Every Day Should Be Thanksgiving Part 1
Pastor Arn Buck
Heart Song Worship Center
Psalms 89:15-17 (NLT) Happy are those who hear the joyful call to worship, for they will walk in the light of your presence, LORD. They rejoice all day long in your wonderful reputation. They exult in your righteousness. You are their glorious strength. It pleases you to make us strong.
Make of our hearts a field to raise your praise. Luci Shaw (1928-2007)
Developing a grateful heart for all of God's blessings is probably the single most important step to find genuine joy, peace, and fulfillment in God. It is probably the most effective way to put our focus on God instead of the world and its cares. In the world we are conditioned to not be happy with what we have. Our need to be accepted makes us subject to peer pressure. This pushes us to do things that we probably would not do on our own. The advertisements that we are continually exposed to lie to us. They promise us that we will be fulfilled when we obtain that faster car, bigger house, the new blue iPod, an iPhone, more stylish cloths, whiter teeth, more hair, more money and more stuff. What happens when we get these things? We might be happy for a while until something bigger, newer, or better catches our eye. Then the cycle starts again. It is an unless cycle that doesn't end until we die.
Yes, there are some exceptions to this cycle, but generally we and those around us are held captive by this lie. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. After all it's the American way. Isn't it? We envy and idolize those who make it big. It generally doesn't matter how they got there. We, as a society, are growing more and more tolerant of cheating and criminal activity. It is the American dream and the land of opportunity.
We don't even have room for all our stuff. Storage is one of the fastest growing industries today. Since the 1960's the United States has accumulated more material possessions than the whole world had up to that point. How important to us is something that we keep locked up somewhere miles from our houses? It was important before and shortly after we acquired it. Now it sits in a dark cell far from our sight under a pile of other stuff. We paid a lot of money for the entertainment center to hold our new 27" television.
Gratitude - A Turning Point in a Church
I recently was part of a church in an affluent area. Several years ago a woman started attending who was going through some very difficult emotional and financial times. When we prayed together as a church she would start her prayers by saying, "Lord thank you for waking me up this morning, for the roof over my head, and for the food that you put on my table." Reflecting on that simple sincere prayer began to show the others what they had been taking for granted. It caused them to start taking inventory of God's many blessings. As they did this, their focus was drawn more and more to God. The more they looked the more they saw His great love for them. This increased their desire to know Him more. They began reading their Bibles more regularly. They spent more time in prayer. They starting respecting each other's talents and abilities. They began demonstrating Godly love for one another. Their worship of God on Sunday morning became more passionate. All of this started from hearing a simple, yet sincere, prayer of gratitude by a person who knew her dependence on God.
It Is Not Natural to Us
It takes work and determination to maintain an attitude of gratitude. It is against our nature. More often than not we like to grumble and complain. Please be aware that I am not excluding Christians. Someone who knows how to complain in just the right way can become quite popular with others. Grumbling is self-focused. We often complain because our needs aren't being met, because things aren't going our way, or because we feel threatened.
Complaining is not new to today's society. Clear examples of this behavior can be found in the Old Testament. After God saved Israel from Pharaoh's army, they offered praise to God.
Exodus 15:2, 11-13 (NLT) The LORD is my strength and my song; he has given me victory. This is my God, and I will praise him- my father's God, and I will exalt him! "Who is like you among the gods, O LORD-
Only three days later we find the following:
Exodus 15:24 (NLT) Then the people complained and turned against Moses. "What are we going to drink?" they demanded.
Then less than a month later they expressed their ingratitude quite strongly.
Exodus 16:2-3 (NLT) There, too, the whole community of Israel complained about Moses and Aaron. "If only the LORD had killed us back in Egypt," they moaned. "There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death."
We see a people who God miraculously delivered from the bondage of slavery. A people who just recently witnessed two of the greatest miracles in recorded history - the Angel of Death and the parting of the Red Sea. They were on their way to a new home. It was a land that was promised to be "flowing with milk and honey." They were descendants of Abraham and heirs to a great covenant. God had just proved His faithfulness to them by saving them from Pharaoh's army. They even acknowledged His faithfulness in Exodus 15:13. What happened? Did the heat of the desert cause amnesia? Was there something in the water at Marah? I suggest that after the miracles their focus rapidly shifted from God back to themselves. Instead of meditating on God's mighty deliverance, they meditated on the food they ate in Egypt. Instead of praising God for the wonderful promised land ahead of them, they were thinking of their stomachs.
The Israelites kept complaining that they were going to die in the wilderness although God had promised them great things. He not only consistently provided for them, He sometimes gave them what they thought would satisfy them. In spite of that they grumbled. He even showed them how He felt about complaining by punishing them for it. They would listen. They would not learn. Finally He had enough.
Numbers 14:26 - 30 (NLT) Then the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "How long must I put up with this wicked community and its complaints about me? Yes, I have heard the complaints the Israelites are making against me. Now tell them this: 'As surely as I live, declares the LORD, I will do to you the very things I heard you say. You will all drop dead in this wilderness! Because you complained against me, every one of you who is twenty years old or older and was included in the registration will die. You will not enter and occupy the land I swore to give you. The only exceptions will be Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.
Complaining is a sin. It is selfish and it is displeasing to God. It is the opposite is of thanksgiving. It is a trap that can distance us from God. The only thing that can save us is a change of heart.
A Good Way to View a Bad Situation
A good friend of mine named Frank Pramuka once gave a simple but memorable testimony. He told the church of the high automobile expenses that he had incurred during the previous week. Then he praised God because he had the money to pay for it. Frank could have focused on what he lost. I am sure that he would have rather used the money for something else. Instead he focused on God's provision and publicly offered thanksgiving and praise.
Months after that I was at work when the service department of the auto dealer called and informed me that my car had a blown head gasket. I immediately had the urge to tell the other engineers about this. They would help console me as we all complained about the outrageous cost of servicing automobiles. Before I had a chance God asked, "What are you doing?" After I explained he questioned, "Aren't you supposed to be different as a Christian? How does complaining like everyone else make you different?" All of a sudden I remembered Frank's testimony and thanked God that I had the money to pay for it. If we claim to be a Christian, people will watch us very carefully. How we act in uncomfortable and trying situations reflects God's faithfulness to those around us. Yes, I still find myself complaining now and then. But it is much less frequent. It is usually an indication that I have been neglectful about practicing gratitude.
Rules for Holy Living
Some Christians believe that their main objective is to persevere against the attacks of the devil. Their resistance can be pictured as stone wall that is being bombarded by rocks of temptation that are being hurled at them from the enemy's catapults. If the wall is standing at the end, they have been victorious. Then they sit there waiting for the next attack. This type of defensive attitude can be especially trying and difficult if the focus is on the sin that is being resisted. The more our attention is directed on the sin and the more we think about it, the more likely it is that the the rocks will eventually break down the wall.
I believe that a strategy for victory over temptation is offered in Colossians chapter three and Ephesians chapter five. In Colossians 3:5 is says, "So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you." It then lists sins that are important to avoid especially for the sake of our relationship with others. The verses after the list discusses positive things that we should do to enhance and strengthen our relationship with others. These are very important and need to be heeded. However, the real key to victory is found in verses 15 though 17.
Colossians 3:15 - 17 (NLT) And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.
The short passage contains three encouragements to offer thanksgiving. Verse fifteen says, "always be thankful". Verse sixteen tells us to sing with thankful hearts. Verse seventeen instructs us to give thanks to the Father through Jesus. As we offer thanksgiving for what God has done, our full attention is given to that. It helps us resist temptation because we our not paying attention to it. We have to watch the rocks hitting our wall for them to have affect.
Ephesians chapter five follows the same format as Colossians chapter three. The lists are almost identical. The section in Ephesians concludes with the following instructions:
Ephesians 5:18 - 20 (NLT) Don't be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The principal found in Colossians and Ephesians can be seen even more concisely in the Old Testament. Let's look at Psalm 106:1-3.
Psalms 106:1 - 3 (NLT) Praise the LORD! Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. Who can list the glorious miracles of the LORD? Who can ever praise him enough? There is joy for those who deal justly with others and always do what is right.
Can you imagine Jesus when he was being tempted by Satan in the wilderness? It would not have been called a temptation if Jesus was immune from it. What if He let His imagination go when Satan offered Him all the kingdoms of the earth? This would allow Him to do such good for people. He could eliminate much of the suffering in the world. Yet He was victorious. He probably either did not allow Himself to think about it or He was grateful to be on a mission to ultimately restore fallen mankind to the Father. Keep in mind that this is all supposition. The Bible does record what He thought at that time.
Victory Through Thanksgiving
If we successfully resist temptation most of the time we will hear God say, "Well done, thy good and faithful servant." It is true that we are called to resist and even flee temptation. But this is only half the battle. That is the defense part. Wars are not won by defense alone. A victorious army must also be offensive.
Before continuing I would like to clarify the relationship of thanksgiving and praise. Thanksgiving is a form of praise during which we are expressing gratitude for what God has done and provided for us. When we offer praise, we can do it in a joyful celebration or reverently. We could raise our arms and shout and/or dance or we could thank him offering tears of joy while on our knees. The important part is that we do it with sincerity. God knows our hearts. We do not stand a chance of fooling Him. We should not expect everyone to do it like us. We should be tolerate and non-judgmental of others. God has made each of us slightly different. Some people need to show their emotions more outwardly. Others might have intense emotions that they choose not to show. The Bible does place restrictions on how we demonstrate thanksgiving. I truly believe that God wants us to respond in the way that expresses our heart to him best.
A few years ago my family was part of a start-up church in Beacon Falls Connecticut. One Sunday a friend named Ray encouraged the church to praise God in all that we do. My initial reaction was to dismiss his words as not being pertinent. Praise and worship had been my ministry for over twenty-five years. Surely I had a lot of experience praising God and helping others to do so. What could I learn from what Ray was saying? Then something inside said pay attention! This is important! The Holy Spirit was urging me to stifle my pride aside so that I could learn something new. At the same time I felt others were stuck on a reaction similar to my initial response.
When bringing things before the church, Ray would not only pray about what to share but how it was to be shared. Often he was led to share in a very simple and clear manner. He was often mistakenly interpreted as a young Christian who shared things of little value to those who were "mature in the faith." We must be careful that we are humble enough to learn from all that God chooses to work through. He uses children, the elderly, housewives, those who are not successful by worldly standards, and even those that we might not like. He doesn't do these things to upset us. He does it because He loves us and He knows that pride increases the distance between Him and ourselves.
Within the next week every family in the church began experiencing major problems. The next day Ray felt an urgent need to pray for his brother. Shortly after that he learned that his brother had shot himself in the chest with a 38-caliper pistol at point blank range.
We had our share of problems.
My father started having a series of strokes. Each time he experienced partial paralysis and lost his ability to speak. Although every occurrence was followed by a complete recovery, the potential of bad news made me quite apprehensive of answering the phone.
We found ourselves without a car. Normally we had four drivers and two cars. Now both cars had major problems at the same time. My car needed transmission work. This took almost three weeks and cost $2,700. Just as we got it home, the power steering system failed. This translated into another week of time in the shop and an additional $1,500 expense. My wife's car had to be towed four times in three weeks. It had developed a starting problem. After several days the shop would give it back saying that they could not find the problem. The next day one of us would be stranded somewhere. After five weeks the car was repaired. A few days later, a seal on the transmission let go. We decided not to have it repaired.
My boss learned from Human Resources that I was attempting to transfer to another department. I knew that this is typically a career-limiting move. This was a special concern because my annual review has coming up soon. Another reason of concern was the number of layoffs occurring at that time.
Throughout this period my wife and I were determined to praise God. When we received bad news, we would not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by it. Instead we would concentrate on God's goodness and praise Him for that. We constantly reminded ourselves of what He had done in the past. We knew first hand that God was good. Nothing changes that! In general we were actually able to maintain quite a sense of peace and joy throughout this period. After five weeks the problems began to be resolved.
A doctor discovered that my father's strokes were not strokes at all. The symptoms were the result of incorrect levels of calcium in his blood. It was related to the thyroid medication he was taking. The problem was easily correctable.
Some friends from church let us borrow one of their cars until we bought a new car to replace my wife's car. Then God miraculously provided additional cars for our son and daughter. Both cars were models that they were excited about, both were in great condition, they had exceptionally low mileage, and they were purchased for thousands less than they should have cost. Our son wasn't even looking. He was in college and did not have enough money for a car. We didn't have the money to buy one for him. Their cars have been running fine for the past several years.
Instead of being upset my boss gave me a very good salary increase and seemed to go out of his way to be nice to me from that point on.
Ray's brother was not successful in his suicide attempt. The bullet missed his heart by a fraction of an inch. After shooting himself he decided that he wanted to live. While bleeding profusely, he made it through the front door of the warehouse he was in. Once outside he collapsed just as a police officer was driving by. The peace that Ray displayed as he helped his family through the difficult time was a testimony to his whole family and his brother's friends. His brother made a full recovery.
Unfortunately half the church did not pay attention to the call to praise God. Their problems were not resolved well. In some cases the miracle answer was shown to them but kept out of reach. Throughout the ordeal those who were being victorious through God were lovingly trying to help the others. Most of the time the help was rejected because they thought the problems were under control. Our pride is almost always invisible to us. We are all masters of rationalization. We need the Holy Spirit to help us. We need to listen to Him and obey even if we do not like what we hear. The rewards are great. God loves us and always desires the best for each of us. He truly wants us to be successful in our journey towards His heart.
The other half of the church was obedient to the call to praise God in all things. God resolved their problems and they were blessed.