This Thursday our nation celebrates Thanksgiving. I really like Thanksgiving because it's the least commercialized of all the national holidays. The stores cash in on Halloween, Christmas, Valentine's Day, and Easter, but there's not much of a Thanksgiving windfall for retailers. As a result, we don't suffer from Thanksgiving overkill. We're not expected to buy Thanksgiving candy, or send Thanksgiving cards, or pass out Thanksgiving gifts. Thanksgiving is probably the most biblically based holiday that we celebrate in America because having a thankful heart is something that the Lord requires of all of us.
This past week the number one Country song was "Just Another Day in Paradise" (Craig Wiseman/Phil Vassar). This is my favorite Country song because the message that it portrays is completely biblical. It expresses an attitude that we all are to have. Here are some of the lyrics to the song:
The kids screaming, phone ringing,
Dog barking at the mailman bringing that stack of bills - overdue
Good morning baby, how are you?
Got a half hour, quick shower.
Take a drink of milk but the milk's gone sour.
My funny face makes you laugh.
Twist the top on and I put it back.
There goes the washing machine, Baby, don't kick it.
I promise I'll fix it Long about a million other things.
Friday, you're late.
Guess we'll never make our dinner date.
At the restaurant you start to cry, Baby, we'll just improvise.
Well, plan B looks like Dominoes' pizza in the candle light..
Yeah, it's ok. It's so nice.
It's just another day in paradise.
Well, there's no place that I'd rather be.
Well, it's two hearts and one dream.
I wouldn't trade it for anything.
And I ask the lord every night for just another day in paradise.
I like this song because it expresses an attitude that the Bible calls us to have - thankfulness, gratitude. Do you thank the Lord everyday for another day in paradise? You will if you have a thankful heart. And if you're not thankful, you're in sin. Because God commands us to be thankful:
1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NKJV) in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
"In everything" is en panti in the Greek, it has the idea of being in connection with everything that occurs in life, no matter what it is.
Two men were walking through a field one day when they spotted an enraged bull. Instantly, they darted toward the nearest fence. The storming bull followed in hot pursuit, and it was soon apparent they wouldn't make it. Terrified, the one shouted to the other, "Put up a prayer, John. We're in for it!" John answered, "I can't. I've never made a public prayer in my life." "But you must," implored his companion. "The bull is catching up to us." "All right," panted John, "I'll say the only prayer I know, the one my father used to repeat at the table: 'O Lord, for what we are about to receive, make us truly thankful.'"
When in doubt - give thanks. No matter what the situation - give thanks. When everything seems to be pointing in the opposite direction - give thanks. When it feels like life has you on its horns - give thanks!
Just in case you aren't living in compliance with this command in Thessalonians, let me give you some suggestions to help you be more thankful:
1. ACKNOWLEDGE THAT GOD IS THE SOURCE OF ALL THE GOOD THINGS IN YOUR LIFE.
The book of James says:
James 1:17 (NKJV) Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.
All of the good things you have in your life, you can thank God for. Not just the "spiritual" blessings, but the material blessings, the sociological blessings, the relational blessings - every good thing in your life is a gift from God.
If you need help in recognizing God's goodness in every single detail of your life, try this: From the time you wake up, till the time you leave your house to go to work in the morning, try finding at least 100 things you can say "thank you" to God for. Just in case you doubt that you could find 100, let me give you just a few. When you wake up, you can thank God that you slept. And you could thank Him that you slept on a bed, with a pillow for your head and a blanket that kept you warm. You can thank God that you slept under a roof and not under the elements. You can thank God that you have an alarm clock that helps you get up on time, that you have electricity to light and heat your home. You can thank God that you don't live in a war zone where you have to fear for your life and the lives of your family. You can thank God that you have running water, a refrigerator that keeps things cold and a stove to cook your food. You can thank God for your toothbrush, your toothpaste, your deodorant, your soap, your shampoo, your shower, your indoor plumbing. Do you get the idea?
These are things we typically take for granted, but there is no question about it; they make our lives better, and we can be thankful for them. They are God's good gifts to us. As we go through each day, there are literally thousands of things that come across our path that we can be thankful for. We can thank God for a song that we enjoy listening to, a writer that we enjoy reading, a restaurant we enjoy eating at, a park we enjoy visiting. We can be thankful for all these things - and I haven't even gotten to the "big stuff" yet, such as our salvation, our spouse, our children, our parents, our friends, our job, and on and on and on. There are thousands of things that you enjoy that benefit you on a daily basis, and they are all gifts from God.
When is that last time you thanked God that you live in America? We have come a long way since our beginning days. Peter Marshall and David Manuel's book, The Light and the Glory, tells how the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock endured extreme heartache as they landed in America. Three long months at sea aboard The Mayflower and a brutal winter left them worn-out, hungry, and vulnerable to disease. They had already witnessed the deaths of many of those they loved, but during the first four months after they landed, they saw nearly half of their band of pioneers die because of the harsh conditions.
The Pilgrims' daily existence was a life of struggle. The only barrier they had between themselves and the harsh New England weather was makeshift homes made out of dried mud. Because they were not yet knowledgeable about their new environment's agriculture, planting gardens in the hostile conditions proved virtually fruitless. Every meal was measured out meticulously. The deaths of their friends and family members were a constant reminder of their vulnerability. At one point, only five men were well enough to care for the sick. Despite their hardships, the Pilgrims thanked God every day and asked for His strength to help them endure.
If you lived under the circumstances that they experience in early America, could you have "thanked God every day?" Our focus can't be on what we don't have, or who has it better than we do. Our focus must be on all the good things we do have in our lives - because every good thing in our lives is from God.
2. RECOGNIZE GOD'S BLESSINGS IN YOUR LIFE.
Look at David's attitude in:
Psalms 100 (NKJV) Make a joyful shout to the LORD, all you lands! 2 Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before His presence with singing. 3 Know that the LORD, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. 4 Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. 5 For the LORD is good; His mercy is everlasting, And His truth endures to all generations.
It's interesting that David said this, because, if he wanted to, David could have complained about his lot in life. David could have appeared on Oprah or Maurey Povich and talked about how horrible his life had been:
I was the red-headed kid in my family; none of my older brothers respected me. When I was just a teenager, I was forced into battle with a vicious giant. I even had to pick up my own stones off the battlefield! I shouldn't have had to fight that battle. The government let me down; they should have protected me.
And then, the king tried to kill me, so I spent years on the run. And my best friend was taken away from me. And this woman - this temptress - seduced me and enticed me to commit murder. (That's not exactly how it happened, but if David was inclined to complain, he would probably be inclined to place blame, too.)
David could have then ended his saga by saying, " My family is a mess, my four month old child died, my son Amnon raped my daughter, Tamar, my son Absolom murdered my son Amnon, and my own son Absolom rebelled against me and tried to kill me. Absolom, my dear son, was killed. My family has been torn apart. Oh, woe is me, I've had a miserable life."
All of those things happened in David's life, but many other things happened, too. Good things. Pleasant things. And those were the things David focused on. Where is your focus? Anyone's life can be a tale of tragedy, or a tale of victory. It depends on which story you want to tell. It depends on what you want your focus to be.
You see, you can look at all the things you don't have, and all the disadvantages that have been thrust upon you, but that kind of thinking leads only to misery. Instead, look at the areas of your life where God has so richly blessed you, and be thankful that God has given them to you.
I cannot understand a thankless Christian in light of what the Lord has done for us. Too many Christians today are characterized by fussing and fuming, disappointment and depression, grumbling and complaining about every little thing in their lives that doesn't go right. That's a really disgusting sin. You do know that God hates grumbling and complaining don't you?
Numbers 14:27-29 (NKJV) "How long shall I bear with this evil congregation who complain against Me? I have heard the complaints which the children of Israel make against Me. 28 "Say to them, 'As I live,' says the LORD, 'just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will do to you: 29 'The carcasses of you who have complained against Me shall fall in this wilderness, all of you who were numbered, according to your entire number, from twenty years old and above.
The whole generation, from 20 years old and up died in the wilderness. Why? Complaining! A couple of million people died because of their complaining.
If Israel's complaining angered God, how does he feel about twenty first century Americans? Complaining seems to have become the great American past time. People gripe about everything. It's interesting that the most indulged society is the most discontent society. The more people have, the more they seem to be discontent with what they have, and the more complaining they seem to do.
1 Corinthians 10:10-11 (NKJV) nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11 Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
Israel's history is an example that we, too, are to learn from. This is how God feels about murmuring and complaining. God controls our circumstances, so all complaints about our circumstances are directed against God. I hope you see how serious a sin complaining is.
Our attitude should be one of profound thanksgiving - And how often this kind of attitude is missing in this age when we have so much, so much but not enough to be thankful.
At the time of the potato harvest, the disgruntled farmer enjoyed a bumper crop. Wanting to strike a more cheerful note, the minister suggested, "Brother, I understand you've had a tremendous season with potatoes this year. That certainly must be cause for rejoicing!"
The chronic complainer never even smiled, but sourly responded, "Yes, it's true. The harvest was good enough. But my problem is, I don't have any bad potatoes to feed my pigs."
That reminds me of the times that I have complained because my freezer was too full or I didn't have any room in my closet for my clothes. A thankful heart is not only a virtue, but the parent of all other virtues.
The real tragedy is that the art of grumbling has been almost perfected by God's people. My experience has been that some of the best grumblers, some of the most discontent folks are people in the church. We, who have had the veil pulled back and have experienced the majesty of the Savior, still want more. It is not enough that He has saved us, freed us from the penalties of sin, and set His purposes before us - we still want more.
There was a brother who joined a monastery because he wanted to serve God with all of his heart and learn more and more of God's ways. One of the rules of the group was that you were only allowed to speak two words every ten years. At the end of ten years he said, "Bad food!" Ten more years went by and he said, "Hard bed!" Finally, on his 30th anniversary with the brothers, he went to one of the leaders of the monastery to speak his two words. When he entered the room, he looked at the elderly monk and said, "I quit!" The priest in charge said, "Well, you might as well quit. All you do is complain anyway."
I know many grumblers. As a matter of fact, I have been a member of that club. I have never met anyone who expressed a desire to be a grumbler, we just grumble. Ungrateful for what God has done in our lives, we grumble about everything that we think is wrong with our lives. God must be very disappointed in people who are discontent and unsatisfied and unhappy and don't like their circumstances and don't like this and don't like that and want to change their environment and change this, instead of being overwhelmed with gratitude for God's great grace.
God wants us to be thankful:
Ephesians 5:3-4 (NKJV) But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; 4 neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.
Boy, those two are far apart, aren't they? When you open your mouth, give thanks. And then verse 20 says:
Ephesians 5:20 (NKJV) giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
We should be thanking God for all the blessings He pours upon us. Thanks should come out of our mouths every time we open it. We should be thankful in everything, constantly, unceasingly, because God is controlling our lives.
Colossians 2:6-7 (NKJV) As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.
Now go one more chapter in Colossians:
Colossians 3:15 (NKJV) And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful.
Paul didn't just preach this, he lived it. Paul was always thankful. The most messed up church in the New Testament was the church at Corinth. If it could be done wrong, they did it wrong. Yet, of them Paul said, "I thank my God always concerning you" (1 Corinthians 1:4). You say, "What was he thankful about?" They were saved. They were God's own. He was thankful for them even though they broke his heart.
If you have trouble being thankful, let me give you several reasons why that may be:
A. You Doubt God's Sovereign Power.
Or let's say, you have doubts about God's character. If you don't think God is really in charge; if you're ignorant about that or don't believe it; if you're not sure God is really all wise; if you're not sure He knows everything about everything; if you're not sure He really loves you as His own; if you're not sure He really has your best interest in mind; if you don't understand your God and His purposes, then you may not be thankful. Or, it may be that you do understand them, but you tend to forget them. Why not be thankful for anything if You know God's power is at work in it, God's wisdom is at work in it, God's purpose is at work in it, God's love is expressed through it? But if you doubt that, you're going to have a problem being thankful.
Another thing that may be the cause hindering thanksgiving is:
It's that attitude that says, "No matter what I've got, I don't have what I really want, I don't have enough. I just want more, my will is more important than God's will. I don't know what God has for me, but I know what I want for me, and God ought to deliver." Boy, that will really destroy gratitude. "I want my circumstances different. I want my children different. I want my life different. I want my ministry different. I want my spouse different. I want my job different. I want a lot of things different. I want more of this and less of that." If that's what drives you, and you've set your own agenda, then you're going to have trouble. On the other hand, if you say I only want what God wants, and I'll believe that God will give me what He wants me to have, then you can be thankful, right?
Another thing that may be the cause hindering thanksgiving is:
C. Looking for Pleasure in All the Wrong Places.
Psalms 16:11 (NKJV) You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
If you're into the pleasures and the people and the places and the possessions and the pursuits and the popularity and the prestige; and you just want all the stuff that the world says makes people satisfied and happy, you're going to have trouble being thankful, cause you're never going to have all of that; and when you get some of it, you won't have enough of it. True joy and pleasure only comes from God.
If anyone knows the potential of "more" to satisfy then it would have to be Deion Sanders. Deion has been known for a long time for his extravagant lifestyle, his huge paychecks, and his passion for the "finer" things in life. In his book, Power, Money, & Sex Deion writes:
But if you have money without a proper focus, you'll never be satisfied. I found that out, and whenever I give my testimony I tell people what I discovered in my own life. If you have five dollars you want six; if you have ten you want twenty. That's just human nature. So no matter how much money you have, you're never satisfied. You always want more than you've got.
More money, more money, more money! That's why the people on Wall Street are going crazy all of the time. All they think about day and night is how they can get more money. When are you going to be satisfied with what you have? The answer is never. Unless you have God in your life, and unless He gives you the capacity to put it in proper perspective, you will never find peace with money. First you've got to have peace with God, and then with yourself. (pg. 117)
It's really hard to be thankful when you're looking for pleasure in all the wrong places. One more thing that may be the cause hindering thanksgiving is:
D. A Critical Spirit.
If you're bitter or negative, if you just kind of have a sour attitude on life - do you know how you get that? You get that by having unrealistic expectations of what you deserve. You get that because you think you ought to control everything, and there's some things you can't control; and that bothers you. Don't let yourself be critical two days in a row, or two hours in a row, or two half-hours in a row. Don't build that kind of habit. If it's unchecked, it will just smash a thankful heart into bits.
Ingratitude destroys relationships, families, and the church. You want to have a church full of joy where people love each other and the church grows and flourishes, then have a church full of thankful people. And if you want to really mess up a party, just bring in somebody who is negative and unthankful.
Not long ago, famous people all over the world were polled by a magazine which asked them the question, "If you could be granted one wish that will come true right now, what would that be?" There were some very interesting responses, but one response impressed the magazine's editors so much that they commented on it. That response was this, "I wish that I could be given an even greater ability to appreciate all that I already have."
That is an interesting thing to wish for. What do you think would happen if each one of us suddenly became a more grateful, thankful person; if all of us suddenly became more appreciative of what God has given us? We'd be thanking God every day for another day in paradise.
Let me ask you a few questions, so you can try and determine your place on the scale of thanksgiving. These may hurt if we are honest with ourselves, but hopefully through the pain brought on by truth, we will see our deep need. "Would your family and friends describe you as a person overflowing with gratitude or as a grumbler?" "Does your family and co-worker see a thankful heart being formed in you, or do they see your heart growing harder by the day?" "Do you take time every day to stop and thank God for the little graces that make life so full?" "Do you feel like life has dealt you a bad hand, or do you see His hand carrying you through?" "Do you spend more time talking to God, thanking Him; or telling your friends how bad you've got it?"
These are important questions for all of us, if we seek to get honest with God. It is only by getting honest with God that He can then begin to form a heart of gratitude and thankfulness within us.
Sir John Templeton, the billionaire investor, was once asked what is the secret of wealth. He said, "Gratitude. If you're not grateful, you're not rich - no matter how much you have." The flip side of that is, "If you're grateful, you are rich - no matter how little you have." So, today, your life can become rich - if you choose to be thankful for all that you have. Thank God for another day in paradise!