Giving Thanks, Regardless

The following message is based on 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 and addresses why we should be grateful. It was shared on November 19, 2013.

What are you thankful for? Being grateful is a state of mind. The story of Jesus healing the ten leprous men in Luke 17 has compelled me to give thanks to God often. He told them to show themselves to the priest and on the way, they were healed. Only one came back and glorified God. Verse 15 tells us: “One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him– and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well.’” So it is good for us to glorify God by recognizing what He has given us and how He has worked in our lives.

Growing up in Southwest Missouri, I was the youngest of five kids. I went to kindergarten when my oldest sister left for college. Holiday time was special, because everybody came back. At Thanksgiving, after the prayer, we usually went around the table and stated what we were particularly grateful for. Unfortunately, it is human nature to forget how we are blessed. It is good for the soul to “…count our many blessings, name them one by one; then it will surprise us to see what God has done.” This morning, I’d like to encourage you with Paul’s words from 1 Thessalonians 5. This instruction comes amidst various exhortations at the end of the letter. The Apostle has gone into detail about the events pertaining to the second coming of Jesus, and how we can be prepared for it. In this final section, he is rounding out the letter. The things he mentions constitute the attitude of the Christian, three things that influence outlook. He says: “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. “

All three deal with an ongoing attitude, a frame of mind. Paul mentions here that we are to “rejoice at all times.” What does it mean “to rejoice?” This is not to be confused with just thinking positively. Rather, it is a joy based not on our circumstances, but on God, what He has done and what He is doing. I must say that I struggle with this just as much as anyone. It is hard to be full of joy always; but then again, I know it has to do with how I look at this world and how I look at Christ.

One key to joy is the presence of prayer. That is why Paul instructs us to “Pray without ceasing.” What does it mean to “pray without ceasing?” One commentator states that it is a mental attitude of prayerfulness, continued personal fellowship with God and consciousness of being in God’s presence throughout each day.” One of the greatest examples of this is a man commonly known as Brother Laurence. He lived in France in the 17th century. Working in the kitchen of a monastery, he is known for how he practiced the presence of God. Common, everyday tasks could be opportunities for worship and thanksgiving. He wrote: “”Nor is it needful that we should have great things to do. . . We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.” He seemed to live out Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.”

And if we keep a prayerful frame of mind, we will be able to give thanks often. The English Standard Version states that we should, “give thanks in all circumstances.” Christians are to be marked by thanksgiving. Many Scriptures suggest this, such as the following. First, thanksgiving is a counter to sinful speech. Ephesians 5:4: “…and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” Secondly, gratitude pervades all of life’s blessings and circumstances. Ephesians 5:20: “…always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father… .” Thirdly, gratitude is the out flowing of the heart that has been given to Christ. Colossians 2:7: “…having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.” Colossians 4:2: “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving….”

This reminds me that sometimes we must perform a sacrifice of thanksgiving. I think it means being thankful, even when it hurts. There is plenty to be depressed over. There’s an overabundance of stuff to rob our joy. Sometimes, we just need to make a conscious decision by faith that we are going to trust God and be grateful for His blessings, even when the tide of emotions would take us elsewhere.

What I’d like to do in the rest of time is to encourage you to “…give thanks, in all circumstances….” First of all, let us be thankful, in the midst of disappointment. In other words, be thankful, even if things are not the best. Recognize the many needs around you. Think on these words: broken families, homelessness, disease, and finally: the Philippines, where over 5,000 have been killed by the Typhoon and hundreds of thousands are homeless.

Maybe it is a job that you hate. Charles Spurgeon, the English Baptist Preacher of the late 1800’s said: “Never mind where you work; care more about how you work!” Having steady work is a blessing. Work is honorable. I know a man who faced difficulty with his job several years ago. In an act of faith, he decided to venture out on his own. Now, he has more work than he can ask for. God has given us our qualities and gifts. He also provides our resources as we have need.

Or maybe there’s a relationship that is strained. Many times we are ungrateful by our idealism. We focus on how we want the situation, rather than what God could be doing is we would turn it over to Him. I have a friend that just lost a brother to cancer. At the time, he was having trouble with his loved one. One day, the brother went to emergency room with stomach and back pains. After a biopsy, the doctors discovered that he had advanced stage of a very aggressive form of cancer. The doctors gave him 6-8 months, he made it 17 days. He was 47. If you are at odds with a person, don’t dwell on the hurt and let it paralyze you. Maybe it is time to express thanksgiving for and to that person. Ask how you might offer thanks to God for them, and improve what you can; in His timing and by His grace.

Be thankful, even when you haven’t as much as your neighbor. Chances are you and I have more than
most. The following comes from a number of reliable sources and asks the question: “Am I Rich?” (See
http://irememberthepoor.org/3/).
• Got $2200? In this world, you’re rich. Assets (not cash) of $2200 per adult place a person in the top
50% of the world’s wealthiest.*
• If you made $1500 last year, you’re in the top 20% of the world’s income earners.**
• If you have sufficient food, decent clothes, live in a house or apartment, and have a reasonably reliable means of transportation, you are among the top 15% of the world’s wealthy. **
• Have $61,000 in assets? You’re among the richest 10% of the adults in the world.*
• If you earn $25,000 or more annually, you are in the top 10% of the world’s income-earners.***
• If you have any money saved, a hobby that requires some equipment or supplies, a variety of clothes in your closet, two cars (in any condition), and live in your own home, you are in the top 5% of the world’s wealthy. **
• If you earn more than $50,000 annually, you are in the top 1% of the world’s income earners.***
• If you have more than $500,000 in assets, you’re part of the richest 1% of the world.*

What does God want you to do with your resources? More than just spending it on yourself. Paul wrote the Corinthians: “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God (II Corinthians 9:11).”

Be thankful for the small things. This might be a sunset, a favorite food, a friend, mobility, education, etc. I will have another birthday in a couple of weeks. After yesterday’s dodge ball tournament, I’m reminded that I don’t bounce back like I once did. I know that time marches on. I must be thankful for today and the blessings I have. I am in relatively good health. I have people who love me. I shouldn’t take these for granted.
Be thankful for spiritual blessings, not just material ones. Do you ever stop and thank God for the spiritual blessings He has given you? Ephesians 1:3 tells us: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” Things like forgiveness, adoption, a new heart, His word? I’ve shared with you before how a pastor told me: “Every day there is reason to stop and thank Jesus for what He did for you on the cross.”

Lastly, be thankful for today. Psalm 90:12: “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” This struck hard recently. Last week we received word that Linda’s 57 year old uncle suffered a massive heart attack. This was a man that worked hard all his life and provided for his family, in a new country, having to learn the language and adapt to a new way of life, after his marriage dissolved in Korea, He came to the US and had to raise two children on his own.

One day last week, he woke up and attended an early morning prayer meeting. As he was leaving, he collapsed and was taken to a Los Angeles area hospital. While in the ER, had another series of heart attacks and passed away.
Distance and time had become obstacles to our seeing this uncle over the last couple of years. At the funeral, there was an outpouring of love toward Linda’s uncle and family. When it came time for the message, the pastor, had considerable difficulty making it through his message. Later that evening, over dinner, Linda asked the pastor: “Did you know my uncle well?” He responded in broken English: “He was a faithful church member. He really tried to change his life for Jesus Christ. He was a good… friend.” You never know when your day will come. So you must be ready and be grateful for each day you have. I ran across this thought recently. Someone once said: “Gratitude turns what we have into enough.”

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