I Think, Therefore I Thank
Study Guide, November 26, 2017
Pastor Clay Olsen
Since Thanksgiving tends to get slighted by our crazed consumer culture, rather than rushing right by it, how about we slow it down a bit and reflect a bit more about ‘thanksgiving’ and the central part that a thankful heart and mind is to play in our day to day lives?
To start with let’s emphasize that word ‘reflection’ by walking through several poignant and effective statements about ‘thanksgiving’. We’re going to do something a little different today in that we are going to go through one or two at a time and then pause a moment, just slowly enough to let you reflect on these thoughts.
“Giving thanks is one course from which we never graduate.” Valerie Anders
Have you ever thought about Thanksgiving as being like a college course? It’s like a course of study in which there is always more to learn, because…and you may know what’s coming next… ‘There is always more to know about what you think you already know, you know? And interestingly enough, this course on thanksgiving is one that the only way to learn more about it is to practice however much you’ve learned so far.
The principle is similar to what Jesus said about using what He has taught us so far.
Luke 8:18- “So pay attention to how you hear. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what they think they understand will be taken away from them.” NLT Our thankful spirit is either developing or diminishing, based upon our commitment to practicing it.
Here’s another thought for reflection: “A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all other virtues.” Cicero
Here’s a question: Just how fundamental is this virtue of giving thanks even in connection to people’s relationship to God? The Apostle Paul pointed to two fundamental issues and revealed that if a person neglects these two things then it may take them down a path from which they may never recover. What are we talking about? Notice: Rom 1:18-21- “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” NASU
The two things that mark an unbelievers life is one; they do not honor, or submit to the Lord as God, and two; neither do they give Him the thanks that is due Him. As such, by dishonoring God and withholding thanks it sets them on a course of self destruction. That’s how fundamental this virtue of thankfulness really is. As was stated by E.J. Conrad: “One distinguishing mark of an unregenerate man is ingratitude.”
And in connection with that, how about this quote: “The atheists most embarrassing moment is when he feels profoundly thankful for something but can’t think of anybody to thank for it.” Mary Ann Vincent That’s sort of a built-in frustration with atheism, right?
Then how about this: “No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks.” Ambrose of Milan How odd that the practice of thankfulness is often viewed like a sort of ‘add on’ in relationships, when in fact, it is actually a ‘duty’ in any interpersonal relationship, but especially with our God. In fact, in one passage in Colossians this duty of giving thanks to God and being thankful is repeated like wave upon wave of instruction. Notice:
Col 3:15-17- “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.” NASU Three times in three verses we are instructed about practicing thanksgiving. Paul just removed the practice of ‘thankfulness’ from the table of options and placed it directly in the hands of ‘duty’. It’s like Paul instructing us: “Be thankful! It’s not a suggestion!”
It is like Vance Havner stated: “The whole Christian life is one big ‘Thank you’, the living expression of our gratitude to God for His goodness… for what we take for granted we never take seriously.” Wow! So the whole of our life is to be one big ‘Thank you’ to God. Giving thanks to God should be like one of the daily sacrifices by the priests of the Old Testament. No wonder the Psalmist wrote: “To You I shall offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving, And call upon the name of the Lord.” Ps 116:17 NASU Thanksgiving to God should be one of our daily offerings that we bring to God as His New Testament priests; a thank offering that we present to the Lord day by day.
And how did that last part hit you? “…what we take for granted we never take seriously.” So even a failure of regularly practicing gratitude to God can cause a person to take God less seriously, as well as everything else! Again, that’s another example of just how important the habit of givings thanks really is. On the other hand, how encouraging to realize that one way we can deepen our devotion to God is by simply developing our habit of giving thanks to Him more often and more consistently. Amazing how that fits together…how one leads to the other.
Now, how does this hit you from the writings of Helen Keller? “For three things I thank God every day of my life: thanks that He has vouchsafed me knowledge of His works; deep thanks that He has set in my darkness the lamp of faith; deep, deepest thanks that I have another life to look forward to – a life joyous with light and flowers and heavenly song.”
There’s a saying: Tell me your habits and I’ll tell you who you are. Helen Keller, even with her blindness and all her infirmities, she was not defined by any of them. No, what defined her was her thankful spirit, her habit of giving thanks. She chose three things each day: Thanks to God for granting her the knowledge of His works in her life; thanks to God for lighting up her darkness through the light of His Word as she looked at God’s world through her eyes of faith; and thanks to God for the promises that the best of her life was yet ahead of her, with the immortality of her body and the eternality of her spirit in her home of Heaven.
Once again, it’s apparent that she purposefully practiced this habit. She actually primed the pump of her thankfulness by choosing to think about these things. And it will be the same with us. We must prime the pump of thanks by choosing what we think about. One of our fundamental goals in life is to think about how we intend to be a thankful person. And then we are to choose to practice that plan so that we will become more and more thankful, rather than taking more and more blessings we have from God for granted.
And what do you think of this next statement calling us to prayer and thanksgiving and giving honor to the Holy Scriptures? “Let all of us…give thanks to God and prayerful contemplation to those eternal truths and universal principles of Holy Scripture which have inspired such measure of true greatness as this nation has achieved.” Dwight D. Eisenhower Thanksgiving Proclamation, 1956
Now what was that separation of church and state thing about again? This was from a President! Any honest political leader has to admit that this nation owes everything from its very existence to its subsistence to the grace and mercy of our Creator and Redeemer. To fail to publicly acknowledge this and to proclaim this in every area of our national life is simply a return to the sins of Romans 1, and also to its subsequent destruction: “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” This is one of the reasons we are to pray for and promote godly leaders in government, for the sake of not decaying more and more into being led by foolish laws and hard hearted leaders who are sowing seeds of further judgments to come.
And not just to political leaders, but about people in general Matthew Henry wrote this:
“What a pity it is that this earth, which is so full of God’s goodness should be empty of His praises and that of the multitudes that live upon His bounty, there are so few that live to His glory!”
What a great way to put it: If you live by God’s bounty, then you should indeed live for His glory! I often think of one of the most profound explanations that the Apostle Paul gave to the Greek leaders of Athens. It was an amazing reality check concerning the fact that everything they had came from and was coming from the benevolent hand of God; everything in their lives, even their very breath.
Let’s try this: How long can you hold your breath? See if you can hold it while I read this passage from Acts 17:22-31. “So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children. Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” NASU Aren’t you thankful to God for your very breath?
This is a passage that should be sent around the world to every world government and religious leader so that they would realize that not only should they be bowing in thankfulness to the one God of Heaven for all that they have, but they should be thankful to God for even having any breath at all. The next breath that anyone on planet earth is about to take is being supplied to them from the very source of life; our Creator and Redeemer. That’s how completely dependent all people are on this sustaining grace of God and how fundamental thanksgiving should be to God for all that we have, even our next breath.
Let’s wrap up our thanksgiving reflection time with that powerful passage from Phil 4:6-7- “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” NASU There it is again; ‘with thanksgiving’. It’s crucial to understand that this goal of ‘peace’ here can only reached by the pathway of ‘thankful prayer’. Note that when the stresses and anxieties and worries rise up against us, the only way to get to peace is through this particular kind of prayer. It’s a prayer that revolves around ‘thanksgiving’. In our Thanksgiving meals we often talk about having a ‘centerpiece’ at the meal. And while that can be like some special craft or other such arrangement, practically speaking, most people think about the ‘turkey’ as being the centerpiece, right? Well, this is a little bit of a weak analogy, but the point is, in any prayer for the protective or the preventative peace of God to guard your hearts and minds, the centerpiece of the prayer is to be on this focus of thanksgiving. Without a thankful heart you cannot have a peaceful mind. And without a thankful mind, whatever thankfulness that was in your heart will erode away like a drying river bed.
And so it goes, round and round. But again, it’s our choice: I think, therefore I thank. It’s like the focus of our conference this last week; to love God with all of our mind. It’s what the Psalmist called for us to do. Ps 103:1-2- “Bless the Lord, O my soul, And all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget none of His benefits.” NASU
Like David, we have to remind ourselves to remember. For as Matthew Henry also said: “’Forget not all of His benefits’, for if we do not give thanks for them, we do tend to forget them, and that is unjust as well as it is unkind to God.”
How could we even think of being unkind to God. Rather, we are to daily think of our duty to thank our God and praise our God for everything from our daily bread to our daily breath…and more. Giving thanks to God is a sure way to bless our God, and to reap blessings in our lives as well.
Ps 95:2- “Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.”NASU
Col 4:2- “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving…” NASU
(Assorted quotes from Topical Encyclopedia of Living Quotes; The Vance Havner Quote Book; The Quotable Matthew Henry)