Transformational Disciplines: Thanksgiving

Sermon 2 of 5 in a series exploring Spiritual Discipline, preached 28 October 2012.  Read Colossians 3:1-17

Last Sunday I introduced the topic of Spiritual Disciples. As I said at the time these take many forms but essentially are any practise that we undertake that helps us make space for God in our life; or to put it another way ‘Disciplines are simply practices that train us in faithfulness…’ (Marjorie Thompson in Soul Feast).

Or in yet another way: practices that put ourselves in the way of God’s transforming presence, so that we live in the presence of God’s power; so that we experience the power of God’s presence.

And this is important! I experience myself at times the difficulty of knowing God, and I hear from many others that the idea of living in the presence of God’s power is but a distant dream – a personal relationship with God is something that others might have but it is not their experience.

Having faith in God is essential – but there is more…

KNOWING God deeply, personally, intimately and knowing that we are KNOWN by God is Joy, it is life-giving, it is the type of relationship that I believe we were created for, and is available to us NOW.

Thankfulness is but one way we can know God more.

Scripture is full of encouragement to be thankful; Psalm 95 heard earlier is typical: ‘let us come before Him with thanksgiving’.

In the New Testament Paul encourages the Colossians in thankfulness.  “… whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17).

Turn over a page and Paul adds:

“devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Col. 4:2).

Similarly, to the Ephesians, Paul writes,

15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise,16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Eph 5

Thankfulness should be a mark of the Christian – this is an attitude that should be apparent to your neighbours. Sing and make music, always giving thanks.

In our own relationships we also know how important thankfulness is. We teach our children to say thank you, to write letters to grandmothers after receiving birthdays, and to give thanks before a meal.

And when our children or adult loved ones are not thankful; when they take our love for granted – we feel the pain.

It was Shakespeare who expressed the pain of a thankless child when he wrote in King Lear, Act 1, Scene 4:

‘How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!’

God feels the pain of a thankless people. Reading Scripture we see that the encouragement to thankfulness is given in the face of human forgetfulness.  God who has given us everything, our life, our world, God’s love, God’s life – nothing is held back and we barely notice.

Through the ages we have a tendency to forget and that’s assuming we even notice God’s activity in the first place.

It seems that the more God does for us – the more blessed we are, the safer, the more comfortable we become then the more we forget God.

In our comfort we forget the One who has enabled our comfort, we forget God. Hosea highlights this:

I cared for you in the wilderness,

    in the land of burning heat.
When I fed them, they were satisfied;
when they were satisfied, they became proud;
then they forgot me.    Hosea 13:5-6

Thus Scripture writers challenge us ‘to remember’ what God has done. For when we don’t remember we not only forget God’s actions we forget God, and before we know it we will be putting down any goodness in life purely to ourselves; taking pride in our accomplishments.

Here we are, Christians, seeking to know God, seeking to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, travelling the transformation highway – what will keep us on the right road? Remembrance and the thanksgiving that comes from right remembering.

My colleague and friend Lynne Baab writing in her book ‘Joy Together’ quotes Jeremiah.

 Yet my people have forgotten me;

    they burn incense to worthless idols,
which made them stumble in their ways,
in the ancient paths.
They made them walk in byways,
on roads not built up. Jeremiah 18:15

Lynne goes on to say (pg. 25):

“When we forget to notice the work of God, we get off the main road and straggle into side roads that don’t lead us where we want to go”

Actually I would reword that slightly, and replace ‘want’ with ‘need’.

“When we forget to notice the work of God we get off the main road and straggle into side roads that don’t lead us where we need to go”

As noted already when we forget what God has done, we soon forget God, we forget whose we are, and we forget where we need to be going.

Thankfulness on the other hand works in the opposite direction.

Thankfulness flows from the noticing and the remembering of what God has done.

Thankfulness reminds us that God is Creator God

Surpassing our expectations God

Infinitely amazing God.

Thankfulness reminds us of our smallness in creation

Of our need of God

Yet also of our elevation before God.

Thankfulness helps us see

With childlike wonder the beauty of a rainbow 

The delight of a dew laden cobweb caught in the light

A grandmother’s smile as she prays.

Thankfulness draws us to God

So that we see more

Know more

Appreciate more

Thank more.

When should we thank God?

                    (at all times according to the Scriptures!)

We struggle with that!

Yes I can thank God with enthusiasm today; the sun is shining, my body is in one piece, I have friends who value me, children and a wife who love me. We live in a fine home, and spare cash in the pocket to treat ourselves with, a fulfilling job and the church fair is over for another year!

There is much to be thankful for.

But you and I know it’s not so easy to be thankful on the other days. The days when the reality of job loss hits home, when the mortgage is crippling us, when the visa is not granted, when the doctor gives us the news we have been dreading, when life partners are no longer beside us.

Yet the Psalmist and Paul call us to be thankful in all circumstances? How can that be?

It can only be when we focus not on the circumstance but on the God who is with us always.

In good times and bad our thanksgiving is not so much on what we are experiencing but on who we experience it with. Our focus is on God.

Paul does not expect us to be thankful for the disease, the job loss, the visa rejection, the broken relationship, the death in the family, but to be thankful for the God who is with us in all circumstances. The One who blesses us with God’s presence, the God who holds us by the hand and who will bring our lives to fulfilment according to God’s gracious plan.

Now in conclusion how can we cultivate thankfulness? Many ways…

But let’s start with something simple. I suggest we start by returning to the habit of saying grace before we eat, and to pay attention to the words and attitude expressed in that prayer.

Some years ago we sat down to dinner with Japanese friends, they are not Christian, yet their natural instinct was to pray.

They began the meal by saying itadakimasu – “I humbly receive”

It is a phrase of deep and humble thanksgiving for the provision of the food, and I got to thinking about how we say grace.

Here are a few typical prayers that families say. Maybe you recognise yours here.

  • Good Lord – Bless these sinners as they eat their dinners. Amen
  • For Bacon, Eggs and Buttered Toast, Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost, Amen
  • Dear Lord, bless this food to the nourishment of our bodies and us to thy service. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.
  • Bless us, O Lord, for these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty. Through Christ our Lord we pray. Amen
  • Spanish Cristo, pan de vida, Ven y bendice esta comida. Amen  (Christ, bread of life, Come and bless this food. Amen)
  • “Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
  • For what we are about to receive, may the lord make us truly thankful. For Christ’s sake, Amen. (my childhood family grace)

What do you notice about most of these?

Typically do not express thanks.

In fact they are typical of most of our prayers: we tend to come to God with our list of wants and spend little time simply noticing and acknowledging God’s goodness.

We’re like children who receive a Christmas present, but before stopping to acknowledge it are onto the next parcel.

Friends this is something we need to be aware of and something that we can begin to change. To be intentional about giving thanks, before meals, at day break when we first awake, at the conclusion of the day when preparing to rest.

When we come together to pray, to ensure we begin and I suggest, focus on thankfulness.

To acknowledge all that God has done, and is doing, and most of all to be thankful for God’s goodness, God’s love, God’s presence.

Thanks be to God.

Arohanui
Ian