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Giving God Our Thanks

Helen Hayes, though she was a great actress, was not a great cook. So on Thanksgiving Day her family would traditionally go out for dinner. Finally, after many years, her family decided that they would give Thanksgiving dinner at home a try.

The day having arrived, Helen told her husband and son, “Now, I’ve cooked a turkey for the first time and I’m going to bring it to the table. If it’s not good, I don’t want anyone to say a word. We’ll just quietly get up from the table, and without any negative comments, we’ll just go to a restaurant and have a Thanksgiving meal there.”

So Helen went into the kitchen to get the turkey. When she came back out to the dining room, her husband and her son were both sitting at the table with their hats and coats on.

Giving thanks isn’t always easy, even on Thanksgiving Day. Perhaps that is why the Apostle Paul, writing to the church in Thessalonica, penned these words of encouragement: “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

What does Paul tell the Thessalonians to do in this verse? He tells them to “give thanks”. The word in Greek is εὐχαριστεῖτε. From this we get our English word, Eucharist, which is another name for Holy Communion. Communion is a Thanksgiving Meal.

I love what the African American preacher, Richard Allen Farmer, says about Psalm 100, which we read this morning:

Let me tell you what this means in Hebrew: it means “Worship the Lord with gladness.” Let me tell you what it means in some of the other ancient languages: it means “Worship the Lord with gladness.” Let me tell you what it means in some of the other versions: “Worship the Lord with gladness.” It doesn’t take any real skill to figure out what this verse means. This verse means, “Worship the Lord with gladness!”
You don’t need to dissect it. You don’t need to do a Hebrew word study. It means just what it says in English. It means that worship ought to have a certain joy to it, that it ought not to be drudgery. We ought not to have to drag ourselves up into the face of God.
Sometimes people think you look more holy if you look like it’s painful. “Oh, hallelujah. Oh, praise Jesus. Oh, hallelujah. Oh, thank you, Jesus.” You look like you’re in pain. That is not what it means to worship the Lord: “The uglier I can get the more God will be pleased.” 
When we come to worship, there ought to be a certain bounce to our step. It ought not to be something we have to put on. It ought to be that which graces our lives. His joy ought to be ours. We are to worship the Lord out of the overflow of a life that has in it his person. When God is our center, we cannot help but spill over with the radiance that is his to know and that is ours to know because we are his.

I love that! The same could be said about this verse in 1 Thessalonians. It means just what it says: give thanks!

But to whom are we to give thanks? Paul does not spell out the answer, but the answer is implied in the verse; we are to give thanks to God.

Is it not amazing how we have a hard time giving thanks to God? We can thank everybody else, but giving thanks to God does not come easy.

One Thanksgiving Day a family was seated around their table, looking at the annual holiday turkey. From the oldest to the youngest, they were to express their praise. When they came to the next-to-the-youngest in the family, he began by looking at the turkey and expressing his thanks to the turkey, saying although he had not tasted it yet, 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 by cause and effect.

He said, “I thank the checker at the grocery store who checked out the turkey. I thank the grocery store people who put it on the shelf. I thank the farmer who made it fat. I thank the man who made the feed. I thank those who brought the turkey to the store.”

Using his detective-like little mind, the boy 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?”

The boy’s younger brother, embarrassed by all the proceedings said, “You left out God.”

Without being flustered at all, the older brother said, “I was about to get to him.”

We are often like that little boy, aren’t we? We find it easier to thank everybody else, than to thank God.

So many people want to express thanks on Thanksgiving Day, but they don’t really know who to thank for all of their blessings. We see movie stars interviewed on television. We see talk show hosts talking about Thanksgiving. Yet they don’t even mention God, or seem to realize that he is the one who ultimately deserves all of our praise and thanksgiving.

To whom were these words addressed in 1 Thessalonians? The Apostle Paul wrote these words to a church in northern Greece that had experienced persecution and suffering. Paul’s purpose in writing the letter was to encourage them. Now, if Paul could write these words to persecuted Christians, do you think, perhaps, these words might apply to us as well? Paul says this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

What many believe was the first Thanksgiving Day on American soil occurred in 1621, when the Pilgrims at Plymouth Plantation celebrated a successful harvest with a three-day gathering that was attended by members of a Native American tribe. In the fall of that year there were still lingering memories of the terrible winter the Pilgrims had just been through a few months before, in which countless babies, children, young people and adults had starved to death. It has been said that, “The Pilgrims made seven times more graves than huts. No Americans have been more impoverished than those—who, nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving.” (H. W. Westermeyer)

Let me offer another example that deserves to be burned in our memories….

  • There once lived a man whose family, during his childhood, was forced to move more than once due to land disputes.
  • While still a child, he went to work to support his family.
  • When he was 9, his mother died.
  • When he was 19, his sister died.
  • At age 23 he became part-owner of a general store. Business was booming in the area, but the general store struggled, so eventually he sold his share.
  • He wanted to go to law school, but he didn’t have the necessary prior education, so he taught himself, and was eventually admitted to the bar.
  • When he was 28, after courting a girl for four years, he asked her to marry him…and she turned him down. He later married another woman.
  • He became the father of four children, but only three lived into adulthood.
  • He decided to go into politics. He failed to be elected on his first run for state assembly, but was successful on his second try.
  • The same thing happened when he ran for US Congress. He lost the first time, but won the second. He only served one term.
  • At the age of 49, he ran for the U.S. Senate and lost.
  • But at age 51 he was elected President of the United States.

That man was Abraham Lincoln. He learned to face discouragement and move beyond it. As you probably know, it was Abraham Lincoln who, in the midst of the War Between the States, in 1863, established the annual celebration of Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November. Lincoln had learned how important it is to stop and thank God in the midst of great difficulty.

If the Pilgrims could give thanks, if Abraham Lincoln could give thanks, then we too can give thanks. The Lord addresses each one of us in this verse from 1 Thessalonians. You give thanks in all circumstances.

When and where should we give thanks to the Lord? The Lord invites us to “give thanks in all circumstances.”

G. K. Chesterton once wrote, “You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing, and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”

What a wonderful way to approach life, with an attitude of gratitude in every situation!

John Yates tells the following story….

I was on the football field at our local high school the other day, where my son was running cross country. As I watched these boys and girls, I was preoccupied with recent problems. I also remembered my cross-country days twenty-five years ago and naturally breathed a prayer of thanksgiving. The prayer was something like: “Lord, thank you so much that I’m not running cross country anymore.”

Then I sort of loosened up a bit and looked around me. The sky was blue; the leaves were yellow; the air was crisp. I began to enjoy the beautiful day. I forgot my problems and quietly thanked God for the beauty of the world around me. My spirit lifted as I began to appreciate the goodness of God, right there in the middle of the football field.”

We can give thanks to God in all sorts of places. And would it not improve our mental, emotional, and even our physical health if we carried an attitude of gratitude with us wherever we go?

Why should we give thanks in all circumstances? Paul says we should do so because this is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus.

When we begin to thank God in all circumstances we begin to recognize that God is in control in every situation and he has a good plan for us. As Paul says in Romans 8:28, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Paul does not say that all things are good. He says that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. That is to say, that God is working in every situation, even evil and painful situations, to bring about good for his children. That is good news. That is news worth thanking God for.

John Henry Jowett once wrote: “Gratitude is a vaccine, an antitoxin, and an antiseptic.” Gratitude like a vaccine can prevent the invasion of a disgruntled spirit. Like an antitoxin, gratitude can prevent the poisonous effects of cynicism, a critical nature, and grumbling. Like an antiseptic, a spirit of gratitude can soothe and heal the most troubled soul. I believe the Lord wants us to thank him in all circumstances because it is the most spiritually healthy thing to do.

Fulton Oursler once told the story of his old nurse. She was born a slave on the eastern shore of Maryland and attended the birth of Fulton’s mother as well as his own birth. Fulton said his nurse taught him the greatest lesson in giving thanks and finding contentment.

I remember her as she sat at the kitchen table in our house; the hard, old, brown hands folded across her starched apron, the glistening eyes, and the husky old whispering voice, saying, “Much obliged, Lord, for my vittles.”
“Anna,” I asked, “what’s a vittle?”
“It’s what I’ve got to eat and drink, that’s vittles.”
“But you’d get your vittles whether you thanked the Lord or not.”
“Sure enough, but it makes everything taste better to be thankful.”

Giving thanks to God in all circumstances just makes all our circumstances taste better. Perhaps that is why Paul says what he does in 1 Thessalonians 5:18. He knows that it is good for our souls.

Still, we have the question: How can we give thanks in all circumstances? The answer is: only by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Immediately after inviting the Thessalonians to give thanks in all circumstances, Paul says, “Do not quench the Spirit.” We need the fire of the Holy Spirit in our souls if we are ever going to be able to give thanks in all circumstances.

The story is told of two men who were walking through a field one day when they spotted an enraged bull. Instantly, they darted toward the nearest fence. The storming bull followed in hot pursuit, and it was soon apparent that the men were not going to make it to the fence in time. Terrified, the one man shouted to the other, “Put up a prayer, John. We’re in for it!”

John answered, “I can’t. I’ve never offered a public prayer in my life.”

“But you must!” implored his companion. “The bull is catching up to us.”

“Alright,” panted John, “I’ll say the only prayer I know, the one my father used to repeat at the table: ‘O Lord, for what we are about to receive, make us truly thankful.’”

The story is, of course, fictitious, but it makes an important point. We need to ask the Lord to make us truly thankful in all circumstances. We can’t do it on our own power. The Lord who gave himself to die on a cross for our sins can certainly forgive us for our lack of gratitude, if we will but confess that lack to him. And the same God who raised Jesus from the dead can give us power to be overcomers, and to give thanks in all circumstances.


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