Give Thanks!

Planning worship that becomes a meaningful dialogue between God and his people requires careful attention to each part of the liturgy. Every call to worship, response, assurance of pardon, and hymn should contribute to the theme of the service and to our ongoing conversation with our God.

In the series of service plans that follows I have attempted to emphasize that dialogue. Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians provides an ideal framework for a series of services that focus on thanksgiving.

Paul, Silas, and Timothy had come to Thessalonica from Philippi. We know from Acts 17:1-9 that Paul preached in the synagogue in Thessalonica for at least three Sabbaths. His preaching agitated the Jews, and they caused trouble for him. Something close to a riot ensued, and Paul was forced to flee before he had finished his work.

Paul left with a great deal of concern for these new Christians in Thessalonica, and in the months that followed he tried to keep in touch with what was happening in that city. When he got word that these new Christians were facing persecution, his anxiety became almost unbearable, but he knew he couldn't return to help them. Finally, Paul sent Timothy to the city to see first-hand how the church was faring. The first letter to the Thessalonians was penned after Timothy returned.

Timothy, apparently, had brought Paul a glowing report on the Thessalonian church. The new Christians were not only standing firm in their faith but were also actively engaged in spreading the gospel, and the church was growing. As one would expect, however, some questions had arisen among these new Christians. So Paul's letter is first a hymn of thanksgiving for the life and faith of the Christians in Thessalonica and second an attempt to answer some of their questions.

Week 1
1 Thessalonians 1:1-5

The theme of this passage is Paul's thankfulness for the people among whom he had labored in Thessalonica. He remembers three things about them: their work of faith, their labor of love, and their steadfast hope. These things confirmed to Paul that the gospel had come to them not only in word, but in the power of the Holy Spirit.

This passage offers pastors an excellent opportunity to mention things they are thankful for in their own congregations and to praise God for them.

"For the Beauty of the Earth" (HB 2, PH 432, RL 5)
"Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation" (HB 433, RL 392, TH 268)
"Lord God of Hosts, Whose Purpose, Never Swerving" (HB 288, RL 432)
"Lord, as We Rise to Leave the Shell of Worship" (RL 513)
"How Good It Is to Thank the Lord" (PH 92, TH 535)

"O Give Thanks to the Lord," Richard E. Frey
"Let There Be Music," Gordon Young
"Give Thanks to God," Dale Grotenhuis

Week 2
1 Thessalonians 1:6-10

The theme of the passage is the witness of the church in Thessalonica. This congregation had become an example to Christians all around them, because their lives reflected their message.

The words "rang out" in verse 8 are a translation of the same word that is rendered "resounding gong" in 1 Corinthians 13:1. Paul's point is this: "What you do speaks so loud that what you say has become like thunder."

"We Are Your People" (RL 419)
"Forth in the Peace of Christ We Go" (PH 323, RL 413)
"O Master, Let Me Walk with Thee" (HB 304, PH 573, RL 428)
"How Clear Is Our Vocation, Lord" (RL 433)
'Take Thou Our Mind, Dear Lord" (HB 306, RL 434)

"Arise, Ye Who Serve the Lord," Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck
"Let the Redeemed of the Lord Say So," Eugene Butler

Week 3
1 Thessalonians 2:7-9, 13

When we first met Paul, he was a powerful persecutor. Now we see him caring for the Thessalonians as a nursing mother cares for her child. This is a good chance to focus on the feminine characteristics of ministry. The gospel comes not in power but in love and gentleness. It comes as we give ourselves. Only this kind of loving, giving ministry will ultimately be received as the word of God rather than the word of humans.

"God of the Prophets" (HB 520, PH 521, RL 429)
"Come Labor On" (HB 287, PH 526, RL 75)
"I Greet Thee, Who My Sure Redeemer Art" (HB 144, PH 248, RL 366, TH 135)
"God of Compassion, in Mercy Befriend Us" (HB 122, RL 39)

'The Lord Is Mindful," Emma Lou Diemer
"Offertory," John Ness Beck:"

Week 4
1 Thessalonians 4:14-18

In the midst of the persecutions the Thessalonians faced, the second coming was a very real hope, and they looked forward to it with joy. But the Christians of Thessalonica had started to worry about the believers among them who had died. Would these people miss out on the joy of the second coming? Out of these concerns Paul addresses this theological issue.

Our theology is often the most pastoral, as Paul's advice here is, when it grows out of life and the questions it poses. It's this type of responsive, compassionate theology that we're referring to when we speak of "doing" theology.

What theological issues are people in your congregation wrestling with?

"All Hail the Power of Jesus Name" (HB 132, PH 470, 471, RL 593, 594 TH 218)
"Jerusalem the Golden" (HB 428, PH 618, RL 579, TH 604)
'Ten Thousand Times Ten Thousand" (HB 427, PH 619, RL 580, TH 234)
"For All the Saints" (HB 425, PH 505, RL 397,TH 281)
"Rejoice, the Lord Is King" (HB 140, PH 408, RL 596, 597, TH 226)

"Mercy and Truth Are Met," Ned Rorem
"Come, Peace of God," Eugene Butler

Week 5
1 Thessalonians 5:1-6

This passage deals with a question related to the one we dealt with last week. Paul had put the Thessalonians' minds at ease about those who had died. But the question "How long will we have to wait?" still remained.

Paul addresses the subject and offers some practical advice: "Quit speculating about when the second coming will take place," he says. "No one will know the time. It will come like a thief in the night. On the other hand," he says, "the Lord's coming should not surprise you. You should be living as if it could take place tomorrow."

Paul urges the Thessalonians to keep on their toes, to be wide awake, and to live expectantly.

"The God of Abraham Praise" (HB 89, PH 621, RL 595, TH 32)
"Love Divine, All Loves Excelling" (HB 399, PH 568, RL 464, TH 460)
"Ah! Think Not the Lord Delayeth" (RL 604)
"Lift Up Your Heads, Rejoice" (RL 271)
"The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns" (HB 232, PH 615, RL 607, TH 236)

"I Sing the Greatness of Our God,"
Fred Boch
"I Know that My Redeemer Lives,"
S. Drummond Wolff


The Scripture readings and responses in this article are based on the Revised Standard Version.

Hymns were selected from the following hymnals: The Hymnbook (HB), Psalter Hymnal (PH), Rejoice in the Lord (RL), and Trinity Hymnal (TH)

Norman Schouten is senior pastor at Second Reformed Church in Pella, Iowa.


Reformed Worship 16 © June 1990, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.