11-20-16 GIVE THANKS
November 20, 2016
"Give thanks". If you are like me, the first thing that pops into your mind when you hear those two words are children suffering from cancer at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, and pleas from celebrities such as Jennifer Aniston and the late Robin Williams to donate so they can find a cure. Marlo Thomas, the oldest daughter of founder Danny Thomas, who proudly serves as National Outreach Director for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, worked with her siblings to create the slogan back in 2004, "Give thanks for the healthy kids in your life, and give to those who are not".
While we should definitely give thanks for healthy kids - and adults - the Lord asks us to go beyond giving thanks for blessings such as health and prosperity. He wants us to give thanks even for things most people would curse God for. In our Old Testament reading (Job 1:14-22) we heard how even though Job first lost all of his possessions, and then all of his children were killed in a house that collapsed during a windstorm, he did not curse God. Instead he worshipped Him! If you continue to read in the next chapter, you will discover that shortly thereafter Job lost his health as well. His exasperated wife told him to just "Curse God and die!" But Job did neither, and in the end the Lord rewarded Him greatly for his faithfulness. Yes, he did plead with God to explain to him why all of these misfortunes fell upon him, even though he had not done anything to deserve such anguish. Sometimes God will explain, but more often than not we just have to trust Him that His purpose will work for our good and His glory in the end (Romans 8:28).
In our Epistle reading we read how the apostle Paul, like Job, had every reason to be bitter, but wasn't. For all he knew, the next footsteps in the corridor might be those of the guards taking him away to his execution. His only bed was the hard, cold stone floor of the dank, cramped prison cell. Not an hour passed when he was free from the constant irritation of the chains and the pain of the iron manacles cutting into his wrists and legs.
Separated from friends, unjustly accused, brutally treated - if ever a person had a right to complain, it was Paul, languishing almost forgotten in a harsh Roman prison. But instead of complaining, he prayed to God and sang hymns of thanksgiving, practiced what he preached to the Ephesians, "Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 5:19-20).
Think of it: Always giving thanks for everything - no matter the circumstances! Thanksgiving for the Apostle Paul was not a once-a-year celebration, but a daily reality that changed his life and made him a joyful person in every situation.
Thanksgiving - the giving of thanks - to God for all His blessings should be one of the most distinctive marks of the believer in Jesus Christ. We must not allow a spirit of ingratitude to harden our heart and chill our relationship with God and with others.
Nothing turns us into bitter, selfish, dissatisfied people more quickly than an ungrateful heart. And nothing will do more to restore contentment and the joy of our salvation than a true spirit of thankfulness.
In the ancient world, leprosy was a terrible disease. It hopelessly disfigured those who had it, and it permanently cut them off from normal society. Without exception, every leper yearned for one thing: To be healed.
We heard in our Gospel reading (Luke 17:11-19) about 10 lepers who approached Jesus outside a village, loudly pleading with Him to heal them. In an instant He restored them all to perfect health - but only one came back and thanked Him. All the rest left without a word of thanks, their minds preoccupied only with themselves, gripped with a spirit of ingratitude.
Today, too, ingratitude and thanklessness are far too common. Children forget to thank their parents for all that they do. Common courtesy is scorned. We take for granted the ways that others help us. Above all, we fail to thank God for His blessings.
Ingratitude is a sin, just as surely as is lying or stealing or immorality or any other sin condemned by the Bible. One of the Bible's indictments against rebellious humanity is that "although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him" (Romans 1:21). An ungrateful heart is a heart that is cold toward God and indifferent to His mercy and love. It is a heart that has forgotten how dependent we are on God for everything.
From one end of the Bible to the other, we are commanded to be thankful. In fact, thankfulness is the natural outflowing of a heart that is attuned to God, and a spirit of thanksgiving is always the mark of a joyous Christian.
And yet how often do we seem to never be satisfied with the material blessings we have? But what a difference it makes when we realize that everything we have has been given to us by God! King David prayed, "Wealth and honor come from you! We give you thanks, and praise your glorious name! Everything comes from you (1 Chronicles 29:12-14).
Rev. Billy Graham wrote how he had once visited a man who was wealthy and successful. He was the envy of all his friends and business associates. But as they talked, the man broke down in tears, confessing that he was miserable inside. Wealth had not been able to fill the empty place in his heart. Then the same day he visited another man only a short distance away. His cottage was humble, and he had almost nothing in the way of this world's possessions. And yet his face was radiant as he told Rev. Graham about the work he was doing for Christ and how Christ had filled his life with meaning and purpose. Rev. Graham said he was convinced that the second man was really the rich man. Although he didn't have much, he had learned to be thankful for everything that God had given him.
The Apostle Paul declared, "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want" (Philippians 4:12, NIV). Yes, a spirit of thankfulness makes all the difference.
Are you constantly preoccupied with what you do not have? Or have you learned to thank God for what you do have?
And what about the people in your life? It is so easy to take people for granted, or even to complain and become angry because they do not meet our every wish. But we need to give thanks for those around us - our spouses, our children, our relatives, our friends and co-workers - and even those we wouldn't normally think to give thanks for, such as the waitress who messed up our order, the postal worker who accidentally dropped your refund check in a puddle, the neighbor whose dog fertilized your yard...
Do you let others know that you appreciate them and are thankful for them? The Christians in Corinth were far from perfect, but Paul began his first letter to them by saying, "I always thank God for you" (1 Corinthians 1:4). When a group of believers (whom Paul had never met) came out to greet him as he approached Rome, we read that "at the sight of these men Paul thanked God and was encouraged" (Acts 28:15). Thank God for those who touch your life.
But when difficulties arise, it is human nature to blame God, to be angry with him, and sometime to even lose faith completely. Be thankful? That is often the farthest thing from our minds! And yet in the midst of those trials, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can thank God, because we know that He has promised to be with us and that He will help us. We know that He can use times of suffering to draw us closer to Himself. James wrote "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance" (James 1:2-3, NIV).
When the prophet Daniel learned that evil men were plotting against him to destroy him by inciting the king to pass a law disallowing prayer to Daniel's God, "he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before" (Daniel 6:10). The Bible commands us to, "Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NIV). Paul told the Colossians that it is possible do to so when he wrote, "You will even be able to thank God in the midst of pain and distress because you are privileged to share the lot of those who are living in the light" (Colossians 1:12).
I know many of you are facing trials right now, but God loves you and is with you by His Holy Spirit, and He wants you to cultivate a spirit of thankfulness even in the midst of these trials and heartaches.
But there is one thing that we should be thankful for above all else. That is God's gift of His Son, who died on the cross and rose again so that we can know Him personally and spend eternity with Him in heaven. Yes, "Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!" (2 Corinthians 9:15).The Bible tells us that we are separated from God because we have sinned. But God loves us - He loves you, He loves me - and He wants us to be part of His family forever. He loves us so much that He sent His only Son into the world to die as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. All we need to do is reach out in faith and accept Christ as our Savior and Lord:
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16, NIV).
Have you opened your heart to Jesus Christ? If not, turn to Him with a simple prayer of repentance and faith, and thank Him for what He has done for you. And if you do know Christ, how long has it been since you thanked God for your salvation? We should not let a day go by without thanking God for His mercy and His grace to us in Jesus Christ.
In America, we will be celebrating Thanksgiving this coming week. But for the Christian every day can be a day of thanksgiving, and we can be "always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 5:20).
So l pray you will turn to God and let Him take away your bitterness and give you the spirit of true thankfulness. Amen.
(Adapted from a sermon by Billy Graham)