This message is centered on gratitude, on thankfulness, on the need for us to focus on the positives in our lives, rather than—what we might think of as—the negatives.
I have a couple of stories to share. But we begin first with Philippians, chapter 4, where 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. And remember whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things…And the God of peace will be with you.”
When our first grandchild, Katherine, was born, our daughter Brooke went in search of a second-hand dresser that she could paint for her. At a used furniture shop, Brooke located a two-drawer piece that she thought would work. She painted it all white and then applied a bright yellow to the drawers. In white letters over the yellow, she put the words to a song I had sung to her when she was a little girl: “you are my sunshine, my only sunshine.”
Katherine is now 10 years old. Two weeks ago, Brooke purchased a new dresser for Katherine, and the old sunshiny one was taken to a local transfer station where Brooke hoped other parents would find it and bring it home for their child or children.
But then, recently, Brooke and Andrew happened to take their youngest boy, four-year-old Gaelen, to the local fire station where there was to be a safety demonstration.
The department had created a simulation of, a model of a child’s room with a bed, stuffed animals, clothing, a lamp, and a toy chest. And there, in the middle of it all, was Katherine’s dresser. The firefighters had found the piece at the transfer station and probably realized the personalized, painted dresser would increase the impact they were hoping to achieve.
Brooke was stunned, shocked, floored…and overcome with heartbreak. She had to leave. She couldn’t bear to see the dresser go up in flames. And she called me immediately because, she said, she knew I would understand. And I did. And I cried with her. So much family history, so much love, so much caring, so much emotion, was in that dresser.
Now, why do I tell you this story in a message about gratitude? Because her heartbreak, my heartbreak, came from a place of love and gratitude. Neither of us could have cared as much—as we did—about that falling-apart, rickety, broken-down dresser if we hadn’t been invested in it, if we hadn’t been grateful for all the blessings it had seen. We couldn’t be heartbroken at its loss, if we hadn’t stored up in our hearts and minds and spirits the memories represented by that dresser. Now, we had a choice. We could stay in that place of heartbreak, and lament the passing of the years, or we could turn to refocus and reframe the moment to give thanks for the blessings the Lord had bestowed upon us over those years.
Gratitude pumps oxygen into our souls and helps us refocus and reframe our days so we can experience more joy and more peace. Did you happen to notice in the passage from Philippians how anxiety is linked to how we think, where we put our focus. Too often we quote only verses 6 and 7: “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.” We don’t go on to verse 8: “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things…And the God of peace will be with you.”
I have a confession to make.
Over some months, not all that long ago, I had allowed myself to become so depleted, so discouraged, so drained of energy, so focused on what was wrong, so discontented, that I had become a grumbler. I had become SO worn out, so worn down… I’d become a chronic groaner, a chronic complainer, filled to the brim, filled to the grim, with ingratitude. A grumbling machine.
But then one day, the Lord began to work in me an increasing awareness of my sin of ingratitude, and then He hit me between the eyes with the words of speaker at a conference I attended. I was reminded through these words that ingratitude is one of the great malaises of our society. Ingratitude is a form of idolatry. Some folks believe it’s the real root of all evil, the failure to give God thanks, and it’s tied to what we notice. Do we center on the flaws, the negatives, the missing, on what we think is not quite right? Are we plagued by a spirit of entitlement? Ingratitude can arise when we don’t get the respect, or the money, or the valuing that we think we deserve.
Years ago, author Paul Tournier observed that ‘no gift can bring joy to the one who [believes he] has a right to everything.’ While there is a healthy interpretation of entitlement that is tied to a sense of dignity and equality, when it is exaggerated, it brings continual dissatisfaction and an inability to be thankful for anything. If we think we deserve the gifts and blessings we have received, it is easy for us to become greedy for more benefits and to overlook the needs of others. We may cultivate a capacity not to notice when ‘our benefit has come at someone else’s expense.’ Dissatisfaction as a way of life is encouraged by a consumerist culture that feeds notions of entitlement. We want more, and we want better—better bodies, newer cars, bigger churches, more beautiful homes, finer coffee—a cycle of generalized dissatisfaction fuels envy, striving, and buying.”
Ingratitude can be tied to envy: wanting what someone has and not wanting them to have it. Thomas Aquinas wrote: “Envy is sorrow for another’s good.” Henri Nouwen suggests we can only appreciate God’s goodness to others when we appreciate His goodness to us.
And you know what? Ingratitude is contagious. It can spread and become terribly destructive.
So…what’s the cure? Gratitude. Focusing on the immeasurable goodness of God’s grace. Reframing our lives to center on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. Strengthening practices of gratitude. Articulating our blessings. Beginning and ending each day with moments of thankfulness. Modeling thankfulness. Writing notes of affirmation and encouragement. Working to become more adept at celebrating what is good. Catching people at being a gift, and telling them, “You have been God’s grace to me.” Every night at dinner, sharing that for which you’re grateful. Each and every one of these acts adds to a reservoir of grace.
Now, gratitude doesn’t displace lament. There are experiences in our lives that can bring on sadness, disappointment, anger, frustration. But we are helped when times are tough in remembering that we are secure in the Lord. That God is still good, God is still with us, even when, especially when, times are tough. And even lament has elements of hope, promise and grace.
In a recent Streams in the Desert devotional guide was the following poem by Annie Johnson Flint:
They are HIS billows, whether they go o’er us,
Hiding His face in smothering spray and foam;
Or smooth and sparkling, spread a path before us,
And to our haven, bear us safely home.
They are HIS billows, whether for our succor
He walks across them, stilling all our fear;
Or to our cry there comes no aid nor answer,
And in the lonely silence none is near.
They are HIS billows, whether we are toiling
Through tempest-driven waves that never cease,
While deep to deep, with clamor, loud is calling;
Or at His word they hush themselves in peace.
They are HIS billows, whether He divides them,
Making us walk dryshod where seas had flowed;
Or lets tumultuous breakers surge about us,
Rushing unchecked across our only road.
They are HIS billows, and He brings us through them;
So He has promised, so His love will do.
Keeping and leading, guiding and upholding,
To His sure harbor, He will bring us through.
Author and pastor Rick Warren has suggested that, in happy moments, we praise God. In difficult moments, we seek God. In quiet moments, we worship God. In painful moments, we trust God. In every moment, we thank God.
From G.K. Chesterton we have this, “When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or you take them with gratitude.”
“To be grateful is to recognize the love of God in everything He has given us—and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.”—Thomas Merton
God’s grace can appear like a blinding flash of lightning, splitting the sky on a dark night. Our gratitude is the thundering response.
The English poet George Herbert was born at the end of the 16th century into a powerful English family. His father held an aristocratic title and sat in Parliament. The son, who was educated at Cambridge and became a favorite of England’s King James I, seemed destined to a life of wealth, prestige, and political prominence before he decided to take orders as an Anglican priest in his mid-thirties. For three years, he labored as a country parson in a tiny parish southwest of London, before succumbing to tuberculosis at the age of thirty-nine. “Gratefulness” is part of a collection of poems by Herbert that was published shortly after his death.
He wrote in part:
“Thou that hast given so much to me, give one thing more, a grateful heart.
I cry, and cry again; And in no quiet canst thou be, till I, a thankful heart obtain of thee: Not thankful, when it pleaseth me; As if thy blessings had spare days:
But such a heart, whose pulse may be Thy praise.”
Hear the Word of the Lord:
Psalm 107:8—Thank God for His marvelous love, for His mercy and wonderful works on our behalf.
First Corinthians 1:4—I thank my God always on your behalf for the grace of God which has been given to you through Jesus Christ.
First Thessalonians 5:16-18—Rejoice always. Pray continually. Give thanks in all circumstances, for this God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4— 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…(And remember) whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things…And the God of peace will be with you.”
From writer Mariel Davenport comes our closing story about resting thankfully in the Lord:
Closing the day as a family, lying on my youngest son’s bed and saying our good-night prayers, my son decided out of the blue that he wanted to pray tonight. This is a rare occurrence for him, especially at bedtime, as he tends to do more wiggling than praying; so we were thrilled at this opportunity to peek into his young heart.
“Thank you, Jesus,” he began, “for my brother, my mommy, my daddy, my house, my friends…oh, and thank you especially for my bunk bed. And, thank you, Jesus, for my toys and for the roof on our house and for our neighbor friends we played with today. Thank you also, for my covers, our food and plates, my cats…” My sweet son must have thanked Jesus for 10 solid minutes! He’s the one who never wants to pray when we do family devotions or bedtime prayers. It was like he was catching up with God. I smiled at the thought.
We finally kissed him and his precious big brother ‘good-night.’ We gently closed the door behind us and left the room.
Not even three minutes passed and we thought we heard our boys calling us, so my husband went to check on them. Everything was fine, but to his surprise our youngest was already sound asleep! My husband examined him closely, and sure enough the little guy was out. He had unloaded on Jesus and now was peacefully off to dreamland!
As I pondered his approach, Psalm 55:22 rolled over in my mind. “Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you…” My young son had the faith to pour his little heart out to God in thanksgiving, for even the smallest treasures, and now could rest secure in the love of the Father. I wondered why I often fail to do the same.
Why do we allow the spirit of discontentment to rob us of true thankful rest in the Father’s care? Why do we focus too often on what we lack rather than what we have? This little one was able (for the moment) to glance around at his life and overflow in thankfulness for a God who abundantly provides.
Colossians 2:6-7 urges believers to do the same, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” What a beautiful example of this was demonstrated in living color through this little boy. He had absorbed the blessings around him to the point he could no longer contain them in his little heart. He spilled over with thankfulness and that thankfulness unveiled the lack of thankfulness in my own weary soul.
Too often, burdened by the cares of the world and life in general, we can focus on the negative rather than pouring out words of praise and thanksgiving to our God. Based on the example of this little one, I am seeking to empty pitchers of praise before the feet of my Heavenly Father.
In this season of Thanksgiving, let’s be sure our focus is on praise and the positive, let us allow our own often weary hearts to be led by a child as we thank our faithful God for the many blessings around us… both big and small. Then we can rest peacefully in His care!