This past week Ruth Ross and I went to visit some folks who are going through a difficult time so that we could pray for them and let them know that the Lord has not forgotten their struggle. Each week when Ruth and I go to hospitals, nursing homes, or into people’s homes I always come away having received a greater blessing than I could have anticipated. The opportunity to see how the Lord’s sustaining strength fortifies those who are suffering is one of God’s great blessings for you and me.
One of the people that we spent some time with this past week was an older lady whom I have known for several years. When I first met Jean she had her daughter and an adopted grand daughter living with her. There were problems present that they had to deal with on a daily basis, but Jean constantly sought the Lord and called on Him to intervene and see them through the storm.
After the Lord led Jean through that storm and her daughter and grand daughter moved out on their own, Jean learned that her stepfather was terminally ill. None of his biological family took the step to get involved so Jean stepped in and nursed her stepfather until his death about three years ago. I lost touch with Jean after that as she lost her home and had to move. She took a job living with someone in Norman who needed constant care. Jean provided care 24 hours a day, seven days a week, until her own health failed to the point where she couldn’t care for the elderly man any longer.
Jean called me this past week and asked if I could pray for her. She told me that she had learned that her son and daughter have cancer. She had total knee replacement surgery back in September and is not able to make the trip to California to care for her kids. She was heartbroken that she couldn’t be with her kids to help them through their storm.
When Ruth and I arrived at Jean’s apartment she was so glad to see us. For thirty minutes she told us about her struggles. At times her voice would crack with the pain she felt in her heart. At one point in her story, her voice cracked, she lifted her hand to the Lord in praise, and said, “but I am thankful because I still have my life.” I was so blessed that the Lord gave me the opportunity to be with someone who has struggled intensely with the setbacks of life, but who could still lift her hands in praise to the God who was sustaining her life.
When it was time for Ruth and I to leave we gathered around Jean and prayed for the Lord to continue to strengthen her body and faith. As we walked out of Jean’s apartment Ruth said, “Boy, we think we have problems?” Being in the company of great suffering will correct our distorted perspectives won’t it? We recognize how truly blessed we are when we are in the company of suffering. I know that this is one of the reasons God calls us to step out of our little worlds and enter into the world of those who suffer in so many ways. I can’t remember any time that being in the company of someone who was suffering has not served as a reminder of how the Lord has blessed me.
I want to encourage us today to continue to reach out to those who are hurting with the hope and strength that is only available through the Lord, but I also want to encourage us to take an additional step of faith. We need to recognize the multitude of blessings that come our way each and every day whether we are in the company of those who suffer or not. We need a mindset of gratitude to grip us every moment of every day. I believe in my heart that being in the company of those who suffer leads to an attitude of gratitude, but I would suggest to you that there is an even greater way to maintain this mindset than being in the company of the suffering and that is being in the presence of the Father.
When we fix our minds upon the Lord and all that He has done on our behalf we can’t help but be filled with overflowing gratitude for His goodness, mercy, and salvation. We can see this fact throughout history.
This is Thanksgiving week. Thanksgiving for most of us will be filled with lots of food, ballgames, and time spent with family or friends. The first Thanksgiving wasn’t nearly as casual, cozy, or comfortable, but gratitude was the food that fed their hungry souls on that first Thanksgiving.
Think about this for a moment. Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe tells the story. If you had been a Pilgrim on that first Thanksgiving, would you have given thanks? Consider what the men and women who broke bread together on that first Thanksgiving in 1621 had gone through. They had uprooted themselves and sailed for America, an endeavor so hazardous that published guides advised travelers to the New World, “First, make thy will.” The crossing was very rough and the Mayflower was blown off course. Instead of reaching Virginia, where Englishmen had settled 13 years earlier, the Pilgrims ended up in the wilds of Massachusetts. By the time they found a place to make their new home – Plymouth, they called it – winter had set in. The storms were frightful. Shelter was rudimentary. There was little food. Within weeks, nearly all the settlers were sick. “That which was most sad and lamentable,” Governor William Bradford later recalled, “was that in two or three months’ time, half of their company died, especially in January and February, being the depth of winter, and wanting houses and other comforts; being infected with the scurvy and other diseases…There died sometimes two or three of a day.”
When spring came, Indians showed them how to plant corn, but their first crops were dismal. Supplies ran out, but their sponsors in London refused to send more. The first time the Pilgrims sent a shipment of goods to England, pirates stole it. If you had been there in 1621 – if you had seen half your friends die, if you had suffered through famine, malnutrition, and sickness, if you had endured a year of heartbreak and tragedy – would you have felt grateful? (Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe Staff, 11/23/2000)
Those early Pilgrims were able to give thanks because they were not only in the company of those who suffered, those who had lost loved ones, those who had worked and toiled only to see their crops fail, and those who were missing their loved ones back home, but they were in the company of the fellowship of the Father.
One hundred and sixty years later, the first President of the United States was moved by both houses of congress to set aside a day of thanksgiving. President George Washington wrote in 1789.
By the President of the United States of America. A 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, – and Whereas, Both 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 signal favors of Almighty God. Now, Therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the People of these 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. . .
I hope you noticed that the first Thanksgiving Proclamation had nothing to do with turkeys, cranberry sauce, or how prosperous Americans were at the time. The Proclamation was focused upon Almighty God – His great and glorious being, the Giver of all good gifts, His protective hand, and His great providence and provision for all Americans. True gratitude flows from a heart that is well acquainted with the holiness, majesty, salvation, and mercy of Almighty God. Anyone who wishes to live out a life of gratitude must fix their attention upon something other than their prosperity or what they have accumulated in life – we must fix our attention on the Father and His provision of mercy, grace, and salvation.
One of my favorite Psalms in God’s Word is Psalm 103. I would like for us to examine part of this Psalm this morning so that we can get a glimpse of the wondrous blessings that have come to us from the gracious hand of God. Read along with me from Psalm 103.
1 Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. 2 Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits- 3 who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, 4 who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, 5 who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. 6 The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed. 7 He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel: 8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. 9 He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; 10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. 13 As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; 14 for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. 15 As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; 16 the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. 17 But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’S love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children- 18 with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts. 19 The LORD has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all. 20 Praise the LORD, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word. 21 Praise the LORD, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will. 22 Praise the LORD, all his works everywhere in his dominion. Praise the LORD, O my soul. (Psalm 103 NIV)
This is one of the most tender and compassionate descriptions of God found anywhere in God’s Word. We are not going to make it all the way through this Psalm this morning – it would take us several weeks to examine all of the wonderful blessings of God that are highlighted in the Psalm. I do want to take the rest of our time this morning to lift from this Psalm some themes that are present so that you and I might be able to take something with us into Thanksgiving Day that will enable us to live out a life of gratefulness to the Lord regardless of how difficult or comfortable we are at the present time.
The Psalmist encourages us to “praise the Lord” and then he gives us ample reason to praise the Lord in the verses that follow. The little word, “%rB” (barak) means, “to bless, kneel, be adored, to cause to kneel, to praise, or to salute.” The word is used 330 times in the Hebrew Bible and in 302 of those places it means, “to bless.” To “praise the Lord,” or “to bless the Lord” as the King James translates this phrase, means to exalt God, to honor Him for who He is and what He has done on our behalf. We could spend the rest of our lives simply going through all of the wonderful acts of God on our behalf. In Psalm 68, David summarizes a multitude of categories when he writes,
19 Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. (Psalm 68:19 NIV)
Oh, those burdens come in all sizes, shapes, and intensity, but David recognized who it was that strengthened him so that he wouldn’t be crushed under the weight of his burdens. You and I need to recognize this as well.
Over and over again in Scripture we are invited to praise the Lord for who He is and what He has done. Let’s take a look at who He is and what He has done in the time that we have remaining.
First and foremost we are invited the praise the Name of the Lord. That may sound kind of strange to you this morning. What does it mean? What is the significance? Why is recognizing the Name of the Lord so important? Great question. Turn to Psalm 138 with me and let’s take a look at God’s priorities. King David writes,
1 I will praise you, O LORD, with all my heart; before the “gods” I will sing your praise. 2 I will bow down toward your holy temple and will praise your name for your love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word. (Psalm 138:1-2 NIV)
Of greatest importance to God is His name and His Word. When you stop to think about it, are we any different? It use to be that a man’s name and his word were of greatest importance. How many times have you heard, “She gave me her word that she wouldn’t tell anyone.” I have heard people say, “I’m not getting into business with him, he has a bad name around town.” When you get down to it our name and our word are of great importance to us as well aren’t they?
We can praise the Name of the Lord because there is strength in the Name of the Lord, there is peace in the Name of the Lord, there is forgiveness in the Name of the Lord, and there is salvation in the Name of the Lord for all of those who will trust in Him. His Name is proven. His record is impeccable. His character is spotless. His faithfulness is without fail. His mercy has endured throughout the generations. Praise His holy Name!
Secondly, we can be grateful and praise the Lord as we remember all of His benefits, all of the many blessings that are shared by His people. In Psalm 103:2-5 we read,
2 Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits- 3 who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, 4 who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, 5 who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
We have so much to be grateful for this morning and every morning. The benefits of the Lord are greater than any benefits or perks this world could ever offer us. He is the one who forgives all of our sins, He is our Healer, He is our Redeemer, He is the One who crowns us with love and compassion, He is the one who alone can bring satisfaction to our weary souls so that we are renewed and restored. He is good! The Lord has done all of this for us and we can maintain our attitude of gratitude each day if we will think about these things.
If you are like me then as you read this list of the many benefits of the Lord you fixed upon one that caused you to not really hear all of the rest. Which one is it that caused you to pause? I bet I know – “He heals all your diseases.” That one stopped you because you know from experience that all of our diseases are not healed. Many die from diseases that are not healed. People of all ages die from disease all over the world. Disease and illness know no boundaries; they affect rich and poor, all races, all stops on the ladder of education, and they span the globe.
All of our diseases are not healed; sometimes the Lord brings death and not the restoration of our health. I will assure you of this – every sickness that you have ever suffered and that you have recovered from has been healing from the hand of God. In Deuteronomy 32:39 we read about the sovereignty of God.
39 “See now that I myself am He! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand. (Deuteronomy 32:39 NIV)
God is sovereign my friend. He is in control, has always been in control, and will remain in control forever and forever. Death, the worst of man’s enemies, is even under His divine command! For those who trust in Jesus the sting of death has been removed as Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 15. Read along with me.
54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 55 “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:54-57 NIV)
I praise God that although there is death everyday, that death is the future for all who live until Christ’s return, death is the not the final destination for those who are in Christ Jesus! Death has been swallowed up in the ultimate healing of eternal life!
Let’s go on with the list provided for us in verses 2-5. God forgives all of our sins and He redeems our life from the pit. We can seek counsel until the end of our days to try and alleviate our guilt. We can dismiss our sin by comparing ourselves to others more vile than ourselves. We can be found innocent in a court of law and yet if we are guilty our conscious will constantly remind us of our guilt in the quiet hours of the night. King David knew the prison of guilt; his soul was worn out by the sin of his heart until he took his sin to the Sin-Bearer, the One who forgives us of our sin. David writes,
1 Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. 2 Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. 3 When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Selah 5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”-and you forgave the guilt of my sin. (Psalm 32:1-5 NIV)
I am thankful for so many things this Thanksgiving, but my deepest debt of gratitude is owed to the One who has forgiven me of my sin, the One who has saved me from the penalty of what I have done, and even from myself. The Lord spoke in Isaiah’s day and reminded the people that He alone is our Savior. Look at Isaiah 43:11-13 with me.
11 I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no savior. 12 I have revealed and saved and proclaimed- I, and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “that I am God. 13 Yes, and from ancient days I am he. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?” (Isaiah 43:11-13 NIV)
Who has done such wonders for you and me? Who has redeemed us from destruction? Who has claimed us as His very own? The Lord has done this by His own hand! We are tempted with pride when something good comes our way. When illness comes and yet we recover we think to ourselves, “I knew I could whip it!” When we receive a promotion, an award, or the recognition of our peers we are tempted to pat ourselves on the back. A homerun in the bottom of the ninth with the score tied, a game saving tackle, or an “A” on the semester exam are all temptations to congratulate ourselves, but we must constantly remind ourselves that it is God at work in us and not the work of our own hands.
Alex Haley, the author of “Roots,” had an unusual picture hanging on his office wall. It was a picture of a turtle on top of a fence post. When asked, “Why is that there?” Alex Haley answered, “Every time I write something significant, every time I read my words and think that they are wonderful, and begin to feel proud of myself, I look at the turtle on top of the fence post and remember that he didn’t get there on his own. He had help.”
Remember the turtle because he is you and me. So you’ve come to know the grace of Almighty God; don’t become puffed up believing that you are somehow more righteous than others. So you aren’t in the shackles of addiction or held in the clutches of despair; recognize that it is His hand that has kept these forces of destruction at bay.
When we recognize the gracious hand of God at work in our lives we can’t help but tell others what the Lord has done. When gratitude grips the human heart it spills over its edges in words of proclamation to a dying world that is stumbling around in the dark looking for answers. When the Lord has acted in your life a simple, “Thank You” will not suffice – we must tell someone.
Roland Allen tells about a veteran missionary who came up to him one day after he had delivered his sermon. The missionary introduced himself and said, “I was a medical missionary for many years in India. The people in the area of India where I was working was plagued with progressive blindness. People were born with healthy vision, but there was something in that area that caused people to lose their sight as they matured.”
But this missionary had developed a process that would reverse blindness. So people came to him and he performed his operation, and they would leave realizing that they would have become blind, but now they were going to be able to see for the rest of their lives.
He said that they never said, “Thank you,” because that phrase was not in their dialect. Instead, they spoke a word that meant, “I will tell your name.” Wherever they went, they would tell the name of the missionary who had cured their blindness. They had received something so wonderful that they eagerly proclaimed it.
This is gratitude – to tell of the wonders of our God wherever we go. To tell the wonders of God to a world blinded by pain, sorrow, and heaviness you must first know the wonders of God that have come through His Son Jesus. Maybe this morning you don’t know Jesus as Lord of your life. You’ve never had your eyes opened to His glory and grace, but this morning something is stirring in your heart; something is telling you that you need the benefits of the Lord. Something is drawing you to His grace, mercy, and salvation. That is the Spirit of Almighty God drawing you with cords of lovingkindness and salvation. Come on home my friend. Walk into the arms of grace that you too may know the kindness and mercy of the Lord. Won’t you invite Him in this morning so that you may be truly grateful this Thanksgiving?