A Journey of Gratitude
A Journey of Gratitude
November 27, 2011
by Rev. William “Buck” Day
Once again, let’s go before God in prayer, shall we?
Lord, indeed we have come here to worship you, to bow down before you, to tell you that we love you. Lord, thank you that you are here and that your Spirit is among us. Lord we ask that this day you would speak to us, you would draw us close and give us what each of us need. Lord we ask that your Spirit would have full reign. In your name. Amen.
Well a school teacher asked her first grade students to draw something that they were thankful for. She thought about how little these students had—they came from a poor neighborhood— and what their pictures would look like. She figured the majority of the pictures would probably be around turkey and food. So she was surprised when she got a picture from one of her little boys named Douglas. It was a picture of a hand, a human hand. It was poorly drawn, but the real question was, whose hand was it? So all the children took the opportunity to guess whose hand it was. One child said, “Well, it is obviously the hand of God because he provides all the food that we need.” Another said “It was the farmer. The farmer grows the food, he plants the seeds. So this is the farmer’s hand.” No one could find out whose hand it was. So as the children went back to their desks and were working, the teacher came up behind little Douglas and asked as she bent over his desk, “Whose hand is that Douglas?” And he said, “Why teacher that’s your hand.” Then she began to recall frequently at recess she would take Douglas who was a little forlorn little guy and just grab him by the hand as she did so many other children. She never thought much about it. But Douglas did. Douglas was expressing his gratitude to his teacher the best way that he knew how. A thankfulness and attitude that sees this world as a gift that comes and relishes all that comes our way, whether it be good or whether it be bad.
In fact, one author defines gratitude as an intentional counting of blessings every day, every minute, while avoiding the belief that we need or we deserve different circumstances. The famous Christian author Richard Foster says that it is a decision to set our mind on the high things of life. Gratitude can be directed towards God, that is what we do in worship among other things; but it can also be directed towards people. But, if you notice, it is something that we choose to do.
One author actually called it the parent of all other virtues. If you think about that, it is a nice way to think about gratitude. For us who are followers of Jesus Christ, we have much to be thankful for, don’t we? Yet, it is very easy to forget that—to forget to give thanks, to forget to live a life of gratitude. So as we begin this Advent journey over these next few weeks, what we are going to do is we are going to look at some of the biblical characters of the stories leading up to Christ’s birth. We are going to look at them through the eyes of gratitude. So we start today with maybe a verse that is typically not considered an Advent scripture but it is one that we studied earlier this summer and it is in 1 Thessalonians. So I invite you to follow along as we read God’s word. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
16Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Three short commands and Paul speaks of them out of the overflow of gratitude. When gratitude is present in a person’s life, these commands do not feel like have to’s; they are more along the lines of “Duh! What else would I do?” Joy is the expression of gratitude because it is looking at the blessings rather than circumstances. Prayer is a demonstration of gratitude because of our continual conversation with God throughout the day and giving thanks for his gratitude for no matter what comes our way. If you notice the words “always,” “without ceasing,” “in all circumstances,” these are statements of God’s presence. He is always present, always able to work in our lives, no matter what the circumstances, and he works them “for the good,” as it says in Romans.
When we are obedient to these commands it will not only build gratitude into our lives; but it also acknowledges that God is sovereign and that we trust him and those acts will change us. That is one of the things that we will see over the coming weeks as we walk through this Advent season. I want to start with an illustration of that from an article that I read recently about a woman who was having trouble with her teenage daughter. Imagine that! A parent having problems with a teenager! …I have never heard of such a thing!
Well our story starts that this woman had a close relationship with her daughter while she was growing up. But as the girl grew into her teenage years, the conversations devolved into a briar patch of prickly feelings, stinging barbs, and angry outbursts. The mother felt like she couldn’t say a word without stepping onto a mine field. As a result the frustrations increased and the conflicts escalated. The relationships in the whole family began to be stretched, even the relationship between this woman and her husband. So the woman made a decision. She decided that she was going to cling to God in the midst of these challenges with her daughter.
Every time that she saw her daughter and got into a conflict or a difficult conversation, she grabbed onto God’s truth. She said, “God, thank you that you are with me. Thank you that you gave me this girl. Thank you that she is able to speak. God, thank you that she has a quick mind. God, thank you that the story is not over yet. Thank you for your presence with me.” She thanked God even when she didn’t feel like it, right in the middle of one of the fights. Over time she began to notice some results beginning to take place in her life. She began to see that the conversations with her daughter, she began to look at them as a challenge for ways that she could thank God in the midst of them. In the process of that she found that it distanced her from the emotions of that moment so she could respond to her daughter without the frustration. In addition she found that she was thinking more about God than about her daughter in the midst of that. It allowed her to see humor in the situations. As she thanked God for her daughter, she began to be able to see her daughter not just as her daughter but also as His daughter. Out of that, that practice of giving thanks, she found that she had more resilience and more elasticity in those moments rather than always being ready to snap. So over time she looked forward to her daughter coming home from school so she could simply lavish love on her.
This woman was obedient. She was obedient, and it produced an increase in gratitude in her life across the board. For you see, as we increase the amount of gratitude in our lives, we change. It is like the mustard seed. It starts small but over time it has the ability to grow and multiply way beyond what we can imagine. It changes. So gratitude is an important part of our lives with Jesus Christ. It is something that we need to cultivate, as well.
When you compare gratitude and then value in Christianity to the other religions of the world, gratitude does not carry that same level of importance that it does for us. It is mainly due to the way that they view God. They don’t view God as being personal, as being sovereign. They don’t see God as being inherently good; rather, they see God as being more fickle, more temperamental, someone that we have to figure out how to appease instead.
So we need gratitude in our lives. And we need to give gratitude to God, tell him thanks. We need to do that, not because God needs to hear that from us, he doesn’t, or that somehow we are going to make him happy if we give him thanks. That is not why we need to give him gratitude. Rather, a life that is filled with gratitude is needed to be spiritually healthy. The more our gratitude increases the more our spiritual health will increase and improve and that is what God knows and that is what God wants for us. Gratitude is a measure of our understanding and receiving God’s grace into our lives.
So here I will do my plug. That is why I think that as I look at all the things that happen in the life of the church and many believers, things like Unidos en Christo, sometimes it is called Cursillo, or TEC, which we just had here a couple weeks ago, or even the Charis ministry that works with people in prison, that is why it is so impactful in so many people’s lives. I believe that because it is an opportunity to increase our understanding as well as our experience of God’s grace in our lives. And we need that because the reality is that as humans, as a species, we are not inherently very grateful people. We are just not. When I think about that I always go back to the words that God told Moses about the nation of Israel how he said they were a “stubborn stiff-necked people.” And you know what? We are too. We too are stubborn and stiff-necked because we think we know best about whatever it is, we know the best way; because if we look at that we can trace that all the way back to the Garden of Eden. We believe we know better than God and we can make things happen on our own the right way, we think. The reality, the truth in that, is that God does not like our rebellion; in fact, he can’t stand it.
Every person who has ever walked the earth or who will ever walk the earth in the future deserves the same thing that happened to a group of Israelites in a place called Korah. If you are not familiar with it I invite you to go home and read about it in Numbers 16. It is as the nation of Israel is going through the wilderness, one of the great grandsons of Levi, as well as 250 other leaders within the nation of Israel, rise up and they create a rebellion against Moses. They challenged Moses’ authority. So God tells Moses “Just have them go and stand out in front of their tents.” So here are 250 leaders, all of their families, all of their relatives, all of their livestock, all standing out in front of their tents. God, at that point when they are standing out, opens the earth up; they fall into the earth; God closes it over them. That is what we deserve, folks. That is what we deserve. We deserve that same fate. But the great “but”, but the great but here is that God is rich in mercy. Mercy is not getting what we deserve. And because of God’s great mercy, Scripture tells us that while we were still sinners, while we were still due what was due those people in Korah, Jesus came and died for us. Jesus came and died for us so that we don’t have the same fate happen to us.
As that sinks in, that we didn’t get what we deserve, instead we were given something we don’t deserve. Gratitude grows. Gratitude grows. We need that gratitude in our lives. We need gratitude in our lives because it is, if you will, a spiritual thermometer for our spiritual health. So it is kind of a measure of where we are spiritually. But even beyond that, gratitude is the thing that we need to grow spiritually, to grow up. But gratitude is, as I said, a choice. It is a choice, because we can choose not to be thankful. We can choose not to pray. We can choose not to give thanks. And we do many times, don’t we? But what do we do when we want gratitude in our lives, we know the need for it; and yet, we are not experiencing it? What do we do then?
Well, because I said it was a choice, it means that possibly that there are other options that we are exercising that we may or may not even realize. So if you are in the boat today, where you are saying I want that gratitude, I want to have a thankful heart as we head into Christmas, see if these apply:
Maybe that lack of thankfulness in your own life is simply because you have never received grace into your own life. You are living without ever having asked Jesus Christ to be Lord of your life and asking him to forgive your sins. And if you have never experienced that kind of confession, and the forgiveness that comes with that, I invite you to do that. If you want to talk more about that, I will be down here after the service and I would love to talk with you about that. That is where it starts—experiencing the grace of God’s forgiveness in our lives.
Well perhaps you are not experiencing God’s grace because you are thinking about the idea of living before God requires that there be a level of acceptance by God based by what I do on my performance. And that is not the case. It is about what God did for us not what we do.
Well perhaps you are not experiencing grace because you are simply shut down to grace. You are so ungrateful that you can not accept the grace that is shown you or offered you as you walk through each day. It is almost as if you have a wall that has been built up around you that blocks any vision, any thought, any experiences that might bring gratitude into your life.
Gratitude requires obedience. It comes in small steps. It comes in small steps over time, just like the woman with her teenage daughter. We will see that as we step through the coming weeks. But until then, I want to encourage you to begin to take some small steps, small steps towards allowing gratitude to begin to grow in your heart. At this point I am going to unabashedly borrow things from our Stephen Ministers. Our Stephen Ministers are spending a whole year talking about gratitude. One of the things that they are asking all the Stephen Ministers to do is simply to record their thanksgivings, each day as they experience them. They gave them just a little notebook like this. I want to encourage all of you to do the same thing. I want you to take this, or something, maybe it is your journal, maybe it is just a scrap of paper or a napkin. It doesn’t matter. Then begin to write down the things that you are thankful for. As many as you have, whatever they might be. It is simply doing what Joanna was doing with the children. Write down what you are thankful for. Maybe you are thankful to God for a great sunrise, or closing a deal at work, or thanking God for the people that he has put into your life. Focus on God and then say, “Thank you God for_______.” And you fill in the blank. That is where gratitude starts—as simple and as easy as that. And as you do that, you will have an attitudinal shift over this Christmas, I believe, an attitudinal shift that will make this time more rich and more memorable for you as we once again move toward celebrating the birth of our Savior.
Would you join me in prayer?
Mighty and holy God thank you, thank you that you provide for us so richly and Lord help us to see that in many new ways in the coming days. The way your grace showers down upon us, that we might live with grateful hearts, with thankful hearts, not just on a holiday once a year; but it might be something that might be a part of our DNA as followers of yours, Jesus. I ask that for each of us this Christmas season and beyond. In your name, my Lord. Amen.