
Only Jesus can truly “empathize with our weaknesses.” No one understands you like Jesus. He has walked in your sandals, as it were. Jesus knows what it is like to be tempted. He knows what you are going through. That’s why his present ministry is to intercede for you. He told Peter, “I have prayed for you” (Luke 22:32). Every true believer has a great high priest!
A Throne of Grace
Thrones are mentioned in Scripture about 185 times (40 times in the book of Revelation). Perhaps the most elaborate throne was the one built for King Solomon—inlaid with ivory and overlaid with fine gold. “Nothing like it had ever been made for any other kingdom” (1 Kings 10:20). But all these thrones were thrones of law. The throne we approach is called a throne of grace. “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
When the law was given at Mt. Sinai, the people were told, “Stand back!” But at the throne of grace, God says, “Draw near!” John Newton, who wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace,” once said: “Thou art coming to a King; large petitions with thee bring. For His power and grace are such; thou can never ask too much.”
When you pray, you are entering the throne room of God. Aren’t you thankful that the Almighty is seated upon a throne of grace and not one of law? I once preached on grace in a chapel in a federal penitentiary. “But where sin increased, grace increased all the more” (Romans 5:20). The Living Bible says, “But the more we see our sinfulness, the more we see God’s abounding grace forgiving us.” I told the prisoners, “Men, God’s grace is greater than your disgrace.” Some time later, 30 men made the good confession and were baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of their sins (Acts 2:38). Thank God for saving grace in our time of need!
Even though we may be living in uncertain times, we can still be thankful, as the first church was, that we have the Word of God, a great high priest, and a throne of grace!
Victor Knowles is founder and president of POEM (Peace on Earth Ministries) in Joplin, Missouri.