Last Thursday our nation celebrated Thanksgiving. Do you know why? Thanksgiving Day in the United States is an annual day of thanks for the blessings of the past year. It is a historical, national, and religious holiday that began with the Pilgrims. After the survival of their first colony through the bitter winter, and the gathering of the 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." -- William Bradford
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 Nov. 26, 1789, when President Washington issued a proclamation of a nationwide 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.
Credit for establishing this day as a national holiday is usually given to Sarah J. Hale, editor and founder of the Ladies' Magazine (from 1828) in Boston. Her editorials in the magazine and letters to President Lincoln urging the formal establishment of a national holiday of thanksgiving resulted in Lincoln's proclamation in 1863, designating the last Thursday in November as the day. In 1941, Congress adopted a joint resolution setting the date on the fourth Thursday.
Thankfulness to God is a recognition that God in his goodness and faithfulness has provided for us and cared for us, both physically and spiritually. It is a recognition that we are totally dependent upon him, that all we are and have comes from God. Being thankful glorifies God
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.
To fail to be thankful to God is a grievous sin. Romans 1 describes the awful, tragic moral downfall of mankind. Verse 20 says:
Romans 1:20-21 (NKJV) For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God,..."
God is clearly displayed in the world, and if any one of their five senses work, men have the opportunity to know him; even so, no one honors him. But then, Paul goes on to say, even more basic and appropriate than honoring God is the simple giving of thanks:
"nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened."
Thus, the culture disintegrates. Thankfulness is the only beginning point that gives sense to life. We approach our heavenly Father with the recognition that he exists, that he is worthy, and that we are to be grateful for the opportunity to know these things.
Dr. H.A. Ironside used to tell of an experience he once had at a restaurant. He ordered his meal and just as he was about to eat, a man walked up to his table and said, "Do you mind if I sit down with you?" Dr. Ironside said no, it was quite all right, so the man sat down. As was his custom Dr. Ironside bowed his head and said a silent word of thanksgiving to the Lord before he ate. When he lifted up his head, the man said to him, "Do you have a headache?" Ironside said, "No, I don't." The man said, "Well, is there anything wrong with your food?" Ironside said, "No, why?" "Well," the man said, "I saw you sitting there with your head down and I thought you must be sick, or there was something wrong with your food." Ironside replied, "No, I was simply returning thanks to God as I always do before I eat." The man said, "Oh, you're one of those, are you? Well, I want you to know I never give thanks. I earn my money by the sweat of my brow and I don't have to give thanks to anybody when I eat, I just start right in!" Dr. Ironside said, "Yes, you're just like my dog. That's what he does, too!"
That little story suggests quite properly that when men, who are rational creatures of God, will not give thanks to God they are acting like irrational animals. They become bestial and are already losing their humanity.
To thank God is to acknowledge the bountifulness of his hand in providing and caring for us. And when mankind in their pride failed to give God the glory and thanks due him, God gave them up to ever-increasing immorality and wickedness. God's judgement came because man failed to honor him and to thank him. If failure to give thanks is such a grievous sin, then, it behooves us to cultivate a spirit of thankfulness that permeates our entire lives.
The classic, simple story from the life of Jesus that teaches thankfulness is the healing of the ten lepers (Luke 17:11-19).
A movie plot portrayed two best friends caught in a tense situation. They both loved the same woman. Later the two men were competing against each other in a parachute competition. Both jumped out of the plane at the same time. But when one of the men pulled his ripcord, his chute failed to open. His death seemed sure. However, the other man noticed his predicament, maneuvered into position through free fall, and tied himself to his friend's tangled canopy. Then he opened his own chute. The pair came down together and landed safely. But the real shock came after they had hit the ground. The rescued friend got up and walked away without even thanking the one who saved him.
Now, this story is fictitious, but it sounds a little like the real-life event described in Luke 17. We can learn a lot about thankfulness by looking at this passage about the ten lepers.
Luke 17:11-19 (NKJV) Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. 12 Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. 13 And they lifted up their voices and said, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" 14 So when He saw them, He said to them, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed. 15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, 16 and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan. 17 So Jesus answered and said, "Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? 18 "Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?" 19 And He said to him, "Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well."
Here were ten men in the most pitiful of all human misery. Not only were they afflicted with a terrible and loathsome disease; they were outcasts from society because of their disease.
Ten lepers, on their way home from a meeting with Christ, suddenly realized that He had healed them of their dreadful disease. He had saved their lives. But only one, a Samaritan, returned to Jesus to say, "Thank you." How prone we are to be like the other nine. We are anxious to receive but too careless to give thanks. We pray for God's help in our lives, then congratulate ourselves rather than God for the results.
When one of the American lunar missions was in serious trouble some years ago, the American people were asked to pray for the safe return of the astronauts. When they were safely back on earth, credit was given to the technological achievements and skill of the American space industry. No thanks or credit was publicly given to God.
Psalms 107:15 (NKJV) Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, And for His wonderful works to the children of men!
This raises the question, are we properly thankful? Do we give thanks every day to God for the blessings we are enjoying at the moment? James teaches us that:
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.
Thanksgiving and gratitude are to recognize and honor the Source of "every good and perfect gift." We are trained by the media to grumble and complain, to insist on something we do not have, to focus on that instead of on all we do have. One of the first signs of a growing, maturing spirit in Christians is that they begin to give thanks to God for what he has poured into their life; for the opportunities that are before them; and for the present blessings and liberties that they do enjoy.
HOW DO WE EXPRESS THANKSGIVING TO GOD?
One way that we express thanksgiving is through singing. In the ninety-fifth psalm there is an appeal made, an exhortation to join in worship. Look at the very first line,
Psalms 95:1 (NKJV) Oh come, let us sing to the LORD! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.
Now there is special reason why worship involves singing together. Notice that the exhortation in verse 2 is to let singing be an expression of thanksgiving and praise.
2 Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.
Thanksgiving and praise are to be the major elements expressed in our singing. We can give thanks and praise God individually, but singing is something we can do together. So through the ages the believers in God both of the Old and New Testament have sung their praises and thanksgivings. This is very important. It is the reason we should be careful not to sing in a desultory manner. There is nothing more conducive to dullness in a service than half-hearted singing. So the exhortation here is most appropriate.
Psalms 95:1 (NKJV) Oh come, let us sing to the LORD! Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.
As we read on, we learn that the reason for thanksgiving and praise is because we are related to God in creation, i.e., we are creatures of God. He is our Maker and our Creator.
3 For the LORD is the great God, And the great King above all gods. 4 In His hand are the deep places of the earth; The heights of the hills are His also. 5 The sea is His, for He made it; And His hands formed the dry land.
Do you see what the Psalmist is doing? He is giving the basic reasons why everyone should give thanksgiving and praise to God. They apply not only to those of us who are believers but to all men. Each man has a responsibility to praise God, for all are creatures of his hands. Such is the basis of the Psalmist's appeal: no matter how we may feel, or what may be our attitude toward God, we are bound, as creatures dependent upon his love and grace, at least to give thanks to him as our Creator.
Psalms 96:8 (NKJV) Give to the LORD the glory due His name; Bring an offering, and come into His courts.
God is worthy of thanksgiving. It is not something we do only when we feel like it; it is something of which God is always worthy. We should do it for his name's sake. It would doubtless make a great difference in our worship if we would remember that praise is not something that merely reflects our transient feelings but it is something we ought to do simply because God made us and we cannot live a moment without him. It is the glory due unto his name that should bring us together for worship. And to us who have been redeemed by his grace God not only created us, he also bought us back from the cesspool of sin into which we had fallen. As blood-bought children of God, we are to offer thanksgiving as a sacrifice to God.
Leviticus 22:29 (NKJV) "And when you offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the LORD, offer it of your own free will.
Psalms 107:22 (NKJV) Let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, And declare His works with rejoicing.
Psalms 116:17 (NKJV) I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving, And will call upon the name of the LORD.
There were sacrifices prescribed by the Law as an expression of thanksgiving which the Israelites offered to God as thank offerings. There is a correspondence to this in the life of believers today. It is spelled out in these words from the book of Hebrews.
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.
So, we are to offer thanksgiving to God in our singing both individually and corporately. Do you praise Him through song?
Another way we express our thankfulness is through CONTENTMENT. I want to suggest to you that the opposite of thankfulness is coveting. When we covet, we are saying to God that we know better than He does what would make us happy and serve us. We are rejecting his provision for us as insufficient, and thus are ungrateful. As we focus on what has not been given to us, we shake our fist at God.
The story of Ruth in the Old Testament tells of a relationship between Ruth, a Moabitess, and her mother-in-law, Naomi, a frustrated woman who was bereft of husband, sons, and her wealth. Ruth remained with Naomi despite many hardships. When she married into the family of Boaz and had a son Ruth presented Naomi with a grandson.
Ruth 4:13-15 (NKJV) So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife; and when he went in to her, the LORD gave her conception, and she bore a son. 14 Then the women said to Naomi, "Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a close relative; and may his name be famous in Israel! 15 "And may he be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, who is better to you than seven sons, has borne him."
The women of the village were in effect saying, "Naomi, you fool. All along you were mad at God for what you did not have. You wanted a husband and sons, and yet you had this woman living in your home who is better to you than seven sons. God met your needs by providing Ruth, but you undervalued her the whole time." God gives us all good gifts! It is our business to be grateful for what we have instead of focusing on what we do not have. That seems to be a sinful human tendency, focusing on what we don't have instead of being thankful for what we do have. You can change your attitude if you would focus on all you have in Christ and start to thank God for it.
Does it come easy for you to appreciate him? Do you look at your world and say, "Thank you, Lord" without having it strained and pressed out of you? We can either focus on what we do not have and be resentful, angry, and covetous, or we can focus on what we do have. If you are a Christian, what you have is Jesus Christ. He has given his life for us.
I think we could learn a lot from a Walt Disney cartoon of the story of Johnny Appleseed. Do you remember the little song that Johnny Appleseed sang: "The Lord is good to me, And so I thank the Lord, For giving me the things I need: The sun, the rain, and the apple seed. The Lord is good to me." The heart of this song is the acknowledgment that the Lord is good and the gratitude to him for what he's done to meet your needs.
When we fail to give God thanks we fail to fulfill one of his purposes for our lives. God has created both men and angels to glorify him and give him thanks.
Revelation 4:9 (NKJV) Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever,
Psalms 107:1 (NKJV) Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.
Psalms 107:8-9 (NKJV) Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, And for His wonderful works to the children of men! 9 For He satisfies the longing soul, And fills the hungry soul with goodness.
Psalms 107:19-21 (NKJV) Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, And He saved them out of their distresses. 20 He sent His word and healed them, And delivered them from their destructions. 21 Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, And for His wonderful works to the children of men!
HOW CAN WE GROW IN THANKFULNESS?
1. BIBLE STUDY. Thanksgiving is motivated by Bible doctrine.
Colossians 3:16-17 (NKJV) 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 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.
As you come to know God through His Word you can always have a thankful heart. Remember Jonah? He found himself in quite a severe trial, he was eaten by a fish.
Jonah 2:1 (NKJV) Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the fish's belly.
Jonah 2:9-10 (NKJV) But I will sacrifice to You With the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay what I have vowed. Salvation is of the LORD." 10 So the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.
How could Jonah pray like this? He could pray like this because he had a knowledge of God, he understood God.
Jonah 4:2 (NKJV) So he prayed to the LORD, and said, "Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.
You might say, "how can I be thankful in this situation?" You can be thankful in any situation by focusing on the promises of God. You know that God can't lie so whatever he promises we can count on.
Numbers 23:19 (NKJV) "God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?
And the God who cannot lie said:
1 Corinthians 10:13 (NKJV) No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.
Your trial may be very difficult but you can thank God that it is not more than you can bear and that he is in control of the trial. God also said:
Romans 8:28 (NKJV) And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
All our trials, sufferings, and disappointments are geared to help us mature as Christians.
1 Peter 5:10 (NKJV) But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.
We can always thank God in the worst of situations that he is maturing us into his image. Thank him for the available power to carry us through the trial.
2. COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS! Focus on what you have.
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 finds ourselves less desperately in need of things.
I believe that Paul teaches us in Phil. 4:6 that when we go to God in prayer we should always start with thanksgiving. He is saying that we should start by counting our blessings.
Philippians 4:6 (NKJV) Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;
The words "with thanksgiving" in the Greek are meta eucharistia.. Meta and the genitive means "with" but this is meta and the accusative and it never means with, it means "after." After thanksgiving make your request. What Paul is saying is instead of crying our to God in your difficulty with doubt, questioning, dissatisfaction, discontentment, blaming God, cry out to God after a time of thanksgiving. Why? If you have a thankful heart your prayers will be right.
3. BEGIN TO GIVE THANKS IN EVERYTHING:
1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NKJV) in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Corrie Ten Boom in "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.
David said in Psalms 118:24 (NKJV) "This is the day the LORD has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it". We must make a decision to be thankful. Thankfulness is the honestly grateful recognition that no matter what else is true of me, God loves me and he has chosen me; I am his, and that relationship cannot be broken.
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 receives everything as an instance of God's goodness, and has a heart always ready to praise God for it."
Psalms 107:8 (NKJV) Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, And for His wonderful works to the children of men!
Are you a thankful person? How much time do you spend giving thanks to God for what he has given you? When is the last time that you counted your blessings? Murmuring and complaining are sins and dishonor God but thankgiving gives him glory. Is your life dishonoring to God or do you bring him glory by your thankful heart?
During our worship time some of you look bored and distant. Why? When we have a testimony time such as last Wednesday night why is it like pulling teeth to get people to give thanks to God for his goodness? Is it maybe because we are so ungrateful that we have nothing to thank God for? I think it is really sad that some of you will not sing out in thanksgiving to God during our worship time. What does that say about your heart? During our testimony time last Wednesday and during our worship time I often feel like the psalmist when he said, "Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness."