Thankfulness 3) Choosing Gratitude

Choosing Gratitude

Text: 1 Thessalonians 1:1-3; 5:16-18

 

A few weeks ago Alice and I took a few days off to celebrate our 10th Wedding Anniversary up at Montville. And while we were there we went to wine cellar and did some wine tasting. As we were trying some of the wines an older couple came in and asked to try some of the wines as well. The husband looked at the list and rattled off a wine, drank it, and rattled off another wine, and drank it, and rattled off one or two others and drank them, and then just walked out of the shop. Not once did he say please, not once did he say thank you. Both Alice and the lady serving behind the counter commented on it, it was so noticeable. I must admit I was just enjoying the wine tasting. Maybe the guy was having a bad day, maybe he had a bad life, but I’m pretty if he’d chosen to be thankful and expressed it maybe his day may have improved a little. This morning I want to explore the idea of choosing gratitude. We’re going to look at 8 reasons why you should choose gratitude and 6 practical ways that you can express your gratitude.

 

8 Reasons to Choose Gratitude

So let’s start with the reasons why we should choose gratitude.

1) Gratitude is a matter of obedience

Firstly, we should choose gratitude because God has commanded us to be grateful, it’s a matter of obedience. It’s not a very emotive reason, but imagine what it would be like if we just did what God asked us to, just because he asked us to. People prefer to get something out of the bargain, ‘I’ll be grateful if you give me what I want!’ ‘I’ll be thankful if life turns out how I expect it!’ But maybe we should be grateful just because God tells us to. The Psalmist command us to, ‘14 Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving… (Ps 50:14a ESV)’ and to ‘8 …give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love… (Ps 107:8a)’ God expects us to choose gratitude. And we find this same idea in the New Testament. In our text Paul talks about, ‘2 …always thanking God… (1 Thess 1:2a);’ and ‘13 …thanking God continually... (1 Thess 2:13a)’ or incessantly; and how it’s God’s will that we ‘18 give thanks in all circumstances… (1 Thess 5:18a)’ If you’re sitting down to eat, give thanks. If you’ve just recovered from the cold, give thanks. If you’re paying your bills, give thanks. If you’re in church, give thanks. If you’re kids are home for the holidays, give thanks. If you don’t feel like it, give thanks anyway. Be thankful because God commands it.

2) Gratitude draws us nearer to God

A second reason to choose gratitude is because it draws us nearer to God. A few weeks ago we looked at how ingratitude was a sin, which resulted in a slippery slope away from God. But when we are grateful towards God the opposite happens. The King James Version of Psalm 22:3 talks about how ‘God dwells in the praises of his people.’ There’s something about expressing our gratitude towards God that connects us with God and Him with us. Psalm 95 says ‘2 Let us come before him with thanksgiving… (Ps 95:2a)’ We are to approach God with thanksgiving. If you want to feel closer to God than I suggest that you start by thanking him for his love and grace displayed in Jesus Christ.

3) Gratitude leads to peace

A third reason to choose gratitude is that it leads to peace. I’m not talking about the sort of peace that means getting away from the hectic pace of life, because that sort of peace doesn’t come around very often. Rather I’m talking about finding peace in the midst of struggles and heartache. If I asked you what was stealing your peace right now you probably wouldn’t have to think very hard. Maybe you’re lonely, maybe you’re concerned about your kids, maybe your marriage is falling apart, maybe you’re facing health issues, or you’re not meeting your expenses. And we all know that we need to pray about that stuff. But Paul goes one step further. He says, ‘6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:6-7)’ It’s a pretty simple promise: in every situation prayer + thanksgiving = peace. When we open our eyes to see God’s love for us even in the midst of our pain, and when we exercise faith and give him thanks even when we can’t see his love, God meets us with his indescribable peace. I came across this quote from Beth Moore that turns this verse around. She writes, ‘Do not be calm about anything, but in everything, by dwelling on it constantly and feeling picked on by God, with thoughts like, “And this is the thanks I get,” present your aggravations to everyone you know but him. And the acid in your stomach, which transcends all milk products, will cause you an ulcer, and the doctor bills will cause you a heart attack, and you will lose your mind. (Beth Moore, Breaking Free, p71)’ Experiencing God’s peace in the difficulties of life is one of the many reasons to choose gratitude.

4) Gratitude is a gauge of the heart

The next reason is that gratitude is a gauge of the heart. When you invite friends over for dinner it’s usually a sign that you like them. When you decide to come to church instead of doing something else it usually means you value worship and Christian fellowship. In the same way when you thank God it’s usually an indication that you believe that he is good and faithful and trustworthy. People who choose gratitude are those who know that without God’s love and grace in Jesus Christ they would be doomed. The Psalmist writes, ‘13 Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name… (Ps 140:13a ESV)’ It’s those who are right with God, who have had their lives changed by faith in Jesus Christ, who give thanks to him. If you love God, if you are grateful that Jesus died on the cross in your place, then choose to show it, choose to be grateful.

5) Gratitude is the will of God

The next reason to choose gratitude is because it is the will of God. In our text Paul says, ‘18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thess 5:18)’ Often we think of God’s will in terms of making decisions about careers paths, or marriage partners, or where to live. But when you look at Scripture God’s will is more about our attitude and our lifestyle. And one of those attitudes is gratitude. Sure God cares about the details, the choices and decisions that we make, but he cares more about our attitude in those moments. You may be thinking about changing your career, but not because you are ungrateful for the one that God has already given you. You may be looking at getting a bigger house, but not because you are ungrateful for the one you already have. Whatever choices you make in life make sure you choose to make them with thanksgiving for the many ways God has already blessed you. Being grateful is God’s will for our lives, while ingratitude is a sin, so choose gratitude.

6) Gratitude is evidence of the Spirit

Next, gratitude is evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in our lives. In Ephesians 5 Paul commands us to ‘18 …be filled with the Spirit. (Eph 5:18b)’ And of the many evidences of being filled with the Spirit one is that we will be ‘20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Eph 5:20)’ Just like we would question whether an abusive husband, or a blaspheming woman, were Spirit-filled Christians, so we would question whether someone who gripes and complains and worries about their problems rather than ‘always giving thanks in everything,’ is really filled with the Spirit. A thankful spirit is evidence of the Holy Spirit. Paul doesn’t actually list thankfulness as one of the fruits of the spirit, but I’m sure he would agree that gratitude for God’s grace only comes from the Spirit at work in our hearts.

7) Gratitude reflects Jesus’ heart

The seventh reason to choose gratitude is that is reflects the heart of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Often we overlook the attitude of thankfulness that was evident in Jesus’ life. When Jesus observed the excitement of his disciples when they returned from preaching and healing in Luke 10 he prays ‘21 …I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth… (Lk 10:21b ESV)’ And even before he asks Lazarus to come out of the tomb Jesus prays, ‘41 …Father, I thank you that you have heard me. (Jn 11:41b)’ It’s one thing to thank God after he answers your prayers, but it’s quite another to thank God before he answers. We also see Jesus thanking God for food. John writes, ‘11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish. (Jn 6:11; cf. Mt 15:36; Mk 8:6)’ Probably the most notable time is just before his crucifixion when Jesus celebrates the Passover with his disciples. During that Last Supper, he pauses three times to give thanks (Mt 26:27; Mk 14:23; Lk 22:17-19; 1 Cor 11:24). Even facing the most painful and difficult event in his life, when he had every reason to give in to complaining and self-pity, Jesus paused to thank God. We choose gratitude because when faced with death on the cross our Saviour chose to be thankful.

8) Gratitude gets us ready for heaven

Finally, gratitude gets us ready for heaven. When the Apostle John gets a glimpse of heaven one of the things he records is the 24 elders around the throne of God, ‘17 saying: “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty… (Rev 11:17a)’ Gratitude is the unending anthem of heaven. Gratitude in this life is a dress rehearsal for eternal life.

There are so many reasons to choose gratitude. But this morning I want to ask you: will you choose gratitude? Will you choose to be thankful – just because God told you to, because it’s his will for your life? Will you choose gratitude because through gratitude you draw nearer to God, so that you will experience his peace, because it reflects your love for him, and the fact that His Spirit live sin you. Will you choose gratitude just because Jesus did, and you want to be like him? Will you choose gratitude in this life because it’s what you’ll be doing in the life to come? Will you choose gratitude?

 

6 ways to express gratitude

This morning I want to finish by looking at 6 ways to express our gratitude towards God and others. This is where it gets really practical. The truth is that in our culture we are getting worse at expressing thanks. In the past people went out of their way to show just how genuinely grateful they were for the smallest things. But these days if you get any thanks at all it’s most likely just a generic email that they’ve sent to everyone, little more than a receipt. It’s like a Christmas Card – Dear blank, thank you for the blank. Have a merry Christmas. Signed blank. It’s not very genuine, it’s just going through the motions. And one thing we know about God is that he isn’t interested in people just going through the motions. God doesn’t want us to just do grateful things, rather he wants us to do grateful things that overflow from a truly grateful heart. So these are 6 practical ways that you can show your gratitude.

1) With Words

Firstly, and this is really radical, you can express your gratitude with words! I know ridiculous isn’t it! But how often don’t we do it. We don’t say ‘Thank you.’ We don’t tell people that we appreciate them, that we are grateful for them. And we often don’t say it to God either. I heard a story of an old guy who after 50 years of marriage finally realized what a great partner his wife had been and he turns to her and says, ‘Wife, you’ve been such a wonderful woman there are times I can hardly keep from telling you!’ Instead of resisting the urge to be grateful we should express it. If the salesperson on the other end of the phone was particularly helpful or polite, tell them so. If the checkout person at the supermarket is unusually pleasant tell their supervisor how impressed you are. If your kids do something without you having to ask them tell them how grateful you are. If a sermon particularly encourages or challenges you, you’re allowed to thank me, I promise not to let it go to my head. And if God answers a prayer, or touches your life in some way, stop and thank him for his love and grace. The Bible says, ‘15 …let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name. (Heb 13:15)’ Silent gratitude is like a tree without fruit, it isn’t much good to anyone. Gratitude needs to be verbalized. Just take Psalm 145 as an example. It says, ‘5 They will speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty… 6 They will tell of the power of your awesome works,

and I will proclaim your great deeds. 11 They will tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might, 12 so that all men may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendor of your kingdom. 21 My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord. Let every creature praise his holy name for ever and ever. (Ps 145:5-6,11-12,21)’ When we speak our thanks to God it encourages others to do the same.

So your first bit of homework this week is to ask God to help you find an opportunity to verbally express your gratitude for something, or to someone. Try and say thank you to someone every day this week.

2) Through Song

The second way to express your gratitude is through song. The Psalmist writes, ‘7 The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song. (Ps 28:7)’ Nancy deMoss observes that ‘Gratitude is a tune you can dance to. (Nancy deMoss, Choosing Gratitude, p100)’ There’s something about singing that just expresses our gratitude to God for what he has done in our lives. That’s why we love to sing in church, but you can sing anywhere, in your car, mowing the lawn, after dinner with the kids. You don’t have to sing well, you just need to express your thanks to God for his love and grace. So your second piece of homework is to find a song on a CD, or your ipod, that expresses thanks to God, and not only play it every day but learn the words and sing along. Have you got that? It’s listed on the back of your sermon notes.

3) Through Prayer

Thirdly, you can express your gratitude through prayer. Prayer can be a lot more than just a way to ask God for stuff, it can also be a way to thank God for his many blessings in your life. Paul writes, ‘1 I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone. (1 Tim 2:1)’ As much as we pray for our needs, and the needs of others, so we also should thank God for his blessings. We need to balance praying about our problems with praying about our blessings. This week as you pray, I challenge you for every request you make, that you match it with something that you’re grateful for.

4) Privately and Publically

Fourthly, you need to express your gratitude both privately before God and publically before others. The Prophet Daniel is a good example of this. When God gave him the interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, Daniel didn’t just rush off and tell the king rather he stopped to thank God, ‘23 I thank and praise you, O God of my fathers: You have given me wisdom and power, you have made known to me what we asked of you, you have made known to us the dream of the king. (Dan 2:23)’ Daniel thanked God in private, but he also thanked God in public. Later when King Darius decreed that no one could pray except to him, we read ‘10 …[Daniel] went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before. (Dan 6:10)’ Nothing could stop Daniel giving thanks to God, even if it meant execution. Often we are quick to complain about our struggles with others but slow to share with others the things we are thankful for. David writes, ‘9 I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations. (Ps 57:9 ESV)’ Do you show your gratitude to God when no one is looking as well as when everyone is looking? Do you tell other people about what you are thankful for? Do you tell others about how grateful you are to God for his salvation in Jesus Christ? Your fourth challenge this week is to share with someone one particular reason that you have to be thankful.

5) Specific Events

Next, you can express your gratitude for specific events. I hope you’ve been enjoying your holidays, but did you know that the word holiday actually comes from the word ‘holy day?’ In medieval times holy days were set times throughout the year when people could celebrate God’s great acts of salvation throughout history. We tend to be a bit sceptical of holy days, it all sounds a bit Roman Catholic, but the truth is that God told his Old Testament people to set aside special times primarily as a way of thanking God for his provision. The Feast of Weeks was an opportunity to thank God for the coming harvest (Lev 23:15-21). The Passover was an opportunity to thank God for his salvation from slavery in Egypt (Lev 23:4-8). The Feast of Tabernacles was an opportunity to thank God for the end of harvest (Lev 23:33-43). And then they had the Feast of Trumpets which was the first day of every month (Lev 23:23-25), and the Day of Atonement (Lev 23:26-32), and of course the Sabbath Day (Lev 23:3). And then they had special times of thanksgiving, for example the dedication of the Temple (2 Chron 7:8-10) and the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem (Neh 11:31-40).

Similarly in our own lives there are specific events where it is appropriate to express our gratitude to God. Most of us celebrate Easter and Christmas, but we can also thank God for his love and grace at birthdays and anniversaries, and even things like moving into a new home, or starting a new business. It’s even a tradition in Reformed Churches to have thanksgiving services at funerals where we get to thank God for the faith and life of those who have been called home to the Lord. And of course every Sunday we gather as God’s people to thank him for his grace towards us in Jesus Christ. Your fifth challenge this week is to go home and on all the significant dates in your life write on your calendar ‘remember to thank God!’

6) Everyday Gratitude

Finally, the Bible calls us to everyday gratitude. David instructs the Levites ‘30 …to stand every morning to thank and praise the Lord. They were to do the same in the evening. (1 Chron 23:30)’ I mentioned earlier how it was Daniel’s custom to offer up to God a prayer of thanks three times a day. The Psalmist even says, ‘62 At midnight I rise to give you thanks… (Ps 119:62a)’ If you can’t sleep don’t waste it, use it to thank God. Paul talks about giving thanks to God continually (1 Thess 2:13). The point is that if you think of something to thank God for, stop whatever you’re doing and do just that.

 

My prayer is that you will choose gratitude - because God told you to, because it’s his will for your life, because through gratitude you will draw nearer to him and experience his peace, because it reflects your heart for God and the fact that the Spirit lives in you, because Your Saviour Jesus lived a life of gratitude for you to follow, because it’s what you’re going to be doing for all eternity. And I encourage you to express your gratitude – to verbalize it with words of thanks, to sing songs of thanksgiving, to pray prayers of thankfulness, to be thankful in private as well as in public, to be thankful for special events, as well as just everyday stuff. And may your expressions of gratitude flow from a truly grateful heart. Amen.

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