It’s been an especially educational week for me this last week. I learned a number of things that I think are going to help me to be a better dad, a better husband and a better Christian.
The first thing I learned, the hard way, is that you need to make sure that the weight is somewhat evenly distributed on the shopping cart before you decide to jump on and ride it across the parking lot with your kids. Or it may cause an uncontrollable pop-a-wheelie into a total catastrophe. Who would have thought? Even if it’s one of those big heavy Costco shopping carts. Your groceries will be scattered. It will look like a yard sale. You’ll break your eggs, if you got eggs, and likely any glass containers. Any witnesses to the event will be staring at you with horrified looks on their faces. You’re wife, I guarantee you, will not be happy with you. It will just be really bad…. Oh, and, you know, you might break the femur bone in one of your kid’s legs. Yeah, if he’s sitting in the child’s seat with a leg through one of the holes, when the cart flips the handle bar with all the weight of the cart will land on it and it will be nasty. So that’s a lesson that was impressed upon me this week that I’m never going to forget.
Another thing I learned is about how blessed my family is: blessed to be a part of this church family, how much love we have here, how we have immediate visits, hugs, meals, overnight babysitter, whatever help we need as soon as we need it. Thank you all for that. I’m also seeing clearer how blessed we are to have healthy, not permanently handicapped, kids. We’re getting a tiny taste of what parents of a permanently disabled child have to deal with for many years.
And I learned this week more about how thankful I should be, not just from what we experienced, but also from my study of God’s word.
At this time of year around the Thanksgiving holiday I like in my studies and lessons to take a break from whatever series we might be in to especially turn my attention something related to thankfulness, not just because it’s the expected sermon topic this time of year, but because I see in God’s word that the fostering of more thankfulness in our hearts is never a completed task and it is worth special attention more than once a year but once a year at least.
The more I study the word of God, the more emphasis I see on thankfulness. I see it brought out repeatedly from the beginning to the end of Scripture that…
Thankfulness is one of the few things that we can generate that actually brings pleasure to the God of heaven.
Think of Noah and his family confined in that ark with all those smelling restless animals, waking up everyday exhausted to go spend all day feeding and cleaning stalls and cages just like you had done every day for the last several months. But they were thankful, I’m sure, to be on that ark, because it sure beat where everybody else was. Then can you imagine after being confined in that rocking zoo for an entire year, finally hitting land and getting to walk out on dry land? I imagine them coming out and kissing the dirt. The text says that the first thing Noah did out of the ark was build an altar and he took of every clean animal, and offered them as burnt offerings to the LORD. And it says the LORD smelled the soothing aroma and in response made promises about not cursing the ground or flooding the world again and keeping the cycles of seedtime and harvest, summer and winter going as long as the earth remains. It’s not that God loves the smell of BBQ. But it is that God loves the smell of gratitude. That’s what He smelled in those sacrifices.
In the Law God gave the ancient Israelites through Moses there were instructions for various kinds of sacrifices that served various purposes. Some of the sacrifices were not for the purpose of atoning for any sin and obtaining forgiveness. They were rather sacrifices you could offer to just express your appreciation and love and devotion to God. And those sacrifices were often called sweet savor sacrifices. They were sacrifices that made God go “(deep breath), mmmmmm.” Like fresh baked cookies at grandma’s. Like fresh brewed coffee in the morning, “(deep breath), mmmmmm.” God delights in gratitude.
I Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Hebrews 13:15-16, “Through Him [Jesus] then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”
To help His people foster thankfulness God has throughout history instituted memorial feasts.
In the Law God gave to the ancient Israelites there were three annual feasts that were commanded. Able men were required, but everybody was invited to come to the temple for these feasts days, for Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. They all took place at sort of downtimes in the year for farming to make it easier for everybody to make it. A primary purpose of all three annual feasts was to generate thankfulness in the hearts of God’s people for various ways God had blessed them. During Passover, for instance, they commemorated the Exodus story of their history. At the meal the father of each household traditionally would tell the story of how their ancestors came to Egypt because of a famine, how there in Egypt the next generation was enslaved and oppressed, as were the next generations for 400 years, how miserable and bitter their lives were, then how God heard their cries and prayers and had compassion and sent His servant Moses, chastened Egypt with the mighty plagues, passed over their homes that had the lamb’s blood around the doorways, how God led them out and parted the great Red Sea for them and brought the waters crashing down on the pursuing Egyptian army, and how God took care of them in the barren wilderness, and how God established a covenant with them. On those Passover nights as they reflected on their history the hearts of many Israelites overflowed with gratitude to God. That was the intent.
A weekly little feast has been commanded of us, Christians, with much the same intent, the Lord’s Supper. You know the early Christians called the Lord’s Supper the eucharistia, or an Englishy way of saying it is, “eucharist.” That was a Greek word that meant “Thanksgiving.” The Thanksgiving meal to early Christians was the Lord’s Supper, because that’s what they did at the Lord’s Supper as they reflected on the amazing grace God showed to us through Jesus… “When Christ, the mighty Maker died, For man the creature’s sin.” They marveled, “Was it for crimes that I had done He groaned upon the tree? Amazing pity! grace unknown! And love beyond degree!” They were overwhelmed with gratitude and thanked God and the Lord Jesus from the bottom of their hearts. That is much the intent.
I find in Scripture that…
Our gratitude or lack of it especially toward God is at the very core of who we are and how we live.
Romans 1, for instance, which describes the sinfulness, corruption, reasons for the just condemnation of typical 1st century Gentiles. In describing it Paul first describes the root sin from which all the branches of sinfulness that grew out of. The root sin he describes this way. He says that though God has made much about Himself and His nature evident in just the creation itself and though they could perceive much about God from the creation, “they did not honor Him as God or give thanks…” They choose ingratitude toward the Creator. Then because of this ungrateful rejection of God, God gave them over to roll down the hill of sin. God didn’t hold them back from degrading and defiling themselves.
But when we are grateful toward God, I think God not only works to keep us from rolling down the hill, but even works to help us climb up the hill toward His likeness. Thankfulness and God’s Spirit are catalysts for the development of all that God wants us to be.
Thankfulness stimulates love. Jesus said, “A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” (Lk 7:41-43) The one he forgave more, right? The more grace we see we have received and are thankful for, the more we will love the one who has given it to us.
And thankfulness begets joy. It’s not joyful people who are thankful. It thankful people who are joyful. And did you know God wants us to have joy now before we get to heaven? … and not just a little, but like I Peter 1:8 says, “great joy inexpressible and full of glory.” But we will never experience that unless we learn to be thankful.
And thankfulness contributes to peace, to a sense of okayness, as you realize you’re being taken care of far beyond what you deserve. Philippians 4:6-7, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Thankfulness and the help of God’s Spirit leads us to patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness and self-control.
Think about the difference thankfulness makes in employees. Say on the one hand you have an employee who is thankful to have another day of life, knowing just that is a gift. And he’s thankful to see the sunshine and have good health and be able to work and to have a job and an income. And then on the other hand you have an employee who feels like he is entitled to all of that and more. He feels like he deserves a more enjoyable and higher paying job. Well, the first guy is going to come to work with a smile on his face; he’s whistle while he works and work hard and be friendly with people and brighten everybody’s day. The other guy is going to come to work frowning and complain about the aspects of the job he doesn’t like, work half-heartedly and be downer to everybody around him.
Think about the difference thankfulness makes in spouses. A husband who is thankful not to be alone, to have someone to talk to when he comes home, even if that someone is not perfect as he isn’t either, and someone that does his laundry and takes good care of his kids, he’s going to come home and hug his wife and see if he can relieve her of the chore she’s doing and just show appreciates her. But a husband who feels like he deserves the ideal woman. He’s going to come home and notice the things she could have done but didn’t and point those out to her and grab a beer and a seat and ignore her.
Our gratitude or lack of it is at the very core of who are and how we go about life.
Colossians 2:7 describes how we are to be as followers of Jesus and it says we are to be overflowing with gratitude. Well, how about you? Do you overflow with gratitude? Does gratitude flavor your life? Are the words that flow from your lips and the thoughts that race through your mind and the way you conduct yourself marked with gratitude? Think about the last 30 days. If you were to give yourself a gratitude grade, what would it be? Better yet, if your spouse or a close friend were to give you a grade for gratitude in your life, what do you think it would be? Would they say that you overflow with gratitude? Or might they say you overflow with grumbling?
I’ve got good news for us this morning.
We get to choose gratitude.
It’s not something that you have to have the right genes for. It’s not that some people are just lucky to inherit a tendency to thankfulness and the joy, peace and good qualities that come from it, and others are just unfortunate victims of ingratitude and the miserable grouchiness and sinfulness that stems from that. No, gratitude is chosen. That’s why it’s commanded repeatedly in the Bible.
With our last few minutes, I’d like to do just a little operation on this attitude of gratitude. I’d like to dissect it, separate and identify it’s component parts to help us see exactly what’s involved in choosing thankfulness. What thinking processes do we decide to go through? What happens in our minds that produces this thing we call thankfulness? As I analyze what goes on inside us that becomes thankfulness I see…
Three Inner Decisions that Combined Produce Thankfulness
I’ve put them in a little acronym to help me remember them. Maybe it will help you. The acronym is with the word SAD. When you feeling sad, then that’s probably a good time to do S.A.D.
S is for See.
Choose to see, to notice, to realize, to acknowledge the positive realities in your life and your future. Choose to see the good aspects, the things that benefit and enhance your life and the lives of others. Notice the fresh air and sunlight. Notice being able to see and hear and speak and taste and walk. Notice warm socks and comfy chairs. See the easily accessed water at whatever temperature we want as much as we want. Notice the abundance of all varieties of food available to us. I remember a little Wednesday night devotional that Seth Pleasants did one time. He had this audio recording that he played for us of birds, I think in a rainforest, singing and just making their bird noises. We just listened for a few minutes to the beauty of the sounds that all these different birds make. Then Seth said something like, “You know, God didn’t have to make the birds sing. He didn’t have to make them sing so beautifully. But it’s just one of countless things that God has done to bless and enhance our lives.” See the space and cleanliness we enjoy here in Montana. I didn’t really see it until I visited over populated polluted Manila Philippians. Then I saw what we have here.
Do you see how rich we are to live in this advanced time and country? You know as rich as king Solomon was (he made silver as common as stones in Jerusalem he was so rich), he couldn’t get a banana when he wanted one in the middle of winter. We can, for a few cents. He couldn’t flip a switch or clap his hands and immediately fill the room with light. We can. He couldn’t poke a few buttons to get the news on what’s happening all over the world or to adjust the room temperature to exactly what he wanted it to be like. See how rich we are.
And we must see the things we cannot see with our eyes but that God has promised us. We must see His amazing grace and love for us, our forgiveness, our names in the book of life, the resurrection and eternal life to which we are headed.
Seeing, choosing to take thought of our many blessings is the first inner decision toward thankfulness.
The second, the letter A…
A is for Appraise.
Or assess. Thankfulness involves not just noticing the blessings but assessing the value and significance of them, thinking about what it would like without them, how wonderful they are.
In Ephesians 1 in the first half of the chapter Paul lists all these spiritual blessings that we have in a relationship with Christ. He talks about how we’ve been chosen by God before the foundation of the world to be adopted as His children, how we have redemption through the blood of Christ, forgiveness of our sins, we are the recipients of the riches of His grace, He’s let us in on His purposes and plans, He’s made us heirs of eternal inheritance, and given His Spirit. That’s the first half of Ephesians 1. But I think Paul knew that those he was writing to were like us in that we hear about all these blessings we have in Christ, and we say “Okay, that’s cool. That sounds neat.” We might think of clouds and bright lights and seeing people in white with wings when we die and floating around and singing. We don’t get it. We don’t understand how wonderful, how magnificent these blessings are that we have in Christ. So in the second half of Ephesians 1 Paul says “Now, I pray constantly that the eyes of your heart will be enlightened, that you will understand the hope of your calling, and the riches of the glory of His inheritance, and the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe, the power God will exert on our behalf.” He prayed that the value and wonder and magnificence of these blessings would dawn on them and sink in.
That’s part of thankfulness, realizing how valuable, wonderful, rich, magnificent our blessings are. And so the choice to appraise them, to think deeply about their significance, is the second inner decision toward thankfulness.
And then here’s the third, the D in the acronym.
D is for Disentitle.
I mean we need to erase from our minds any notion that we are entitled to these blessings or that we’ve earned or deserve any of bit of them. You don’t profusely thank your boss when he gives you your pay check, because you earned that check. But you might if it was gift in addition to your pay check.
There was a time when we did not exist, and at that time God did not owe us existence, because we didn’t exist to be owed anything. But as a gift He gave us being and consciousness. He didn’t owe us any length of existence. Just one day would be a gift. He didn’t owe it to us to fill our days with all the color and beauty and sounds and relationships and enjoyable things. And we cannot repay God for any bit of it. Whatever we give to God is only letting Him have His own stuff. It’s like giving your kids money to buy you a Christmas present. And every sin we have committed has just made us all the more undeserving of His kindness.
We must see that we don’t a deserve a thing from God. When God had the Israelites offer animal sacrifices for sin, again it wasn’t because God likes the smell of BBQ. It was, yes, partly to foreshadow what Jesus would do. But it was also to impress upon them what they deserve, but what God was graciously not insisting on. With one of the sacrifices for sin, Leviticus 4 describes how the guilty person was to place his hand on the animal’s head and hold it there while the animal’s throat is slit and it bleed and squirmed and shuttered and died. Why would God command such a thing? I think God wanted them to identify with the animal. God wanted to impress upon them, “This should be me. This is what I deserve. But God is not dealing with me as I deserve. I am being forgiven and allowed to go on enjoying life.”
We don’t have offer animal sacrifices for sin. But the same effect should happen to us when we take the Lord’s Supper every week and we think about what Jesus went through for us. That is what we deserve.
Our culture is constantly telling us the opposite. McDonalds says, “You deserve a break today.” Cover Girl, the makeup company, says you’re supposed to buy their stuff, “Because you’re worth it.” Mercedes Benz used to tell you, “You owe it to yourself to buy a Mercedes Benz.” Our culture says we are entitled and worthy and deserving of good things. But the truth is you and I deserve a cross. All that we have is grace. All that we have is beyond what we deserve. Every day of life is a gift God does not owe us.
When those three inner decisions take place in our hearts, when we see the blessings and appraise them, realizing how valuable and wonderful they are, and we disentitle ourselves, realizing that we deserve none of it, then this thing we call thankfulness wells up in our hearts. And to God it smells like, “(deep breath, mmmmmm)”. And it works in us powerfully toward making us the people God calls us to be, people of love and joy and peace, people like Jesus.
– James Williams