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The battle is not yours but God’s

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topic Scripture: 2 Chronicles 20:20-26

Matthew Henry, the great Bible scholar, was once attacked by thieves and robbed of his wallet. He wrote these words in his diary: “Let me be thankful. First, I was never robbed before. Second, although they took my wallet, they didn’t take my life. Third, although they took all I had, it was not much. Fourth, let me be thankful that it was I who robbed and not I who did the robbing.” There’s always reason for thanksgiving.

Can you remember a Thanksgiving week more difficult than this one? The markets are down 1,600 points in three weeks. America’s automotive companies are near bankruptcy. Last Thursday, America’s Office of Director of Intelligence released a 110-page report titled “Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World.”

They predict a global shift in power and economic wealth from West to East on a level “without precedent in modern history.” They see a world increasingly conflicted over scarce food and water supplies, rogue states and terrorists, and global warming. They fear that extremists will have access to increasingly lethal technology, including nuclear and biological weapons.

What are the headlines of your heart? Why give thanks in hard times? This week we need a very simple message with a very practical application for our times, whatever we are facing today. Let’s begin with a story.

When we give thanks

Jehoshaphat (“Yahweh judges”) was one of the greatest kings in Jewish history. He came to the throne around 873 B.C., at the age of 35. By this time, the ten northern tribes constituted the nation of “Israel,” while the two southern tribes constituted the nation of “Judah,” centered in Jerusalem. Jehoshaphat was the fourth king of this southern nation.

Immediately he began to institute religious reforms, rejecting the worship of Baal and banishing idolatry from the land (1 Kings 22:46).

He soon sent religious officials across the nation to instruct the people in the word and will of God (2 Chronicles 17:7-9).

His good and godly reign ushered in a period of remarkable peace and tranquility. He even made peace with Israel, the nation to the north, establishing a truce and common cause which aided both peoples.

He created a national system of jurisprudence built on the law of God, fostering a period of great integrity and character (2 Chronicles 19:7).

Nonetheless, despite his diligent leadership and service, this good and godly man would face the greatest crisis the Jewish people had seen since leaving Egypt. Innocent people still face enemies and hurt. They still lose their savings and jobs. They still face recession and calamity and fear. What happened to him still happens to us.

Judah’s ancient enemies, the Moabites (living east of the Dead Sea) entered into a military alliance with the Ammonites to their north and the Meunites to their southwest, for the purpose of attacking Judah from all sides. So it was that “some men came and told Jehoshaphat, ‘A vast army is coming against you from Edom, from the other side of the Sea'” (2 Chronicles 20:2).

If these invading armies are successful, they will not merely occupy Judah—they will destroy the nation. They will kill every man, and take the women and children as their slaves. The very survival of the nation is in jeopardy.

And so their king does the right thing. He goes to God first (v. 3a), not last as we are prone to do. He calls the nation to come to God as well, through a national fast and prayer meeting (vs. 3b-4). Then he leads the people to do something remarkably unexpected—praise God.

He praises the Lord for his power over all the nations (v. 6). He honors him for his blessing to the people throughout their history (v. 7). He defines the crisis before the people (v. 10). He declares his absolute trust in the Lord: “We have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (v. 12). The entire nation, in peril for their lives, joins him in worship before God (v. 13).

And God answers their cry.

He gives them a prophet to announce: “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s” (v. 15).

He instructs the nation to march against their enemies, knowing that “you will not have to fight this battle.” Why not? “Take up your positions, stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you” (v. 17).

Go out to fight this army of vastly superior numbers and forces? Don’t surrender to them, or flee from them? March out to certain death and destruction? Don’t give up or give out or give in? Here is the king’s response: “Jehoshaphat bowed with his face to the ground, and all the people of Judah and Jerusalem fell down in worship before the Lord. Then some Levites from the Kohathites and Korahites [the worship leaders of the nation] stood up and praised the Lord, the God of Israel, with very loud voice” (vs. 18-19).

Now watch what happens on the day that saved a nation. The king calls to the people, “Have faith in the Lord your God and you will be upheld; have faith in his prophets and you will be successful” (v. 20).

Then he arranges his army for battle. What soldiers did he station at the front—his best and most experienced veteran warriors? No—the worship leaders. The king “appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever'” (v. 21, quoting Psalm 136).

Now to the central event of our Thanksgiving story: “As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated” (v. 22). The armies attacked and slaughtered each other (v. 23), so that when the army of Judah arrived behind their worship leaders, “they saw only dead bodies lying on the ground; no one had escaped” (v. 24).

The people take so much plunder that three days were required to collect it all. On the fourth day “they assembled in the Valley of Beracah, where they praised the Lord. This is why it is called the Valley of Beracah to this day” (Beracah means “praise” in Hebrew).

And they return to Jerusalem in triumphant procession “for the Lord had given them cause to rejoice over their enemies” (v. 27). It all happened “as they began to sing and praise,” not before.

Why we give thanks

Why is praising God, even and especially in hard times and places, the key to the power of God? For the simple reason that we enter God’s presence through praise.

Psalm 100:4 is clear: “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise.” This is how we connect with God. This is how we connect to the power of his Spirit. Then the power that created the universe is available to us, no matter what enemies we face.

The Bible says that “God inhabits the praise of his people” (Psalm 22:3). Praise moves the power of God: “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose” (Acts 16:25-26). And the jailer and his family came to Christ, and the Kingdom of God marched on.

Scripture implores us to “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Paul commands us to “rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). We are told, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (v. 6). With this result: “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (v. 7).

When we praise and thank the Lord, we enter his empowering presence. We experience the power and victory and joy he can give only to those who are close enough to receive them.

But we must praise him first. Thank God for what he will do, before he does it. The greatest expression of faith is to thank someone for what they will do for you, even before they have done it. To thank the surgeon before you have the operation, or the pilot before you take off.

“With thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Thank him after he has provided, but first thank him before he does. Thank him for hearing you and giving you what you asked or whatever is best. Thank him when you pray and when you obey. Thank him by faith before you can thank him by sight. And you will be in position to receive all that the perfect will of God intends.

Conclusion

When last did you thank God first? The culture sees God as a means to your end, a provider of your needs. If he disappoints you, you owe him no gratitude. If your job is threatened or your bills are overwhelming or your family is struggling, clearly God hasn’t done his job and doesn’t deserve the reward of your worship. He has to do his job to receive his pay. If you’re mad at God, drop out of church or stop praying or reading or trusting. It’s only fair.

The Christian worldview says that God redeems all he allows. He uses all he permits. If we thank him before he acts, our faith positions us to receive all he intends. He is as much Lord in the fall of 2008 as he was in the fall of 2007. He is God even when the Moabites invade. All of God there is, is in this moment. So name your enemy, your Moabites and Ammonites. And thank him for the victory before it comes, and you will experience the power of God.

The Hiding Place tells the astounding story of Corrie ten Boom’s imprisonment at Ravensbruck Concentration Camp during the Holocaust.

She and her sister Betsie were assigned to Barracks 28, one of the most ghastly places in the entire camp. The plumbing was backed up, the bedding was soiled and rancid. When they lay down on their straw mats for the first time, they discovered that the place was covered with fleas. Can you imagine the horror?

Just then Betsie reminded Corrie of 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” So they began thanking God for Barracks 28. They thanked him that they were assigned there together. They thanked him that the barracks was so crowded that more people would hear them pray and share the word of God. And they chose to thank him for the fleas, even though they had no idea why they should.

1,400 women were quartered in barracks designed for 400. Each night, Corrie and Betsie led in times of prayer and Bible study. To their surprise, no guards ever came near them. They soon had to hold a second service for all those who wanted to attend. There were guards everywhere else in the camp, but none in Barracks 28.

Then, one day, they discovered why. It was because of the fleas. They wouldn’t go into the barracks because they were flea-infested. Corrie and Betsie had thanked God for the fleas, and now they knew why.

Let’s join them.