Give Thanks, Psalm 136, 25 November 2012

Big Idea: when we pause to give thanks, we realize we are very blessed.

I love the Thanksgiving holiday as much as anyone. For decades, it was my favorite holiday as around 100 Schneemanns would gather in a church fellowship hall for food, singing, playing music, football, and a memorable time of giving thanks. That tradition ended several years ago, yet the heart of it can be recreated whenever people pause to give thanks to God for His countless blessings.

I think it’s safe to say that our culture is not known for pause. We are busy. We are productive. We work hard. We play hard. But many of us rarely pause.

This would be a great segue to talk about the Sabbath—God’s commanded day of rest each week—but instead I want to seize this opportunity for us to pause, reflect, and give thanks.

So just do it! Give thanks! That’s hardly motivating on its own, though. It’s like when you mom says, “Say you’re sorry” or “Say thank you.” It’s not always genuine.

Paul repeatedly told his readers to focus on thanksgiving.

2 Corinthians 9:11
Ephesians 5:4
1 Timothy 2:1
1 Timothy 4:4

When we pause to reflect upon our blessings, thanksgiving is a natural response. That’s one of the reasons we gather together each week. It’s not that God will like you more if you are here every Sunday. You will probably like God more, however, as you reflect on His awesome power, love, wisdom, and goodness.

Earlier we sang and read the admonishment of the psalms:

Give thanks to the Lord.

In the NIV, this phrase is used 19 times.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.

(1 Chronicles 16:34; Psalm 106:1, 107:1, 118:1, 29, 136:1; Jeremiah 33:11)

In each case, the Hebrew word for “thanks” is

to express praise, give thanks, extol, make a public confession, make an admission; to praise is to speak of the excellence of someone or something; to give thanks has a focus on the gratitude of the speaker

How often do you give thanks? Before you eat? On Thanksgiving?

But why give thanks?

Luke tells a great story of ten lepers that are healed. Only one returns to say thanks—and he’s a despised Samaritan. But notice what happens to him.

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him — and he was a Samaritan.

Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:15-19)

The Samaritan was not only healed, he was blessed—blessed to recognize the healing, blessed to encounter Jesus, blessed at being commended for his faith.

When we give thanks, we are blessed.

The Jews have had a long history of giving thanks. In fact, their God-ordained festivals of celebration and thanksgiving were more than a meal or even a day. They would praise God for a week or more! Let’s just say they know how to party! Seriously!

Thanksgiving blesses God, but it also changes us.

"I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder." ~
G.K. Chesterton
“Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.” ~
John Milton
“A thankful heart cannot be cynical.” ~
A.W. Tozer
"We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts. How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from Him the little things?" ~
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Choose to be thankful

"Gratitude as a discipline involves a conscious choice. I can choose to be grateful even when my emotions and feelings are still steeped in hurt and resentment. It is amazing how many occasions present themselves in which I can choose gratitude instead of a complaint. I can choose to be grateful when I am criticized, even when my heart still responds in bitterness. I can choose to speak about goodness and beauty, even when my inner eye still looks for someone to accuse or something to call ugly." ~ 
Henri Nouwen
"If you are not content with what you have, you would not be satisfied if it were doubled." ~
Charles Haddon Spurgeon
An old hymn by Johnson Oatman, Jr.,
Count Your Blessings, says

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed, When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost, Count your many blessings, name them one by one, And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.
Are you ever burdened with a load of care? Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear? Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly, And you will keep singing as the days go by.
So, amid the conflict whether great or small, Do not be disheartened, God is over all; Count your many blessings, angels will attend, Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

Perhaps the most oft-quoted Scripture involving thanksgiving is Philippians 4:6

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

We live in a fast-paced, complicated world. We are bombarded with news—usually bad news—constantly. It is natural for us to be anxious and to fear, but that’s where followers of Jesus are called to be different, to live radical, counter-cultural lives.

What I find interesting about this verse is that we are to present our requests to God with thanksgiving. When we are thankful, it blesses God. Do you prefer to be kind to those who are thankful and appreciate your generosity or those that feel entitled and complain if you don’t respond to their every request?

When we give thanks to God, it doesn’t guarantee that He’ll answer on demand, but it does remind us of our blessings, His faithfulness, and orients us to seek and accept His will rather than viewing Him as a cosmic genie to be manipulated by our desires.

"When we were children we were grateful to those who filled our stockings at Christmas time.  Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with legs?"  ~
G.K. Chesterton

Regardless of your circumstances, we all have so much for which to be thankful.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. (Psalm 100:4)

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