Learning To Be Truly Thankful

Today’s Passages – Acts 23 – 25; (Click on the references to listen to the audio – click here to view the text from the Blue Letter Bible website)

(Second Milers also read – Psalms 111 – 115; Proverbs 23)

Listen to this morning’s Scripture song – Psalm 34:1 – 4

Read a previous post from this passage – “What Are You Waiting For?

In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Introduction

John Wesley was about 21 years of age when he went to Oxford University. He came from a Christian home, and he was gifted with a keen mind and good looks. Yet in those days he was a bit snobbish and sarcastic. One night, however, something happened that set in motion a change in Wesley’s heart. While speaking with a porter, he discovered that the poor fellow had only one coat and lived in such impoverished conditions that he didn’t even have a bed. Yet he was an unusually happy person, filled with gratitude to God. Wesley, being immature, thoughtlessly joked about the man’s misfortunes. “And what else do you thank God for?” he said with a touch of sarcasm.  The porter smiled, and in the spirit of meekness replied with joy, “I thank Him that He has given me my life and being, a heart to love Him, and above all a constant desire to serve Him!” Deeply moved, Wesley recognized that this man knew the meaning of true thankfulness.

Many years later, in 1791, John Wesley lay on his deathbed at the age of 88. Those who gathered around him realized how well he had learned the lesson of praising God in every circumstance. Despite Wesley’s extreme weakness, he began singing the hymn, “I’ll Praise My Maker While I’ve Breath.”

Thanksgiving is certainly a wonderful time of the year, when people are generally more appreciative than they are at other times in the year. But, why do we need to set aside a special day to be thankful. All people, saved or lost, have much to be thankful for, especially in America. Christians, particularly, should have nothing but gratitude in their hearts every hour of the day, and at every season of the year.

All of us struggle with ingatitude at times, but many Christians today have a difficult time seeing past the struggles and trials of daily living to a realization of the sovereign hand of the Lord actively working in their lives through each and every situation – whether “good” or “bad”.

In our text, the Apostle Paul encourages the believers at Thessalonica to be thankful for and in everything. This means that whatever situation they may face, they need to realize that they have much to be thankful for.

There is a similar passage found in Ephesians:

“Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;” (Ephesians 5:17-20)

We will give the context of this passage a closer examination in a minute, but, for now, just focus on v. 20:

“giving thanks always for all things”

Here again, we see that it is possible to live at a level of Christian growth where we can truly be thankful for everything that comes our way: good days, bad days; sunshine or rain; prosperity or poverty; through pleasures as well as through pain – being thankful for all things always.

The phrase “give thanks”, or something very similar to it, is found some 73 times in the Bible; thanksgiving 28 times, many times talking about the Old Testament sacrifice of thanksgiving; thankful is found 3 times; thank (singular) is found 27 times.

Clearly, we are expected to be a thankful people, but it would be far better to develop a truly thankful heart, then to just go through the motions of thanksgiving at certain seasons of the year.

As time goes on and as we draw closer to the return of the Lord Jesus, the world will become less and less appreciative:

“Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” (Romans 1:21)

But, this should not be the case for Christians. We need to recognize how truly blessed we are.

When we think about what we have in Christ, we often consider things like his provision for our every need and even many of our desires. God has given me salvation from Hell and a home in Heaven. He has given me a beautiful wife, wonderful children, and even more awesome grandchildren. I have a nice, cozy home to live in, a car to get me where I need to go, food to eat, and plenty of warm clothing.

God has also given His protection over us. I cannot be sure how many times that God has shielded me from harm, but I know that He has. He has been merciful to me at times when I deserved His judgment.

He has also given us purpose. God has a wonderful plan for each of our lives. He wants to use us to help fulfill His will for this world. Just think, the God of the Universe has handpicked me and specifically chosen you to do a particular task for Him.

All of these things are wonderful in themselves, and they are individually each a reason for us to rejoice, but I there is a fourth reason for us to be thankful, and this reason if fully grasped will help carry our attitude of thanksgiving beyond the good days into the days when the car breaks down, the doctor tells us bad news, or our loved ones hurt us by an unkind action.

I’m referring to God’s providence. God’s providence has to do with His sovereign control over all that goes on in His creation. Nothing happens in this universe without God’s permission, and God promises to us that everything that happens – “good or bad” – will ultimately be used of Him to advance His agenda.

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Even the bad things that God allows in our lives are for our good or for His glory. We just need to trust that He knows what He is doing.

That’s why Paul could be content in whatever situation that he was in:

“I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” (Philippians 4:12)

Paul knew that God was in control of his circumstances, and he knew that God was taking good care of him, and working through him to fulfill God’s Great Commission.

Let’s consider the passage we looked at earlier from Ephesians:

“Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;” (Ephesians 5:17-20)

Consider Three Ingredients from these verses that will produce true thanksgiving in our hearts:

God’s Sovereignty – Paul says that we should be wise enough and mature enough to understand the will of the Lord, which is often very good and pleasant for us; but, sometimes includes some pain and sorrow. But, if the pain and sorrow are part of God’s will then we can rejoice, knowing that it is ultimately going to bring about good.

God’s Spirit – Then he says that we are to be filled with the Spirit. Sometimes, people will escape from life by drinking wine or partaking in some other sinful activity, but a Spirit-filled Christian deal with life’s problems because we can see the Hand of God in every situation.

God’s Songs – Then He tells us to sing. Singing is an expression of praise to God, and is also a tool in our arsenal to combat negativity and depression. Godly songs will elevate our moods, and the truths contained in those songs will help us to look at things from the perspective of God and other brothers and sisters who have already experienced what we may be facing.

Finally, we get back to the place where we are truly thankful, again.


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