A Heart of Thanksgiving
Last week, we started talking a bit about gratitude, because November is gratitude month. One question I had afterward was, “Why do we have to be so specific? Can’t I just look at creation itself in awe and be grateful for all of it?” It is absolutely true that you can do that, the exercise is to help us remember just how much there is that we take for granted and build our awareness of our blessings. What happens if we have a top three and lose two, like health, happiness, and a relationship. We get sick, that person dies or leaves, and now we lost our happiness too. What is there left to live for? Or if we just leave it at our relationship with God or Jesus, what happens when we go through one of those dry spells where he feels really distant? People talk about going through a wilderness experience and how it feels God is far away… They’ll fall back on God was always with Israel in the wilderness and so he is with us, but forget that Israel was in the wilderness because of their disobedience and didn’t enter the promised land until that entire generation, including Moses himself was dead. I have learned it’s better to obey the first time around than go into the wilderness because of my disobedience.
One of the things we are commanded and told over and over is to be thankful. If you simply search “thankful” on bible.com around 130 related verses pop up. Old and New Testament alike…
Paul tells the Thessalonians
‘Always rejoice, constantly pray, in everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not extinguish the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt. But examine all things; hold fast to what is good. Stay away from every form of evil.’ 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22
Rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks are all commanded and closely related. They are God’s will. As a result of these things, rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks; along with examining all things, doing good, and staying away from evil; we can avoid extinguishing the Spirit. If we extinguish the Spirit, we are putting a damper on his power in our lives, limiting the fruit he can produce, and being directly disobedient toward God.
Remember, we have said our obedience is a result of our first having a relationship. Paul says,
‘ Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a heart of mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if someone happens to have a complaint against anyone else. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also forgive others. And to all these virtues add love, which is the perfect bond. Let the peace of Christ be in control in your heart (for you were in fact called as one body to this peace), and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and exhorting one another with all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, all with grace in your hearts to God. And whatever you do in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. ‘ Colossians 3:12-17
We don’t obey out of fear, we obey out of love and gratitude. It starts with agreeing with God about the state of our heart, our selfish and prideful desires, and agreeing with him that how he is teaching us to live is better than any way we can devise on our own. But we need to receive his gift.
If I am given a gift, like this one, but because I don’t like who gave it to me, or the way it’s wrapped, or think there are strings attached, or whatever; and I throw it down and smash it; I have lost out on whatever that gift may have been and will never know how good it actually was.
On the other hand, if I receive a gift, and open it, but then set it over here on the piano, or on a shelf at home, or stick it in storage, or even give it away to someone else; I may have received the gift, but then it is of no benefit to me whatsoever and I wouldn’t really be very grateful for it.
However, if I open the gift and receive what it has for me. The cross of forgiveness and salvation for those who believe, the anointing of the indwelling Holy Spirit to empower my life, and the truth of the Word of God teaching me to live and glorify God by loving God, loving people, and using its truth to help developing disciples. I will perhaps express my gratitude for such a precious gift in a very different way.
Paul tells the Romans,
‘For the payoff of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ Romans 6:23
This idea of payoff or you may have heard it “wages of sin” is death, is the idea of equal compensation for the work we do. In our flesh and apart from the Spirit of God, the just compensation given to us for our selfish, prideful, indulgent desires is death. Not just physical death, but also spiritual separation from God for eternity. But the gift of God, that which we could never earn or work for is eternal life, the same eternal life that Jesus died to give us, the same eternal life that Jesus defined in John 17:3 as knowing the one true God and Jesus, whom he sent. What do we then do with that gift? Are we grateful for it? How do we express that gratitude?
Paul gives the Galatians these instructions,
‘Now the one who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with the one who teaches it. Do not be deceived. God will not be made a fool. For a person will reap what he sows, because the person who sows to his own flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So we must not grow weary in doing good, for in due time we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who belong to the family of faith.’
The ways in which we show our gratitude over and over again are demonstrated in our obedience to God’s word. Just like the Israelites when they received the commandments of the Law. We too have been given instructions on how to live and through the power of the Spirit we do those things and turn away from or repent of the works of the flesh. We like to sum up God’s commands to the church as Love God, Love our neighbor, and love one another. And it is absolutely true that the entire Law and Prophets are summed up in those commands, but that doesn’t mean the New Testament writers like Paul listed all the other sins and works of the flesh for no reason…! Paul says to the Romans,
‘What shall we say then? Are we to remain in sin so that grace may increase? Absolutely not! How can we who died to sin still live in it? ‘ Romans 6:1-2
He also tells the Galatians,
‘I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are following a different gospel – not that there really is another gospel, but there are some who are disturbing you and wanting to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we (or an angel from heaven) should preach a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be condemned to hell! As we have said before, and now I say again, if any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let him be condemned to hell! Am I now trying to gain the approval of people, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ! ‘ Galatians 1:6-10
There are those who have always tried to add to or take away from the Word of God. Every cult in the history of the Christian church has tried to add revelation to the canon of scripture and led people away from the truth. Or individuals and entire denominations disregard or deny the inspiration and authority of the Word of God or insert their BUT into what the Bible says. We see that every day in hundreds and thousands of denominations and divisions within the Body of Christ, when what Christ prayed for in John 17 was unity.
Jesus told his disciples the evening he was betrayed,
‘“If you love me, you will obey my commandments. Then I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot accept, because it does not see him or know him. But you know him, because he resides with you and will be in you.’ John 14:15-17
Jesus continues to instruct his disciples regarding Holy Spirit’s work in their lives saying,
‘“I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. For he will not speak on his own authority, but will speak whatever he hears, and will tell you what is to come. He will glorify me, because he will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you. Everything that the Father has is mine; that is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you. ‘ John 16:12-15
The same Spirit that came to comfort us, the same Spirit that is indwelling us, the same Spirit that is teaching us, is the same Spirit that carried along every prophet and writer of scripture, the same Spirit of God that was breathed into his Word for our benefit. To say those things that are expressly written for our instruction and reproof, for our training in righteousness don’t apply to us in the 21st century is the same false pride that had Eve deceived by the serpent in the Garden when he asked, “Did God really say…?”
God did say, and the natural response in gratitude and thankfulness for everything he has done for us, for the precious gift he has given us is found in Romans 12:1-2
‘Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice – alive, holy, and pleasing to God – which is your reasonable service. Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God – what is good and well-pleasing and perfect.’ Romans 12:1-2