The Attitude of Gratitude

Psalm 100

In just a couple of hours, Diana and I are going to get on an airplane and fly to Dallas, TX.  It’s an amazing thing – get into this big metal tube with wings strapped to the sides and it lifts up into the air and gets you in two hours to a place it would take you 18 hours to drive to.  But have you noticed how easy it is to complain about airlines?  “I had to go through security and take off my shoes, then it took them twenty minutes to board us and then we sat on the runway for twenty minutes, my seat’s not comfortable, there’s no leg room, they charge for luggage, there’s a crying baby, they don’t serve meals and sodas for free anymore…” and the list goes on.  Instead, we ought to be thinking, “This is amazing! I’m flying at 600 miles an hour at 30,000 feet in the air and I don’t have to do anything but sit here!”  Instead we’re sitting there thinking, “my seat won’t lay back.”

It seems like we’re programmed for ingratitude – we look for the worst and suck the joy out of even the most wonderful things.  And we don’t keep it to ourselves, we take it out on  others.

How does it make you feel when someone genuinely and sincerely says, “Thank you” or “I appreciate you”?  Most of us don’t get enough of it.

I’ve noticed, we’re not really very good at expressing thanks and gratitude and appreciation – to God or to anyone else.  We take things for granted, we assume people know how we feel, we don’t take the time or effort to communicate what we feel and what should be said.  And if we don’t do that with people, we don’t do any better with God.

I’m not sure why we’re like that.  I’m pretty sure it’s not out of malice or ill will, but maybe we don’t have the right attitude or perspective.  When someone does something nice for you, what goes through your mind?  “That’s their job,” “Nobody asked them to do it,” “Why should I have to say something – they know how I feel.”   Or do you think, “Wow – they really went out of their way for me,” “That was such a thoughtful thing to do,” “That was such nice gift from their heart - I have to say something.”

When you do something nice for someone, I’m sure you don’t do it for the thanks, but it is nice to have some kind of response to know that the action was acknowledged.

Being the week before Thanksgiving, I wanted to spend a few minutes thinking together about that quality of life that thanksgiving embodies.  In fact, as I thought about gratitude, I wondered why Paul didn’t include it as a fruit of the Holy Spirit.  And then I realized, gratitude isn’t a gift, it is a response to a gift.  God hard-wired us to respond with thanksgiving. 

Psalm 100 begins with a heading that describes one of those instincts which God created in each of us – a need to express gratitude. It is titled, “A psalm. For giving thanks.”

There are times in our lives that we cannot help but pour out our hearts in thanksgiving to the Lord.  This psalm came out of one of those moments for David: 

Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.  Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.

David looked around him at the wonders of God’s creation.  He recognized his dependence upon God and God’s goodness to him and his love and faithfulness to him.  And what can he do but fall before God’s throne in praise and thanksgiving.  It is the only imaginable response to who God is and what he has done.

But, of course, people are also capable of doing the unimaginable.  Listen to Paul’s description of a people who have looked at and experienced the same things David described and yet came up with a different response: 

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.  (Rom. 1:18-21)

Not to respond to God and his love with thanksgiving is to deny what is most basic in us.  To paraphrase Paul, you would have to be brain-dead and cold-hearted not to desire to give thanks to the one who made you. 

Thankfulness to God finds its expression in so many ways in our lives:  A thankful heart cannot help but praise God and tell others about his goodness.  If we truly understand what God has done and the incredible gift of grace that he has poured out on us, our gratitude compels us to want to please him and live for him.  If we are thankful to God, our deepest desire is to draw near to him and spend time with him.  Thankfulness inevitably leads to worship.  That’s the nature of thankfulness. 

Unfortunately, we’ve boxed it up and placed it on the calendar and reserved those feelings for a holiday instead of a continual, daily expression of thanks.  For thanksgiving to be a meaningful, genuine expression of our heart, it can’t be reserved for a special occasion – a once a year duty we get out of the way so we can enjoy our “Thanksgiving” meal.

Thanksgiving is not a once a year duty, or an occasional feeling, but a way of life, an attitude of gratitude that permeates our thoughts and our words.  Gratitude, even though I believe it is a God-inspired natural response, has become a lost art.  And whether we’ve just become too busy to notice, or too self-centered to care, we need to learn (or rather re-learn) to be thankful.  Let me suggest a couple of ways you can learn to be thankful:

1)  Practice being aware of what God is doing in your life.  The greatest obstacle to thankfulness is taking things for granted – blindly walking through life without taking note of the amazing things that God does on a regular basis.  And that includes spending time in his Word – not just to check off another day on a reading schedule, but keeping your eyes open for what God has done and has promised and the blessing that he has poured into your life.

2)  Respond immediately with appreciation.  How many times have you thought of something God has done, some gift he has given, some blessing bestowed, and you didn’t take the time to say thank you?  You had the best of intentions, but the moment passed, the thought was lost and you were on to something else.  If we are going to be thankful, we must actively seize the moment and take action.

3)  Pass it on.  Gratitude has a domino effect.  Listen to what Paul writes to the Corinthian church about the effect God’s generosity can have:  2Co 9:10-13 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.

There is a dynamic power in thankfulness.  It encourages and inspires, and sends out ripples far beyond the initial point of impact.  When we experience God’s generosity toward us, we express our thankfulness to him and respond by being generous toward others, who also respond in thankfulness toward God and in generosity toward still others. 

As you might expect, thankfulness to God permeates the Bible, both OT and NT.  Let’s listen for a moment to some of these expressions and exhortations:

1Ch 16:8,34-35 “Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done... Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever. 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.”

1Ch 29:11-13 “Praise be to you, O LORD, God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting.  Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.”

Ps 7:17 I will give thanks to the LORD because of his righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High.

Ps 28:7 The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song.

Ps 30:11-12 You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever.

Ps 35:18 I will give you thanks in the great assembly; among throngs of people I will praise you.

Ps 75:1 We give thanks to you, O God, we give thanks, for your Name is near; men tell of your wonderful deeds.

Ps 118:1, 28-29  Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever…  You are my God, and I will give you thanks; you are my God, and I will exalt you. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.

Col 3:15-16 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

1Thess 5:16-18 Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Heb 12:28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.

It’s interesting though – learning to be thankful to God should also increase our capacity to be thankful to others.  As we practice being aware of what God is doing and responding to him in gratitude, we also become more aware of what others are doing, and our natural response is to be more appreciative of them.  And the same things I said about learning to be thankful toward God are true of learning to be thankful toward others:

Respond immediately – don’t let your best intentions die with the moment.  Say something, write a note – demonstrate your gratitude and appreciation.  Unexpressed thankfulness is worthless.

Pass it on.  Let someone else’s generosity of spirit inspire you to pass on an act of kindness toward someone else.

There is a story in the Gospel of Luke that so powerfully illustrates this quality of thankfulness that I want it to capture our hearts this morning  - Lk 17:11-19 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. 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.”

Jesus was amazed at the one, and even more amazed at the nine.  The one thing they should have done was the one thing they didn’t do – show thanks.

The early church had a word for the Lord’s Supper – eucharist – from the Gk word for “thanksgiving.”  It is easy to see why they called it the thanksgiving:

Matt. 26:26-29  While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”  Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you.  This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.  I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

When Paul reflected on the meaning of the Lord’s Supper he said, Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?   1 Cor. 10:16 

Thankfulness is what characterized the supper for the early Christians.  Yes, it was a memorial service.  Yes, in the supper they remembered his body.  Yes, the supper was about the suffering and death of Christ. 

But woven throughout these simple elements of bread and wine is thankfulness –

o    thankfulness for God’s indescribable gift of grace

o    thankfulness for the Savior who rescued us from sin and death and reunited us with the Father who loves us

o    thankfulness that when we looked up, it was no longer on hands ravaged by spiritual leprosy, but on the face of Jesus who had come to bring us life. 

How could we not come running back to him and throw ourselves at his feet in gratitude and praise?

For just a few moments – let’s stand in the sandals of the one leper who has been cleansed and has turned to come back to the Savior to thank him for what he has done for us.  And our thankfulness is so much deeper, because when we turn we see the face of our Savior who has taken our place on the cross – me the sinner, he the sinless – me the helpless, he the son of God.