Charles Stanley - What Ever Happened To Thanksgiving
When you notice the pictures of the pilgrims who came over early in the founding of our country, usually in those pictures, there's somebody kneeling and praying and giving thanks to God because they recognize he is the one who brought them through the storms, the uncertainty of the journey and the length of that trip. And finally, it became a part of our culture till today, we observe thanksgiving. And so, when you think about that and you think about how God has blessed us through all these years. All the wars we've been through, all the things that have happened in our nation, God has blessed us as a country. And when I think about how he's blessed us, I think about what does the word of God say.
So, I want you to turn with me to the 100th Psalm. And this is a good foundation for the message, and it's certainly an expression of our relationship to God, our love for his word, our love for each other. The 100th Psalm says, "Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth. Serve the Lord with gladness. Come before him with joyful singing. Know that the Lord himself is God. It is he who has made us and not we ourselves. We are his people and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him. Bless his name. For the Lord is good. His loving kindness is everlasting and his faithfulness to all generations".
God has been faithful to all of us. Probably most of us here have been saved a number of years, many years, and God's been our awesome, loving, gracious, kind, generous God all the years of our life. Everybody could probably look back and think, I wish this, I wish that. But in spite of everything that may have happened in your life, you have a lot to be grateful for. And when I think about what gratitude's all about and how God has worked in our lives and what's happening in our own country, we might ask the question: well, what about in our nation, what's happened to thanksgiving? In other words, we are rushing toward Christmas. It's as if thanksgiving has been forgotten as a day of celebration, of his goodness of love and mercy toward us.
Its on the calendar, but its not very often we find it in our hearts. And I think we in our nation have forgotten the source of our blessings. And while we'll have a holiday for everybody and big dinners and all the rest, I wonder how many people will be praying, thanking God for our freedoms, our liberty, that you have a job, that you are free to move wherever you want to, that you can buy most things that you want to buy, that you're in good health. We have the best of everything. And yet, it's easy to overlook the source of all that. And that is the person of God himself.
Thanksgiving should be a part of every single person, every Christian's life. Not necessarily for one particular day when we eat and frolic and have a good time, but what about gratitude to God? What about just being thankful? That you and I know Jesus? If I should ask you, tell me how you got saved? Who spoke to you about salvation? Did you hear of it from a friend before you were saved? Or did you go to church? Did you watch tv or the radio? Whatever it might be. Think about how good God has been to us as a nation, how good he's been to you. We all have had our trials and heartaches and sufferings at times, but think how good God is to us as a nation, and how less and less we hear in the public about Jesus. You don't see many decorations anymore at Christmastime. And at thanksgiving, its just a word in passing waiting for the next holiday, which is Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus. We were lost in our sins. Our name was not written in the lamb's book of life. We were disobedient to God. And in his love, goodness, and mercy, he reached down, forgave us of our sins, wrote our name in the lamb's book of life, and forever changed our eternal state. We always have something to be grateful for. And those of us who know Christ as our Savior, we have eternity to be grateful for.
So, I want us to think about something. I want us to think about the impact of thanksgiving on our hearts, true genuine thanksgiving. When you think about it from your perspective, however you think about thanksgiving, think about these particular issues and ask yourself the question: is that true in my life. And the first one is this: that true genuine thanksgiving keeps us continually aware that we are walking in his presence, which contributes to living a godly life. In other words, thanksgiving reminds us we are walking in the presence of God. Not only in his presence, but we are walking with him. He's walking with us. Those of us who are believers, those of us who follow Christ as our Savior, listen to this. He has never left you one second from the moment you trusted him as your Savior. You may have left him, you may have walked away, you may have come back, whatever it might be, but he has never left you. That's who he is. He said I will never leave you nor forsake you. We can't promise anybody that. We might like to, but for certain, he's given us that promise.
Think about this: of all the things you have to be grateful for, you have Jesus on the inside. The Holy Spirit living in and through you, having sealed you forever as a child of God. How grateful we ought to be and expressing our gratitude ought to be expressed in a life of righteousness and holiness and obedience to God. The second thing I want you to notice is this. It should motivate us to look for his purpose in everything that he allows for our life. When you think about how good God is, everything he does in our life is for our good, to bring him glory and honor.
We ought to live every day with thanksgiving. Not just thanksgiving for being alive, but thanksgiving for having a relationship with God through his son Jesus Christ. And not only that, he didn't save us and go back to heaven and leave us, but he told his disciples, "You wait in the city of Jerusalem till you be indued with power from on high, sealed by the Holy Spirit". How grateful we ought to be every single day. A third thing is this: thanksgiving helps us bring our will into submission to his will when we are suffering in pain and loss. That is, when we are going through difficult times in life, the fact that Christ Jesus lives on the inside of us, we should be so grateful because, watch this, loneliness is a horrible feeling. And to be down and lonely and no friends and nobody seemingly cares, you can always remember this. There is somebody who always cares. There's someone who's always there. And that's Christ. No matter what you are going through, what you are feeling, how empty you may feel, how lonely you may feel, the scripture says, "I'll never leave you nor forsake you".
And so, when we think about thanksgiving, think about these aspects of it. It isn't just something we celebrate, but it's an experience that we have as we live in submission to him. Our fourth thing that's interesting here is this: that thanksgiving reminds us of our continuing dependence upon God. Those puritans who knelt to pray when they reached land all the way across that deep, wide Atlantic ocean, with deep gratitude they thanked God for safety. Think about this: do you ever just thank God that you got home safe from today's work? The truth is, we need him every day, all day, in every circumstance of our life. We enjoy so many things we forget to give him thanks for. You woke up this morning, you could still see. You could still hear. And life was moving right on.
Just think about this. You can see, hear, speak. God's gift to you. Everybody can't. We oftentimes overlook the things that are most precious and the most important to us. Then, of course, it helps us to trust him when we don't understand why. Being able to thank God when we don't understand why. And probably all of us have been in situations and circumstances we've wondered, God, why did you allow this to happen? And we could sort of wrack our brain, we couldn't come up with a reason. God if you loved me, why would you do this? Why does he allow these things? He never promised that life would be easy.
And when I look back all the way to the New Testament, the apostle Paul and all those followers of Jesus. They didn't live in ease, comfort, and pleasure. They couldn't even imagine the kind of life that we live today. But they were thankful to God. They knew the source of their blessing. And I wonder how often in any given week do you just stop in the middle of the day and just say, "Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, dear God. Thank you for healing me today. Thank you for getting me through this without having a wreck," because you could have had a terrible accident. The truth is we live in absolute dependence upon Almighty God every single day. When he saved you, he sealed you as a child of God. You are his. And he's promised to take care of us.
You say, "Well, why are there wrecks and why are there misfortunes and why are there all these things"? Because we live in a fallen world. But one thing for certain, the God who saved you is the God who's with you no matter what he may allow to transpire in your life. He's always, "I'll never leave you nor forsake you". And of all the things we could be grateful for, just knowing that I could, watch this, I can never be alone. You can never be alone once you trust Jesus. You may feel lonely, you don't see him, maybe you don't feel he's there. But you can never be alone when you've trusted Christ as your Savior.
We sing songs about that. No, never alone, and yet we feel it, and often times wonder in our minds, "Where is God"? He's right where he's always been. You don't ever have to wonder about where he is. He says, "I'll never leave you nor forsake you". Watch this, never. You know how to spell that? N-e-v-e-r. Never leave you alone. He doesn't promise to always answer my questions. But he has challenged us to always trust him. I don't understand why. I can look back in my life at times when things happened that I thought, Lord, what's this all about? And remember this, God is not obligated to explain all of his work. In other words, he's not obligated to explain it. He's only obligated to see you through it, to guide you, to lead you, to strengthen you, to encourage you, to help you, and to work in your life in such a way that he turns everything in your life into something good if you'll give him credit and listen to him and follow him.
Then I think about thanksgiving is essential to my rejoicing in the midst of suffering. The fact that he is always with us. We are able to rejoice in the times of suffering. Thanksgiving reminds us of how good he is. How gracious and kind. And listen to this. He's never late. How many of you have thought at times God was late? Now, come on. Be honest. Be honest. Come on, stick them up there. Well, either you haven't prayed or you've never had any problems. All of us have thought at some time, "God, where are you, Lord? Here's what you promised". In the midst of our suffering, he always is there. He never promised not to. And I think about the apostle Paul, how many times he ended up in jail. He didn't have three square meals a day. And if anybody knew what suffering was about, the apostle Paul did. And when he writes, he may mention something about his suffering and shipwrecks and all those things, but ultimately he's talking about the sufficiency of the grace of God.
And when I think about people who've been blessed, we who live in this country, we who've heard the gospel. All of us have one, probably one or more Bibles, probably several Bibles, different translations. We, listen, in your lifetime, you've been flooded, whether you opened your eyes or not, you've been flooded with scripture. You can have all kinds of translations. And now translated all over the world. The word of God is available. The hope of God, the promises of God, the assurance of God, he's made that so available to us if we are willing to thank him and recognize that all of his goodness is a result of just his goodness, not what we deserve. Then thanksgiving helps displace our anxiety with his peace. That is, when things are really tough and things are going against you, just to know his presence, just to know that he said to you personally, I will never leave you nor forsake you. I'll be here for you.
And I think about parents who suddenly discover about their children, maybe in an accident, or bad news from the doctor. I think about husbands and wives who either walk away or whatever may happen in their life. That is, he's always there. And while we will be anxious about some things, one thing for certain, "My peace I give unto you. Not as the world gives give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled". There are circumstances and situations when there is only the peace of God.
And so, ask yourself the question: do you find yourself thanking him for your peace? Here's what happens. When you begin to thank God for anything, its amazing how God just begins to open one door after the other in your thinking, and before long, you are thanking him for this and thanking him for that and thanking him for the other. And then when you finish, you think how rich I am. How rich I am. How blessed I have been. What am I doing complaining? How blessed I have been, God. Then think about this: our thanksgiving gives our witness greater impact.
And I have met people going through difficulty, hardship, pain, suffering of all kinds, and I have wondered sometimes, "God, could I be as peaceful as they are? Could I smile and be thankful if that had happened to me? If I had experienced what they've experienced"? And it gives our witness a greater impact. To be able to know in our heart I can thank God no matter what because I know, "I'll never leave you nor forsake you," "Supply all your needs," and when things happen to us that we feel are unjust, whatever it might be, to be able to thank him, knowing in our heart, I don't understand it. I can't explain it. My first response may be when something happens to blame somebody, or to blame God. "Lord, if you are with me, why would you let this happen"?
Think for just a moment. What's the most difficult thing you've ever faced? The most difficult thing you've ever faced in your life. Were you a Christian at that time? Did you know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior? Maybe you didn't. How did you respond when the most difficult thing you've ever experienced happened? Did you thank God for it? In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you? Did you question God's love? Did you ask what most people ask, "God, where are you"? And we know he dwells within us. Remember this, when you trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior, you cannot, not may not, cannot, ever, cannot be alone. You may feel loneliness. May not be anybody there to hug or to hold you, but you are not alone. Then he helps us keep our focus on him rather than our circumstances. And I'm grateful of that.
Sometimes we have circumstances that are trying to anybody. And all of us have been through those times. And I think this is an indication of how rich our faith is, and how deep it is. When, in our most difficult, painful times in life, we're still saying, "God, I don't understand it, but I thank you. God, I don't understand it, but I love you. I know you're here. I don't see any evidence of you, God, but I know that you're present". Just stop and think how blessed you are. Indwelt by the spirit of God. Promises that you and I have, not made by someone who may or may not fulfill them, promises made by holy God. Promises made by the Creator of this world, this whole universe. Promises made by a God who loved you enough to send his only begotten son Jesus into this world to be wickedly crucified, shed his blood in order to save us.
Who is this awesome God? Its the God that you and I serve, that you and I love, that you and I follow, that you and I believe in, that you and I trust no matter what. Aren't you thankful that you're a Christian? That you have that kind of God? And one last thing I would say about that is this: being thankful for God who energizes us in the midst of our most tiring circumstances. And I think of the times when I thought, "God, I couldn't take another step further. Can't go any further". And its like God was saying to me, "Yes, you can". Here's the reason you can: because the God who is promising you that is infinite, has no limitations: and when he promises you you can keep going in the midst of those times, he will be there to fulfill his promise. You cannot be without God once you trust the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior. "I will never leave you nor forsake you". Nobody can promise you that. No one but God himself can promise you that. The God who knows you, knows you when you are conceived in your mother's womb, and to this very moment, he's had you in mind, in his infinite mind that whole time.
You say, "Well, I've had great times, I've had bad times". Well, more than likely, those bad times are because you stepped out of his will. God hasn't changed. Sometimes he has to work in our life that doesn't seem so good, and yet he's still being good. How blessed we are. Amen? Our name is written in the lamb's book of life. And I think about people who live their lives in fear. Many people live in fear all the time, where they live, maybe who they're married to, or what's happening in their life or what's happening in their job. They live in fear. God never intended you to live in fear. I will never leave you nor forsake you. That in itself should excite thanksgiving in our hearts and praise to him. Amen?Father, thank you for being who you are. More than our minds can possibly understand. More than our minds can possibly conceive. All the wonder that you are. And we bow our heads and our hearts and our minds and our soul and our spirit and say, "Thank you, thank you, thank you, father". And knowing that not until the day we stand before you will we be able to thank you sufficiently for being all that you are to us. I pray for somebody who's listening, somebody who's watching, who's going through a real difficult time, who's wondering where you are. Would you remind them today, father, that you're where you've always been? Right there, with them if they will accept you, ready to help, ready to forgive, ready to save, ready to provide, ready to protect, if they're willing to listen to you and respond to you. We say thank you, father. Show us how to live a life of thanksgiving and praise to honor you, to bless your holy name. And I pray, father, for somebody today who has never tasted of your grace, never experienced the awesome feeling of having nothing between us and you but a wonderful relationship. And I ask you, father, to so work in somebody's heart who is listening or watching, that today will be a day of change. A day of realization of your grace. A day in which they can for the first time, "Say thank you, father, for saving me. Thank you, God, for loving me". And we pray this in Jesus's name. Amen.