Gratitude, Not Platitudes
By The Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
A certain preacher was known for his uplifting prayers. He always found something for which to be grateful. One Sunday morning the weather was so cold, dark and gloomy that one the church members thought to himself, “I’ll bet the preacher won’t be able to think of anything for which to be thankful to God about today.” But to his surprise, however, the preacher began by praying, “Gracious God, we thank You, that the weather’s not always like this.”
You and I have so much for which to be thankful. Sometimes it takes specific holidays and times of worship to remind of that fact. Or even to just take time to give thanks to God. Sometimes it seems like we don’t have any trouble coming up with a list of needs and desires but it’s usually harder for us to come up with a list of things for which we are grateful.
Well, I ran across a short list that I thought was appropriate for families. Many of you will identify with the list. Although I don’t know who wrote this list of Seven Things To Be Thankful For, I’m pretty sure it was a Mom.
1. For automatic dishwashers. They make it possible to get out of the kitchen before the family comes in for their after-dinner snacks.
2. For husbands who attack small repair jobs around the house. They usually make them big enough to call in professionals.
3. For the bathtub: it’s the one place the family allows Mom some time to herself.
4. For children who put away their things and clean up after themselves. They’re such a joy you hate to see them go home to their own parents.
5. For gardening. It’s a relief to deal with dirt outside the house for a change.
6. For teenagers. They give parents an opportunity to learn a second language.
7. For smoke alarms. They let you know when the turkey’s done. (1)
Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Tuesday is our Community Thanksgiving service and Thursday we’ll be gather with family and friends. But is that all there is to our Biblical understanding of what it means to give thanks? I’m glad you asked that question.
I think Giving Thanks and Thanksgiving is a lifestyle and not a day. It’s more about an Attitude than it is Platitudes extolling the virtues of giving thanks. What God wants is a grateful heart which leads directly to a Grateful Life.
In our passage from Matthew, Jesus talks about what that life looks like. Listen or follow along as I read Matthew 6:25-34:
“Therefore, I tell you, don’t be anxious for your life: what you will eat, or what you will drink; nor yet for your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food, and the body more than clothing? See the birds of the sky, that they don’t sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns. Your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you of much more value than they?”
“Which of you, by being anxious, can add one moment to his lifespan? Why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They don’t toil, neither do they spin, yet I tell you that even Solomon in all his glory was not dressed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today exists, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, won’t he much more clothe you, you of little faith?
“Therefore don’t be anxious, saying, ‘What will we eat?’, ‘What will we drink?’ or, ‘With what will we be clothed?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first God’s Kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore don’t be anxious for tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Each day’s own evil is sufficient.”
So, what does that tell us about the Grateful Life? In my mind, Verse 33 sums it up perfectly, “strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness”
We do that through a THANKFUL HEART, THANKFUL FOCUS and THANKFUL LIVING
I. THANKFUL HEART:
A. We make a mistake when we equate being “thankful” and “thanksgiving” with giving thanks for an abundance of food, possessions, or even those less ‘concrete’ things such as health, friendships, peace and security. Now there’s nothing wrong with giving thanks for these things. But thankfulness goes a lot deeper than just the stuff and things of life.
When things are going good, it’s hard to remember the call of God and when we forget, things fell apart. Then we want to blame God and get mad at God. And we holler, “Why are You doing this, Lord.? What did I do wrong? Why are you punishing me?”
It is hard to faithful in the good times. It’s hard because we begin to think that WE did all this. We begin to think about how well WE are doing. And we start to equate God’s blessings with the “things” of prosperity. With the “stuff” of the world.
Sometimes it’s only in the despair of failure or uncertainty that we’re open to hearing a call back to faithfulness and Thankful Living. For some, it’s only when they’re down that they can look up for help.
That’s not really what God wants. God wants a heartfelt, ongoing relationship that isn’t dependent upon the stuff of life. We are not in some codependent relationship where God has to prove God’s love for us by continuing to lavish us with the gifts of the things of life. God has already given us the greatest and most costly gift possible. His Son and our Salvation.
As a consequence, all God desires is a THANKFUL HEART. One that is “striving first for the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness”
B. Jon Kitna, current quarterback for the Detroit Lions was credited with being a large part of the Cincinnati Bengal’s dramatic turnaround a couple of years ago. But did you know that, Kitna was fined for wearing a hat with a cross on it at a post game interview? The fine was imposed because players aren’t supposed to wear anything other than NFL approved gear. Kitna was more than willing to pay the fine but the NFL later suspended it. Bengal fans didn’t like the fine very much and began wearing cross hats like Kitna’s at home games in a sort of solidarity kind of protest.
Standing up for the cross isn’t new for Jon Kitna. In an interview in a local paper Kitna was asked what he was most thankful for. He replied, “The first thing is that whenever I breathe my last breath, the next moment I am going to be looking at Jesus. I’m just thankful that 10 years ago, in October 1993, God grabbed my heart and changed my heart and opened my eyes to what life is really meant to be.” (2)
That’s a THANKFUL HEART.
II. THANKFUL FOCUS:
A. A THANKFUL HEART, gives us a THANKFUL FOCUS in life and faith.
I believe the whole point of thanksgiving is to remind us that God is still very much alive and active. It’s to remind us that God is continually seeking to be in relationship with us.
For most people, though, Thanksgiving is just another excuse to eat too much and spend time with family members they may or may not really like. And sometimes it even includes everyone sharing one thing they are thankful for.
The biblical view of Thanksgiving is not so much about “feeling grateful” for things or for particular blessings such as food and love of family, but rather it’s a way of looking at life where God is at the center of all that we are and all that we can be. It’s about the most essential relationship in our lives. It’s a relationship that changes how we look at everything in life.
It truly is about reminding ourselves that God IS first. It’s about reminding ourselves that God is in charge of life. It’s about reminding ourselves that God is the creator and we are the created.
When we acknowledge that it allows us to step down off of the throne of king or queen of the universe. And it’s then that we can give up the burden of control, so many of us have. We can put that control back into the hands of God.
Thankfulness from the biblical perspective is a way of relating to and with God, it’s not an attitude toward material things. True Thanksgiving is a relationship with God that reminds us and others that we depend upon God for all that we are and can be. This Living Thanksgiving shows that God isn’t some ‘add on’ in our lives but is the essential part of who we are and can be. It’s the relationship which is reflected in the focus of our lives.
B. Charles Dickens once visited America and gave some lectures across the country. He told one audience that we, here in this country, are a bit mixed up. He said we shouldn’t have one Thanksgiving Day, but that we should have 364 Thanksgiving Days. Then have one day just for complaining and griping; the other 364 should be used to thank God. (3) That’s what I mean by a THANKFUL FOCUS.
III. THANKFUL LIVING:
A. And a THANKFUL FOCUS leads to THANKFUL LIVING.
When our boys were growing up, we made a point of having the evening meal together so we could talk and be family. No television, just us. And we used to set an extra place at the table every evening because we never knew who was going to drop in. And like the empty chair in front of the altar, we called it Jesus’ chair.
I don’t know how many times we had Jesus as a guest but I know we had plenty of unexpected guests sit at our table. Some in the form of the boy’s friends. Some in the form of our friends. Some in the form of someone needing a meal.
I remember one gentlemen, I’m sure he was Jesus, and if not, at least one of His angels, who came about 30 minutes before dinner and asked if we had any work in exchange for a meal. I had two rakes and together we went and raked the leaves in the front yard into piles to be hauled off.
Afterwards, I showed him the bathroom where he could get cleaned up and then we invited him to join us for supper. We treated him like an honored guest. We served him first. We talked about life in general, not prying but just making conversation. We carried on the normal everyday conversations with the boys about school, etc., too.
When we finished eating, he put his coat and hat back on, shook my hand and thanked me. And then he started crying. He said he couldn’t remember the last time he had a hot meal like that, let alone been invited to sit at the table with the family. We never saw him again. But for one brief moment, we were able to be “home” for him. All because we set a place at the table and in our hearts for him.
You might want to have an empty chair and an extra place setting at your Thanksgiving table to remind you that Jesus is our unseen guest at every meal and in every conversation. And to remind you that we’ve been blessed not so much with material things but with a God who loves us unconditionally.
It’s that THANKFUL HEART, THANKFUL FOCUS AND THANKFUL LIVING which helps us “strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness”
Once upon a time, there was a far away land that was ruled by a vicious king. His iron fist reached into every corner of his subjects’ lives. Every corner, except one. Try as he might, he couldn’t destroy their belief in God. In his frustration, he finally summoned his advisors and asked them: “Where can I hide God so the people will forget about him?”
One suggested hiding God on the dark side of the moon. This idea was debated, but was voted down because the advisors feared that their scientists would one day discover a way to travel into space and God would be discovered again. Another suggested burying God in the deepest part of the ocean. But there was the same problem with this idea, so it was voted down.
One idea after another was suggested and debated and rejected. Until finally the oldest and wisest advisor had a flash of insight. “I know,” he said, “why don’t we hide God where no one will ever even think to look?” And he explained, “If we hide God in the ordinary events of people’s everyday lives, they’ll never find him!”
And so it was done. And they say people in that land are still looking for God, even today. (4)
In our striving for the Kingdom of God, maybe the best way for us to express our gratitude to God isn’t through Platitudes but through celebrating God’s presence in the ordinary 365 days a year through THANKFUL LIVING.
As you gather with family and friends this year, set an extra place or two and let your gratitude of what God has done for you through Jesus Christ, flow into every aspect of your life.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. Source Unknown
2. Preaching May-June 2004
3. Preaching Vol. 12, No. 5
Copyright 2006 Billy D. Strayhorn. Used by permission.