In the days immediately after the great stock market collapse in 1929, a group of ministers gathered to discuss how they should conduct their Thanksgiving services. Things were about as bad as they could get, with no sign of relief. The bread lines were depressingly long, the stock market had plummeted, and the term Great Depression seemed an apt description for the mood of the country. The ministers thought they should only lightly touch upon the subject Thanksgiving in deference to the human misery all about them. After all, there was little to be thankful for. But Dr. William L. Stiger rallied the group. He suggested not a mere passing mention of Thanksgiving, but just the opposite. This was the time for perspective, to thank God for blessings always present, but now suppressed in the intense hardship.
Stiger was right. The most intense moments of thankfulness are not found in times of plenty, but when difficulties abound. Think of the Pilgrims on the first Thanksgiving. Half their number dead, men without a country, but thankful to God. Their gratitude was not for something but in something. It was that same sense of gratitude that lead Abraham Lincoln to formally establish the first Thanksgiving Day in the midst of national civil war, when the list of casualties seemed to have no end and the very nation struggled for survival.
The Context of our Text
Our text is a summary. The practical section of Paul's letter began in 4:1. The Ephesian church faced great challenges, despite God's blessings in their lives. They were challenged by a contemporary culture opposed to the Christian way of life, they were tempted to return to former lifestyles, it was not easy to establish new relationships and habits, it was difficult to give up darkness and seek wisdom. Against the background of two chapters of admonitions and encouragement to seek the way of God, Paul writes the words of 5:20.
Note that the heart filled with the Spirit overflows with gratitude. The text answers several questions: To Whom? How? For What? When? Thanks are given to God, in humility, for all things--mercies, providences, deliverances, empowerments, always, by Christ.
Perhaps in your own life, right now, you are experiencing difficult days, dark and dreary discouragement. You may be experiencing your own personal Great Depression. How can we be thankful?
1. GRATITUDE COMES FROM THE WAY WE THINK ABOUT THE WORLD.
This issues from our worldview. Consider the attitude of gratitude--the attitude of Thanksgiving does not depend upon our surroundings or circumstances--either good or bad. We can be humbly grateful or grumbly hateful. Those with the most often want more. Those without can be happy with their little.
Unless we learn gratitude, we become bitter. Jim Moore wrote a book entitled You Can Grow Bitter or You Can Grow Better. He got the idea for the title from a young woman who once came to him in a tragic moment. She had tears in her eyes and her knuckles were white as she twisted a handkerchief. She had just received word that her twenty-six year old husband had been killed in a farming accident, leaving her alone with three pre-school age children. One moment he was alive and vibrant, the next moment gone. "I don't know how I am going to be able to get along without him," she sobbed. "But I do know one thing. I can either get bitter or I can get better." The time of thanksgiving is always.
2. GRATITUDE DEPENDS ON THE WAY WE EVALUATE OUR LIVES.
Learn genuine gratitude, not pious platitude. The expression of Thanksgiving extends beyond the problems of our lives. Thanksgiving is not just a set of words. We must learn to be genuinely thankful and to express our gratitude or we will become discouraged.
A young man got a job in a small town lumber yard. The 1960s were before malls and supermarket chains in central Kansas. A trip to the city, over an hour away, meant 10c hamburgers and nickel fries. At age 16 he was hired as a summer helper. He would sweep, help with sales, unload materials, help restock the shelves. He learned the manager's pricing system. He learned how things go together. He cut window glass, he cut boards to size. This was a great job. The end of June came, and the owner said, We need to take inventory this weekend." This was a new process to that 16-year old. He didn't have relatives in retail; he was unfamiliar with the process. Inventory. So the manager, his wife, and that young man made a list of everything in stock. Inventory--just to see what you have.
The song says, "Count Your Blessings, name them one by one...." That sounds like inventory. This sums up Thanksgiving. Have you taken inventory of your life lately? Have you counted all the things you have. Have you noticed the items in small supply? This kind of inventory is not easy, is thorough, takes time, is not completed in a short 5-minute prayer. Considering all of the gifts and opportunities and challenges that God has given us will keep us from discouragement.
3. GRATITUDE CONTINUES IN THE WAY WE LIVE FOR OTHERS.
The living of Thanksgiving looks beyond our own experiences. We must learn to be thankful or we shall surely grow arrogant and self-satisfied. Biblically, proper thanksgiving takes us away from ourselves.
Think with me about a wonderful OT psalm of gratitude, Ps. 100. We have wonderful reason to give thanks.
In everything give thanks. Thanksgiving comes from a grateful spirit--an attitude of gratitude. It is generated a regular inventory--gratitude not platitude. Finally, gratitude results in the living of thanksgiving that allows us to see God, self, and others.
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