Last Thursday our nation celebrated Thanksgiving Day, do you know why? Thanksgiving, as a national festival, celebrates that day in 1622 when Governor William Bradford summoned the survivors of the Mayflower to praise God for their first harvest. Governor Bradford of Massachusetts made this first Thanksgiving Proclamation three years after the Pilgrims settled at Plymouth:
"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 forests to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.
Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of 9 and 12 in the day time, on Thursday, November 29th, of the year of our Lord one thousand six hundred and twenty three and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings."
The first thanksgiving lasted three days, during which the Pilgrims feasted on wild turkey and venison with their Indian guests. Days of thanksgiving were celebrated sporadically until, on Nov. 26, 1789, President Washington issued a proclamation of a nation-wide day of thanksgiving. He made it clear that the day should be one of prayer and giving thanks to God. It was to be celebrated by all religious denominations, a circumstance that helped to promote a spirit of common heritage.
It wasn't until 240 years after the first Pilgrim father sank to his knees at Plymouth that Thanksgiving was reinstated on the calendar and proclaimed as an official holiday; and that was done when things were going badly. Somebody once said that "all nations grow odious in prosperity." They certainly grow careless. And it took the tragedy of the War Between the States and the scarred spirit of Abraham Lincoln to recall the pilgrim heritage, that such a recollection might bind up the nation's wounds.
In Lincoln's words: "We have forgotten the Gracious Hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and strengthened us, and vainly imagined all these blessings were produced by some superior virtue or wisdom of our own. Intoxicated by unbroken success we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity for redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God who made us (emphasis mine--DBC)."
It was a stroke of genius that Lincoln sought to bind up the nation's wounds by instilling in a divided national heart its former unity. His attempt was to bring North and South, victor and victim, together by recalling their pilgrim beginnings. To this end, on October 3, 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued the first national Thanksgiving proclamation. He said, "In the midst of a civil war of unequal magnitude and severity . . . I invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States . . . to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father . . . And I recommend [they] fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty's hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as may be consistent with the Divine purpose to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and union."
I think it is clear that our forefathers saw "Thanksgiving Day" as a day to honor and glorify God for His goodness. Do we still view it that way? I remember a song that I heard on T.V. many years ago, it was used to promote the T.V. line up that NBC had on Friday, the day after Thanksgiving Day. A line in the song went, "The day after turkey day on NBC." I think that "turkey day" is a much more appropriate description for twentieth century Americans than "Thanksgiving Day." The center of the day for most Americans is food, not God. I would dare say that there is most likely a lot more grumbling and complaining that goes on as Americans celebrate Thanksgiving than thankfulness.
During this season, columnists and newscasters comment on our forefathers and that first American Thanksgiving. School teachers, especially in grammar school, will have special projects centered around the pilgrims and Thanksgiving. But for those who truly know the Savior, thanksgiving should be much more. It should be a way of life, a daily reality and a practice that each believer seeks to develop in his or her life. Thanksgiving is one of the keys to obedient and joyous living because it takes our eyes off of ourselves and our problems and focuses them on the Lord and His greatness. In fact, a spirit of thanksgiving adds an important ingredient in the home that has a significant impact on children.
This morning I'd like us to consider the topic of thanksgiving and its importance to our lives, our walk with the Lord, and how it can affect our lives at home.
In Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3, we have instruction and commands that deal with the spiritual life and one's personal walk with the Lord. Based on our union with Jesus Christ and our new life capacity in Him, we are to "put off" the old practices of our former life and "put on" the image and character of Christ through a Spirit-controlled, Word-filled life.
It is interesting and instructive to note that other Christian virtues and responsibilities are closely associated with the spirit of thankfulness. For instance, let's look at Colossians 3:12-17 and 4:2:
Colossians 3:12-17 (NKJV) Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. 14 But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. 15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace [NIV gratitude; NASB thankfulness] in your hearts to the Lord. 17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
Colossians 4:2 (NKJV) Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving;
I don't believe these are simply additional Christ-like characteristics. I think they are related to one another much like cause and effect, or like a root is to the trunk and branches and finally to the fruit. Capacity to get along and love one another in the home, and to relate properly to others on the job, is the fruit while the other things in these passages function as the root-- the trunk, and the branches.
Why and how can thanksgiving be so important to our lives and especially to our lives in the home? How does it enhance a marriage and relationships on the job? Because a thankful heart provides something within that enables people to more effectively live together, love one another, and fulfill their responsibilities to their mate, to their children, and to their friends on and off the job. This will become evident as we study the nature and essence of thanksgiving along with some of the reasons why we should be thankful people. Christians should be the most thankful people in the world. Our lives should be full of praise, thanksgiving, and joy.
We have so many reasons to be full of thanksgiving, even in the midst of adversity, but because of the world around and the attitudes of most, and because of our own bent toward self-centeredness, we are prone to be very unthankful. Instead, we are prone to be full of the kind of mental attitude sins that lead to complaining and grumbling.
An important element in allowing the peace of Christ to rule (Colossians 3:15) is found in the closing words of the verse, "and be thankful." The present tense of the Greek text suggests the translation, "keep on becoming thankful." There is a connection. A constant spirit of thankfulness is an essential part to letting the peace of Christ rule in one's heart. Because of our tendencies as sinful people, our natural bent is to be unthankful and an unthankful person is one in whom the peace of Christ does not rule. Thankfulness is thus something we must develop and work at. It takes time and effort. This is suggested by the present tense which refers to that which is to be repeated or continued, and by the verb ginomai, "to become, come to be." The Greek text is looking at a process of developing and maintaining a thankful spirit.
But How? Thanksgiving is the product of a Word-filled life that remains occupied with the Lord, focused on Him, and who we are in Him as seen from the contexts of Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3. It is a product of a life that is occupied with the Lord.
Thanksgiving is an expression of an inner recognition and acknowledgment of the grace of God in every area of one's life. Principle: True thankfulness is something that proceeds out of the inner person, from the heart through the lips. If the heart is evil-- filled with greed, with preoccupation with the details of life, with problems such as unresolved feelings of anger and resentment, then thankfulness is basically impossible.
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.
The words "offer" and "sacrifice" are both priestly terms. This shows us that true thanksgiving is also a priestly response and act. It is a priestly sacrifice, an act of worship through which we offer up praise to God. "A sacrifice consisting of praise" is explained by the words, "the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name." Thanksgiving is an act of adoration and praise that calls attention to the grace work of God.
Note the relationship in Psalm 100 between the command to give thanks and the reason:
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.
We are to give thanks because "God is good." Thanksgiving is a matter of response to facts of revelation.
Let's look at some reasons why we should be thankful:
Isaiah 43:6-7 (NKJV) I will say to the north, 'Give them up!' And to the south, 'Do not keep them back!' Bring My sons from afar, And My daughters from the ends of the earth; 7 Everyone who is called by My name, Whom I have created for My glory; I have formed him, yes, I have made him."
God created us to bring him glory, therefore it is the duty of every person to live for the glory of God:
1 Corinthians 10:31 (NKJV) Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
What does it mean to glorify God? It does not mean to make him more glorious. It means to acknowledge his glory, and to value it above all things, and to make it known. It implies heartfelt gratitude:
Psalms 50:23 (NKJV) Whoever offers praise glorifies Me; And to him who orders his conduct aright I will show the salvation of God."
So, giving thanks is a natural obligation that man, the creature, owes to God as the Creator. As Creator and Sustainer of the universe, everything we have; our life, health, strength, our very breath, our food, shelter, and clothes; the sun, rain and snow; the seasons; the course of the stars, the moon--everything we owe to Him because it all comes from the hand of God. This is one of the great themes of Scripture and one of the great reasons given for thanksgiving.
Revelation 4:11 (NKJV) "You are worthy, O Lord, To receive glory and honor and power; For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created."
Revelation 7:11-12 (NKJV) All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying: "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, Thanksgiving and honor and power and might, Be to our God forever and ever. Amen."
God is worthy of our gratitude and worship because He is our Creator and God. We belong to Him by creation. Ungratefulness, by contrast, is a sign of unbelief. We have become a society of practical atheist. On the whole, we are a society that lives and acts as though God were dead. Ours is a society that thinks it has jettisoned God, that it has no need of Him. A common attitude is "you owe no one anything, do your own thing, be your own boss, live it up, get all the gusto you can." But Scripture says, "for thy pleasure they are and were created."
God deserves our constant praise and thanksgiving. He is our Creator, our Sustainer, our Redeemer.
2 Corinthians 4:15 (NKJV) For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.
Our thankfulness, our gratitude brings glory to God, and to glorify God is the reason we exist. Are you glorifying God by your attitude of thankfulness?
So, we are to be thankful because it brings God glory. We are also to be thankful because it is commanded:
Psalms 97:12 (NKJV) Rejoice in the LORD, you righteous, And give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name.
Psalms 106:1 (NKJV) Praise the LORD! Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.
Psalms 107:1 (NKJV) Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NKJV) in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Some form of the word thank (thanks, thanksgiving, thankfulness) is found 141 times and in 135 verses in the NKJV. God commands us to give thanks, not only because it pleases and glorifies Him, but because it is of such great value to our own lives. As Psalm 92:1 says, "it is good to give thanks to the LORD."
So, we are to be thankful because it brings God glory, it is commanded, and because of:
Romans 1:21 (NKJV) because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Because of their failure to give God thanks, their hearts were darkened and they were judged. Without thankfulness the heart grows cold and callused. We become insensitive to God and more and more self-centered and independent, going our own way and acting as practical atheists. Unthankfulness is never neutral to God, it is always negative.
So, we are to be thankful because it brings God glory, it is commanded, there are severe consequences to unthankfulness. We also need to understand that thanksgiving is a barometer to the soul.
One of the qualities and characteristics of a godly person is that he or she is a thankful person. A thankful heart flows from an inner life that is anchored in the Lord and His love and grace.
A thankful person is one who knows the Lord and is able to focus on His person, providence, and provision in all the conditions of life--in prosperity or adversity. He or she is one who lives by praise and who, in the process, is oriented and responding to the person of God, His presence, His essence and works, His plan, purposes, principles and promises for life.
How can we develop a thankful heart?
1 Timothy 6:17 (NKJV) Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy.
They can never give peace, lasting joy, security, and personal significance. Life does not consist of the abundance of the things we possess, but in knowing God:
Luke 12:23 (NKJV) "Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing.
John 17:3 (NKJV) "And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.
Deuteronomy 8:11-14 "Beware lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today; 12 lest, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, 13 and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, 14 then your heart becomes proud, and you forget the Lord your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
In keeping with the importance of establishing ways to thankfully reflect on God's goodness and grace, God had Joshua establish a memorial at Gilgal and in the Jordan to remind them of the mighty power of God in rolling back the waters of the Jordan to allow the people to cross over into the promise land (Josh. 4:1-9).
One sure way to remember God's goodness is to count your blessings. What I mean is to literally write out all of the blessings that God has given you. Things such as; salvation, health, family, friends, a job, a church, food, water, your car, your house, life in a prosperous peaceful nation. We could go on forever, but you get the point. We have much to be thankful for. Other than being on a self-inflicted diet, when is the last time you were hungry or thirsty?
We should be thankful for our friends. Are there people in your life who have hung in there with you through thick and thin? People who could have bailed out when times got tough, but didn't? They may not be spectacular, they may not be the superstars, they may not do anything really out of the ordinary, but just the fact that they stick with you needs to be appreciated. Some of us have marriage partners who stuck with us through bad times. It may have been financial disaster, a mid-life crisis, a health problem, a terrible career decision. Some of us have been blessed with someone who has shown wonderful support and we have taken them for granted.
A man was in the hospital recovering from a fall off his roof. He looked at his wife and said, "Wanda, you have always been there. When I flunked the tenth grade, you were there. When I wrecked my dad's new car, you were there. When I got fired at the plant, you were there. When I lost my savings on the ostrich farm, you were there. And now, I have broken my arm and leg falling off the roof, and there you were. Wanda, you are nothing but bad luck!"
If you want to grow in gratitude, count your blessings. That is excellent counsel, but sometimes we have to recognize them first! A man who owned a small estate wished to sell it. Sending for a real estate agent, he asked him to write an advertisement describing the house and land.
When the ad was ready, the agent took it to the owner and read it to him. "Read that again," said the owner.
The agent read the description of the estate once more. "I don't think I will sell after all," said the owner. "I have been looking for an estate like that all my life, and I did not know that I owned it!"
Count your blessings -- yes, but start by asking God to open your eyes to see your possessions in Christ. Begin by recognizing all that you have in Christ. That will change your entire perspective and enable you to praise God for what you have. Consumer culture would have us feel constantly unsatisfied. In response, we should practice gratitude as a kind of spiritual discipline. In difficult times, or times of temptation due to dissatisfaction, we should list simple, basic things we have enjoyed that day but have easily taken for granted. "Thank you for the roof over my head," "Thank you for the good, warm bed I slept in last night. Thank you for the cup of coffee I had at breakfast. Thank you for my wife." As the list lengthens, we will find ourselves less desperately in need of things.
Ungrateful people are very often those who are proud and think they can run their own lives independently of God. It ultimately leads to a foolish and darkened heart, which in turn, leads to moral decay of the worst sort (Rom. 1:21-32). Ungrateful people very often think somebody, (God, country, family, etc.), owes them something. This may very well produce laziness and a lack of industry and hard work. An ungrateful spirit leads to bitterness and resentment with complaining, blaming, and murmuring.
I'm convinced that the greatest singular act of personal worship that you can render to God is to have a thankful heart. Thanksgiving ultimately recognizes God as the source of everything. God created us and we are to be thankful. Thanksgiving promotes contentment about our possessions, position, and providence by focusing our thoughts on the blessings God has already given to us.
William Law, in his "Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life" writes, "Would you know who is the greatest saint in the world? It is not he who prays most or fasts most; it is not he who gives most alms, or is most eminent for temperance, chastity, or justice, but it is he who is always thankful to God, who wills everything that God willeth, who received everything as an instance of God's goodness, and has a heart always ready to praise God for it."
Sir John Templeton, the billionaire investor, was once asked, "What is the secret of wealth?" Without hesitation, Templeton said, "Gratitude." He went on to say, "If you're not grateful, you're not rich-no matter how much you have."
A thankful heart is developed by staying close to the Lord through living in and growing by His Word.
Colossians 1:9-12 (NKJV) For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; 10 that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; 12 giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light.
Thankfulness is the product of understanding God's truth. O that we might be a thankful people! Let us stay occupied and appreciative of our God in all His infinite glory and grace.
We should live in the spirit of the hymn writer, who said:
"All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above; Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord for all his love."