Thankfulness 4) Growing in Gratitude

Growing in Gratitude

Text: James 1:16-18

 

Once a poor man went to meet his local priest and complained, ‘Life is unbearable, there are nine of us living in one room, what can I do?’ The priest answered without hesitation, ‘Take your goat into the room with you?’ The man looked at him as if he’d misunderstood, but the priest said, ‘Take your goat into the room with you and come back in a week.’ A week later the man returned looking more stressed than ever, ‘We can’t stand it, the goat stinks, it eats everything, it won’t let us sleep, it’s filthy!’ The priest replied, ‘Then go home and let the goat out and come back in a week.’ Seven days later the man returned radiant, he was overjoyed. The priest asked ‘How are things now?’ The man replied, ‘Ever since we got rid of that goat things have been amazing. It’s so good to just have the nine of us in the room!’

Often the difference between being ungrateful and being grateful is how you look at life. Well this morning my prayer is that you will have a mind-shift, that you will grow in this area of gratitude. Our mission as a church is to see people transformed into fully devoted followers of Christ, and this morning we’re going to look at how we can be transformed into grateful people. To do that I want to look at how we can grow in seeing God’s grace in our lives, and 5 ways that we can grow in gratitude.

 

Growing to see God’s grace

So firstly, let’s take a look at how we can grow in seeing God’s grace. Our text says that ‘17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights… (Jam 1:17a)’ The first thing that we need to know is that every good and perfect gift comes from God. The source of every blessing in our lives is God. You might think that you’ve earned it, that you paid for it, that it comes from you, but according to the Bible it doesn’t, it comes from God. Paul says that we are to be ‘20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Eph 5:20)’ So what is this ‘everything’ that we are to give thanks for? What are these good and perfect gifts that come from God’s hand? Well according to the Bible God blesses us in four different ways.

1) Material Blessings

Firstly, we should give thanks to God for his material blessings. These are the everyday things that all too often we take for granted. Charles Spurgeon referred to them as ‘common mercies… and yet so priceless that when deprived of them we are ready to perish.’ Things like clean water to drink and good food to eat. Things like our jobs and a roof over our head. Things like good health and happy children. And even more mundane things like toothpaste, and hot showers, and sunglasses, and air conditioning, and video cameras, and clothes, and books, and sunsets, and a million other things. If we take all those things for granted, if we trick ourselves into thinking that everyday household items come just from the supermarket rather than from God, we miss countless reasons for worship without even realizing it. All our everyday material possessions are included amongst the every good and perfect gifts coming down from our heavenly Father. They’re the very things that we should always give thanks for. Do you thank God for the material blessings that he has given you, or are you one of the many people in this world that just takes all that stuff for granted? The truth is God has blessed your socks off, even the fact that you have socks to be blessed off is proof of God’s love and grace in your life. Even though we don’t deserve anything good, God has given us abundant material blessings, so be grateful.

2) Spiritual Blessings

But more than just our material blessings, for us as Christians we also have countless spiritual blessings. A few months back I did a sermon on Ephesians 1 called ‘I am blessed,’ and we looked at all the ways that God has blessed those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ. Paul talks about how we have been declared holy and blameless in God’s sight, how God chose us before the creation of the world, how he adopted us as his children, how we have been redeemed and forgiven through the blood of Christ, how we have received saving grace, how we have received the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:3-14). This morning I want to look at four specific spiritual blessings that we are called to give thanks for in Scripture.

a) God’s Nearness

Firstly, there’s God’s nearness. The Psalmist sings, ‘1 We give thanks to you, O God, we give thanks, for your Name is near… (Ps 75:1a)’ God doesn’t just save us and leave us, God promises to be with us. God is an ever present help as the Psalmist says elsewhere (Ps 46:1). According to the Bible God has given us the Holy Spirit, who not only comes along side of us to encourage us, but who actually lives within us. Because of Jesus, God is closer than our next breath. God is near when we call, near when we stumble, near all the time. Because the sin that separated us from God has been dealt with on the cross we can draw near to God, that’s the promise of Hebrews 10:22. We can be thankful that in Christ God is near us.

b) God’s Mercy

A second spiritual blessing is God’s mercy. Even though we deserve to be rejected by God and sentenced to an eternity separated from him and his love, God who is rich in mercy redeemed us from the consequences of our sin and instead gives us eternal life. The Bible says, ‘1 …I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me. (Isa 12:1 ESV)’ Because of God’s mercy, instead of giving us what we deserve, God gives us what we don’t deserve. There is no way we can ever repay God for such grace, all we can do is respond with a thankful heart. Because God is merciful we are grateful.

c) God’s Salvation

Another spiritual blessing we are to give thanks for is God’s salvation. As Paul reflects on God’s amazing grace in Christ Jesus, the fact that we have been saved from our sins, he writes, ‘15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! (2 Cor 9:15)’ When we consider the love of Christ, his incomparable sacrifice, what it cost him in order to redeem us from our sin, how can we let a single day pass without, ‘12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. (Col 1:12)’ God has saved us let us be grateful.

d) God’s Calling

The final spiritual blessing we are specifically called to give thanks for is God’s calling. Paul writes, ‘12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. (1 Tim 1:12)’ Just as God called Paul to serve him, so God has called each one of us to give our lives to serve his purposes and build his kingdom. Whether that’s looking after the kids, or managing a business, or teaching Sunday School, or visiting the sick or elderly, or one of a dozen other things, they are an opportunity for you to bring glory to God. Some of us may feel that we haven’t received a very high calling from God. Actually there’s this one guy in the Bible called Mattitiah who ‘31 …was entrusted with the responsibility for baking the offering bread. (1 Chron 9:31b)’ That doesn’t sound very glamorous, but the point is that it is a privilege to be entrusted by God with responsibility in his kingdom. God has called us into his service, let’s be grateful. As Paul puts it in Ephesians 1, ‘3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. (Eph 1:3)’ Do you thank God for the way he has blessed you in Christ Jesus?

3) Relational Blessings

In addition to the spiritual blessings that come directly from God’s hand there are blessings that God sends by the way of other people. God gives us relational blessings. In 9 out of 13 letters Paul specifically gives thanks for people. Paul thanks people for their inspirational faith, for their sacrificial expressions of love, for their example of unity and fellowship. Paul considered the relationships that he had with other people to be priceless treasures. As I look back over my life there have been so many people who have had a huge impact in my life, people like Michael Vanderee and John de Jong and Tim Dyer and John Hoogenhout, and people like my parents and my parent-in-laws. Who are the people, the relationships that God has used to bless you? Have you taken the time to thank people who have touched your life? One of the people that I’m most thankful for in my life is Alice, and I often thank God for sending her into my life. Don’t forget to count your relational blessings.

4) Blessing in Suffering

Finally, I want to look at how God blesses us in suffering. And that’s in no way linked to marriage, I just wanted to make that clear. This could be a sermon in itself, but I just want to give you a bit on an outline on being grateful even in suffering. When the Bible says we should give thanks in everything, it includes difficulties and trials. We saw last week that we are to ‘18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)’ All circumstances include the good ones as well as the bad ones. In the Bible we meet people like Job, who lost everything, his children, his wealth, and his health, and yet he says, ‘21 …The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised. (Job 1:21b)’ A few weeks ago we looked at Paul and Silas in prison, ‘25 …praying and singing hymns to God… (acts 16:25b)’ And then we have the example of Jesus, who as he faced crucifixion says, ‘28 Father, glorify your name! (Jn 12:28)’

Firstly, whenever we see people praising God in the midst of persecution or pain, what we should see is not people with amazing reserves of emotional strength, but people who have been strengthen and encouraged by the power of the Holy Spirit. In John 14 Jesus tells his disciples ‘27 …Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (Jn 14:27c)’ And one of the reasons is because, ‘16 …the Father will give you another Counselor (or Comforter) to be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. (Jn 14:16-17a)’ The peace we need to face difficult circumstances and even give thanks for them comes from the Holy Spirit. In the midst of suffering we need to ask God for His Spirit.

Secondly, being grateful in suffering is an exercise in faith. The only way of seeing suffering as a blessing is to believe God’s word. We need to see beyond our circumstances to what God has done for us in Christ. We need to believe that God is using our suffering to refine us, and mould us, and make us more like Jesus. We need to believe God’s promises concerning the future that all our tears will be dried and there will be no more suffering. Being grateful in suffering comes from trusting in God’s purposes. One of the most difficult aspects of suffering is that we often can’t see what God is doing, we can’t see his plan, and sometimes we never will. But sometimes in hindsight we do get to see what God is doing. Back in 1999 I thought I was doing God’s will by looking after a spiritual retreat centre in Tassie, but towards the end of that year I started having panic attacks. For months I wrestled with God and eventually he led me into full-time ministry. If it wasn’t for those panic attacks I probably would never have become a pastor, I would have kept playing it safe. Even in the midst of suffering or difficult circumstances do you truly believe that God is working for your good? Because that’s what the Bible says, that ‘28 …in all things God works for the good of those who love him? (Rom 8:28a)’ In the midst of suffering we need to ask that God will grow our faith in Him.

Thirdly, being grateful in suffering doesn’t mean denying the pain. If you’ve lost your job, or experienced an injury, or been diagnosed with cancer, or if you’ve lost your spouse of 50 years, or you’re going through a divorce, or your kids are going off the rails, you don’t pretend those things are good things, because they’re not, they’re terrible things. Rather you need to turn to God in those moments and thank him that he is your place of refuge, that he is your source of hope, that he is your joy, that he is your strength. Growing in gratitude doesn’t mean you won’t go through difficult times, rather it’s about trusting that God is using those moments for your ultimate good.

The blessing of suffering is that often in the midst of suffering we connect with God in the most amazing way. Paul writes, ‘9 Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God… (2 Cor 1:9a)’ It’s as we exercise our faith in God’s goodness that we experience the blessing of his presence and His peace in our lives. Nancy deMoss makes the point that ‘anything that makes me need God is a blessing – be it disappointment, physical suffering, mental or relational anguish. (Nancy deMoss, Choosing Gratitude, p139)’ The choice that lies before us is: Do we only give glory to God for the good things, the things that are going our way, or do we praise God just because he’s God, regardless of the difficulties and the darkness and the pain that we experience? I want to ask you this morning: Can you thank God even in the midst of suffering? Like the Psalmist can you say, ‘1 I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. (Ps 34:1 ESV)’

 

5 Ways to Grow in Gratitude

It’s one thing to grow in your ability to see God’s grace and love at work around you, whether it’s in material blessings, or spiritual blessings, or relational blessings, or even in the midst of suffering, but just because you can see it doesn’t mean you will express your gratitude for those things. So I want to finish this morning by giving you 5 practical ways that you can grow in gratitude.

1) Remind yourself of God’s grace daily

The first is daily reminding yourself of God’s grace. You won’t become a more grateful person unless you remember all the reasons that you have to be grateful. Every day thank God that despite your inescapable guilt he has shown you undeserved grace, and for that you will be eternally grateful. Remind yourself that despite the fact you deserve death God gives you life, and  food and water, and shelter and work, and countless other material blessings. Remind yourself that in Christ God gives you countless spiritual blessings, by his mercy he has saved you,  and he is near to you, and he has called you to serve him. Remind yourself that God blesses you with people who love you and encourage you. Remind yourself that even in the difficult times, even when you are suffering that God is there for you, that he hasn’t forgotten you, that in fact he is working for your good. Ask God to help you see the many ways he has blessed you, the small as well as the great – from the awesome gift of his saving grace, to the privilege of having a healthy family, to the every day things we tend to take for granted. Remember God’s grace to you and you will become a more grateful person.

2) Commit to a Season of Gratitude

Secondly, commit to a set season of gratitude. Just listening to four sermons on gratitude won’t make you a more grateful person. Rather gratitude is the result of God’s Spirit encouraging us to put off our old nature and cultivating new spiritual practices, and that takes time, it’s a process. So don’t allow Satan to steal the seed of gratitude that God may have planted in your heart through this series. Don’t just say you want to be more grateful, instead set aside a period of time to focus on that process. Mark it on your calendar, get someone to hold you accountable, and invest in becoming a more grateful person.

Here’s a few ideas. You could get a concordance and look up every passage in the Bible on thankfulness and reflect on one a day for the next 100 odd days. You could journal your blessings, and see how long you can make the list. One woman who did this ended up writing a book called ‘14,000 things to be happy about!’ I would like to encourage you to join me in using a devotional guide which I’ve adapted from Nancy DeMoss’ book called Choosing Gratitude. For the 6 weeks leading up to Easter join with me in reflecting on all the reasons that we have to be thankful. Every week morning I’m going to email out a devotion and if you don’t have email you can sign up for a booklet on a sheet by the coffee table. I challenge you to commit to a season of gratitude!

3) Take stock of your gratitude accounts

Thirdly, take stock of your gratitude accounts. Who needs or deserves a word of thanks from you? Who do you know who could use a bit of encouragement? Your spouse, your children, your parents, your siblings, or other family members? A neighbour, or work mate, a friend, or your Small Group leader? What about the people that you just bump into during your day, the person at the checkout, your mechanic? What about the people in your past, those who went out of their way to encourage you in some way? Don’t wait until their eulogy to say thanks, do it today. I few years back I realized that I had never said thanks to my Pastor when I was a teenager. He was the guy who first suggested that I think about getting into the ministry. So I wrote him an email thanking him for the positive impact he had on my life. Don’t allow ‘it’s been too long’ to get in the way of saying thanks. What outstanding debts are sitting in your gratitude account?

4) Write thankyou notes

Next, write thankyou notes. I know it sounds I little underwhelming, but it’s a great way to express your gratitude. It only takes a few minutes to write a card, or type an email, or even send a text. I’ve got a little box at home full of cards and hand-written notes from people who just wanted to say thanks for something that blessed or encouraged them. Often I received those notes when I needed them the most. I encourage you to write a thank you note this week, and make it a regular habit. Don’t just absorb God’s blessings from other people, say thank you. I’m sure Jeannette and Pat will gladly supply you with some cards.

5) Be thankful together

Finally, be thankful together. One of the most meaningful experiences you can do as a family, or a Sunday school class, or a small group, or even as a whole church, is to express your gratitude as a group. One of the things I was involved in while I was pastoring the church in Cobden, Victoria, was the National Day of Thanksgiving. A few of the elderly members in that church lived in the local Old Age home and we did a service there every month, so we decided to publically and privately thank the staff there. We did an article in the local paper saying how impressed we were with the level of care that they provided and how grateful we were for their efforts. And then we delivered a handwritten card and a flower to each of the 70 staff members. It was one of the most positive experiences I’ve been involved in. This year the National Day of Thanksgiving is Saturday, the 31st of May. Every year they pick a theme and this year it’s travel and transport, they want to thank our bus and train drivers and truckies for how they serve our community. But you can thank whoever you like. I’d like to encourage our Sunday School classes, our Youth Group, our Small Groups, and even our whole church, to plan how they can show their gratitude in some way together.

 

The whole world looks different when you see it through gratitude coloured glasses. I’m not suggesting you buy a goat and let it have the run of your house, but rather that you change the way you look at your life. My prayer is that you will grow in your ability to see God’s grace in your life, that your eyes will be opened to see the many ways he has blessed you – materially, spiritually, relationally, and even in suffering. And as you see God’s grace I hope you will grow in gratitude. That every day you will remind yourself of God’s grace to you, that you will commit to a season of gratitude, that you will pay off your debts of gratitude towards others, that you will start the spiritual discipline of sending thankyou notes, and that you will do it together with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Let’s come before God and ask him to help us grow in gratitude. Amen.

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