THE PLEASURE OF THANKSGIVING
By Pastor Glenn Pease
The legend is told of the servant whose master left him a bag of blessings when he died. The bag will always be full said the master if you remember the four magic words. The servant went off so delighted as he partook of the blessings of the bag. But finally he came to the point where the bag was nearly empty. He had taken his blessings for granted so long he had forgotten the words that would refill it. He anxiously sought for advice. One said, "maybe the magic words are I wish I had." So he started shouting, " I wish I had, I wish I had as much as all my neighbors have of health and wealth and such." But his bag had no more blessings than before. So he sought for other advice. "Perhaps" said another, "the magic words are give me some more." So he tried, "Give me some more, give me some more, Oh, fill my bag of blessings up as full as it was before." But the bag remained empty.
He was sad as he sat by the road eating his last piece of bread. A poor waif of a child came up to him and begged for a part of his bread. He forgot his own need and gave the lad his bread. The boy said, "I thank Thee." "That's it" the servant shouted as he leaped to his feet. Those are the magic words. "I thank Thee Lord." And so he recited, "I thank Thee Lord, I thank Thee Lord once more, for all the blessings in my bag, O Lord how great a store." When he looked down the bag was full once more.
This legend is based on a Biblical principle which says, a grateful heart is the key to receiving things for which to be grateful. I thank Thee Lord are indeed four magic words that filled the bag of life with more and more of God's blessings. David knew this, and that is why the praises of God were so perpetually flowing from his pen. His Psalms are-
packed with praises,
loaded with lauding,
thick with thanksgiving,
bursting with blessing,
exploding with exaltation.
The fact that God includes so many of David's Psalms of praise and thanksgiving in His Word tells us that God loves to be thanked and appreciated, just as much as we do, and probably even more, for He always has good reason to deserve it. Ingratitude wounds his heart as it does ours when our love is taken for granted. Every good and perfect gift comes down with love from the Father above, and, therefore, there should be a thanksgiving flow ever rising from below. David helps us keep the flow going by means of his Psalms. Psa. 145 is the last one ascribed to David. It is his crown jewel of praise. The ancient Hebrews declared it one of the keys to happiness to read this song of thanksgiving three times a day. Catching the spirit of this song is guaranteed to keep your bag of blessings full. Let's look at the four pleasures that David deals with in this great hymn of praise.
I. THE ETERNAL PLEASURE OF THANKSGIVING. v. 1
David emphasizes that he will praise God forever and ever. In verse 13 he acknowledges that God's Kingdom is everlasting. Praises of the king will last as long as the king, which means, thanksgiving is forever. Not all values of this life are eternal. Faith will become sight, hope will become reality, but love will go on for eternity, and with it will go the grateful heart.
There is much we develop in this life that will not survive death, and much that will burn up in judgment, as wood hay and stubble. But one thing that will never die is the grateful heart. We talk about living with eternity values in view. Here is one way to do it: Develop a heart filled with thanksgiving, for that part of you will live forever. We go to Rev. 7:12 and we hear this song before the throne of God- "Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God forever and ever." Songs by the thousands come and go, but songs of praise and thanksgiving will always be number one on God's hit parade. When you are into thanksgiving, you are investing in a value that will never lose its worth. Gold and jewels may lose their value when the streets and walls of the heavenly city are made of them, but thanksgiving will always be precious.
We are never finished with thanksgiving. The day of Thanksgiving comes and goes, like all others, but the grateful heart is to be a perpetual part of our every day life. All other holidays involve thanksgiving. On Christmas we thank God for His greatest gift-His Son. On Easter we thank God for raising His Son, and thereby opening the door to eternal life for all who trust in Him. On every patriotic holiday we thank God for His providential guidance in our nation that has led to all our freedoms and blessings. Everything that is a celebration calls for thanksgiving. Other values are seasonal, but thanksgiving is perpetual, and is to characterize the Christian life for time and eternity.
The healthy heart is a thankful heart. When you begin to take God's grace for granted, and cease to thank Him for His mercy, you are developing a sickness of the soul. You are losing the eternal perspective, and letting the negative of time blind you to that which is yours as a child of God. I have read of a number of soldiers whose lives were saved by another soldier, and they remember this event with an annual gift of thanksgiving. How much more ought we to give thanks to our Savior who saved us not just for time, but for eternity.
Heartfelt praise and adoration,
Savior, thus to Thee we give;
For thy life's humiliation,
For thy death, whereby we live.
All the grief thou wert enduring,
All the bliss thou wert securing:
Evermore the theme shall be
Of thanksgiving, Lord, to Thee. Author unknown
We only taste now of the glory that Christ prepares for us in eternity, but even the taste is worthy of praise that never ceases. We can never over do it, and thank God to much for his grace. Johnston G. Patrick wrote, "To say thank you to God is good; to know that we shall never be able to thank Him enough is better." "Though our mouths were full of song as the sea," runs a memorable passage in the Hebrew Morning Service, "and our tongues of exaltation as the multitude of its waves, and our lips of praise as the wide-extended firmament; though our eyes shown with light like the sun and the moon, and our hands were spread forth like the eagles of heaven, and our feet were swift as hinds, we should still be unable to thank Thee and to bless Thy name, O Lord our God and God of fathers, for one thousandth or one ten-thousandth part of the bounties which Thou hast bestowed upon our fathers and upon us." If Jews can say that, how much more is it true for those of us who have God's best in Christ?
Chesterton was right when he said, "It is the highest and holiest of the paradoxes that the man who really knows he cannot pay his debt will be forever paying it." For ever and ever the redeemed will be offering up to God the sacrifice of praise, for thanksgiving is eternal. Secondly we see-
II. THE EVERYDAY PLEASURE OF THANKSGIVING v.2
This sounds like quite a let down from the eternal, but it is not, it is a direct result of the eternal. If God has given us that which lasts forever, and for which we will praise Him forever, we should also be grateful for the lesser gifts that make this earthly life a more pleasant journey. The everyday and the eternal are linked in this verse, and they are linked in life because the God we thank is both eternal and everyday.
During the London Blitz the children were all sent into the country to ensure that there would be a future generation. One little girl ended her bedtime prayer with this plea: "And please dear God, take good care of yourself, for if anything happens to you, we are sunk." That was her way of saying what the Bible says, "In Him we live and move and have our being." It is true, without God we are sunk, and therefore, thanksgiving is for everyday as well as forever. Thank God for God Himself, and do it daily, and not just for daily bread.
Everyday is full of wonders to those atuned to the working of God, but most of us live often on the level of the mundane, and everyday is full of the commonplace and routine. Happy is that person who can thank God daily for the common blessings of life. There are so many that we can't even think of them. Let me share a few that someone with a sense of humor put together. These may stimulate your mind to an awareness of just how innumerable our blessings are.
"1. Arn't you thankful that grass doesn't grow up though the snow making winter mowing as well as shoveling a responsibility.
2. Arn't you thankful that teenagers will eventually have children who become teenagers.
3. Arn't you thankful that the space for messages on T-shirts and bumpers is limited.
4. Arn't you thankful that women whose husbands take them for granted don't all scream at the same time.
5. Arn't you thankful that hugs and kisses don't cause cancer, or even add weight.
6. Arn't you thankful that stereos, radios, and TV's can be turned off.
7. Last but not least, arn't you thankful that you are not a turkey."
The last one may be debatable for some, but these few examples published in Christianity Today reveal that a list could be endless of all we have to be grateful for in everyday life.
David did not live a sheltered life. He had enormous family problems, and colossal government messes, but he never lost sight of the joy of everyday living.
He could say amen to the modern poet Ralph Cushman who wrote,
Thank God I'm alive!
That the skies are blue,
That a new day dawns
For me and for you.
The sunlight glistens
On field and on tree,
And the house wren sings
To his mate and to me.
The whole world glows
With a heavenly glee!
I know there are heart-aches,
A world full of strife,
But thank God, O thank God
Thank God just for life.
Do we need to be rescued from a burning building, or from a watery grave to be thankful? Do we need the spectacular to cause us to look up and praise God, or can we see enough in every ordinary day to motivate us to thanksgiving? Someone said, "He who is rarely clean is not a clean man, and he who is rarely thankful is not a thankful man." The ideal is to be, like David, and be thankful everyday.
Helmet Thielicke, the great German preacher and scholar, wrote about his experience in Germany during World War II. "Previously, when I came into my study where all my books are gathered I use to think, all of this is my scholarship and my wisdom, it all belongs to me....But when the bombs came and all around us the houses collapsed I began to think differently: You can't take it so for granted that all this belongs to you. It can all be taken away from you, it has only been given and entrusted to you. So I found myself giving thanks for everyday I could still have my treasures." May God help us to be thankful for the everyday things that we could lose any day. Thirdly, look at-
III. THE EVOLVING PLEASURE OF THANKSGIVING. v. 4
The thankful heart looks ahead to eternity, and it looks around at everyday, but it would not be complete if it did not look back to the past, and to the heritage that has evolved from generation to generation. David says one generation passes on to another the marvelous and mighty works of God. This becomes a well from which we can draw the water of endless praise.
All that we call blessings did not begin with us. These blessings have a history, and thank God, that history is passed on to us so we can praise God for His wonderful deeds of the past that have made the present so full of the pleasant. As Americans we have a heritage that surpasses most who have ever lived. The first Presidential Proclamation of thanksgiving was by President Washington in 1789, in honor of the new constitution. Thanksgiving for Americans has ever since been partially patriotic. Christians have recognized the hand of God in the history of our land from the beginning.
Christians were leaders in the founding and forming of our nation. Several of the original thirteen colonies were founded by great Christian men. Roger Williams, the Baptist, founded Rhode Island for religious freedom. William Penn, the Quaker, founded Pennsylvania as a kingdom where Christian principles would reign. Peter Marshall and David Manuel have written the book, The Light And The Glory. In it they show the constant providence of God in the history of America. It is fascinating, and becomes a basis for perpetual thanksgiving.
It is of interest to note that David in this Psalm, in verse 15, refers to God as the giver of food. Food on thanksgiving has been linked closely in the history of America. The Pilgrims went through some terrible times, but when they got the help of the Indians they were able to raise good crops, and Gov. Bradford declared a day of thanksgiving. The Indian, Massosoit, was invited, but he brought 90 other with him. The Pilgrims were in despair fearing they could not feed such a crowd, and still have a supply to get them through the winter. But fortunately, they did not come empty handed. They brought five dressed deer, and over a dozen fat wild turkeys. They showed the Pilgrims how to roast corn kernels until they popped, and so they had popcorn for their thanksgiving.
In turn, the Pilgrims introduced the Indians to blueberry, apple, and cherry pie. From this beginning food and thanksgiving have gone hand in hand, for good and abundant food is the most concrete evidence of the blessing of God on a nation.
The Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony were down to their last hand full of meal in the barrel, and Governor Winthrop called for a day of fasting, but that day became a day of feasting, for the ship Lyon arrived from England with a cargo of wheat, meal, peas, oatmeal, beef, pork, cheese, butter, and casks of lemon juice. This deliverance was seen as the providence of God, and the fast day was changed to a thanksgiving, for God had chosen to save the colony.
On and on the stories go of how God came to the rescue and blest the progress of our nation. The result is a heritage of thanksgiving that has evolved from generation to generation. It is no accident that thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. Christmas and Easter and New Year and other holidays are universal, but thanksgiving is American, for few nations in history, outside of Israel, have a heritage so full of the providence of God. The average man in America lives on a higher level than the king did in David's day. Thank God for the heritage that has evolved from generation to generation. Fourth we look at-
IV. THE ESCAPE PLEASURE OF THANKSGIVING. v. 17, 20.
David stresses that God hears the cry of those who fear Him, and He saves them. He watches over those who love Him. This is a great part of our heritage, and also a part of our contemporary experience. Because of God's providence in our nation, and in our lives, we have escaped so much that we might have suffered. We are saved from so much of the hell of time as well as the hell of eternity. We have been spared the unstable governments of so much of the world where they never know from month to month who is running the country. We are spared from the oppression of governments where the people are slaves to tyrants.
We miss so much of life's evil and tragedy due to famine and plague. We have the blessing of wisdom and knowledge in the realm of medicine. All of this is the direct result of God's providence. Some historians say North America was settled by men seeking God, and South America was settle by men seeking gold. You can see by the nature of the governments, and the prosperity of the people, which goal was the wisest. Thank God we live in a culture where men have always thanked God. There is nothing we have done to deserve the blessings of being born in our culture. It is all of grace, and the things we avoid because of it, are as endless as the things we enjoy.
Thomas Higginson wrote,
And easy thing, O Power Divine,
To thank Thee for these gifts of Thine,
For summer's sunshine, winter's snow,
For hearts that kindle, thoughts that glow.
But when shall I attain to this--
To thank Thee for the things I miss?
Start looking at the world, and all its suffering, and compare your battles, and you will realize that even if you have it rough, you are ranked among the blessed. We don't miss at all, of course, for sin and its consequences touch everyone. Not even God can escape that. He suffers also because of a world that gropes in darkness and will not grasp the light. But he is grateful for those who do respond to His grace and escape so much unnecessary suffering. Thank God we have escaped a thousand flaming arrows of the evil one. Thank God that we can know Christ as our Lord and Savior. It is knowing Him, and becoming a part of the family of God by trusting Him that makes thanksgiving an everlasting, everyday, evolving, and escaping experience.