Learning to be Thankful

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(Originally published 11/6/10)

In a short while we will be celebrating one of our greatest national holidays–Thanksgiving Day–a day that we have set aside as a nation to thank the Lord for all His goodness and blessings which He has so richly given to us.

Our nation was birthed in an attitude of thanksgiving to Almighty God for His blessings and providence that planted, sustained, and nurtured our fledgling nation from infancy to maturity as the strongest and most blessed nation on the face of the earth.

Back in those early days, before we were even a nation, those early settlers were thankful to God, not for big houses and new cars, but for keeping them alive!

Most of us are familiar with the traditional story of Thanksgiving where William Bradford, of Plymouth Rock, proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the survival of the Pilgrims in their second year in the New World, and for the abundant harvest that He had provided with the aid of the native population.

However, most people don’t know that the first American Thanksgiving didn’t occur in 1621 with this group of Pilgrims who shared a feast with a group of friendly native Americans.

The first recorded Thanksgiving actually took place in Virginia more than 11 years earlier, and it wasn’t a feast. The winter of 1610 at Jamestown had reduced a group of 409 settlers to 60.

The survivors prayed for help, without knowing when or how it might come. When help arrived, in the form of a ship filled with food and supplies from England, a prayer meeting was held to give thanks to God.

You would think that after seeing so many of their loved ones die due to the hardships of the New World, they would not feel very thankful. However, the opposite was true. They realized they had much to be thankful for.

I’d like you to compare the attitude of those early settlers to what we see in our country today. The following is an article written by Craig Smith writing for World Net Daily

“A Newsweek poll alleges that 67 percent of Americans are unhappy with the direction the country is headed and 69 percent of the country is unhappy with the performance of the president. In essence two-thirds of the citizenry just ain’t happy and want a change. So being the knuckle dragger I am, I starting thinking, ”What we are so unhappy about?” Is it that we have electricity and running water 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? Is our unhappiness the result of having air conditioning in the summer and heating in the winter? Could it be that a large percentage of these unhappy folks have a job? Maybe it is the ability to walk into a grocery store at any time and see more food in moments than Darfur has seen in the last year? Maybe it is the ability to drive from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean without having to present identification papers as we move through each state? Or possibly the hundreds of clean and safe motels we would find along the way that can provide temporary shelter? I guess having thousands of restaurants with varying cuisine from around the world is just not good enough. Or could it be that when we wreck our car, emergency workers show up and provide services to help all involved. Whether you are rich or poor they treat your wounds and even, if necessary, send a helicopter to take you to the hospital. Perhaps you are one of the 70 percent of Americans who own a home, you may be upset with knowing that in the unfortunate case of having a fire, a group of trained firefighters will appear in moments and use top notch equipment to extinguish the flames thus saving you, your family and your belongings. Or if, while at home watching one of your many flat screen TVs, a burglar or prowler intrudes; an officer equipped with a gun and a bullet-proof vest will come to defend you and your family against attack or loss. This all in the backdrop of a neighborhood free of bombs or militias raping and pillaging the residents. Neighborhoods where 90 percent of teenagers own cell phones and computers. How about the complete religious, social and political freedoms we enjoy that are the envy of everyone in the world? Maybe that is what has 67 percent of you folks unhappy. Fact is, we are the largest group of ungrateful, spoiled brats the world has ever seen. No wonder the world loves the U.S. yet has a great disdain for its citizens. They see us for what we are. The most blessed people in the world who do nothing but complain about what we don’t have and what we hate about the country instead of thanking the good Lord we live here.”

Why is this? What has turned us from being thankful for the smallest blessings from God to being the complaining, self-indulgent, ungrateful people we have become even though we have been blessed beyond any nation on the face of the earth?

Let me answer that question with a story that I think will help to illustrate what has happened to us that has brought us to the place we are in as a nation.

The story is told of two old friends that bumped into one another on the street one day. One of them looked forlorn, almost on the verge of tears.
His friend asked, “What has the world done to you, my old friend?”

The sad fellow said, “Let me tell you. Three weeks ago, an uncle died and left me forty thousand dollars.”

“That’s a lot of money.”

“Yes but two weeks ago, a cousin I never even knew died, and left me eighty-five thousand free and clear.”

“Sounds like you’ve been blessed….”

“You don’t understand!” he interrupted.
“Last week my great-aunt passed away. I inherited almost a quarter of a million.”

Now he was really confused.  “Then, why do you look so glum?”

“This week… nothing!”

That’s the trouble with receiving something on a regular basis. Even if it is a gift, we eventually come to expect it.

This is the “entitlement mindset” that has permeated American society at almost every level. We have been blessed to live in a land of plenty and as a result we have come to believe that these blessings are our “rights” and that we deserve them.

When that happens we forget about God and focus on ourselves as being the source of our prosperity–in other words, we begin to take credit for what God has done.

This is exactly what happened to Israel in the O.T. even though God warned them to be on guard against this very thing before leading them into the Promised Land.

Deuteronomy 8:7-14 (NKJV)

7 “For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, that flow out of valleys and hills; 8 “a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; 9“a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing; a land whose stones are iron and out of whose hills you can dig copper. 10 “When you have eaten and are full, then you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you. 11“Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today, 12 “lest–when you have eaten and are full, and have built beautiful houses and dwell in them; 13 “and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold are multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied; 14“when your heart is lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.”

Jeremiah 2:5-7

5 This is what the Lord says: “What sin did your ancestors find in me that led them to stray so far? They worshiped foolish idols, only to become foolish themselves. 6 They did not ask, ‘Where is the Lord who brought us safely out of Egypt and led us through the barren wilderness—a land of deserts and pits, of drought and death, where no one lives or even travels?’ 7 ″And when I brought you into a fruitful land to enjoy its bounty and goodness, you defiled my land and corrupted the inheritance I had promised you.

This sounds like it could have been spoken by God directly to America today. When we lose a heart of thanksgiving toward God, when we stop appreciating what He has done for us, we begin to take for granted His blessings. When that happens God begins to slide from our national conscience.

Deut. 8:18
18 “And you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth…”

As we begin to push God out of our national conscience, we then start taking credit for what He has done.

Where there was once thanksgiving and dependence upon God—pride and self-reliance take their place.

This begins the downward spiral of national decline where we go from being thankful to an entitlement nation where people no longer appreciate the gifts God has given them but come to expect and feel they deserve what God has given.

When that happens it becomes impossible for people to see the good in life and be grateful for the smallest of God’s blessings—they become miserable people unable to enjoy life no matter how much they acquire.

Professional counselor Dr. Dale Robbins writes, “I used to think people complained because they had a lot of problems. But I have come to realize that they have problems because they complain. Complaining doesn’t change anything or make situations better. It amplifies frustration, spreads discontent and discord, and can invoke an invitation for the devil to cause havoc with our lives. Complaining makes us miserable.”

Psalm 77:3 says “I complained and my spirit was overwhelmed.”

We ourselves often don’t realize how blessed we are, or how thankful we ought to be, until what we have is taken from us.

It is good and fitting that as Christians we learn to be thankful to God everyday for the many blessings He so richly pours out upon us and not to feel that He owes us anything but that everything comes to us as a gift of His grace.

Someone once said that gratitude is the source for all other Christian virtues. If that be the case, then perhaps we need to reason that ingratitude may well be the source of all, or at least many, of our faults as well.

When we begin to take for granted what God has done for us, we become calloused and filled with pride and then God can no longer use us or bless us.

So how can we replace a heart of discontent and complaining with a heart of thankfulness and contentment?

Well, let me just say that in life “attitude is everything.”

One person can look at a glass and see it half empty, another can look at the same glass and see it half full.

What’s the difference—it isn’t the glass it’s the attitude each person brings to the situation. One purposes to see life from the perspective of gratitude and the other person from the perspective of selfishness and ingratitude.

The attitude we carry with us through life is of paramount importance if we are truly to live lives that demonstrate our gratitude towards God on a daily basis for all He has given us.

How can we cultivate an attitude of gratitude in life?

Let’s open our Bibles to Luke 17 and see how one man achieved it.

Luke 17:11-19 (NKJV)
11 Now it happened as He went to Jerusalem that He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee. 12 Then as He entered a certain village, there met Him ten men who were lepers, who stood afar off. 13 And they lifted up their voices and said, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 So when He saw them, He said to them, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And so it was that as they went, they were cleansed. 15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, returned, and with a loud voice glorified God, 16 and fell down on his face at His feet, giving Him thanks. And he was a Samaritan. 17 So Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? 18 “Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” 19 And He said to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.”

I want you to notice something from this story. We are told that as they began their journey to the priests, they were cleansed (healed).

What is significant is that out of the 10, there was only one who reacted differently than the rest. The Bible says that when he saw that he was healed, he turned back and glorified God, and he came to Jesus and gave Him thanks.  Why did this one react differently? Don’t miss this; it is the key to a life of gratitude.

Verse 15 says, “And one of them, when he saw that he was healed”.

Now the others no doubt knew that they were healed, but there was something different here.  The Greek word used here is the word “eido”, which means to “see and understand; to perceive with intelligent comprehension”.

This one man took the time to notice that he had been blessed. He recognized that God had given him something wonderful and it caused him to be filled with thanksgiving and praise.

Cultivating a thankful heart is a learned behavior. It comes from choosing to focus on all that God has given you in the way of blessings instead of focusing on what you don’t have.

Sometimes we don’t see how God has blessed us until we lose it.

There is an old Jewish story that illustrates this point–

There is a man who goes to the rabbi and complains, “Life is unbearable. There are nine of us living in one room. What can I do?”

The rabbi answers, “Take your goat into the room with you.”

The man is incredulous, but the rabbi insists. “Do as I say and come back in a week.”

A week later the man comes back looking more distraught than before. “We cannot stand it,” he tells the rabbi. “The goat is filthy.”

The rabbi then tells him, “Go home and let the goat out. And come back in a week.”

A radiant man returns to the rabbi a week later, exclaiming, “Life is beautiful. We enjoy every minute of it now that there’s no goat and it’s only the nine of us!”

The situation was the same as at first, but now his perception had changed. He realized that he was blessed to begin with.

Do we really perceive the ways that God has blessed us?

Not a one of us is hungry, not a one of us is naked, but most importantly, if you are a Christian, you have been given everything through Christ Jesus our Lord.

I mean if God never gave you another thing in this life you’d still have your salvation and that would be enough to be incredibly thankful for.

The devil will do his best to keep your mind off the blessings of God.

He will constantly tell you how bad you have it, of how everything is wrong in your life.

You see, it’s when you begin to realize how much you have in the Lord that you will truly begin to be thankful. And when you are thankful, your heart will abound with love for the Lord for everything He has so graciously given to you.

An unthankful Christian is a miserable, defeated Christian for he or she has lost their perspective of what God has blessed them with and with it their joy.

Psalms 100:1-5 (NKJV)

1 Make a joyful shout to the LORD, all you lands! 2 Serve the LORD with gladness; Come before His presence with singing. 3 Know that the LORD, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. 4 Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. 5 For the LORD is good; His mercy is everlasting, And His truth endures to all generations.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NKJV)

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

For a Christian, every day ought to be a day of thanksgiving, especially for those of us who live in America—

“America, America, God shed His grace on thee. And crowned thy good with brotherhood from sea to shinning sea.”

I leave you with the words of President George Washington who in 1789 issued the first national Thanksgiving Day Proclamation:

“Whereas, it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; Whereas, both the houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me ‘to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness!’ Now therefore, I do recommend next, to be devoted by the people of the states to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be, that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country.”

Happy Thanksgiving, and may the Lord richly bless you as you walk with Him day by day.

Pastor Phil