11-18-2012 message by Pastor Rich Doebler

In ALL Things? Why an attitude of gratitude is so valuable…

“Due to circumstances beyond our control…” Wouldn’t it be nice if we could always be in control — if we could control everything that happens in our lives? We know we can’t. Things happen.

Eventually we figure out that things happen which are beyond our control… We finally realize we cannot stop bad things from happening —

  • That rains can overflow rivers and lakes and fill up basements and tear apart roads and bridges in a mad rush downhill…
  • That hurricanes can blow in from the sea and move houses off their foundations and disrupt the infrastructure, leaving people without electricity or heat for weeks…
  • That one faulty furnace can explode with such power that a whole neighborhood is devastated…

When we realize we cannot stop bad things from happening, we may also realize we also have very little control over many of the good things that happen.

All through human history people have come to see this truth. Cultures all over the world acknowledge a deity — a higher power in control. Their crops and flocks, the wind and rain, even their very existence — all are beyond their control. So thanksgiving and harvest festivals are part of the human experience.

It’s a familiar theme throughout the Jewish history in the OT: We must recognize God as the One to whom we owe our existence and to whom we owe our gratitude.

In Psalms 136:1-3 we read: 1 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever. 2 Give thanks to the God of gods. His love endures forever. 3 Give thanks to the Lord of lords: His love endures forever.

The theme is echoed In the NT. Paul wrote: 16 …Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thess 5:16-18)

He also reminded the believers in Ephesus: 19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Eph 5:19-20)

Even when we face problems and struggle with worries, Paul tells us: 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil 4:6-7)

I’ve put a blank box on your sermon notes page: During the sermon if you find your mind wandering, thinking about something else, chances are it may be about something you can be grateful for. Perhaps it could be God whispering reminders to you about the blessings in your life. For instance…

  • God might bring certain individuals to your mind: a family member, or a coworker, or a teacher.
  • He might remind you of a life experience: getting to go to school or work or travel.
  • Maybe he will bring to mind a time when you were suffering and he comforted you or did something deep in your spirit to develop your character and strengthen you.
  • Maybe you’ll recall something small: somebody’s encouraging word, a uplifting phone call or text, a particularly delicious meal.
  • Maybe you’ll remember life-changing gift: God’s love, his Word, the gift of his Son, Jesus on the cross for the forgiveness of sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit, your church community.

Whatever it is, if God nudges you with something you’re grateful for, take out your pen and jot it down. Or if you like, send a text to me (218-260-2926) — just a few words or a short phrase — telling what you’re thankful for. By the end of the message I hope we can read a list of things we have to be thankful, and we can talk to God about it.

As we celebrate Thanksgiving this week, I hope we can go deeper than the turkey, cranberrries, pumpkin pies, and football. So I’d like us to grab hold of ___ things about giving thanks:

1. Gratitude comes from within, not from without.

Genuine gratitude comes from what is in your heart, not in your bank account…or in your home…or in your garage…or your storage shed. Gratitude must flow primarily from an inner attitude!

We should ask ourselves: Do I have an attitude of gratitude? Because without the right attitude, it doesn’t really much matter how many blessings we have, we just won’t appreciate them.

Gratitude does NOT typically come from acquiring more stuff. John Ortberg makes this point in a message he gave — from which I’ve borrowed several thoughts today.

Getting more stuff does not automatically make people more thankful. You’ve probably seen people with lots of stuff who don’t really appreciate the things they have. They’ve become so accustomed to it, that they take it for granted. They assume their lifestyle is the expected norm.

Getting more stuff, more wealth, and more power seldom produces more gratitude. In fact, the opposite often happens. The more a person acquires, the more he thinks he needs.

One study asked people: “How much more would you need to be happy and content?” And the average response — no matter where the person financially, no matter what economic level of society the person was at — the average response was, “I would need about 20% more.” This was pretty much the same for people living in poverty, for the “working poor,” for the middle-class, and even for the upper crust. It didn’t matter. The average response was 20%. Minimum wage earners on average wanted about 20% more. Those taking home six figures on average also wanted about 20% more.

More stuff is not the source of real gratitude. Neither are happy times. Good events are not the source of genuine gratitude. In fact, Paul said: 11 …I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (Phil 4:11-12)

The verses we read earlier make this very clear: we are to be grateful no matter what, in good times and in bad. “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you…” “Always giving thanks to God…for everything…”

I admit that this is not easy. We tend to see things from only one dimension. We tend to evaluate good things based on the physical, material perspective — not on the eternal. How do we shift our attitude?
If gratitude doesn’t come from more stuff or less trouble, how can we develop an attitude of gratitude?

We need a higher perspective. Gratitude comes when we see more clearly…when we get a better grasp on reality…when we realize — no matter what happens — we’re doing better than we deserve.

2. Gratitude comes by seeing a gift.

You may be grateful to your boss for giving you a job, but when you do the work, you’ve earned a paycheck. Your check is not a gift. It’s something you worked for. You can thank your boss for the opportunity to work, but you don’t thank him for giving you the pay you deserve.

When we can see something as a gift — something we didn’t earn, something we don’t deserve — gratitude will follow.

If we don’t see something as a gift, we won’t develop an attitude of gratitude. To be grateful, we have to receive a gift.

David said: “Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things…” (Ps 103:2-5)

But it’s not just the times we are rescued from the pit and satisfied with good things! Gifts take on many surprising forms, and sometimes they don’t really feel like gifts.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

2 …we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. Romans 5:2-4)

Don’t forget the benefits. Our lives are filled with benefits from God. We're blind to many of them because they don’t look or feel like gifts. But when we can see things from a different perspective, we can recognize them for what they are — and know they're good, even if they feel bad!

Joni Eareckson Tada writes about visiting Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris years ago. It was nearly 1,000 years old, standing there so huge — and black. She was amazed at how dirty it was. After 100s of years of soot, dust, and smoke, Notre Dame was covered in layers of black grime. You could hardly see the beautiful carvings and details on the exterior. But then it went through a year-long rehab. It was covered with scaffolding, and the entire exterior was sandblasted. Joni was stunned to see a photograph afterwards because it was so beautiful — and so different from how she remembered it. The ancient stones glowed bright and golden. You could see details on carvings that hadn’t been visible in decades. It was like an entirely different cathedral — all because of the sandblasting.

Sometimes the events and circumstances in our lives feel like sandblasting — blasted by pain, troubles, and hardships. And yet what feels bad can produce something good. Joni — who knows something about suffering — explains:

“There’s nothing like real hardships to strip off the veneer in which you and I so carefully cloak ourselves. Heartache and physical pain reach below the superficial, surface places of our lives, stripping away years of accumulated indifference and neglect. When pain and problems press up against a holy God, suffering can’t help but strip away years of dirt…sandblasted until we reach a place where we feel empty and helpless, [where] God can fill us up with himself.” [A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God’s Sovereignty (David Cook, 2010), pp 86-87]

3. Gratitude comes by seeing a Giver.

Real gratitude is less about the stuff, less about the gifts, less about good things blessing…and it’s more about the One who blesses, the One who gives the gifts. As God gives us gifts, we can become givers. The blessings flow through to others. We are blessed by a whole church of givers, who serve others in so many ways. Watch…

 

The more we become aware of God’s presence and God’s goodness, the more we will develop an attitude of gratitude. People who encounter the living God will have a higher view of God’s grace and power. Those who meet with God will become more aware of his action in their lives, more aware of his blessings and gifts.

Recognizing God as the Giver of blessings means we will acknowledge that our blessings are not the result of a coincidence; they are not accidental; they are not random events or blind chance. They are the result of a Creator who loves us and wants to bless us.

Seeing God as the Giver also requires humility. It means acknowledging our blessings are undeserved. It means admitting we’re not entitled to them; they’re unearned. They’re a gift given by a Giver.

Our sinful minds somehow feel naturally entitled — that we have certain rights. As a race of sinful people, we have fostered attitudes that are selfish, self-absorbed, and self-centered. If we don’t get what we want, it must be because someone else has messed up. So what do we do when someone messes up so we lose out or suffer injury? We sue them.

Crazy lawsuits have come when people think they are owed something. A few years back the San Francisco Giants gave out gifts on Father’s Day — but only to men. So somebody (I assume it was a woman) sued them: “Why should men be treated special on Father’s Day? I’m just as good as them. I deserve a gift too!”

Another lawsuit came when a guy — a psychology professor — went to a Christmas party where the hosts had hung some mistletoe. So he sued for sexual harrassment.

Here’s a good one: a psychic was awarded nearly $1 million ($986,000) when a doctor’s CAT scan “impaired” her psychic abilities. I guess it ruined her business. (But you have to wonder. If she was such a great psychic in the first place, wouldn’t she have seen that coming? Why get the CAT scan?)

But this is human nature. Selfish, self-absorbed sinners think they are entitled to certain things. But wherever you give in to this attitude of “entitlement,” you will get your eyes off the Giver of blessings. And you won’t develop an attitude of gratitude.

You can’t be thankful when you think you’re entitled. No one says, “Thank you” to someone they’ve just sued.
Ingratitude is not just a bad attitude. It’s sin. If you’re not thankful, you’re probably complaining or belly-aching about something. The Bible has a word for a lack of thankfulness: grumbling.

In the OT God brought the people out of Egyptian bondage, saved them from Pharaoh’s army, brought them miraculously through the Red Sea, and gave them manna in the wilderness, and what did they do? They grumbled. So Paul reminded the grumbling church people in the church at Corinth, “And do not grumble, as some of them did––and were killed by the destroying angel.” (1 Cor 10:10)

Paul says grumbling (or a lack of gratitude) is the hallmark of a self-centered life opposed to God. Speaking about such people he says, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile.” (Rom 1:21) They perceived themselves to be entitled, to be owed. They didn’t see themselves as grateful recipients of God’s grace.

So we need to see the Giver who is giving a gift. We must see that God gives blessings. James says: “Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.” (James 1:16-17)

God is good all the time; all the time God is good. He is a God who loves and who gives.

4. Gratitude comes by responding to the Giver.

Gratitude is expressed in a relationship. There must be a response — some reaction or interaction with the One who gives.

Gratitude is not a generic, sterile feeling that’s bottled up inside your heart, never to be released. Genuine gratitude involves a connection — a relationship that prompts the recipient to respond to the Giver. Something flows back to the Giver.

Gratitude is like perfume. You have to let it out of the bottle for it to be effective. Perfume wasn’t made to stay inside the bottle. The pharaohs and nobles of Egypt were buried with ornate flasks filled with expensive perfumes — but the perfume did no good bottled up inside the flasks. Years later when grave robbers broke into the tombs, the flasks of perfume were among the first things taken. thieves [Hawass 133: http://www.realscience.breckschool.org/upper/fruen/files/Enrichmentarticles/files/AncientPerfume/AncientPerfume.html]

When one woman came to express her love and appreciation to Jesus (Mark 14:3), she broke open the seal on an alabaster jar containing “nard,” an exotic, aromatic oil extracted from a plant in India. The nard did no good locked up inside, so the alabaster jar needed to be broken open. It was a sacrifice, worth 300 denarii — some say that was nearly an entire year’s wages for a common laborer.

Real gratitude means we will be broken before God — humbling ourselves before him and admitting that we are not in control…acknowledging that we’ve received blessings we could not earn and do not deserve.

When we begin to see things from God’s perspective, we won’t measure blessings by how much we accumulate or how convenient and comfortable our lives. Instead we will see God working in all circumstances. We will be grateful in everything.

In ALL Things