Every Day Should be Thanksgiving - Part 2
Pastor Arn Buck
Heart Song Worship Center
Psalms 70:4 (NKJV) Let all those who seek You rejoice and be glad in You; And let those who love Your salvation say continually, "Let God be magnified!"
"Grumbling and complaining are weeds that choke and displace flowers of praise." - Linda Buck
One Out of Ten
It's special to see the joyful expression on a child when they open a present that they like. Isn't it even nicer when they come up to you and give you a hug and kiss to express their gratitude after opening it? It is something that we don't or shouldn't expect. However, it really does enhance the joy of giving.
Luke 17:12 - 19 (NLT) As he entered a village there, ten lepers stood at a distance, crying out, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" He looked at them and said, "Go show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy. One of them, when he saw that he was healed, came back to Jesus, shouting, "Praise God! He fell to the ground at Jesus' feet, thanking him for what he had done. This man was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, "Didn't I heal ten men? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?" And Jesus said to the man, "Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you."
It must have been an horrendous experience to be a leper in Jewish society at the time of Christ. According to Leviticus 13:45-46, a leper had to yell "Unclean! Unclean!" as they went down the street so that people could avoid getting anywhere near them. They had to wear torn clothes and leave their hair messed up. Can you imagine how demeaning this was? Would you walk through the mall wearing dirty and smelly worn-out clothes having a "bad hair day" that would even terrify avid horror movie goers? And then cause everyone to look at you because you are yelling "Unclean! Unclean." Would you attend Easter Service at church looking like that? On top of all this lepers had to live alone; outside the camp. This was away from all their family, friends, and material possessions. It was also dangerous to be outside alone at night. It is difficult to imagine something that would produce more despair and loneliness.
When Jesus healed the ten lepers, he not only took their disease away, they were able to return to normal lives again. I could image their utter despair turning into exceeding joy as they found themselves being healed on their journey to show the priests. Their hearts probably danced in celebration as they felt the heavy weight of their hopelessness lifted and taken away. There are probably few joys in life that could compare with what they experienced; yet only one of the ten returned to thank Jesus. Why? I have little doubt that all ten were exuberantly thankful. Why did only one return?
We do not know the answer. The Bible does not provide enough detail. However, it is my supposition that the one who returned had a sensitivity to God. This was fruit that sprouted from a genuine relationship with God. The Old Testament makes it abundantly clear that offering thanksgiving is pleasing to God. God had given this poor leper the greatest gift he could imagine asking for. It was a gift that he did not deserve and one that he could never repay. He could, however, bring pleasure to his Healer by showing sincere, heartfelt gratitude.
His returning to Jesus permitted interaction between the two. Jesus was able to enforce the leper's faith by telling him, "Your faith has made you well." His behavior of offering thanksgiving was re-enforced indirectly when Jesus asked, "But where are the nine?" This interaction must have solidified the leper's bond to God. The others, although healed, missed this benefit.
The Role of Gratitude in Relationships
Several weeks ago we learned that trust was a foundational element to any relationship. Gratitude is a thread that can be woven into a fabric that will hold a relationship together. This fabric is constructed by interweaving threads of gratitude from both sides together. The strength of the fabric is determined by the number and quality of the threads contributed. Expressing gratitude lets another know that they are appreciated. It lets them know that they are valued highly - that they are in the other's thoughts in a positive way. It re-enforces that they are an important part of the other person's life.
Gratitude is not a re-payment for what one receives from another. Re-payment can be viewed as one's intention of remaining debt free to another. It could indicate that one party wants to keep its distance from the other. Gratitude is much different. It is telling someone that what they did is so precious that it cannot be repaid and that they are cherished for what they are. It is clearly acknowledging the importance of the relationship. Isn't it wonderful to be able to express this to God knowing that it brings pleasure to Him?
Making the other person in the relationship know they are appreciated sometimes takes a conscious effort. Marriages sometimes fall apart when one partner begins focusing on the things the other person does naturally that annoys them. This can get to a point where their former lover becomes an enemy. It begins to seem as if they are purposefully doing these things for the sake of annoying them. Meanwhile they have reduced or even stopped using gratitude to strengthen the relationship. Complaints begin to replace praise. As a result, the other partner is no longer feeling appreciated. This, in turn, might motivate them to also focus on negative characteristics. Such focus on the negative features causes the other person to become bad in our minds. Although they are actually the same good person that you dated, in your mind they are now bad. Unfortunately we control our own sense of reality. Others can be innocent victims of our distorted perception. It's not what someone is that counts. It is what we think of them.
Gratitude naturally helps a relationship because it puts focus on the other person. Complaining is self- centered. Self focus in our relationship with God can have disastrous results. The demands of our busy life styles can easily distract us from God. Once we loose focus on Him, we no longer see the things that cause us to express gratitude. The Apostle Paul describes this in the book of Romans.
Romans 1:21 (NLT) Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn't worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused.
God does not want to confuse us. He wants to enlighten us. He wants us to see Him for what He is. This is why the Bible encourages us to continually maintain an attitude of thankfulness toward God.
Psalms 92:1-2, 4 (NLT) It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to the Most High. It is good to proclaim your unfailing love in the morning, your faithfulness in the evening. You thrill me, LORD, with all you have done for me! I sing for joy because of what you have done.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV) Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
Gratitude and Science Together in Reader's Digest
It is not usual for scientific and medical studies to re-enforce the benefit of Biblically based life styles. The October 2007 issue of Reader's Digest contains an article entitled "How the New Science of Thank You Can Change Your Life" written by Deborah Norville. The following section is taken from the opening page of the article.
What if, instead of wallowing in our misery, we all chose to focus on being valued by a dear friend, for example, or the memory of a colleague's when she receives a surprise birthday cake at work, or the smooth ride we've had to work in the past week? As science is now proving, feeling grateful can actually make us healthier, literally. Practicing gratitude, acknowledging the blessings in our lives and making it a point to recognize the good things can change us positively.
The article later discusses a study done by two psychology professors - Robert Emmons, PhD of the University of California and Michael McCullough of the University of Miami. The following is selected extract from that study.
"Others around them recognized that too. They noticed that these people had more joy, more energy. They could see that they were becoming more optimistic," says Emmons. The grateful group "even seemed to be perceived as more helpful toward others, going out on a limb to help people." Emmons was surprised by this result. "This is not just something that makes people happy, like a positive- thinking/optimism kind of thing. A feeling of gratitude really gets people to do something, to become more pro-social, more compassionate."
The results should not be surprising to us. We just learned that gratitude takes the focus from ourselves and directs it toward others. Didn't Jesus command us to love others as we love ourselves? Wouldn't it be great if most Christians stood out from society for the reasons the people in the study did? The church universal as the Body of Christ would have so much more creditability. We would be more like what the Word of God says we should be. In a follow-up study they concluded that people who were consciously grateful experienced the following benefits:
- Felt better about their lives.
- Were more optimistic.
- Were more energetic.
- Were more enthusiastic.
- Were more determined.
- Were more interested.
- Were more joyful.
- Exercised more.
- Had fewer illnesses.
- Got more sleep.
- Were more likely to have helped someone else.
If people can accomplish these things without God, can you imagine what could be accomplished with God? Firstly, a Christian having a good interactive relationship with God should have a whole new dimension of things to be grateful for. Secondly, we have God's Word and the leading of the Holy Spirit as a guide to further develop us. Thirdly, we have God's unlimited love working through us to show compassion, and fourthly, we have the empowerment of the Holy Spirit enable us. Do not miss this. This is real. This is something that has the potential to actually change the world around us.
Developing and Maintaining an Attitude of Gratitude
Last week I gave an account of how God taught a church how to be victorious by praising God in all that we do. That was an important lesson for my wife and myself. We saw, first hand, how God brought good solutions to all the problems we faced when we took the time to praise Him. We praised Him for what He was and for the things that He had done for us. Although the process worked, we found it difficult to sustain an attitude of praise over an extended period of time without falling to repetitious patterns. Over time the I started look at things around me that I could regularly express gratitude for. The list started almost like the list that was shared last week. I became thankful for my wife, son, daughter, family, friends, musical equipment, health, house, automobiles, job, money in the bank, books - the list began to grow and the dimension of gratitude also expanded. For example, as I expressed thanksgiving to God for my wife, my appreciation for her grew. I clearly remember getting home from work and feeling like I did when I used to pick her up for dates a couple decades earlier. I was really excited to see her again at the end of my work day.
In addition to this, as my focus on God expanded, the things that He made me grateful for also grew. The more I looked toward Him the more I saw Him all around me. This fed a hunger to know Him more which in turn expanded the list more. The limitation ended up being the time that I could spend pursuing Him. The opening scripture today included Psalm 70:4 "Let all those who seek You rejoice and be glad in You." Because of what He is, the rewards we gain from seeking Him are unlimited.
Now I am finding that the biggest deterrent to sustaining a constant attitude of praise is the distractions of our daily lives. It is easy to get caught up in a situation or activity and get off track. As mentioned earlier, it takes determination. It is, however the best method I know for maintaining a focus on God for a substantial period of time.
Every Moment is Precious
Besides the attitude of gratitude another method of thanksgiving is learning to cherish every moment that we have in God's presence. At my last church I was part of a two person worship team. My wife told me that she could sense a level of excitement in us every single time that we led worship. This was over a two year period. There were many factors that contributed to this. The singer and I were immensely grateful that God put us together in a ministry that we both loved. We had the same musical tastes and thoroughly enjoyed all the songs we did. We truly appreciated each other's musical and spiritual gifts. However, one thing that really made a difference is that we learned to cherish each moment that we had in His presence during worship. This may not be as sustainable as the "attitude of gratitude" but it certainly enhances our relationship with God. So far it is the ultimate gratitude that I have learned to express to my God who is deserving of all I can give and all that I can imagine.
Hebrews 13:15 (NKJV) Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.