An Attitude of Gratitude
(Adapted from a message by King Duncan)
It was the day after Thanksgiving. A woman caught her husband weighing himself on the scale. He was sucking in his stomach. “That won’t help you, Fred,” the woman said. “You know that, don’t you?” Fred relied, “Oh, it helps a lot. It’s the only way I can see the numbers!” I can relate to Fred. And Thanksgiving is not going to help that situation one bit!
I hope you’re ready for Thanksgiving—and not just for the turkey and all the trimmings. Giving thanks is important to the Christian life. Even in the secular world, a growing body of research indicates that gratitude is a key component to the happiness.
Of course, different people are thankful for different things. A mom was outside one morning raking leaves. Her neighbor asked why her husband wasn’t out there helping her. She explained that one of them had to stay inside to take care of the kids, so they drew straws to see who rake. “Sorry about your bad luck,” the neighbor said. The woman looked up and said, “Don’t be sorry. I won!” (Parents of young children, you understand.)
We are thankful for different things. For some folks, Thanksgiving is all about the food. For others, it’s about family. And then there are those who make it all about football! (I kind of like all three.) Traditionally, we travel south to visit both sides of our family. Some years we celebrate Thanksgiving at Cassie’s parents’ house and in that same year we will spend the majority of Christmas Day with my folks. The next year we switch off.
This year is unique; Cassie’s folks are coming here for Thanksgiving while Stephanie and her husband, Wilson, will spend a part of their holiday with us, too! So, the preparations fall largely on Cassie’s shoulders. That’s only happened once in our marriage! And that day the garbage disposal broke, rendering our sink unusable. Pray for her! Seriously, she will do splendidly!
Think about it: Around 12-18 hours of preparation will go into preparing a Thanksgiving meal, yet the carnage is over in about 12 minutes! Incidentally, guess how long the average NFL half-time lasts? You guessed it…12 minutes.
Most of us have traditions when it comes to Thanksgiving. Do you remember Sunday comics? Not as popular as the old days, but some of them were quite funny. Remember HI AND LOIS? In one strip, are gathered around the Thanksgiving table and the son asks, “Why do we always have turkey on Thanksgiving?” Lois answers, “Well….because it’s a tradition.” The son asks: “What’s a tradition?” His brother chimes in, “Something we’ve been doing so long we can’t even remember why.”
That’s the danger isn’t it? That we will forget what Thanksgiving is all about. In our Monday morning Disciple Bible Study Class, we’ve been reading lots of Old Testament Scriptures. In the OT book of Deuteronomy, there’s a classic text for the Thanksgiving holiday. Moses is addressing the Children of Israel in the wilderness. They are between the exodus from Egypt and their entrance into the Promised Land. That is the setting in which Moses speaks these words that are just as appropriate for us today as they were for Israel 3000 years ago. Let’s look at the text:
Can you imagine? Moses is warning the people that after they have built nice homes and have plenty to eat and nice clothes to wear, and beautiful SUVs in the driveway, that they will grow proud and think they did it all themselves. Self-made men and women . . .
Of course, that could never happen to us, right? Could we forget that just being born in this prosperous and free nation is worth at least 25 points on an entitlement scale; having two parents who love you is worth another 25 points; having a source of income—even if it’s government or retirement is worth 10 points. Having a decent means of transportation is worth another 15 points. Being born with reasonably good health at least another 10 points, and having a little bit of luck along the way is worth another 5 points.
That’s 90 points! Surely, we can’t possibly believe we did it all ourselves, can we? This passage surely isn’t for us, is it? “Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery . . .”
One of the things I remember my dad saying about certain people who thought they were “somebody” was that he was “too big for his britches.” We don’t even use the word “britches” for pants anymore, do we? But you get the meaning. He thinks he’s more important…more influential…more affluent…than he really is. The Lord is telling the Israelites that when they settle in the Promised Land, be careful you don’t get too big for your britches! Don’t become proud. Don’t forget where you came from. Don’t forget who brought you here. Don’t forget how you came to possess what you possess.
Here’s an obvious observation: being affluent doesn’t necessarily make you grateful. Most of us would not call ourselves affluent and for good reason. We live in one of the poorest counties in the poorest state in the Union. But of the 3,500 residents within a 5-mile radius of this church, the average income is around $50,000. There are around 500 households whose income is $10,000 or less. And if you are among the 1,466 people who earn over $50,000, then you might be considered “affluent” for our community. Just saying…
Friday, Ray Butler wrote this Facebook post that really makes the point: Well this trip is almost finished, but as usual, God has taught me something once again. This morning I awoke thinking about life here. Everything is based around eating. (well, not everything, but) Not what we are eating. That’s not important. Although, I’m not eating eggs for a while when I get home! For most people here, It’s the fact that they have food, period. It’s not ingrained in me like it is people here. We Americans, and many around the world, enjoy many different types of food daily. Most of us have something different every day. We eat what we like or what we want. Here, we eat a meal, whatever it is, with friends and family, gathered together, eating, talking and enjoying each other’s company. Imagine hard boiled eggs or tortillas and peppers for breakfast. I haven’t had to do that, but I know many who do. And you know what, they are happy people. Thankful for what they have. I find myself at times wanting, wanting things! We don’t need things. What we need is each other! I’m so thankful to know these people.
While poverty can certainly breed a certain ungratefulness and unhappiness—at least in American society—affluence does NOT equate to gratitude and happiness. In fact, possessions and wealth can cause folks to feel entitled and crave more stuff. Moses knew that, I believe.
Author Bob Russell makes this point in his book, Jesus, Lord of Your Personality. He writes, “Generally speaking the more we have, the less grateful we are. It should be the opposite; the more we have, the more thankful we should be. But it usually doesn’t work that way, does it? . . . It is a rare person who, when his cup frequently runs over, can give thanks to God instead of complaining about the limited size of his mug!”
Sir John Templeton, the billionaire investor, was once asked, “What is the secret of wealth.” Without hesitation Templeton said, “Gratitude.” He went on to say, “If you’re not grateful, you’re not rich-‑no matter how much you have.”
So how do we show gratitude? It is in a prayer before a Thanksgiving meal? Sure, that’s a good start. But there’s so much more. We must develop an “attitude of gratitude.” It begins with REMEMBERING…remember who we are and whose we are…remembering that our very lives are a gift from our Creator Covenant God. The Hebrew word for remember (zakar) is use 232 times in the OT. The people of God are constantly reminded to REMEMBER because we humans have a short memory don’t we?
Last Wednesday we celebrated with many other area churches our annual Community-wide Thanksgiving service and dinner. The guest preacher, Gary Davis of Shiloh MBC preached from Luke 17 where we read the story of the 10 lepers who were healed. There was only one—a Samaritan—who remembered WHO healed him and returned to thank Jesus. He worshipped Jesus as his Master and Lord. At that, Jesus told him that his faith had made him whole. The others were healed of leprosy, but this foreigner was made whole. He was made whole because remembering the origins of his blessings led him to be grateful. And his gratitude spilled over into worship!
“Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and revering him.” As we remember the origins of our blessings, we also show our gratitude by faithfully walking in God’s ways.
This means we follow his word. Walking in God’s ways is a life-long pursuit filled with many spiritual disciplines: consistent corporate worship, faithful tithing, travailing in prayer, participating in the Lord’s Supper, to name to name a few. Just an observation: for some folks, spiritual disciplines of worship, tithing, praying, and Lord’s Supper are ancillary habits…things you ADD to your life when convenient. But if we are going to observe the commands of the Lord our God and walk in his ways revering him, then these must become the DNA of our lives!
So, too, must be loving our neighbor as ourselves, forgiving those who’ve wronged us, seeking justice for the oppressed, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God.
Lastly, gratitude must be shared. If we say we are thankful, but then we don’t share our gratitude by the way we treat others, then our actions don’t line up with our words. Do we thank others for their kindness toward us? Do we compliment or complain? Do we honor others or are we ornery? Are we concerned more about filling our own stomachs than we are about sharing with those who have nothing?
I know you know about “BLACK FRIDAY,” the busiest shopping day of the year. And then there’s “Cyber Monday,” the biggest online shopping day. But did you know about #GivingTuesday? It’s growing in popularity every year. Before we go out and buy a bunch of stuff for folks who really don’t need anything, why not give to others on #GivingTuesday. Better yet, go to www.byhaliaumc.org, click on the Giving Tab and choose one of the many ways to give online. You can give to Rio Bravo, Jacob’s Well, Hearts & Hands, our Children or Youth ministries. You name it. Show your gratitude before Thanksgiving on #GivingTuesday.
“When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day.” The words of Moses are just as relevant for you and me as they were for Israel more than 3000 years ago. Having stuff doesn’t make us grateful. It is sometimes the people who have lost everything but life itself who are the most grateful. Gratitude is an attitude, which begins with REMEMBERING where our blessings, our abilities, our health, our wealth comes from. Moses says it best when sums up his message to the Hebrew people, and to us, like this: “But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today.