This Thursday we, the people of the United States, will take some time to gather as families to watch football, eat turkey, and hopefully thank God for the blessings he has bestowed on us over the past year. As a national holiday, it has become perhaps more about TV and turkey, and less about thanking God. Christians, however, need to remember the original purpose of this holiday, and to extend the attitude of gratitude throughout the year. This morning, Rev. Singleton used 1 Thessalonians 5:12-18 to explain that gratitude needs to be expressed, expanded, and expected.
First Thessalonians, 16-18 states: Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Giving thanks is not an option for Christians. It is God's will for us. Rev. Singleton explained that when we give thanks, we are happier, healthier, and holier. Our ungratefulness is a mark of our worldliness, so you can tell a person's level of spirituality by how grateful they are. You may think "that's all well and good, but whoever wrote that verse didn't have to deal with my issues!" Well, the writer of the letters to the Thessalonians was Paul. In 2 Corinthians 11:24-27, Paul gives the "short list" of his circumstances: "Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones,three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked." These are some of the circumstances he gave thanks in!
How, you ask, could anyone give thanks for problems like that? Well, if you read carefully, you will notice that Paul was not thanking God FOR his circumstances, but IN them. My Grandmother used to quote a poem by Mary Stuber which starts out:
Thank God for dirty dishes; They have a tale to tell. While others may go hungry, We're eating very well.
Dirty dishes may be annoying, but there are many starving people in this world who would be thankful for the chance to have dishes to wash! We can thank God for his provisions for us, whatever they are. We can thank him for another day of life, for air to breathe, and for the sun in the sky. When we realize that everything comes from the hand of God, we have nothing to do but to praise Him!
Gratitude is a sign of a growing Christian. Rev. Singleton likened Christians to children. A baby doesn't know how to say thank you. They only know how to cry for things they don't have. Christians are not meant to stay as babies. As our children grow, we teach them to say "thank you" when someone gives them something. An older child who cries for things or appears ungrateful seems to be immature for their age. A Christian who is not grateful to God is not maturing in Jesus Christ. Gratefulness is not a feeling. Feelings can change based on your circumstances, health, or people around you. Gratefulness is a state of being. It is who we are. As Christians, we are to give thanks in all circumstances.
Gratitude is contagious. Your attitude can affect the attitudes of those around you. If you watch the news, it seems like this country is getting more and more divided. It is tempting to just give up and hide. But Jesus called us to be the light of the world: “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house." (Matthew 5:14-15) Our light has to shine out into the darkness. Mahatma Gandhi said "Be the change that you wish to see in the world." One by one, we can make a difference. We can start by being the thankful people that God is calling us to be. We can notice the little things that people do each day. We can stop taking things for granted, or rationalizing that it's "just their job." We can see the good, rather than focusing on the bad. An attitude of gratitude will change your life, and it can change the world.