I will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart; I will tell of all Thy wonders. (Psalms 9:1 NASB)
In this Psalm we see David giving thanks to the Lord. Thankfulness is an attitude! And attitude can have an incredible impact on our lives. The longer I live, the more I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to us and 90 percent how we respond. And because this is true, I believe that the single most significant decision I can make on a day-to-day basis is my choice of attitude. It is more important than my past, my education, how much money I have in the bank, my successes or failures, what other people think of me or say about me; attitude is more important than any of these things. You see, if I have a poor attitude, it doesn't matter how much talent I have or how many resources God puts at my disposal, because if my attitude is wrong, then I am defeated before I even attempt the simplest task. The attitude that we want to look at in our time together this morning is thankfulness. We should all have an attitude of thanksgiving.
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. 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.
When I say that the Lord requires us to be thankful, you may respond, "How do you know what God wants from us?" That's a good question. We can only know what God requires of us from the Bible. The Bible is a message to us from the Eternal, Almighty, Creator God. The Bible bears evidence of supernatural engineering in every detail. The Bible is not just another book, what the Bible says, God says! Believing the Bible is not some blind leap of faith. The evidence that this Bible was written by God is overwhelming to anyone who is willing to look into it.
Unlike the average book, the Bible was written over a period of 1600 years; on three continents: Asia, Africa, and Europe; and in three languages: Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. It was written by 40 different authors, all from radically different backgrounds: fishermen, philosophers, peasants, kings, scholars, tax collectors, poets, and statesmen. It's divided into 66 smaller books. Yet, there is a continuity and consistency of one common theme woven through its pages. When the Bible speaks, God speaks.
In the Bible God tells us that we are to have an attitude of thanksgiving. Are you thankful for all the Lord has given you? If you're not thankful, you're in sin, because God commands us to be thankful:
in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NASB)
"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. Now you may question , "How can we be thankful for everything?" Let me tell you a story that will help you understand this. Corrie Ten Boom, in her book, The Hiding Place, relates an incident which taught her this principle. She and her sister, Betsy, had just been transferred to the worst German prison camp they had seen yet, Ravensbruck. Upon entering the barracks, they found them extremely overcrowded and flea-infested. Their Scripture reading that morning in 1 Thessalonians had reminded them to rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks in all circumstances. Betsy told Corrie to stop and thank the Lord for every detail of their new living quarters. Corrie at first flatly refused to give thanks for the fleas, but Betsy persisted. She finally succumbed. During the months spent at that camp, they were surprised to find how openly they could hold Bible study and prayer meetings without guard interference. It was several months later when they learned that the guards would not enter the barracks because of the fleas.
I'm sure that there are some "fleas" in your life, things you are not too happy about, but we are to have an attitude of thanksgiving, because you never know how God is going to use those fleas for your good. But most of us are not thankful for the fleas in our lives. The sad truth is that too often we are not even thankful for the good things God gives us. Everything we enjoy is a gift of God's grace. The book of James says:
Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow. (James 1:17 NASB)
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.
in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:45 NASB)
Just in case you don't think you have anything to be thankful for, 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 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 mentioned 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. Every breath that you breathe is a gift of God's common grace. You don't deserve it, you haven't earned it, it comes to you as a gift from God your Maker.
When is that last time you thanked God that you live in America? We have freedoms here that some only dream of. We have the greatest health care in the world. 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.
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 you so much. And the thing that we can be most thankful for is the gift that God has given us in His Son:
Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15 NASB)
The Fourth Gospel puts it this way:
"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16 NASB)
The greatest gift that God has ever given to man is the gift of His Son. This gift is the Gospel, which means: "good news."
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16 NASB)
The good news is that God has provided redemption for sinful man through the death of His Son. Paul says that he is not ashamed of the Gospel. The word "ashamed" could also be translated "disappointed." Paul is not disappointed in the Gospel. By that he means that he is not afraid that it will not work. He believes in its power to save. He is not disappointed in the Gospel, because it is the power of God.
Paul was bold and confident to preach the good news of Jesus Christ, because it is the power of God to do the very things men cannot do. This power can take a sinner who is depraved in mind, body, and spirit and cleanse him from all sin, make him righteous in the sight of God, and give him eternal life. Now that's good news!
The Gospel carries with it the omnipotence of God. Power! The Gospel is not something that tells us what we must do to save ourselves. It is God's power "unto," signifying result; resulting in salvation. Salvation delivers man from the wrath of God and the power of sin. It is God's power, resulting in salvation to everyone who believes; everyone, without distinction of race, color, social standing, or background.
Notice that Paul says that the Gospel is God's power resulting in salvation for all who believe. What is it that they need to believe? They need to believe that Jesus Christ has done for them what they could never do for themselves. He has paid their sin debt in full. The Gospel is substitutional; Jesus became sin for us and then died for us.
I think that many people who say they are Christian are not, they're just religious. And I think that the greatest enemy of the Gospel is religion. Christianity is not a religion, it is a relationship. Let me tell you the difference between religion and Christianity. Religion is about what you do for God. Christianity is about what God has done for you. Religion says, "If you obey, God will love you." Christianity says, "Because God loves you, you can now obey." The Gospel is not: If you are good, God will love you. The Gospel is: You are bad, and God loves you anyway! Christ didn't die for good people; there aren't any:
as it is written, "THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; 11 THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; 12 ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE." (Romans 3:10-12 NASB)
So Christ didn't die for good people, He died for sinners:
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8 NASB)
Christ died for sinners. Are you a sinner? If you think you're not a sinner, you're proud. We'll talk about that in a minute. The Gospel doesn't see people in terms of good and bad; all people are bad; the Gospel see's people as believing or unbelieving bad people:
"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. (John 5:24 NASB)
Religion is all about what I do or don't do! "I don't drink, smoke, use bad language; I go to church, I don't cheat on my spouse." You can list what ever it is that you do that you think gives you favor with God. The Gospel is not about what you do for God; it is about what Jesus has done for you:
So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. 19 For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:18-19 NASB)
It is not about what I do, it is about what He has done for me! It's not about my works, it's about His. God accepts Jesus' sinless life and substitutionary death on my behalf. Religion is about me, the Gospel is about Jesus.
The Problem with religion is that its goal ultimately is to get from God--"God, make me happy, healthy, married, thinner, more popular." Religion is a stick, and God is the pinata. The Gospel is not about using God to get something, it's about getting God as the gift. Too many seek God for what He can give them instead of who He is.
Religion leads to a life of continual uncertainty. You never know if you're good enough. How many good works are enough? If it is based upon your performance, you never know if you've done enough. There is constant uncertainty in religion, but the Gospel provides assurance. The Gospel says, "Jesus did it all, trust Him!"
These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13 NASB)
Do you believe that you are a helpless sinner, that Christ died to pay your entire sin debt, that Jesus took your sin and gave you His righteousness, that you stand before God complete, holy, righteous in Christ? Then you may KNOW that you have eternal life.
Religion--if it is about me and what I do, it can only lead to two places: Pride or Despair.
Pride, meaning God loves the good guy; the guy who drives the speed limit, who reads his Bible, the guy who tries hard. The good guy says, "I try hard, I'm obedient, I have a quiet time, I pray, I don't smoke, I give, I serve, I'm a good person." That's pride! And according to the Bible, pride is a sin! Religion, for those who think they are doing it, leads to pride! Pride is willful arrogance; claiming to yourself what is really God's. Religion leads to pride, and God hates pride:
But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, "GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE." (James 4:6 NASB)
The Gospel is a gift of God's grace, and He only gives grace to the humble. God judges pride. A specific example of the judgement against pride is seen in the prophecy about Edom, a territory southeast of Jerusalem in the desert, which had many natural fortresses. The city of Petra, the great capital city of Edom, was well fortified; it was nestled between high cliffs, and the only entrance was just wide enough for a single individual to pass through. So it was very easy for that city to be guarded by one soldier, making it almost invulnerable.
"The arrogance of your heart has deceived you, You who live in the clefts of the rock, In the loftiness of your dwelling place, Who say in your heart, 'Who will bring me down to earth?' 4 "Though you build high like the eagle, Though you set your nest among the stars, From there I will bring you down," declares the LORD. (Obadiah 1:3-4 NASB)
This prophecy was fulfilled, and the city of Petra was destroyed. Petra had water coming into the city in little troughs, flowing down the sides of the cliffs. When the city's water supply had been cut off by its adversaries, the people eventually had to surrender for lack of water. God brought them down from their lofty pride.
Let me show you a proud religious man:
"The Pharisee stood and was praying thus to himself, 'God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer. 12 'I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.' (Luke 18:11-12 NASB)
When we boast about our religious accomplishments, we border on legalism. If we brag about our praying, our giving, or our ministry; we are practicing the religion of human achievement. I don't know why this Pharisee even bothered praying to God; all he wanted to do was display his pride, which God hates.
The tax collector recognized his need of divine grace and, therefore, received it:
But the tax-gatherer, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!' 13 "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted." (Luke 18:13-14 NASB)
This man saw himself as a sinner in need of God's gracehe was humble. Religion leads to pride, and God hates pride.
The other place that religion leads is to despair; "I've tried and I've tried and I keep failing. My thoughts are not pure, I treat my wife and family badly, I say the wrong things, I do the wrong things, I lost my temper in traffic and flipped someone off, I keep trying and failing. and I am in despair." Religion leads to despair; "I just can't be good enough." And despair is a very dangerous place to be. In a recent article in a national magazine, we are told that depression and despair are at epidemic proportions. Nearly 30,000 Americans kill themselves each year in overt acts of suicide. Another 100,000 attempt to take their own lives. Countless thousands more are killing themselves slowly by less obvious means such as overeating, alcohol and drug abuse, addiction to work, etc.
So if you are religious, you will end up in pride or despair. But the Gospel leads to confident humility; "My standing with God is secure, because it is not based on what I do, but what Christ did for me. I'm not perfect, but I am forgiven." The Gospel is all about Jesus, it is about trusting in what He has done for you. So are you trusting Christ to make you right with God, or are you trusting yourself?
If you are trusting in Jesus Christ, and Him alone, for your salvation, then you are a child of God, and He wants you to be thankful:
But do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints; 4 and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. (Ephesians 5:3-4 NASB)
Boy, those two are far apart, aren't they? When you open your mouth, give thanks. And then verse 20 says:
always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father; (Ephesians 5:20 NASB)
We should be thanking God for all the blessings He pours upon us. Thanks should come out of our mouth every time we open it. We should be thankful in everything, constantly, unceasingly, because God is controlling our lives.
As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 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 2:6-7 NASB)
Now go one more chapter in Colossians:
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. (Colossians 3:15 NASB)
Paul didn't just preach this, he lived it. Paul was always thankful. 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 all that we have. Let me end this morning with the verse that I started with:
in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NASB)
We must make a decision to be thankful, grateful people. 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.
Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His loving-kindness is everlasting. (Psalms 107:1 NASB)