Giving thanks. What it is. The Results. Steps to take.
Post are normally on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but because of Thanksgiving, this post is going out today. See you next Tuesday!
It’s the end of November. The seasons are changing (not much here in Florida, but it happens somewhere!), and there’s a lot of talk regarding Black Friday, Christmas shopping, and New Years resolutions. These things aren’t bad, but they can clutter our hearts and minds, pulling us away from the thankfulness we ought to have.
I got to teach on "Giving Thanks" this past week at Redemption Church, and I loved preparing for it. I go into more detail in my sermon but here are the basic highlights.
You can listen to the sermon in its fulness at THIS LINK.
What It Is
In essence, giving thanks is one step beyond being thankful. When we receive something, we well up with thankfulness (“full of thanks”), but it’s not meant to end there. Parents across the world are trying to teach their children to say “thank you,” to not only have a feeling of thankfulness, but to then GIVE thanks to the giver.
Giving thanks takes our eyes off of our gifts and puts them back onto the giver. It takes something that was once self-centered and internal, and makes it more about the relationship between the giver and the receiver of the gift.
Although giving thanks is really that simple, it doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Giving thanks is:
We so often associate discipline as punishment, but it’s much more than that. Discipline is training.
The dictionary describes it as: "The practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior."
I rephrased it as:
“Chosen perseverance in order to improve oneself."
Giving thanks isn’t always easy, because sometimes we don’t feel thankful. However, we’re told to: "Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess 5:18)
Colossians 2:6-7 also reminds us that we should be abounding in thanksgiving. It’s meant to be a constant in the life of a Christian, not merely when times feel good.
"Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” Hebrews 13:15
The dictionary defines praise as
"The expression of respect and gratitude as an act of worship."
We are told to continually offer up a “sacrifice of praise”. Sometimes we’ll feel like it. Sometimes we won’t.
Paul encourages us in Romans 12:1 that we are to have our entire lives be living sacrifices which he says is our spiritual worship. This includes our sacrifice of praise and thanks giving. He even described his ministry to the Philippians, in Phil 2:7, as one of a sacrificial offering.
This view of thanks giving can be hard to receive. We normally think of giving thanks as a joyous and easy response to wonderful situations and gifts. Although giving thanks does include discipline and sacrifice, we know that when God calls us to sacrifice, there are always a worthwhile results.
Contentment in Jesus
When we choose to give thanks, we will find a growing contentment in Jesus.
"I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” Phil 4:11-12
Paul claims to have found the secret to contentment. He does not refuse gifts or blessings. He says that he knows how to abound, and how to enjoy things. instead, he has found how to not be ruled by things, good or bad, and how to be content regardless of how much he has.
This secret is revealed in the previous chapter. In 3:7-11, Paul describes how he has learned to value his relationship with God more than the things God has given him.
"I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him."
Paul found that when he valued the giver over the gifts, he could be content in any circumstance. Things will come and go. Gifts will grow old, break, and be lost. Our relationship with Jesus will never fade.
By giving thanks, we can also find this contentment. Through giving thanks, we can refocus our eyes and priorities off of our things, and onto Jesus, Who has given us all things.
Peace from Jesus
One of my favorite verses is Isaiah 26:3.
"You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you."
As we give thanks, the primary event happening is a refocusing our eyes onto Jesus. It’s through this refocusing that we also find our Peace in Jesus. The best example we have for this reality of peace when we focus on God is found in Matthew 14:-28-33.
In this story, Jesus is walking on the water to his disciples in the mist of a bad storm. As the disciples are considering if it is truly Jesus, or a ghost, Peter says, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He then steps out onto the water and begins walking towards Jesus. However, it then says:
"But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink."
When Peter lost sight of Jesus and turned to things around him, he began to sink.
In the same way, when we refocus our eyes on Jesus through giving thanks, we will be able to stand on top of the waves and storms in life. But when we loose the sight of Him, when we turn back to our situations and ourselves, we will sink. Every time.
The story doesn’t end with a dead Peter though. Instead, he cried out to Jesus, and Jesus pulled him back up.
In the same way, we will mess up. We will fail. We will turn our eyes onto the things we have, instead of Who has given them to us. But we don’t have to end that way. When we turn our eyes back onto God in thanks giving, He is willing and able to draw us back to Himself and into the peace He gives.
Nearness to Jesus
Although it is by grace through faith that we to come before God, He still requires that we draw near on His terms. Ultimately, this means by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. However, He has told us in His Word many things that are meant to help our relationship blossom. One of these is that we would draw near while giving thanks.
"Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods.” Psalm 95:2–3
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians 4:6
Whether it is through worship or a personal time of prayer, God encourages us to come to Him in thanksgiving.
“Nothing will bring us into the consciousness of God’s presence more quickly and deeply than praising Him and giving thanks to Him. And nothing will disrupt our awareness of His presence like focusing on our own discontentment.” - Steven Furtick, Crash the Chatterbox
Contentment in Jesus cannot happen while we’re discontent with our situation.
Peace from Jesus cannot be received by an anxious heart tied up from a lack of thanksgiving.
Nearness to Jesus will not be found while holding onto discontentment.
While holding back thanksgiving.
Steps to take
The rubber meets the road. Like working out, the results sound so amazing, and the idea of sacrifice and discipline seem not nearly as harsh. But don’t let giving thanks become romanticized in your mind. There will be good days, for sure, but there will also be difficult days where you know through tears that giving thanks is a sacrifice. But it’s worth it.
So how can we give thanks? It’s a simple idea, but we don’t want to try to jump 5 stories high, it’s always better to take the stairs.
Remember what you deserve
Nothing will bring us to a place where giving thanks can reign like remembering what we deserve.
Paul calls the church of Ephesus to do this in Ephesians 2:11-12. They had become comfortable in their new relationship with Jesus. A little too comfortable. It had become an easy assumption. So Paul reminded them that they were once:
"Separated from Christ
Alienated from the commonwealth of Israel (which was a relationship with God)
Strangers to the covenants of promise
And having no hope and without God in the world"
In the same way, he reminds us in Romans 6:23 that the “wages of sin is death.” That we don’t deserve anything good. In fact, we deserve death. Those are our wages because of how we’ve lived our lives.
However, if we end here, we’re not telling the full story. This is truly what we deserve, and it should bring great gratitude in our hearts when we realize we have been given so much more than this in Jesus.
Remember what you have
The wages of sin is death. But in the same breath, Paul finishes with:
”But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Not only life, but Jesus is the ultimate reason for every good thing, and every gift we’ve ever received and ever will receive (James 1:17, John 3:27, 1 Corinthians 4:7).
Whether it be where you live, the friends or family you have, the job you have or even the air you breathe. It is a gift from God. These things may seem small, but when we remember them in tandem with what we deserve, they are truly grand.
This should be an ongoing lifestyle, not merely a once a year holiday. I hope that this has encouraged you to bring thanksgiving into your daily habits, or maybe has renewed your commitment to giving thanks. I pray that as you do this you’ll find your contentment, peace, and nearness to Jesus will grow exponentially and that you will enjoy the blessing of following Him.
"The one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” James 1:25