I recently saw an interesting list. It features eight things giving thanks can do. This being Thanksgiving Sunday, the list begins this message.
Giving thanks gets our eyes off ourselves and helps us to focus on God.
Giving thanks - thanking God for the good things we have - reminds us we are not in control, but that we serve a Mighty God who is. As we recognize how much we need Him, we are kept in humility and dependence on Him.
Giving thanks to God helps us to remember we have so much for which to be thankful, including all the little things of life, which are so easy to forget when giving thanks.
Giving thanks takes our attention off our problems as we reflect on the goodness of God’s many blessings.
Similarly, giving thanks leaves no room for complaining because it is impossible to be truly thankful and filled with negativity and ungratefulness at the same time.
Giving thanks to God reminds us He is the giver of all good gifts.
Giving thanks to God makes the enemy flee. The forces of darkness cannot stand to be around hearts that give thanks and honor to God. Our praise and thanksgiving will make Satan flee.
And giving thanks opens the door for more blessings because it lets God know He is welcome in our lives. God loves to give good gifts to His children. He delights in our thankfulness and pours out His Spirit and favor over those who give honor and gratitude to Him.
On this Thanksgiving Sunday, and throughout this week of Thanksgiving and beyond, let’s remember to be thankful. As mentioned, that will be pleasing to God. It will be helpful to us.
In a moment, we will begin thinking about the basis of thanksgiving, which is gratitude. We are going to take a journey through several Bible verses that teach us what gratitude is. Before that, a quick story about people in our history who were thankful. For them, being thankful despite very difficult circumstances.
In 1620, 102 Pilgrims arrived on this continent to build a new world where they would be free to worship God as they wanted to worship Him.
Unfortunately for them, it was not long before 56 of the Pilgrims died. They succumbed to starvation or disease or the cold winter. Because of that, the survivors had every reason to be depressed and discouraged. Instead, they chose to give thanks. An example of that came in 1621 when 46 Pilgrims joined 91 Indians at a meal during which the Pilgrims gave thanks for a bountiful harvest that year and for the preservation of their lives.
In 1623, Governor William Bradford issued a proclamation establishing that there would be a day of Thanksgiving that year. Here is what the proclamation announced. I share it to remind us the Christian basis of the holiday we will celebrate on Thursday.
Here is Governor Bradford’s proclamation.
Inasmuch as the great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forest to abound with game, and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has protected us from the ravages of the savages [that is not a very politically correct statement, but it was the thought of Governor Bradford] and has spared us from pestilence and disease, and has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our conscience, we render Thanksgiving to the Almighty God for all His blessings.
Wow. What an expression of thanksgiving for the blessings of food, health, and protection. What a call to remember that all those blessings were - and are - from God. That God is to be thanked even in difficult circumstances, which the Pilgrims faced even in 1623. What an important proclamation for us to remember today, this week, and beyond.
And one more historical note. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln established a national day of Thanksgiving on the fourth Tuesday of November. Later, President Roosevelt moved it to the fourth Thursday of each November, but President Lincoln established the modern holiday of Thanksgiving, doing so in the middle of the Civil War. Here is what he said.
No human counsel has devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things [the blessings in our land]. They are the gracious gifts of the most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.
Let’s be thankful. Let’s be thankful to God. Let’s know that being thankful requires having an attitude of gratitude. Let’s consider, based on several Bible verses, what gratitude is.
First, it is, according to at least three Bible passages, a decision and an action.
In Luke 17, we are told of the time Jesus healed ten lepers. They called out to Jesus as, one day, He entered a village. They called out, not just a warning of their disease, which they were required by law to do. They cried out for mercy.
The lepers were outside the village. Jesus answered them by instructing them to go and show themselves to the priests in the village. As they went toward the village, each of the ten was healed of the disease that had caused them to suffer physically, but also socially since no one with leprosy was allowed to have anything to do with healthy people.
All ten lepers went toward the village where the priests were. All ten were healed. What a miracle that was. But remember what happened? While nine of the ten did go to the priests, which Jesus had instructed them to do, one of the ten, instead of going directly into the village [he went later, but instead of going directly to the priests], he made the decision to do something else first. He took he action of turning back to praise God and thank Jesus.
Making a decision to thank Jesus and acting on that decision is taught by the apostle Paul in Philippians 4. Paul wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice.” In other words, decide to express to Jesus your joy, then act on that decision by having “no anxiety about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”
Giving thanks pleases the Lord. That has already been established. However, according to Paul in Philippians 4, there is also a reward for us when we are thankful. Give thanks at all times, “and the peace of God will keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus,” the idea being a guard set on our hearts and minds so everything bad will be kept out and all that is good and holy, pleasing to Christ Jesus will be kept in our hearts and minds.
Paul also taught the need to be thankful in Colossians 3. He wrote, “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
That verse calls us to make a decision - to be intentional - in giving thanks, then carrying out that decision, being thankful in everything we say and everything we do.
What is gratitude? First, it is a decision and an action. Second, according to at least one Bible passage, gratitude is an act of humility.
Deuteronomy 6. These are words spoken by Moses as the people of God were on their way to the Promised Land.
One of the purposes of Moses in Deuteronomy 6 was to get the people ready for all the good things they were going to experience in the Promised Land. Great cities, houses full of good things, cisterns for storing water, vineyards and olive trees.
The benefits in the Promised Land were going to be wonderful. But listen to how Moses described those things. Great cities “you did not build,” houses full of good things “you did not provide,” cisterns “you did not dig,” vineyards and olive trees “you did not plant.”
All of which makes for the second purpose of the passage. Moses reminded the people of God - the people he was leading - that since all the good in the Promised Land was not going to be by their doing, good would be given to them by God, who would lead them into the Land.
The third purpose of this passage is a very serious warning. Moses knew - remember he was speaking for God, so God knew - how easy it was going to be for the people of God, when they arrived and got settled in the very nice Promised Land, to forget it was God who gave them all the blessings they would enjoy.
While the words “give thanks” are not featured in this passage - what Moses instructed the people to do when they got to the Promised Land was “fear” or respect God and “follow and serve only Him” - I think giving thanks is included in fearing and following and serving God, all the while remembering that the blessings they would have would come from God.
The same it true today. And yes, we work hard. We try to be wise financially. But it is God who is the source of all the good things we have and do and enjoy.
Let’s be humble enough to thank God for the blessings we have. Let’s be humble enough to know He is the giver of all good things. With humility, let’s have gratitude. With humility, let’s be thankful.
Third, gratitude, according to at least two Bible passages, draws us closer to God.
Psalm 100 begins with the call to “make a joyful noise to the LORD.” All people in all lands are to do that. We are all to “enter God’s presence with singing.” Do you suppose part of the music is to be songs of thanksgiving?
It should be easy to want to make joyful noise and sing thankfully. It will be easy when we realize the truth of the next part of Psalm 100. “Know that the LORD is God.” Know that it is “He who made us, which makes us His.” We are “His people, the sheep of His pasture.”
Then listen to what is next. “Enter God’s gates with thanksgiving.” Do we sense the mood. Giving thanks to God gives us the desire to be close to Him. It makes us willing to be drawn to Him. “Enter His gates with thanksgiving.” Give thanks to Him. What an important challenge for each of us.
That challenge is described negatively in Romans 1. In verse 21 are these words. “For although they knew God, they did not honor Him or give thanks to Him.” The result? They became “futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened,” all that because they lacked gratitude for all the blessings God gave them. What happened? Verse 24. “Therefore God gave them up.”
Remember there is always, as long as anyone lives, the possibility of repentance. If anyone never has been thankful or if you have lately had trouble being grateful to God, they or you can change. You can turn away from ignoring Him and begin now to thank the Lord. You can begin now to be thankful, knowing that will draw God and you closer together.
Gratitude does draw us closer to God. Fourth, gratitude, which leads us to be thankful, is, according to at least two Bible passages, God's will.
1 Thessalonians 5:18. These are words written by Paul. Written as inspired by Jesus. “Give thanks in all circumstances.”
As we have discussed many times before, not all circumstances are pleasant. Not everything that happens to us is fun. Sometimes life gives us many problems.
But notice the wording. It is not to give thanks only when we are happy and healthy and everyone likes us and everything is going well. The wording is to give thanks “in all circumstances.”
Easy? Not a bit. But listen to the rest of the verse. “For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”
Wow. It is God’s will that we be thankful. And again notice the wording. It is not to give thanks during Thanksgiving week only. It is to be thankful in all circumstances, which suggests being thankful all the time.
Something we can accomplish, according to Ephesians 5:19-20, with the help of others and the Holy Spirit.
Remember that all the Bible is given by God, so these verses represent the mind and will of God. “Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.”
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Gratitude is a decision and an action. It is an act of humility. Gratitude draws us closer to God. It is God’s will. So, with gratitude, let us, today and beyond, decide to be humble enough to want to be closer to God, thereby obeying His will, knowing He will be pleased as we receive more and more of His blessings.
In fact, let’s practice thankful.
For a minute - we are going to do this three times - either in a personal prayer with God or talking with someone, think of all the things you are thankful for in your relationships. Maybe that you have friends or maybe what your friends or other people do for you or how others let you be nice to them. Take a minute thanking God for the relationships He has given you.
For another minute, let’s practice being thankful for the material possessions God has given us.
Remember the ones Moses referred to - cities, houses filled with good things, cisterns, vineyards and trees. Old Testament people of God were to be thankful for those gifts from God. What about you. Either in personal prayer or talking with someone near you, take a minute thanking God for the material possessions He has given you that make life easier than it would otherwise be.
For one more minute, thank God, personally or with someone, for who He is or what He does.
Today’s closing song is the chorus God Is So Good.
God is so good, God is so good,
God is so good, He’s so good to me!
He answers prayer, He answers prayer,
He answers prayer, He’s so good to me!
He cares for me, He cares for me,
He cares for me, He’s so good to me!
I love Him so, I love Him so,
I love Him so, He’s so good to me!
Dear God, for Your amazing power and work in our lives, thank You. For Your goodness and for Your blessings over us, thank you. That You are able to bring hope through even the toughest of times, strengthening us for Your purposes, thank You. For Your great love and care, thank You. For Your mercy and grace, thank You. That You are always with us and will never leave us, thank You. For Your incredible sacrifice so that we might have freedom and life, thank You.
Help us to thank You enough for who You are, for all You do, for all You give. Help us to set our eyes and our hearts on You. Renew our spirits and fill us with Your peace and joy. We give You praise and thanks, for You alone are worthy. Amen.