Why Give Thanks?
Grandma had sent cards, gifts and even money to her grandchildren for years. One day she lamented that it was too bad that some of them never acknowledged her expressions of love. They took it for granted that this is what grandma’s do and never acknowledged her kindness. Gratitude was rightfully expected, but not received.
Recently we had missionary friends for supper and about a week later, we received a very nice thank-you card after the visit which expressed their thanks for our hospitality. Even though the hospitality we had extended was a small thing which we did gladly without expecting a response, it felt good to have a kindness acknowledged.
As we have begun our service today, we have stated that we have come here today to say thank-you. We understand that it is right to do so as a matter of common courtesy. It is also right to do so in obedience to the commands of Scripture. Psalm 100:4 says, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise…” and I Thessalonians 5:18 says, “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
This morning, I would like to think a little more deeply with you about why we ought to give thanks. What are some other reasons to give thanks?
I. Thanksgiving Reminds Us of our Dependence
I have some questions for all of us.
1.How many of you grow food? Some of you grow a lot of food because you are farmers and some of you have small gardens and grow a little food. But think for a moment, do any of us really grow food? We plant the seed and we may water and weed, but we don't really grow food. The reality is that we are totally dependent on God. Our efforts may help the process, but if God didn't put into the seed the power to grow into a plant and if he didn't provide sunshine and rain, nothing would grow. We are totally dependent on God. Psalm 107:8, 9 says, "Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things."
2.How many of us have had our sins forgiven and been given eternal life? How many of us have provided that for ourselves? We are very good at sinning. The circumstances of life make moral failure almost impossible to avoid. The influences of media and peer pressure corrupt our ability to make good moral choices. On top of that we must realize God's assessment of every human being in Jeremiah 17:9 and that is that the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. We need help and God, in his grace, has provided it in the death of Jesus on the cross to give us forgiveness, renewal and eternal life. Without him we are hopelessly lost. In Colossians 1:12-14, Paul prays recognizing God's gracious gift and giving thanks for it. He says, "giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins."
3.How many of us are always able to get ourselves out of the troubles which life brings? For me, one of the most powerful lessons of the recent terrorist attacks is that we are very vulnerable. We have lived under the illusion that we are safe in North America, but the reality is that we are not. The only security we have is that we are in God’s hands. In Psalm 28, the Psalmist talks about a situation of trouble and then in verse 7 he says, "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."
B. Thanksgiving recognizes the source
Thanksgiving presupposes three things. First of all that the blessings which we enjoy were given to us so that we cannot give ourselves credit for them. Secondly, we are totally unworthy of these blessings and thirdly, that they are great and of many different kinds.
God has given us everything we need for life and without what He has given us, we would not survive one moment much less for all eternity. Why give thanks? In giving thanks, we recognize our utter dependence on God. Psalm 139 has a lot to say about such dependence. We read, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.”
Someone has advised, "trace a connection between your God and your blessing. Recognize his hearing ear as well as his bounteous hand."
II. Thanksgiving Encourages Us
But there are more reasons to give thanks. Occasionally I get discouraged. Often when that happens, I begin to feel sorry for myself and sometimes even revel in self pity. But, after a while, I decide to think about all the things I have to be thankful for and it is amazing how quickly I begin to have a totally different outlook on things. Thanksgiving becomes a means of changing discouragement into encouragement.
The Bible teaches that this is what happens. In Philippians 4:6,7 we read, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
In this verse, we notice that when we are anxious, there are two parts to the remedy which, when we do them, bring peace. One part is prayer and closely related is thanksgiving. How does this work? When we give thanks, we take the focus off ourselves and put it on God who has provided so much in the past. We recognize the good gifts we have already received and remember that God has provided, that He is love, that He is able and that He has already done much for us. When we do that, we short circuit the devil's lies that are the cause of our discouragement.
One writer said, "in thanksgiving, worries tend to disappear, complaints vanish, courage to face the future is increased, virtuous resolutions are formed, peace is experienced and God is glorified."
Now we have to recognize that thanksgiving does not always work like a switch to turn off discouragement or difficult times immediately. In Psalm 42:4 the Psalmist expresses longing for God and despair over some great difficulties. He does not come quickly to resolution, but through thanksgiving, he does come to the place where he is able to say, "I will yet praise Him..."
In his book Living Life on Purpose, Greg Anderson shares the story of one man's journey to joy:
“... his wife had left him and he was completely depressed. He had lost faith in himself, in other people, in God--he found no joy in living.
“One rainy morning this man went to a small neighborhood restaurant for breakfast. Although several people were at the diner, no one was speaking to anyone else. Our miserable friend hunched over the counter, stirring his coffee with a spoon.
In one of the small booths along the window was a young mother with a little girl. They had just been served their food when the little girl broke the sad silence by almost shouting, "Momma, why don't we say our prayers here?"
The waitress who had just served their breakfast turned around and said, "Sure, honey, we pray here. Will you say the prayer for us?" And she turned and looked at the rest of the people in the restaurant and said, "Bow your heads."
Surprisingly, one by one, the heads went down. The little girl then bowed her head, folded her hands, and said, "God is great, God is good, and we thank him for our food. Amen."
That prayer changed the entire atmosphere. People began to talk with one another. The waitress said, "We should do that every morning."
"All of a sudden," said our friend, "my whole frame of mind started to improve. From that little girl's example, I started to thank God for all that I did have and stop majoring in all that I didn't have. I started to choose happiness."
III. Thanksgiving Helps Prevent Sin
There are so many products on the market that help us prevent any number of problems. Toothpaste helps prevent cavities, all kinds of products help prevent odors, another prevents mildew and the list goes on. These are all good things, but there is no product out there that helps us prevent the greatest problem we have and that is sin. Or is there?
Look at Ephesians 5:3,4. In this text, we have a discussion of what it means to be a follower of Christ. The passage includes a list of actions to avoid. Listen to what the text says, "But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving."
I believe thanksgiving is more than just the opposite of impure actions and words, it is the antidote. In the boreal forest, the climate, type of soil and amount of moisture is conducive to growing spruce trees. You don't see any cactus plants because climate, soil type and moisture are not right. When our minds are filled with ourselves and our desires, the soil is right for sin to grow. But when we are thankful and recognize God's goodness in our lives, the condition is very poor for sin to grow.
In I Timothy 4:1-5, Paul discusses the problem of legalism in the church in which Timothy was a pastor. He mentions some people who continued to rely on their own ability rather than God's grace. Paul says, "They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving…" Here, we see that the sin of legalism is overcome with a thankful heart which recognizes and accepts the goodness of God.
John Henry Jowett, a British preacher of an earlier generation, said: "Gratitude is a vaccine, an antitoxin, and an antiseptic." What did he mean? He meant that gratitude, like a vaccine, can prevent the invasion of a disgruntled, discouraged spirit. Like an antitoxin, gratitude can prevent the effects of the poisons of cynicism, criticalness, and grumbling. Like an antiseptic, a spirit of gratitude can soothe and heal the most troubled spirit.
-- John Yates, "An Attitude of Gratitude," Preaching Today, Tape No. 110.
Joel Gregory tells the story about one Thanksgiving season when a family was seated around their table, looking at the annual holiday bird. From the oldest to the youngest, they were to express their praise. When they came to the 5-year-old in the family, he began by looking at the turkey and expressing his thanks to the turkey, saying although he had not tasted it he knew it would be good. After that rather novel expression of thanksgiving, he began with a more predictable line of credits, thanking his mother for cooking the turkey and his father for buying the turkey. But then he went beyond that. He joined together a whole hidden multitude of benefactors, linking them with cause and effect.
He said, "I thank you for the checker at the grocery store who checked out the turkey. I thank you for the grocery store people who put it on the shelf. I thank you for the farmer who made it fat. I thank you for the man who made the feed. I thank you for those who brought the turkey to the store."
Using his Columbo-like little mind, he traced the turkey all the way from its origin to his plate. And then at the end he solemnly said "Did I leave anybody out?"
His 2-year-older brother, embarrassed by all those proceedings, said, "God."
Solemnly and without being flustered at all, the 5-year-old said, "I was about to get to him."
Well, isn't that the question about which we ought to think at Thanksgiving time? Are we really going to get to him this Thanksgiving?
In Colossians 3:17 we learn that thanksgiving is an important part of the life of a disciple of Jesus. Paul says, "...whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." Why is it an important part of the disciple life? It is important because when we give thanks, we acknowledge that we are dependent on God and have life from Him. It is important because when we are discouraged, thanksgiving draws our focus from ourselves and encourages us with God's goodness. It is also important because thanksgiving creates very poor conditions for allowing sin to grow.
So this morning, we want to give thanks. Of course, I hope that as we realize the importance of thanksgiving, we will not only give thanks today, but also as a regular part of our lifestyle.