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Shouldn’t giving thanks be simple?

given on Sunday, November 10, 2013

Scripture:  I Chronicles 16:7-36 as found in The Message

The last few days have been spectacular with the temperatures, the blue skies, and mild November temperatures.  It is easy to forget how hot we were a few months ago or how tired we were of the dark rainy days.  Did you remember to thank God for such wonderful days?

         Giving thanks should be an automatic response, but we have a tendency to overlook this simple gesture.  In an odd way, giving thanks is similar to being able to accept a compliment.  It is sometimes awkward.  We do not always know how to say thank you just like we do not know how to accept a compliment.

In the psalm we read from I Chronicles 16, David provides the guidelines for giving thanks.  According to the Life Application Bible’s study notes, there are four elements in this psalm that tell us how to give thanks.  The words may be simple, but consider these elements:

  1. Remember what God has done
  2. Tell others about it
  3. Show God’s glory to others, and
  4. Offer gifts of self, time and resources.

By including each of these four elements in our thanks, we can practice giving thanksgiving until it becomes a natural part of who we are.

Giving thanks to God, just like offering our gratitude to others for a service or for a gift, should be an automatic reaction.  We need to focus on giving thanks as part of the discipline of living a Christian life.  The psalm demonstrates how giving thanks can be done.  Look back over the verses 8-13, (this time from the Message):

Thank God! Call out his Name!
Tell the whole world who he is and what he’s done!
Sing to him! Play songs for him!
Broadcast all his wonders!
Revel in his holy Name,
God-seekers, be jubilant!
Study God and his strength,
seek his presence day and night;
Remember all the wonders he performed,
the miracles and judgments that came out of his mouth.
Seed of Israel his servant!
Children of Jacob, his first choice
!

These verses tell us how to sing, play songs, and tell all about all the wonders God has provided us, his children.

The segment of the psalm clearly identifies who God is:

He is God, our God;
wherever you go you come on his judgments and decisions.
He keeps his commitments across thousands
of generations, the covenant he commanded,
The same one he made with Abraham,
the very one he swore to Isaac;
He posted it in big block letters to Jacob,
this eternal covenant with Israel:
“I give you the land of Canaan,
this is your inheritance;
Even though you’re not much to look at,
a few straggling strangers.”

David leaves no doubt who he is thanking.  He is making sure that everybody knows that God is the source of all that he has received.  Do you see how this matches the elements of thanksgivings?

Remember that thanks need to include what God has done for you.  Create a list, look around and acknowledge what God has done for you—is it the weather like we have seen these past few days?  Or is it the family you have?  Is it the home you live in?  Is it the job we have?  It is our health?  The list can be very lengthy, but what we have is valued in part by our acknowledgement that God has a role in it.

Giving thanks even to our family and our friends is part of our life, too.  The reasons may be simple like getting help cleaning house or mowing the yard.  The power of a simple thank you lifts up those you are appreciate, so why isn’t giving thanks to God just as important?

In the psalm, David remembers or credits God for what he has done for him personally, but he also tells others.  We do that, too, especially when we gather with our Christian friends for worship.  It makes it easy when Christians join together to give thanks, but should we not give thanks in the presence of those who may not know God, too?

By sharing what we are thankful for, and sharing how we thank God for being a part of our lives, we also need to point out the glory of God himself.  Remember:  what we do, we do for the glory of God.  If we give thanks, we do that for that glory of God, too.  Giving thanks to others for what they do for us, too, is showing that we appreciate what others do for the glory of God, also.

Giving thanks is a practice that improves our Christian lifestyle, it keeps us focused on God as the center of our lives whether it be in relationships, in what we have, in how we get things, and how we perceive our lives—lives which are a joy.

Shouldn’t giving thanks be simple?  The last element of thanks is to offer gifts such as yourself, your time, and/or your resources.  This is true whenever we give thanks to someone for what they have done for us, so should it not be the same for giving God thanks?

Look back at the verses in I Chronicles as the psalm continues to share thanks:

         Sing to God, everyone and everything!
Get out his salvation news every day!
Publish his glory among the godless nations,
his wonders to all races and religions.
And why? Because God is great—well worth praising!
No god or goddess comes close in honor.
All the popular gods are stuff and nonsense,
but God made the cosmos!
Splendor and majesty flow out of him,
strength and joy fill his place.

28-29 Shout Bravo! to God, families of the peoples,
in awe of the Glory, in awe of the Strength: Bravo!
Shout Bravo! to his famous Name,
lift high an offering and enter his presence!
Stand resplendent in his robes of holiness!

Giving thanks does not take a lot of money, not even a great deal of effort in many cases.  But giving thanks is one more means of living a God-centered life.  Giving thanks demonstrates to others how much we value them, just like we value God.  There is no definite way to share thanks, but David certainly gave us a model in this psalm.  He also wrote many more psalms which clearly show how to give thanks—just open up the prayer book Psalms and read through the ones there.  Or, look again at the final few verses in I Chronicles 16: 34-36:

Give thanks to God—he is good
and his love never quits.
Say, “Save us, Savior God,
round us up and get us out of these godless places,
So we can give thanks to your holy Name,
and bask in your life of praise.”
Blessed be God, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting.

Then everybody said, “Yes! Amen!” and “Praise God!”

Closing prayer:

Lord,

Thank you for such delightful November days.

We are reminded how you created this earth

filled with all the flora and fauna to meet our needs.

We are so fortunate that you continue to love us

and to forgive us when we fail to thank you.

Let us look forward to opportunities to share

with others the good news of your grace.

Let us demonstrate your unconditional love

so others, too, may say thank you God,

for such a rich and rewarding life.  –Amen

 

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Why practice thanks?

given on Sunday, November 3, 2013:

         November is here!  No one seems to understand why I dread this month, and that might be why I am discovering a shift in my attitude.  Thank goodness, because I needed a change.

Maybe living around so many enthusiastic deer hunters is part of it.  Maybe it is watching all the fun a Halloween event can be.  Maybe it is the anticipation of the Christmas holiday.  Maybe it is all the birthdays that have developed in the middle of the year.  Why it might even be due to the winning season of the Chiefs and the Mizzou Tigers!

Whatever it is, thank goodness!  I needed to broaden my joy into and through November.  I need to say thanks for giving me a month back to live to the fullest.  I need to practice giving thanks.

Why practice thanks?  Why do Christians need to give thanks to God?  Giving thanks to God, and I dare say to others in our lives, too, is a discipline.  When one disciplines oneself to practice any behavior, that practice becomes internalized in such a manner it takes no thought or effort to carry it out.

Consider what our world would be like if people did not practice certain behaviors or routines.  Think about driving—what if we did not follow the basic traffic laws?  What if we did not practice courtesy on the roadways?  What happens when we make mistakes such as pulling out in front of someone?  Would our lives be safe?  The courtesy we practice on the roadways allows flexibility among drivers who make mistakes or protects us from those who are aggressive.  Aren’t we thankful that almost all drivers do practice courtesy while on the roads?

Still, why does God expect us to practice gratitude as Christians?  The scriptures share various stories about giving thanks, and sometimes it is difficult to identify why we should give thanks.  The story today of the Israelites coming out of Egypt struggling to survive in the desert, wanting a change in the diet of manna that God was providing may seem far-fetched to us, especially right here in the breadbasket of the nation.  Yet, the Israelites were whining and not giving thanks.

How often does that happen in our own lives?  We have everything that we need, but we whine when we do not get what we want.  We watch friends getting more wealth or more stuff than we do, and we whine.  We ask God why do they get it and not us.  Do we stop and practice thanksgiving?  Do we stop watching what others are getting and doing and say thank you God for what we have?

Two of the very reasons I have long dreaded November are now turning into the very reasons I can give thanks to God:

  1. The loss of the green colors and the leaves on the trees signaled the cold, dreariness of winter that I shudder every time I think about it.  Yet, practicing gratitude, I can shift my thinking.  I love the colors of fall and the crispness of the cooler evenings.  The smell of wood burning delights me even when it drifts across my nose as I let the dogs in and out.  The rain this week seemed to provide a glossy finish to the leaves shining in the trees and the ones piling up on the bright green grass.  Thank goodness I can see God’s splendor in this early November day.  Thank you, God, for the delight of nature’s brilliant display.
  2. Over the years, November has signaled loss.  Too many family members seemed to die.  The worst calamities seemed to occur in November—the fire in our woods, the encephalitis Dad developed, and even the assassination of JFK.  But now November has signaled new life with birthdays to celebrate—a sister-in-law, a granddaughter and a grandson, a stepson not to mention an uncle and a cousin and who knows how many more.  I can even add an anniversary to that.  Thank goodness I have learned to see the gains of November.  Thank you, God, for the joy of life rather than the sadness of losses.

My manna from heaven may not be the little beads of nourishment that the Israelites woke to find in the mornings.  My manna is discovering that there is more joy in life than the negative.  Learning to practice gratitude is a discipline Christians need.  The outcomes are so important and can demonstrate to others one more value to living a God-centered life.

Giving thanks may not be one of the acts of piety that John Wesley identified, but even Moses and all the examples of faithful leaders from the Bible knew that showing gratitude to God was critical to maintaining a faithful relationship with God.

For the Israelites, the sacrificial rituals became the religious practice that kept them faithful to God.  The sacrifices were highly structured and the gifts were the first, the finest crops or livestock that could be given to God.

The strict rules that the Israelites followed placed the importance on the gift worthy enough to thank God.  The Old Testament tells story after story of sacrifice that the faithful provided as proof of their obedience to God.  The stories also share examples of when sacrifices were not worthy.  In those stories, the failure to provide thanks with the best gifts or to be deceptive in the giving illustrates how destructive impure gratitude can be.

The New Testament reveals the story of God’s sacrifice to us.  With his gift of his son, he strips away the need to demonstrate gratitude in such ritualistic manners.  No more do we offer sacrificial lambs on an altar because God sacrificed his own son so that we may be forgiven our sins.  What an act for which we can be thankful!

Because God offered his Son, we are not exempt from Christian practices.  In fact, because we do not have to offer the tangible evidence that we believe in God and that Jesus died for our sins, our practice of thanksgiving should be central in our lives.

Practicing thanksgiving each and every day keeps us focused on God.  Giving thanks to God, to one another, to family and friends, even to clerks or service providers keeps us positive.  We show the joy that we experience in our lives because we are God-centered.  We see each worker, each person with God’s eyes and we thank God by our actions of Christian love.

People know us by the radiance in our face, by the twinkle in the eyes, by the hugs we share, by the giving we do, by the words of thanks that we give.  These are the results of practicing our faith.  When we keep our lives God-centered, our perspective of who is in control is kept in check.

Here is the challenge for November:  Practice thanksgiving each and every day of the month, of the year, and in the years ahead.  You will see a difference in your life.  You will see a difference in the lives of those around you.  You will witness the shift from loss to joy in your life.  A life filled with thanksgiving is a life filled with God.

Dear Gracious God,

These November days signal the end of a season,

         but thank you for the glory in the colorful leaves.

These November days may be colder and blustery,

         but thank you for the warmth of our homes.

These November days are filled with excitement,

         as hunters prepare for a new season, too.

These November days are filled with anticipation,

         as families look forward to celebrations.

 

As we awake each morning this November,

         keep us centered on giving thanks.

As we arrive at work each day this November,

         let us share our thanksgiving with others.

As we sit down at our tables this November,

         hear our prayers for the blessings we receive.

As we close our eyes each night this November,

         thank you for another day filled with life.

 

Thank you, Gracious Father, for Novembers.

May we practice thanksgiving to the glory of You.  Amen.

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