Anybody else break into a sweat watching that Drama? We have all been there. It is Thanksgiving, or it is Christmas someone with a great heart and great intention asks to go around the room and share what you are grateful for- READY, SET…EVERYBODY BE GRATEFUL!
That is kind of the way I feel about Valentine’s Day. I have realized that if I have not been loving to Linda during the year year, if I have not been pursuing her throughout the year. If the only time I am romantic with her is on Valentine’s Day- There are not enough flowers in the Whitehouse rose garden to make it right on Valentine’s Day.
This week we begin a 3 week series on Gratefulness and it will become abundantly clear that our friends in the Drama don’t get it.
Gratefulness is not something that we as followers of Christ are suppose to turn on and off depending on the day, the circumstances or how we are feeling.
Gratefulness for the follower of Christ is not for a moment, it is not situational and it is not to be sparked only during Holidays or Funerals. Gratefulness, Thanksgiving for the person who knows and loves God is a way of life and a sustaining part of life.
We will see over the next 3 weeks that there is a consistent and constant strand of Gratefulness and Thanksgiving that runs through the Scriptures for the one who knows, trusts, and loves God.
The Bible teaches Gratefulness from start to finish and Jesus, His apostles, and all Jesus followers taught and Modeled lives of Gratefulness in ALL situations.
In times of abundance, protection, provision and blessing, Gratefulness flowed
In times of sorrow, suffering pain and even death- Gratefulness flowed.
Gratefulness to Jesus, gratefulness to the Apostles and to Jesus Disciples did not depend on emotion, and it seems that it was more than just “willing” themselves to be Grateful.
Gratefulness, Thanksgiving just seemed to be In THEM…to be a part of THEM and to flow out from them- Always!
In fact in our passage this week Paul is writing while he was in Prison and writing to the Philippian church, a church that was facing hardships of their own and yet Paul says… “REJOICE!”
Is this really possible for us? Is it really possible that we can live lives of Gratefulness and Thanksgiving in all circumstances?
Can Gratefulness really be a part of who we are?
I was going through a tough time in my life. This difficult time meandered through cancer, through death, through family struggles, chronic illnesses and family turmoil, sorrow and confusion that I had never known before and quite frankly had never thought I would have to face.
My struggles are not unique or deeper than many of yours. Sadly most of us have known or will know times like this…and I was struggling to keep my head up. In fact there were times that I struggled to get up at all.
I have a friend who moved away many years ago. He is a man I have journeyed with from the time I first met Christ. He is gentle, he is wise, he has been tested in the hardships of life and through it all He is a man of the Word and a man of faith.
He was in town visiting and I looked forward to sharing my heart with him and I did, for over an hour. He listened and I could tell his heart was broken for me. He had lived through very tough times himself and he knew that my pain was real. I could feel his care and his compassion.
Then, at the end, after listening, after confirming he asked me a question…”Steve, are you able to rejoice?...Are you grateful?
He did not ask lightly, or judgmentally. He did not say it without deep understanding and affirmation that my pain and struggle was real and deep. He just gently, simply and compassionately encouraged me to the truth- “Steve you need to find your way back to Rejoicing, you can’t stop until you are once again Grateful.”
My friend had led me to one of what I believe is one of the greatest crossroads in the Christian faith, one of the hardest questions and the biggest decisions of the lover of God and the follower of Jesus…Is it really possible to have a heart of Gratefulness in all circumstances?
Over the next 3 weeks we will see that there is no doubt that the Scriptures teach a resounding YES to that question.
Therefore we as Christians are left with one of two choices…
The promise of a grateful heart in all circumstances is an empty promise that borders on cruelty because it teaches an unattainable hope.
The promise of a grateful heart in all life circumstances is truth and ONE OF THE MOST INCREDIBLE PROMISES OF OUR CHRISTIAN FAITH.
My friend had done me a great service. He drew me back to one of the great Mysteries in all the Scriptures…
the Mystery of being able to truly Rejoice in all things,
he drew me back to one of the greatest Hopes in the Scriptures, the promise of Thanksgiving always.
And he drew me back to one of the great Truths of the Scriptures, the power of a heart filled with Gratefulness.
Gratefulness is not just a command of God. Gratefulness is one of the greatest gifts from God.
Please turn with me to Philippians 4:4____________________
Paul wrote this letter to the Philippians while he was in bondage, most likely in Rome. This was Paul’s first imprisonment and he was eventually set free only to be imprisoned again in Rome where he was executed for his faith.
Although this imprisonment did not lead to Paul’s death, it is clear that he was writing with the understanding that his life was at risk because later in the letter Paul writes…
Philippians 2:17 (NIV)
17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you.
Paul had visited the Philippians personally and it is clear from his writings that the Philippian church held a special place in Paul’s heart.
Our passage begins in verse 4…
Philippians 4:4 (NIV)
4 Rejoice in the Lord always.
This is the 3rd time in this short letter that Paul has referred to REJOICING.
And it seems he anticipates the question that would resound in the minds of his friends…”Paul, how can we rejoice? How can you rejoice, you are in Prison and may die?
so Paul repeats the encouragement…
I will say it again: Rejoice!
My observation as I read this entire letter is that Paul did not see Rejoicing and Gratefulness as a response to issues, but as a solution to issues!
Paul goes on in verse 5…
5 Let your gentleness be evident to all.
This word Gentleness is a BIG word in the greek, too big to be translated by a single English word. It means to be yielding, kind, patient, lenient it describes an overall “peace”.
Paul gives the reason for this Grace and peace…
The Lord is near.
This does seem to refer to Jesus continued presence, but it also is obvious that Paul felt that the return of Jesus was near and the Kingdom of God was present.
It is clear that although Paul expected Jesus to return shortly, his rejoicing was not tied to Paul personally seeing that return. Paul writes elsewhere in this letter that whether he lived or died, He rejoiced. The presence of Jesus and the promise of the Hope of the Kingdom trumped all else and allowed Gratefulness in all situations.
Please understand Paul’s encouragement to rejoice, and to be at peace was not an encouragement of meekness or surrender…
“There is no other choice so surrender to your circumstances and choose to rejoice anyway”
God’s encouragement of Gratefulness and peace through Paul is one of pure STRENGTH and Power.
“God is Near, The Kingdom is real, no matter what happens…We win…REJOICE!
And Paul just keeps beating this “Gratefulness” Drum V6…
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
“Do not be anxious” can mean “ do not be concerned at all, but here in the this context it seems to have a stronger meaning as in do not be overly worried, do not have undue concern.
“But”- “instead” Pray!
Anxiety, worrying is not the answer, Prayer is.
and this is important…the word used here means “Prayer with an attitude of Worship.”
God through Paul says…instead of being anxious- Pray until you reach WORSHIP!
Present your needs to God and WORSHIP Him with THANKSGIVING!
Notice the Thanksgiving, the Gratefulness is not dependent on God’s answer, Thanksgiving precedes God’s answer to our prayer becauseThanksgiving is not dependent on God’s answer but on God’s Goodness and God’s goodness is not tied to his answers.
Gratefulness, Thanksgiving comes from the confidence that God is always at work behind the scenes in ALL things.
Romans 8:28 (NIV)
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
This is not a promise that every situation will in the end come to the result you want for you.
I want to give you what I think is a better translation…
“In everything that happens, God Works for Good with those who love him”
It is the promise that in the end God will use all your struggles, all your pain, all of your successes…EVERYTHING for good, not just for your good, but for Kingdom good.
Jesus modeled Thanksgiving and confidence in the Father’s work behind the scenes…
Even on the night that Jesus was betrayed…Jesus gave thanks!
It is clear that in the face of sorrows, suffering and pain, God through Paul says to Rejoice!, give thanks…Pray with an attitude of Worship.
Next week will dive deeper into Gratefulness in times of Pain and suffering.
But I want to point something out. Encouragement for Grateful hearts is not just needed during hard times. God through Paul encourages Grateful hearts in the Good times as well.
Paul in his letters uses the word “Rejoice” at least 25 times! About half of these encouragements are for times of trial.
But almost half the times Paul is encouraging us, reminding us to have Grateful hearts when times are good.
- When a truth has been affirmed- Rejoice, give thanks be grateful
- When friends are doing well- Rejoice, give thanks, be grateful
- When you understand and experience Righteousness- Rejoice, give thanks, be grateful.
- When you are feeling confident- Rejoice, give thanks, be grateful
- When you see other doing well- Rejoice give thanks, be grateful
- When you are enjoying times of refreshing- Rejoice, give thanks Be grateful.
Why do we need to be reminded during good times to be grateful?
Because one of the biggest thieves of our Gratefulness is Entitlement!
“Entitled”- To have the “right” or “claim” to something
It is certain that pain, sorrow and suffering are a threat to our hearts of Gratefulness but in this country, in this community and in this church entitlement is at least equal and quite possibly a greater thief of grateful hearts.
Gratefulness comes when you recognize that you have received something you did not expect and did not earn.
With entitlement there is no gratefulness because when you are entitled you expect everything and in your mind there is nothing you have not earned and are not owed.
I remember a comedian telling the story of being on a plane before the time that internet was offered in flight. An announcement was made that they would be testing the internet service for the first time during this flight.
The flight took off and the man next to him opened up his computer and got on line. About 20 minutes later the internet went down and they announced there was a problem they would have to work out.
The man slammed down the lid of his computer frustrated and furious…”This happens everytime”
We are entitled to everything…even it just came into existence 10 minutes ago.
But entitlement is also present in us in less blatant ways, but is no less a thief of our Gratefulness.
We are entitled to health
We are entitled to a roof over our head and we are entitled to that roof being over a certain amount of bedrooms and bathrooms and we are entitled to that roof being located in a certain neighborhood.
We are entitled to 3 meals a day, 7 days a week and we are entitled to have a least a couple of those meals be at a restaurant of our choice.
We are entitled to Sullivan’s quality at McDonalds speed.
We are entitled to have a flight travel from NY to LA and take off and land within 5 minutes of it’s posted time.
We are entitled to not have to wait in line for anything and to let everyone know how frustrated we are when we are put in a line.
We are entitled not to be inconvenienced by the elderly person in front of us driving or in the grocery check-out lane.
We are entitled to have a job that provides a lifestyle we are entitled to.
We are entitled to charge up our credit cards to maintain that entitled lifestyle.
We are entitled to have everyone treat us with respect , kindness and patience…
And we are entitled to have everyone understanding that we are too busy or too stressed to treat them with the same respect , kindness and understanding.
We live in a world of entitlement!
But what is this the truth about what we are really entitled to?
1 Corinthians 4:7 (NIV) …What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?
I could go front to back in the scriptures to show the truth from God that we are entitled to exactly NOTHING…everything we have is a gift.
And the last thing you or should demand is what we deserve!...we could not handle getting one ounce of what we deserve
Jesus did not come to give us what we have deserved, He came to keep us from getting what we have deserved.
So what should we be grateful for? EVERY LITTLE THING THAT HAPPENS!
For the first breath that fills our lungs in the morning and for the pillow we lay our head on each night.
For the fact that we can stand in a line because we should be grateful that we can stand at all
Grateful that there is such a thing as an airplane, late or not because those cross country trips use to take months to make and half the people on the trip were likely to die before they arrived.
Grateful to have a roof, any roof at all
Grateful for any food at all and grateful for the person serving it too us.
Paul writes in another one of his letters…
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)
16 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
Why does God both command and encourage us to live lives of Gratefulness?
Certainly God commands it as a part of our witness and as a part of our offering to Him.
But…it also clear that He encourages us to Gratefulness because it is a gift He has for us.
God knows there is no JOY, there is no LIFE without Gratefulness.
Pain and suffering enter into your life and Hope and promise disappear and so does your JOY and your LIFE. God’s answer, God’s Gift is GRATEFULNESS.
Nobody got this better than Job. Job perhaps the most picked on man in history- in the midst of all his sorrows and losses, in the midst of all his questions and confusion still held on to the lifeline of God, he held onto Gratefulness.
Jobs wife encourages him to curse God, but Job responds…
Job 2:10 (NIV)
10 …"You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?"
Job in all his pain and all his struggle says…”Job is still able to remember the Good that God had given him and focus on that.
Amazingly, amidst some of history’s greatest suffering…it is actually GRATEFULNESS that is the lifeline!
Gratefulness is God’s Gift into lives of entitlement as well. Because when there is entitlement there is no Joy and no life there either.
How can you celebrate when you believe that everything you have you have earned? How can you feel blessed when everything you experience is by your own power and your own hand? How can you have Joy when you have received nothing from anyone?
Wake up and go to bed healthy? No cause for Joy, my health is a given
A raise? Why celebrate, they owed it to you.
Your wife’s affirmation of you- Why rejoice in that, she is only expressing what she should.
My sins are forgiven? No joy in that they were far less than his sins to begin with.
Can you see entitlement actually steals JOY! In fact the greater the entitlement the less the joy.
On the other hand run into someone who feels like they are entitled to NOTHING and they bubble over with Joy. You know the person I am talking about.
The sun rises in the morning and they say- Oh look the sun came up again this morning I am so blessed.
I have a confession to make…I used to despise these people…they made me mad. Where did they get off being so filled with Joy.
Even worse…I thought they were fake…then early in my walk with Christ I met Gyneth Luginbill.
Gyneth did not have an entitlement bone in her body. Every sunrise, every breath, every meal, every smile, and every hug was a gift from God.
Linda once found Gyneth wandering Castleton Mall as happy as ever. When Linda hugged her and checked on her she joyfully told Linda that she had lost her car keys in the mall somewhere…but it was a great blessing because it gave her time to just walk around the mall and celebrate all these people hearing songs celebrating the birth of Jesus…she just gushed…”Linda isn’t it just so wonderful.”
Imagine a life lived with no entitlement…imagine a life lived with that much Peace and Joy.
You wake up in the morning- Joy, God has given you another day
It is a cold morning and you go to the thermostat and turn the heat on and hot air blows from the vents- Joy, another Gift, heat on demand.
Your kids come down from upstairs- Your children are well for another day- Joy because you realize not all children are.
Gratefulness is not just a command OF God. Gratefulness is one of the greatest gifts FROM God.
So how do we know if we are living the command of Gratefulness and in the Gift of Gratefulness?
I believe that the best diagnostic to honestly assess that question is your WORSHIP.
In times of deepest struggle, through tears and through fears. After you have made all your requests of God and laid them at His feet when you have a grateful heart you will unexplainably find yourself raised to Worship.
I remembering praying one morning. When I had finished laying out all of my issues before God I felt better but still heavy over some of the things I was facing. I remember feeling the urging from God…”don’t stop yet Steve, you have put your requests before me…stay with me until you have reached Worship!”
It was not a rebuke from God, it was an encouragement. Even in struggle Worship is the answer…don’t stop until you have returned to Worship.
And on the other side of it, if you are living with a Grateful heart… instead of entitlement you will find yourself being thankful for things you used to take for granted, things that were once “givens” begin to inspire Thanksgiving , gratefulness and joy. You will find yourself more and more dwelling and thankful for all that you DO have rather than complaining and grumbling about the things you don’t have.
I am not talking about just the worship during church on Sunday, I am talking about heartfelt , spontaneous, heart pounding, hope building, eyes welled up, Holy Spirit powered life sustaining worship that can happen at any time.
Worship that happens while you are in the shower, eating breakfast or driving to work , it is inspired by a verse, a song, a story or just a thought
All of a sudden you find yourself overwhelmed by the realness of God and the nearness of God, the Gifts of God and the Hope of God…and you can’t help it…your heart has to WORSHIP…and you do.
If you are growing in the Gratefulness that God commands of us to, and the Gratefulness that God Gifts to us, you will find yourself experiencing this spontaneous worship inspired by more and more things and experienced in more and more ways.
God through Paul ends this passage with a promise…
God says…Rejoice- Give thanks, Pray in times of need and in times of blessing…
7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
In Hearts filled with Gratefulness we have the promise of a Peace that is unreachable apart from God…and unimaginable with God.
We started with a strong either or…The promise of Gratetfulness and Thanksgiving in all circumstances is either…
A Cruel tease..Or a great truth…
So what do you think?
I end with this one last offer of proof that Gratefulness is indeed a great promise and Truth.
In the first century much of the scriptures were not written down yet or at least not readily available. The testimonies of God lived in the words of the apostles and then the truth of those words were measured against the lives the apostles lived. The validity of the word, depended on the life lived by the one who spoke or wrote the words.
As one last offer of proof that a life of Gratefulness is indeed one the great truths of the Scriptures, I offer the testimony of the life of Paul himself.
At the end of his life Paul wrote two very personal letters.
One to Timothy a man Paul loved like a son, the other is the letter we are looking at this week to the Philippians whom Paul had a special connection with and loved dearly.
When I am struggling with the question…can this really be true? Is Gratefulness in all situations a Mystery, a gift that God gives to his children? I read these two letters over and over.
Paul a man who had tasted a life of great privilege and blessing. A man who also had experienced life’s hardest trials.
Paul, knowing he would soon die for his faith writes this testimony to the people he loved most in the world…
Philippians 3:7-14 (NASB)
7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.
8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ,
9 and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, 10
that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; 11 in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
12 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.
13 Loved ones, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Gratefulness is not just a command OF God. Gratefulness is one of the greatest gifts FROM God.