For the past many weeks we have been studying the Minor Prophets. When we began our study with Hosea the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah were still intact, the priests were performing their priestly duties at the temple of God, and God’s people could not even imagine the hard times that were just around the corner.
During our study of the Minor Prophets we’ve covered Hosea, Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, and Zechariah. We’ve witnessed the end of the northern kingdom in 721 B.C. at the hands of the Assyrians. We’ve witnessed the end of the southern kingdom and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple of God in 586 B.C. by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians. God’s people were in exile for 70 years in Babylon.
The last two prophets that we have studied, Haggai and Zechariah, are called post-exilic prophets because they came back from Babylon when Cyrus the Great told the Jews they could go home if they wanted. Once back home, the Jews found the city of Jerusalem in shambles, the temple was in ruins, and despair shrouded the city. It’s not too difficult to understand why the people felt overwhelmed and were tempted to just throw up their hands in defeat.
They began working on the temple, but that didn’t work out. The first sign of opposition sent the people home where they spent their time focusing on themselves. Haggai and Zechariah were used by God to try and light a fire under the people. The people went back to work and completed the temple in 516 B.C. The work might have been completed on the temple, but there was still much work to be done on the hearts of God’s people.
In Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, we find the people of God talking back to God like a rude teenager being disrespectful to his parents. God says, “I have loved you.” The people rolled their eyes and said, “How have you loved us?” God explained Himself and yet the people continued to question God’s assessment.
Desperate times. The people’s heads were hanging and they weren’t looking to God for anything. As a matter of fact, they felt betrayed by God. What’s really interesting is that along comes “the Chronicler,” the man who wrote 1 and 2 Chronicles. Most believe that Ezra wrote Chronicles, but there is no way to be certain about that. What is most important for us to know about Chronicles is the purpose for which it was written. Chronicles was written to give the people of God a sense of history, a reminder of God’s dealings with His people, and to encourage and guide them so that they could get back to life and leaning on the Lord for the days and years ahead.
Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles all tell the history of God’s dealings with His people. There are some differences between Samuel, Kings and Chronicles. J. Vernon McGee has written about the differences in Kings and Chronicles. He says,
In 1 and 2 Kings the history of the nation is given from the throne, but in Chronicles the history of the nation is given from the altar. In Kings the palace is the center, whereas in Chronicles the temple is the center. In Kings the political history is given, but in Chronicles the religious history is given. Kings gives us man’s viewpoint, but in Chronicles we get God’s viewpoint. (J. Vernon McGee)
The Chronicler shines the spotlight on the temple, the visible reminder of God for the people, as he urges them to return to God in the midst of their difficulties. That’s a message that is still relevant for us today. We too live in some tough times. There are problems all around. Many have become cynical. Many have abandoned God. We hear stories on a daily basis of how tough times are and that they might even get tougher. In tough times people tend to lose their sense of gratitude for the many blessings they enjoy on a daily basis. A sense of dissatisfaction takes the place of gratitude and strangles the life out of us. Some of us here this morning might be wondering, “What is there to be thankful for this Thanksgiving?”
I believe with all of my heart that it is during times like these that you and I, the followers of Jesus, have such a great opportunity to do two things: First, we have an opportunity to sit down and think about the blessings that we have. When was the last time you’ve done this? You really should. Think about it. You and I have been given so much; most of which we take for granted for a daily basis. Secondly, we have an opportunity to live out an attitude of gratitude in a cold, cynical world. People who exhibit gratitude stick out like a diamond on black velvet my friends. It is important that you and I learn how to live in gratitude so that the world around us can learn that a grateful heart is a contented and fulfilled heart.
I don’t know about you, but I need “sticky notes” in my life to remind me of the important things that I don’t want to forget. When we are going through difficult times and life is tough, we really need to remind ourselves of those things for which we are thankful in life. We need to build reminders of gratitude into our daily life so that we don’t lose sight of who God is, His faithfulness to us throughout our lives, and to remind ourselves that He is with us through it all.
There is an interesting story told in 1 Chronicles 16 that sheds a lot of light upon how important it is to have “reminders of thanksgiving” around to constantly point us to the One whose unfailing love will never fail! Long before the disintegration of the nation, King David served as King and brought the nation together as one. When David conquered Jerusalem, the Holy City of God, he wanted to bring the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem. David made all of the preparations and then the day came when David and his men went to get it. When the Ark arrived in Jerusalem David appointed the ministers of his day to perform very specific tasks. Listen how it all unfolded,
1They brought the ark of God and set it inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and they presented burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before God. 2 After David had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD. 3 Then he gave a loaf of bread, a cake of dates and a cake of raisins to each Israelite man and woman. 4 He appointed some of the Levites to minister before the ark of the LORD, to make petition, to give thanks, and to praise the LORD, the God of Israel: (1 Chronicles 16:1-4)
David gave jobs to the ministers. The ministers were not to visit the sick and shut-in, perform administrative duties, counsel, or even perform funerals. These are important ministries, but they did not take priority over the task David gave them. David said, “Minister, your job is to make petition on the behalf of the nation before God, give thanks, continually offer up thanks to Almighty God, and praise the Lord! Praise Him in the morning. Praise Him at noon! Praise Him in the evening! Give Him thanks at all times!”
Why would David, when he was drawing up the job descriptions of these particular ministers of Israel, set as their priority — making petition, crying out to God, giving thanks, and praising Almighty God? That’s a great question. There are probably several answers, but one was because the people needed reminders. The people of Israel needed constant reminders of the blessings and provision of Almighty God. The ministers were to be constant reminders to the people.
When a man would walk by the tent that held the Ark he would hear the ministers thanking God for putting bread on the tables of the Israelites. When a young mother would walk by the tent she would hear the ministers thanking God for loving His people with an unfailing love. When the elderly would walk by the tent they would hear ministers thanking God for His faithfulness throughout the generations. All of the people of Israel would hear the ministers praising God, mentioning the names of the Israelites before the throne of God, and thanking Him for hearing their prayers.
Gratitude can change the course of a nation. Gratitude can change the perspective of a person. Gratitude will cause us to think less of us and more of our Mighty King who provides everything we need! God has blessed us with so much–He has given us life, He has provided us the grace and mercy that we all long for, He has given us friends to comfort us, encourage us, and share life with us, and He has demonstrated His love for us through His Son, Jesus.
We have lost our memory of the daily provision of Almighty God that has sustained our lives and this nation through the good times and the bad. As a result we have become a nation that expects more than we are due. As a result we have become a nation that is dissatisfied with God when He “gives us this day our daily bread.”
Let it be known the fault does not lie at the feet of the nonbelievers of our nation. The fault rests at our feet, those who have known and yet have forgotten. This is why it so important for you and me to learn how to remember all of God’s mighty blessings.
David, when he appointed his ministers, gave to Asaph, his Senior Minister, this Psalm of Thanks to the Lord. Listen to the constant reminders that the ministers would recite before the people.
8 Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. 9 Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. 10 Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice. 11Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always. 12 Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced, 13 O descendants of Israel his servant, O sons of Jacob, his chosen ones. 14 He is the LORD our God; his judgments are in all the earth. 15 He remembers his covenant forever, the word he commanded, for a thousand generations, 16 the covenant he made with Abraham, the oath he swore to Isaac. 17 He confirmed it to Jacob as a decree, to Israel as an everlasting covenant: 18 “To you I will give the land of Canaan as the portion you will inherit.” 19 When they were but few in number, few indeed, and strangers in it, 20 they wandered from nation to nation, from one kingdom to another. 21 He allowed no man to oppress them; for their sake he rebuked kings: 22 “Do not touch my anointed ones; do my prophets no harm.” 23 Sing to the LORD, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day. 24 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. 25 For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. 26 For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens. 27 Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy in his dwelling place. 28 Ascribe to the LORD, O families of nations, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength, 29 ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name. Bring an offering and come before him; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness. 30 Tremble before him, all the earth! The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved. 31 Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let them say among the nations, “The LORD reigns!” 32 Let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them! 33 Then the trees of the forest will sing, they will sing for joy before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth. 34 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever. 35 Cry out, “Save us, O God our Savior; gather us and deliver us from the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name, that we may glory in your praise.” 36 Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Then all the people said “Amen” and “Praise the LORD.” 37 David left Asaph and his associates before the ark of the covenant of the LORD to minister there regularly, according to each day’s requirements. (1 Chronicles 16:8-37 NIV)
The very first line of David’s Psalm of Thanksgiving says, “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done.” It is our responsibility to make known what the Lord has done for the people of this nation and everyone we meet.
I want to share with you three practical steps to becoming “thank-filled” reminders for the Kingdom of God. These are practical steps that you and I can practice every day of our lives. As we practice these steps we will see Almighty God transform us into “thank-filled” people. We do need a word of caution at this point: Any great athlete who stops honing his or her skills will see those skills fade into a distant memory. So it is with us. If we ever think we have arrived and stop putting these steps into practice then our skills will wither away and we will become cold and cynical all over again.
Recognize Your Need
First, recognize your need. You and I will never become anything more than what we are until we recognize our deep need for Almighty God’s intervention. We can not blame our lack of gratitude on the circumstances that surround us. We can’t blame others around us who are ungrateful. We can’t dismiss our thankless hearts by saying, “That’s just the way I am.” We need to see that our lives are dominated by what we think life owes to us and confess that sin to the Father.
The situations and circumstances that you and I will encounter in life will be similar in many regards, but the way that we respond to them will vary greatly. We can respond in a way that gives glory to God and serves as a fragrant reminder to those around us of God’s blessings. We can also respond in a way that hurts those around us and robs God of his glory. Let me give you an example.
Two golfers stepped up to the first tee on the St. Andrews course at Ardsley, New York, one of America’s oldest courses. The older man was a gentle, kind man. The younger man was full of pride and impatience. On the first hole the younger man sliced his drive, lost his ball in the tall grass, shot another one, and got an eight.
On the second tee he began to yell at his caddie: “Keep your eye peeled. I’m not here to do your job for you!” Hole after hole, every bad shot was the caddie’s fault! At the end of the first nine holes, the young man was so enraged that he took the bag and sent the caddie to the clubhouse. He turned to the old man and said, “That caddie doesn’t like me. He’s pathetic anyway. He made me nervous. Thank God he’s gone!”
After several holes had been played without a word, the older player broke the silence: He said, “Several years ago a little kid from Yonkers came up here and was taken on as a caddie. He was a sweet kid. He was quick-witted, hard-working, and had a nose for golf. Everybody liked him. His name was William; he had a clubfoot. But that didn’t affect his quality as a caddie. It was a pleasure to go out with him. There was a famous doctor who took an interest in the kid. Eventually the doctor had to give up golf because of his health, but William kept caddying. A few months later the doctor died. One morning I was playing a round with William carrying my bag. It was Spring and the flowers were blooming like crazy. William gathered flowers until he had quite a bouquet. ‘Who’s the girl, William?’ I asked. ‘I don’t have a girlfriend, sir,’ he said. ‘They’re for my friend, the doctor–twice a week I take flowers to his grave.’ The doctor had taken William on a trip one winter so that William could have his foot operated on. William never forgot the doctor’s act of kindness. “Now that’s a caddie worth having,” the younger man said. “What ever happened to William?” The old man said, “He carried your bag today for the first nine holes.” (Bits and Pieces, Oct, 1990)
William wasn’t the young man’s problem. What one man saw as a gift, a treasure, a kid whom he could bless, the other man saw as a curse. Which characterizes your life?
Let me ask you a few questions so you can try and determine your place on the scale of thanksgiving. These may hurt if we are honest with ourselves, but hopefully through the pain brought on by truth we will see our deep need for Almighty God. “Would your family and friends describe you as a person overflowing with gratitude or as a grumbler?” “Does your family and co-workers see a thankful heart being formed in you or do they see your heart growing harder by the day?” “Do you take time every day to stop and thank God for the little graces that make life so full?” “Do you feel like life has dealt you a bad hand or do you see His hand carrying you through?” “Do you spend more time talking to God, thanking Him, or telling your buddies how bad you’ve got it?”
These are important questions for all of us if we seek to get honest with God. It is only by getting honest with God that He can then begin to form a heart of gratitude and thankfulness within us.
Give Thanks In All Things
Secondly, we need to practice thanking God for all things. I know, all over this sanctuary, there are people right now who are thinking of the most extreme situations that have ever taken place in your life and you are thinking, “Thank God for…? Yeah, right!” Let me ask you some more questions. “Is He bringing you through? Has He been faithful? Is His healing hand putting the pieces of your broken heart back together? Could you have done it, or are you doing it on your own?”
To be able to thank God for all things we must practice thanking God for all things. How do you practice? You do it every day, at every occasion, and you never grow weary of practicing.
The Apostle Paul had some terrible situations in life that could have turned him into a sour, bitter, and grumbling old man. They did not accomplish what the Enemy had in mind. Listen to Paul’s words.
12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:12-13 NIV)
7 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10 NIV)
WE CAN THANK GOD FOR ALL THINGS! We must realize that we can’t agree with that statement when we simply approach “all things” from a rational or logical stance. We can only give thanks for all things when we approach “all things” from a biblical perspective. Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians, 16 “Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV)
If we are going to be able to give thanks at all times then we must be willing to begin giving thanks right now. I don’t know what it is that you are going through, but I know that it is God’s desire for you to choose to give thanks.
Look For Your Blessings
Thirdly, look for things to be thankful for each day of your life. Erma Bombeck, the late author who has caused us all to laugh and on many occasions count our blessings, wrote.
An estimated 1.5 million people are living today after bouts with breast cancer. Every time I forget to feel grateful to be among them, I hear the voice of an eight-year-old named Christina, who had cancer of the nervous system. When asked what she wanted for her birthday, she thought long and hard and finally said, “I don’t know. I have two sticker books and a Cabbage Patch doll. I have everything!” The kid is right. (Erma Bombeck, Redbook, October, 1992)
Scottish minister Alexander Whyte was known for his uplifting prayers in the pulpit. He always found something for which to be grateful. One Sunday morning the weather was so gloomy that one church member thought to himself, “Certainly the preacher won’t think of anything for which to thank the Lord on a wretched day like this.” Much to his surprise, however, Whyte began by praying, “We thank Thee, O God, that it is not always like this.” (Daily Bread, August 26, 1989)
We need to be more like Pastor Whyte and less like the people who complain in the Summer because it is too hot, complain in the Winter because it is too cold, and complain in the Spring and Fall because the weather can’t make up its mind. With that type of attitude there are only about ten days out of the three hundred and sixty-five when we can potentially have a great day.
We must practice looking for things to be thankful for in order that “thankful living” can characterize our lives. There are so many things to be thankful for that we could fill a library of the chronicles of God’s faithfulness and grace shared with us. I’m thankful for the fact that I was able to go to sleep last night. I’m thankful that the Lord gave me the strength to get out of bed this morning. I’m thankful for a voice to praise Him because I can remember a time when I had no voice. I’m thankful that I can read so that I can spend time marveling at His awesome Word. I’m thankful for the ability to hear the praises of the birds offered up to their Creator. I’m thankful for the ability to smell the beautiful perfumes that He had dabbed onto the picturesque scenes of red, blue, green, violet, orange, and yellow that flood the fields in the Spring. I’m thankful for the ability to see the creatures, mountains, streams, valleys, and plains that are part of His glorious plan. I’m thankful for a cool breeze on a Summer’s day. I’m thankful for a blanket on a cold Winter’s night. I’m thankful for electricity that gives us light. I’m thankful for the men that I pray with, talk to, and confide in on Tuesday morning. I’m thankful, no, I am awed by His grace in giving me a wife and three children whom I do not deserve, but whom I love more than life! I’m thankful. Are you?
Britton Christian Church
November 18, 2010