Practicing Thanksgiving (Sermon)
Welcome. I am pastor Rob. Did you know that gratitude is scientifically good for you? Recent research suggests that being thankful,
Aids physical health
And shifts attention from negative thoughts and emotions (https://psychcentral.com/lib/how-gratitude-can-affect-your-physical-and-psychological-well-being/).
Did you know that? It sounds like a no-brainer. Yet, is that why we should be thankful this week? As we continue our short sermon series on Contentment, Generosity, and Thanksgiving, do we have a better reason for thanksgiving? Yes, we do. Better reasoning is that God says so. Not only that, his Word gives us some perspective on how we can be thankful. Let me show you what it says.
I will be flying through some of the texts this morning to help us see the importance of thanksgiving from God’s perspective and how we can be thankful. If you want to open your Bibles or a Bible to a key passage, let’s turn to Philippians chapter 4. Paul was writing in prison and making the ethical appeal to pray to God with a thankful heart. He wrote, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6–7). In every situation, pray with thanksgiving in your heart. Paul wrote to the church at Colossae something very similar.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:16–17)
A few verses later, in this same letter, Paul wrote, “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (Colossians 4:2). Paul wrote like this to the church of Ephesus.
Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:18–20)
Paul wrote something like this to the church at Thessalonica, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you! (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18).
A Theology of Thankfulness From the Apostle Paul
If you ever wondered what God’s will is, look no further. Be thankful, church. God’s will is that we give thanks in every circumstance (1 Thessalonians 5:18, Colossians 3:16–17), at all times (Ephesians 5:20), and in all singing and praying (Philippians 4:6, Colossians 4:2). It is that simple. God repeats his message again and again and again because we forget, and it is important to him and for us. QUESTION.
So, if God thinks this is important, how can we do it? What if we don’t feel like giving thanks? How can I be thankful when I wake up on the wrong side of the bed, or worse, when tragedy strikes? Some of us are looking at the holidays and realizing it is pretty lonely. How do we give thanks? Or, what if you had your hours cut or school is more like a prison. Or, what if you didn’t like how the election turned out. How do we give thanks?
Philippians 4 comes to our aid. Pastor Mike did a Scripture discovery class this past week on this passage.
Before we go any further, let’s pray. Dear God, I need you. May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of our hearts be pleasing to you. AMEN. Could I get a couple of people to pray for me while I preach? Thank you.
So, how can we be thankful at all times and in all circumstances? Look at Philippians 4, verse 9. That is Philippians chapter 4, verse 9. He wrote, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9). If you want to get good at anything, practice. That is true in music, sports, and being thankful. Learning to be thankful takes practice. Paul’s encouragement to practice flowed out of his practice.
BIOGRAPHY OF PAUL
Two-thousand years ago, an unmarried Jewish man from Tarsus, a Roman citizen, a student of a famous scholar, a maker of tents, and a Pharisee was on his way to Damascus to put a sectarian people in prison for their faith. Along the way, he was struck blind. A voice interrupted his journey and said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). The voice was the voice of Jesus. Afterward, those with him took him to his destination. He remained blind and didn’t eat or drink for three days. He just prayed. On the last day, God spoke to a Christian in the city named Ananias. God said to him that he needed to go and find Saul and help him.
Ananias was afraid because of Saul’s track record of persecuting Christians. God reiterated the importance of obedience to Ananias. He said, “Go, for he [Saul] is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:15). Ananias obeyed and found Saul. He prayed for him, and God restored Saul’s vision. That was the start of Saul’s ministry to the Gentiles evangelizing and planting churches, whose name later changed to Paul. He wrote all that we read about thanksgiving and much of the New Testament in our Bibles. He went on three missionary expeditions and bore much fruit.
You would think it would be easy to be thankful for such success. But his life wasn’t all positive. After three years of ministry in Damascus, people were so upset at his faith. They made plans to assassinate him. He heard about their plot and snuck out in the middle of the night in a basket. From there, he went to Jerusalem. He only ministered for fifteen days before his life was in danger again, and he had to go on the run. In one of his letters, he cataloged the more challenging circumstances he faced in life. He wrote that he experienced,
Imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. [he said] Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:23–28)
That is a hard life. And his trials were not over at the writing of this litany.
PAUL THANKING GOD AT ALL TIMES
Reading Paul’s letters, we hear he practiced what he preached. He thanked God amid prison. He wrote thanks to God for the church in Ephesus (Ephesians 1:16), Philippi (Philippians 1:3), and Colossae (Colossians 1:3). He thanked God for the church at Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 1:2 ). He thanked God for the church in Rome (Romans 1:8). He thanked God for a wealthy believer named Philemon (Philemon 4). I am sure he prayed about his predicaments, but he wasn’t thinking only of himself. He was thinking of others and praising God for the good he saw in the darkest of times.
THANKING GOD FOR THE LITTLE GRACE
He thanked God for the church in Corinth. He wrote, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:4). What was remarkable about that was some in the Corinthian church discredited his ministry. They had substantial moral problems. This was a dysfunctional church. They were toxic and unhealthy, yet Paul began a letter to them by thanking God for the grace he saw in them before he went on to correct them. Paul was tough on sin, but he was rich in being gracious. He honestly thanked God for them.
How? It gets back to what Jeff talked about last week. We must remember who God is and what he has done. God is so gracious. He has given us everything we have and need, and not only that, his Son. He has forgiven us of our guilt and sin. He declares us righteous before him. Seeing what God has given us helps us be grateful when we are personally attacked, canceled, or ignored. It helps us when things don’t go our way and we have the most horrible day. Do you see God’s blessings? Paul did. EXAMPLE OF PAUL’S PRAYERS
Seeing God as gracious shapes how we think and pray about those around us. How did Paul’s prayers sound? We get a peek at them in Colossians. Look there with me. Colossians comes right after Philippians. Go to chapter 1, verses 9 through 14. That is chapter 1, verses 9 through 14. Paul wrote,
We have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. (Colossians 1:9–12)
What a prayer! I pray you to give thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the saints' inheritance in light, and I give thanks to God. We would do well to pray as Paul prayed.
THANK GOD FOR OTHERS
Paul not only thanked God in good times and bad, but he also thanked others in the most challenging times. Romans 16 is an example of his gratitude. Paul wrote to the church of Rome, “Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well” (Romans 16:3–4). Paul and the church were not only thanking God but also people personally for what they have done. Do we? Let us practice thanking God and thanking people.
THANKING GOD AT THE END OF LIFE
The book of Acts ends with Paul heading to Rome, where soon he will lose his life for his faith. He maintained an attitude of gratitude till his dying day. One of the last things recorded was “he thanked God” (Acts 28:15) for some Christian brothers who were visiting. He practiced what he preached. What kind of attitude are we practicing?
DO YOU THANK GOD?
The Bible says that every good and perfect gift comes from the Father above (James 1:17). Do you thank God for those good gifts he has given you? The Bible says God sends us rain and sunshine. Do you thank him for them? We have a God who loves you and wants a relationship with you. Do you thank him for that? He gave his one and only Son for your salvation and hope of heaven. Do you thank him for that? Like Paul, we need to have our eyes opened to the positive realities before us. There are too many negative and pessimistic realities in the world. God is here to help. We are to be thankful. Let us practice.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT
I am relatively smart; however, the lessons I learn best are the ones I have to wrestle through and repeat because I am not that smart. I learn by doing and practicing. Let’s do some practice, shall we?
THANKFUL PRAYER ON PAPER
What I want us to do is to write down things we are thankful for. If you are tiny, you can color a picture of what you are grateful for. Ushers will pass the paper out and pens. Raise your hand if you need a pen and paper. If you are at home, grab a piece of paper and something to write with. You can even do this on your phone. Once you are ready, write down ten things you are thankful for. They could be anything. They could be big or small. They could be near or far. What are you grateful for? I am going to take a minute of our time to think about those things.
THANKFUL PRAYER IN OUR HEARTS
Now, let’s think of ten more and tell them to God quietly in our hearts, right now.
THANKFUL PRAYER OUT LOUD
Now, let’s go around the sanctuary and say one thing or sentence we are thankful for. Keep it short so that other people can speak up. If you are watching online, we are going to open back up the chat feature. This is good prep for our Thanksgiving Eve service this Wednesday at Converge at 7:00 PM. A reminder: We will try to have the service online, it will be socially distant, and people will share with their masks on.
Whom CAN YOU THANK
Now, let me ask you this final question. We are not islands. We need each other. God has you here for a reason. I think he wants to remind you also to be thankful to each other. That was what Paul did in his letter to the Roman church. Is there someone in your life you should say thanks to this week? Write down their name. When might you say thanks to them? Perhaps you write a note to them, text them, or call them.
Let us end with a song and prayer of thanks to our great God and Savior Jesus. As the worship team comes up here, let’s pray.