Thanksgiving - Grateful To Whom, My Dear? 1 Thessalonians 5:16-5:18
May I call your attention this morning to our scripture text which is 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. It is a tremendous passage for Thanksgiving. Here is what it says, "Be joyful always. Pray continually. Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus."
Now you need to realize that it doesn’t say, "give thanks FOR all circumstances," but rather, "IN all circumstances." No matter how terrible may be some of the circumstances of life, with God’s help there will always be that for which we can be thankful.
Two school teachers who hadn’t seen each other in several years met at a convention, & they began filling each other in on what had happened in their lives since the last time they had visited together.
One teacher said, "I got married two years ago." "Oh, that’s good," her friend replied.
"Well, no, not really," the first one said. "My husband is twice as old as I am." "Oh, that’s bad," her friend replied.
"Well, no, not really," she said, "because he is a millionaire several times over." "Oh, that’s good," her friend replied.
"Well, no, not really," she said, "because he turned out to be mean, & he won’t give me any money at all." "Oh, that’s bad," her friend replied.
"Well, no, not really," she said. "He did build us a $300,000 house." "Oh, that’s good," her friend replied.
"Well, no, not really," she said. "It burned down last month." "Oh, that’s bad," her friend replied.
"Well, no, not really," she said. "He was in it when it burned down."
Thanksgiving week is finally here. You can tell it by the Christmas decorations at the malls. This week, children & grandchildren will bring home from school turkeys that they have cut out of construction paper with little feathers pasted on them, & pilgrims with funny bonnets & hats & shoes.
During this week our President will issue the annual Thanksgiving proclamation. And our very secular government, that almost chokes every time it says the word, "God," will suddenly project an air of piety & encourage us all to be thankful for at least this one day of the year.
You see, Thanksgiving is an unusual holiday because it combines God & government & society. And it is considered perfectly acceptable for everyone, regardless of religion, to be thankful on Thanksgiving Day.
Now I don’t know about you, but that concerns me, because when something becomes universally acceptable it has usually been drastically watered down or changed from its original purpose. For instance, look at what has happened to the very special days of Christmas & Easter.
So I encourage you this morning to take two safeguards to protect Thanksgiving. Just two things that you need to remember.
MAKE SURE THAT YOU ARE THANKFUL TO THE RIGHT SOMEBODY
If we’re going to say "thank you" we must say "thank you" to somebody. Make sure that it is the right somebody.
Harriet Martineau was an atheist. One morning she & a friend stepped out into the glories of a beautiful fall morning. As she saw the brilliant sun peaking through the haze, & the frost on the meadow, & the brightly colored leaves making their way lazily to the ground, she was filled with the beauty & burst forth with "I am so thankful. I’m just so grateful for it all." And her believing friend asked, "Grateful to whom, my dear?"
That’s a good question at Thanksgiving. If you’re grateful, if you’re really thankful, then the next question would have to be, "Grateful to whom?"
I like the story about a lady who pulled up to the drive-in window at the bank. The inside teller was facing the hot afternoon sun, so he pulled down the large window shade, making it impossible for his customers to see him through the window. He could see out but they couldn’t see in.
As this lady pulled up to the window he pushed the button & the drawer moved out to meet her. She put in her deposit & the drawer withdrew. A few moments later the drawer came back out again with her deposit slip & the money she had requested. She counted it & then put the money in her purse.
She looked at the window, but unable to see anyone inside, said, "I suppose you’re totally automated, but I just feel I ought to say `thank you’ anyway."
Have you ever felt like that?
Now poor old Ziggy in the comic pages has an automatic teller machine that does talk, & it nags him, too. Not long ago he walked up to his machine to get some money, & it started lecturing him, calling him a "spendthrift" & telling him that he was spending just too much money.
Then when he came back the next week, it refused to give him any money, saying, "I told you you’re spending too much. If you don’t watch out you’re going to go bankrupt. So you’re not getting any money today."
Can you imagine how frustrated poor old Ziggy must have been?
But King David wasn’t frustrated. Far from it. He knew the answer to the question of gratefulness. If anyone ever had cause to lift his voice in thanksgiving to God, David was the man. A shepherd boy who became the hero of a nation - a hunted fugitive who became its king - a condemned sinner who became a "man after God’s own heart."
Is it any wonder that he begins the 103rd Psalm with these words of thanksgiving? "Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise His holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, & forget not all His benefits."
So I say it again, when you decide to be thankful, be sure that you, like King David, are thankful to the right somebody.
Now the second safeguard that I think we need for Thanksgiving is this, "Make sure you thank God for the right reasons."
Folks, if you were to draw up a Thanksgiving list of things for which you are thankful, what would you put on the list? I know some of the things that I would include.
I’m thankful that I enjoy the blessing of living in the United States of America. I’ve visited two other countries, & I’m so thankful for the privilege of being able to travel and make new friends.
Despite all my aches & pains, I’m thankful for physical blessings, too. Someone said, "Count your fingers & toes, & if your mind is sharp enough to count that high, then give God thanks for your mind, too. Thank Him that you can see, & that you have the agility to move from one place to another." I thank God for the physical strength that He gives me every day.
I thank Him for supplying me with everything that I really need. No, I don’t have everything I would like to have. But He has met my needs. And I know that He is the supplier of "every good & perfect gift" that comes my way.
Now I realize that our lists could go on & on, but let’s take a look at the list that David made in the 103rd Psalm, beginning in vs. 3.
He begins by thanking God for being a God who forgives all our sins. Wow, David knew what was important, didn’t he? He doesn’t begin by thanking God for making him King. He doesn’t mention that Israel had become the strongest nation in the world during his reign. No, first of all, he thanks God for forgiving our sins.
May I suggest that that’s the most precious gift that any of us can ever receive. God, through Jesus Christ, has provided the way for our sins to be forgiven. And it can be ours if we’ll accept it.
Then he says that God "heals all your diseases." David didn’t know anything about germs or infection. All he knew was that when the people of Israel obeyed God’s laws that they didn’t have the plagues that laid waste the nations `round about them. And when troubles did arise & they called upon God for help, He was always there to help them.
We may not be able to understand everything that happens in life, But I’m convinced that God is still the great physician, & that He knows the deepest needs of my life even better than I do. And whether my need is physical or psychological or spiritual, I’m sure that God will always do that which is best for me. And I’m so thankful for that.
Next, David says that God "redeems your life from the pit & crowns you with love & compassion." God certainly did that for King David, & He is still doing that today.
Then he says that God "satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle." I like that. Almost everybody is searching for a fountain of youth. But I’m a realist, & when I stand in front of the mirror I realize I wasn’t born with graying hair or poor eyesight or the wrinkles I have now.
Maybe Paul explained it best when he said that we are "wasting away on the outside, but inside we are being renewed day by day."
And as we look at King David’s Thanksgiving list, it is easy for us to say, "That’s great. We can just add his list to ours, & join all together in thanking God for all the joys & blessings He showers upon us every day."
But not everybody is sharing in our joy & thanksgiving. There are many who are suffering.
Listen to our prayer requests & you’ll hear some who are anticipating surgery, others with a terminal illness, some who are struggling with family or financial problems. In fact, if the whole truth were known, almost everybody in this room is suffering in one way or another, & if not today, then tomorrow.
It was Job who said, "Every man is born to trouble just as the sparks fly upward."
Yet, even though bad things happen to God’s people we can still give praise & thanksgiving to God.
Why? Because the great difference between God’s people & all the rest is that God’s people do not suffer alone. "Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. Thou art with me. Thy rod & thy staff, they comfort me."
We’re not the only ones struggling. We’re not the only ones hurting. The people who never darken the door of the church are hurting, too. The people who never lift a voice in praise or thanksgiving to God are hurting, too. The great difference is that when we hurt God is there to help us through those difficult moments of life.
Back in vs. 24 of the 2nd chapter of the book of Exodus it says, "God heard their groaning & He remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac & with Jacob."
You & I forget names that we were told just 5 minutes ago. Friends that used to be a part of our lives move away & out of sight, out of mind, & soon we forget.
But the God of the universe who has billions of people to be concerned about, never forgets. He heard the groanings of Israel & He remembered the covenant that He made with Abraham, Isaac & Jacob.
In the 3rd chapter of Exodus, beginning in vs. 7, the Lord said, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, & I’m concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them."
God is saying, "I hear every cry that comes from the lips of my people, every prayer from the depths of their hearts. I’m concerned about their tears & their suffering. And I’m reaching down to rescue them."
That is another good reason to be thankful, isn’t it?
It has been my experience that when our children or grandchildren are hurting, that those are usually the times when we are most eloquently able to communicate our love & concern to them. Because we can’t stand to watch them hurting, we scoop them up in our arms.
Or if they are too big for that, we try to communicate verbally our love for them. We want them to know that we hurt, too, because they do. And we try to do everything we can to take away the hurt. Those have been tender, precious moments.
And some of my greatest moments with God have been the times I have hurt the most, when I felt the most empty, when I’ve cried from the depths of my soul, to find that He was there, always faithful, always keeping His promise.
This morning, if you are here & you are going through the trials of life without the help of Jesus, then we want you to know that you don’t have to continue down that lonesome road any longer, that God sent His Son into the world, & the sacrifice is complete.
We offer you an opportunity for the forgiveness of your sins through the precious blood of Jesus. So that you can begin your list of blessings this Thursday, "I thank God that He has forgiven me of all my sin." That is a good place to start.
If that is not on your prayer list, then you can take care of that this morning by coming forward, by making your profession of faith, & by being faithful to the Lord in Christian baptism.
We offer His invitation & pray that you will come as we stand & as we sing.