David Jeremiah - Thanksgiving Is Supernatural
Well, it was December of 1914, and Thomas Edison's great laboratories in West Orange, New Jersey were almost entirely destroyed by fire. In 1 night, Edison lost $2 million worth of equipment, and the record of much of his life's work. Edison's son Charles ran frantically about, trying to find his father, and finally came upon him standing near the fire, his face in the glow, and his white hair blown by the winter winds. He said, "My heart ached for my dad. He was no longer young, and everything he was doing was being destroyed. And then he spotted me. And he said to me, 'Where's your mother? Find her. Bring her here. She has never seen anything like this, and she's never gonna see anything like this again as long as she lives.'"
And the next morning, walking around the charred embers of so many of his hopes and dreams, Thomas Edison mused, "There's great value in disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start all over again". What a perspective on life. For many of us, to be thankful in the midst of such a tragedy would seem almost impossible. We know for sure it's unnatural. But for Edison, thankfulness was how he gained victory over the disaster in his life. We know that the Bible speaks very strongly to the Christian about the importance of a grateful spirit. In fact, the word "thanks" and its various cognate appear over 150 times in the Old and New Testament. And the command to give thanks appears 33 times in the Bible. But it may surprise you that the Bible often, and very carefully, links the spirit of gratitude with victory in the Christian experience. I don't know if you've ever connected these thoughts, but twice in the New Testament I've found this to be true.
First of all, in 2 Corinthians 2:14 we read these words: "Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ". So gratitude and triumph are together. And in 1 Corinthians 15:57 it's like this: "But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ". Have you ever thought about the fact that a grateful spirit and triumph and victory in your Christian life go together in the same package? Victory and triumph in the same context with gratitude. You show me somebody who's experiencing spiritual victory, who exudes a sense of triumph, and I can promise you, as you get to know that individual, you will find a man or a woman who is permeated with a spirit of gratitude. Gratitude, you see, is one of the evidences that God is in us and that he is working in us. Why do I say that? Because in the world in which we live today there are so many reasons to be ungrateful. We can find a reason almost every hour to complain or be ungrateful.
So if the Spirit of God is in us, that's the supernatural element of our lives. And it's the Spirit of God in us that enables us to have victory, even in the midst of our situations and our circumstances. He can give us victory over the negative, self-pitying thoughts that so often wanna take over in our lives. It's unfortunate that the doctrine of gratitude which is paramount in the New Testament is often relegated to an optional or seasonal spirit. A spirit of thanksgiving should be true of all of us if we know Jesus Christ and if God's Holy Spirit is in control of our lives.
So today, in this message of thanksgiving, I wanna give you a little foundation for your gratitude. I wanna show you how prominent this concept is in the New Testament. I'm gonna give you five principles that will wrap all of this together around the core of these truths. First of all, the Bible teaches that when you are controlled by the Spirit of God, thanksgiving is the result. Listen to the words of Ephesians 5:18 to 21: "And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God".
Now, I don't know if you noticed it, but in the Scripture there are four different words that end in I-N-G. So let's have a little grammatical lesson here this morning. Those words are what we call participles. And a participle is a word that modifies the statement that goes before it. So in the text it says, "Be filled with the Spirit," and then you have all these participles telling you what that means, "giving thanks, making melody, submitting to one another". And what it says is that when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, one of the things that will be true for you is, first of all, you will be filled with joy. You will have a desire to sing, even if you don't have a good voice. You'll want to express your worship to the Lord. The Bible even says that, "When you are filled with the Spirit of God, you will have a submissive attitude toward other people".
You won't always be up on your high horse, wanting your own rights. "When you're filled with the Spirit of God," the Scripture says, "you are submitting one to another". Gang together with these two words is the expression, "Giving thanks". "Giving thanks always for all things to God to Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ". So the third evidence in Ephesians of being filled with the Spirit isn't speaking in tongues, or doing miracles, or raising people from the dead. It's this simple, very basic concept of having an attitude of gratitude, of being thankful to God and to others for all that they have done and are doing for you. In this verse, thanksgiving ushers us into the presence of the supernatural. By that, I mean when you are grateful, when you have thanksgiving in your heart, you are connected with all three persons of the Trinity. The Spirit in you is filling you, helping you to express your gratitude to the Father in the name of his Son Jesus Christ.
Thanksgiving is empowered by God and focused on God. And God says that when you and I are controlled by his Spirit, we will be grateful people, thankful for what we have, anxious to share it with others, always overwhelmed with gratitude for God's goodness to us. William Law, writing centuries ago, made a very good point when he said this: "Would you like to know who is the greatest saint in the world? It isn't he who prays most or fasts most. It isn't he who gives most. But it is he who always is thankful to God, who receives everything as an instrument of God's goodness and has a heart always ready to praise God for his benefits. The greatest saint is the one," he said, "who is always thankful". And Ephesians 5 says this: "When you are controlled by the Spirit of God, thanksgiving will be the result. You will have a grateful spirit".
So what does that mean if you say that the other way around? If you don't have a spirit of gratitude, what is that saying about us? That we are controlling our emotions, and not the Spirit of God. Here's the second one, and this one takes us to the book of Colossians chapter 3, verses 16 and 17. And here we learn that when we are committed to the Word of God, thanksgiving is the result. These two passages are very much alike, except for one difference. See if you can figure it out when I read it. "Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your heart to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him". In Ephesians we're told that, "When you're filled with the Spirit, then you're thankful". In this verse in Colossians it says, "When you're filled with the Word of God, then you're thankful".
So when you're committed to the Word of God, thanksgiving is the result. A Spirit-filled Christian, you see, is a Scripture-filled Christian. You can't be filled with the Spirit without some relationship with the Word of God. Someone once said that, "The Holy Spirit uses the Bible as his toolbox. It is the instrument he uses to change us and conform us into the image of our Lord". And Paul is saying that when you spend time, as a Spirit-filled Christian, reading the Bible, you will come out a grateful person. It's the natural result of being filled with the Word of God. A British preacher that I read about named R.E.O White observed, regarding the fullness of these commands, he said, "The surest sign that that you're carrying a full bucket of water is wet feet". Whenever we attempt to carry a full bucket to clean the floor or wash the car, we always get wet feet. And when the bucket of our lives is filled by the Spirit of God and the Word of God, the water of thanksgiving will spill out all around us. Full pails cannot help but overflow.
Have you ever been around somebody like that? I have. There's some people in my life that I know that are just like that. You get around 'em, you nudge 'em, and thanksgiving, and gratitude, and excitement just spills out from their lives. We should all covet to have that as our goal, to be thankful people who just spill out from the overflow of our lives, reflecting on all that God has done for us, and so grateful to God for what he does. But there's a third one. Let me show you the third one. When you are controlled by the Spirit of God, thanksgiving is the result. When you are committed to the Word of God, thanksgiving is the result. And number three, when you are characterized by the peace of God, thanksgiving is the result.
Here again, in the book of Colossians, we read these words: "And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful". I am so shocked at how many times that shows up in the New Testament literature, that God wants his people to be a thankful people. When a person is characterized by peace, he has that peace because it's one of the fruits of the Spirit. Peace is a fruit of the Spirit. When you're controlled by the Spirit, you have a sense of peace. It's one aspect of the fruit of the Spirit. And everywhere Paul talks about peace, he talks about it in the context of thanksgiving, the Spirit plus the Word plus peace all surrounded by an attitude of gratitude.
I have to laugh when I think back to the early days of my preaching, when I would be studying the writings of Paul in his letters. I would be studying my way through a passage. And, as you probably know, I love to outline. I love to diagram passages. And they're always, the New Testament's a very logical book. And of all the writers, Paul's the most logical. But every once in a while, Paul would go on a rabbit trail. And you know what that is. I've been on a few of those along the way as your pastor. But he would go on a rabbit trail primarily for one reason. Paul would be writing a letter to one of his churches and he would write something that would remind him of his conversion, and he would go off in this praise to God for all that God had done for him. He would just explode in praise to the Lord.
I say to you, that's a worthy rabbit trail, and Paul would often do that. And I believe that this is an expression of a Spirit-filled person who is so in love with the Lord that when somebody says somethin' that reminds them of their faith, they can't help but just spill over and get it all over their feet, get it all over friends, get it all over everybody, the spillover of the Christian life. I read a story that illustrates the proper link between our salvation that we have and the Spirit of gratitude. Imagine that you fall off the side of an ocean liner. And not knowing how to swim, you begin to drown.
Then someone on the deck spots you, and you're flailing in the water, and he throws you a life preserver. It lands directly in front of you. And just before losing consciousness, you grab hold for dear life, and they pull you up onto the deck. And you cough the water out of your lungs, and people gather around, rejoicing that you are safe, and waiting expectantly while you regain your senses. And after you finally catch your breath and open your mouth, you say, "Did you see the way I grabbed that life preserver, how tightly I held onto it? I was all over that thing". Needless to say, it would be a bewildering and borderline insane response.
To draw attention to the way you cooperated with the rescue effort denigrates the whole point of what happened, which is that you were saved. A much more likely chain of events is that you would immediately seek out the person who threw the life preserver, and you would thank him. Not just superficially, you would embrace him, ask him his name, invite him to dinner, maybe even let him have your cabin on the ship. Gratitude, you see, is the natural response to salvation. It does not require coercion or encouragement. To the extent that an individual understands what has happened in his life, gratitude will flow organically and abundantly from his heart. The precise form it takes will be different for every person, but such is the nature of a grateful heart.
So what does that mean? Maybe it means that to develop this overflowing Spirit of gratitude we need to be constant, like Paul was, reviewing what God has done for us in our lives. Do you ever stop and think where you would be without Christ? Did you ever stop to think what your life would look like now if you had not received Jesus Christ into your heart? Where would you be? What would you be doing? What would your family be like? I promise you, every good thing that you have as a believer is due to the fact that you joined forces with the God of heaven and accepted his wonderful plan for your salvation. Amen? Amen.
So when you're controlled by the Spirit of God, thanksgiving flows. When you're committed to the Word of God, thanksgiving is the result. When you're characterized by the peace of God, thanksgiving is the result. Here's the fourth one. When you're constantly in prayer to God, thanksgiving is the result. Here's that wonderful verse we all know. Philippians 4:6: "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God". Now, most people read that verse without really reading it carefully, and it comes out like this: "In everything by prayer and supplication, and thanksgiving," but if you look at the verse, that is incorrect. The word is not "and". The word is "with". It is different than the first connective.
The first verse is saying, "In everything by your prayer and your supplication," and then the writer inserts a different word. He uses the word "with," which means that thanksgiving is just not one of the many kinds of prayer, but thanksgiving is to be the spirit and the attitude of all of our prayer, whether it's prayer, or supplication, or intercession. However we pray, it is always to be undergirded with this spirit of gratitude to God. The Bible says, "In everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving". Don't ever leave thanksgiving out of your prayer. Don't ever overlook that distinctive. It's so important. It's always to be mixed with thanksgiving. When you're asking God for something, it is always with thanksgiving. When you're praising God for something, it's always with thanksgiving. When you're interceding for someone, it's always with thanksgiving. When you are a watchman on the wall for your church, or for your family, or for your nation, don't forget that with all of those requests, all of those should be mixed and blended together with thanksgiving to God for all that he has done.
In Philippians 4:6, Paul seems to be mentioning several kinds of prayer. But he focuses in on one kind of response, and that is the response of gratitude. It is to be present in all of our praying, no matter what the content of our prayer may be. And then there's one last one. Let me go through them again so we stay together. When you're controlled by the Spirit of God, thanksgiving is the result. When you're committed to the Word of God, thanksgiving is the result. When you're characterized by the peace of God, thanksgiving is the result. When you're constantly in prayer to God, thanksgiving is the result. And here's the last one, when you're concerned with the plan of God, thanksgiving is the result. Here's a verse that troubles a lot of people, especially if they're goin' through some tough things. It's 1 Thessalonians 5:18, and this is what it says: "In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you".
I'm gonna read that again. Why don't you read it with me out loud? "In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you". The first thing we learn about this last principle is that God's will concerning thanksgiving is very clear. I often have people, some of you on occasion, who send me emails, or you catch me in the hallway, or we have a conversation about the will of God for your life. And it's a legitimate question, and we should be pursuing a knowledge of God's calling and God's will for us. But there are some things we already know are the will of God. God's already expressed himself, has he not? God has already said that it is his will for us to be thankful. One of the undeniable parts of God's will for every single Christian is found in this verse. Could the will of God be any clearer than this? "For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you". And for me.
I don't know how this resonates with you, but as you see this in the greater context of the New Testament, it is a powerful thought. Let me show you how powerfully this is taught in God's Word. For instance, in the first chapter of Romans, which I think is a terrible chapter in the sense that it outlines the fall of civilization, the fall of mankind away from God. Paul is describing what it's like when civilization unhooks from the Almighty. And I want you to listen to what he says: "Because, they knew God, they did not glorify him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. And professing to be wise, they became fools". Paul told the Romans, "Let me tell you what happens to a culture that rejects God. They will head down, down, down. And one of the evidences of their decadence, of their rebellion against God, will be their lack of gratitude". A civilization that is coming unglued becomes an ungrateful civilization.
Stop for a moment and consider, where are we as a civilization when it comes to this whole spirit of gratitude? In fact, isn't it true that somebody who says, "Thank you," or is grateful anymore, is almost an anomaly? It isn't a part of our culture. You say, "Was it"? Well, I've been around for a long time. It used to be a lot more than it is now. People today expect things. They feel entitled. It's a part of what's happened to our culture. And that's at the beginning of the process. Do you wanna see where it ends up? The Bible says that as this culture continues to unfold, as it continues to decline, when you get to the end of times, Paul writes to Timothy and he says, "This is what's it gonna be like when the Lord Jesus comes back. Know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents," and what is the next word? "Unthankful". Ingratitude travels in some pretty bad company, doesn't it? Self-love, greed, pride, blasphemy, disobedience, ingratitude.
When we are controlled by the Spirit of God, gratitude will start to exude from our lives. It may even catch you by surprise. You will certainly catch others by surprise when they notice your change in attitude. And you will know that what is coming forth from your life is not something that is naturally and normally yours. It's the supernatural evidence of the Holy Spirit, who is in your heart and at work. God's will concerning thankfulness is clear. But notice one last thing. It's also very comprehensive. In Ephesians 5:20 Paul says that: "The Spirit-filled believer gives thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ". In Colossians 3 he expands it: "Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to the Father through him". So you write it down. Whatever we do, whether we do it in word, whether we do it in deed, we do it all, and we do it all with thanksgiving. In other word, in everything.
The most amazing thing about the Apostle Paul that we might call, "The grateful apostle," is the setting in which he wrote these things. Almost all of his great thanksgiving passages were written in the books of Philippians, Colossians, Ephesians, and Philemon. Those books have one thing in common. They're the prison epistles. They were written by Paul while he was incarcerated. You say, "No, that can't be right. He must have been at a palace somewhere, all thankful about these things". No, he was in prison. And the plain fact is that the man who wrote these letters that so permeate with thanksgiving had a difficult life. Listen to the recitation he gave to the Corinthians in the 11th chapter of 2 Corinthians.
He wrote: "I have worked harder than any of them. I have served more prison sentences! I've been beaten times without number. I have faced death again and again. I've been beaten the regulation thirty-nine stripes by the Jews five different times. I have been beaten with rods three times. I've been stoned once. I have been shipwrecked three times. I have been twenty-four hours in the open sea. In my travels I've been in constant danger from rivers and floods, from bandits, from my own countrymen, and from pagans. I have faced danger in city streets, danger in the desert, danger on the high seas, danger among false Christians. I have known exhaustion, pain, long vigils, hunger and thirst, doing without meals, cold and lack of clothing". And it's this guy who said, "In everything give thanks". And I look at that and I say, "If Paul can give thanks with the stress he had in his life, there's not anything that's ever happened to me that even compares to his list".
You see, thanksgiving is not situational. It is not circumstantial. It is not something that is in us because of that which is going on around us. Some of those things are there, and we give thanks for them. But thanksgiving is a spiritual attitude that God gives us when we become Christians. And when we allow that attitude to grow and develop, we can even be grateful for what God does for us when we're going through difficult times. "All these things," the Bible says, "we can become more than conquerors". And the only reason that we can be like that is because of the Spirit of God who lives within us. I wish I had time to give a little expose on what it means to be filled with the Spirit. But it simply means that when the Spirit of God comes to live within you, when you become a Christian, he is a resident in your heart.
But when you come to him and say, "Lord, I am not happy any longer with you just being a resident in my heart. I'd like for you to be the president of my heart, and I wanna give my life to you and serve you. And I will be submissive to whatever you say". And all of a sudden, when you do that genuinely, you will find yourself saying and doing things that seem unnatural to you because they are unnatural. They're supernatural. They're spiritual. You'll say, "Thank you," in times when you might have complained. You'll be grateful for things that you never noticed before. "When we are filled with the spirit of thanksgiving," as someone wrote, "we learn how to count our blessings instead of our crosses. We learn how to count our gains instead of our losses. We learn how to count our joys instead of our woes. We learn how to count our friends instead of our foes. We learn how to count our smiles instead of our tears, and our courage instead of our fears. And our full years instead of our leans ones, and our kind deeds instead of our mean ones. And our health instead of our wealth. We count on God instead of our self".
Here is one last practical thought about developing a spirit of thanksgiving. When you are filled with the Spirit of God, not only do you act different and feel different, but how many of you know you talk different? I read this in the best-selling book called "A Complaint-Free World," written by Will Bowen. He put it this way: "Think of your mind as a manufacturer and your mouth as the customer. The manufacturer produces negative thoughts that are purchased by the customer when they are expressed as complaints. It goes like this. The manufacturer, your brain, produces a negative, unthankful thought which the consumer, your mouth, purchases by complaining or expressing ingratitude. If the customer will stop buying what the manufacturer produces, the manufacturer will have to retool. When you stop complaining about what you perceive to be wrong, and begin to speak about what you are thankful for, you force your manufacturer brain to develop a whole new product line". Isn't that true?
And here's how it works every day for us. There's not a day that goes by, in your life or in mine, that things don't come up that would make us wanna complain, things that aren't right, things that don't go right, things that we think should've been done differently or better. Somebody should've said somethin', didn't say somethin'. And what happens is you have those thoughts. And you may not be in a place where you can communicate them to everybody. So while you're driving down the road in your car, you give a speech to that person even though they're not there. C'mon now, you know what I'm talkin' about. All those negative thoughts that are in your head, you buy them from the manufacturer. And then you're the customer and you give this speech. And somebody says, "Well, that's great. It's over with now and you can get on with your life". No, it's not over with. You've just become a customer, and you've just purchased something from a manufacturer that is worthless. And maybe you should say, "I refuse to do that," and begin to give thanks to the God of heaven for all the good things that he has done.
Thanksgiving is a practical response to what God has done for us, but it's a discipline of life, isn't it? I promise you, I don't want to be a grouchy old man. I don't wanna be a grouch middle-aged man. I don't wanna be a grouchy young man. I never wanted to be grouchy. But if we're not careful along the way, we allow our mind to keep producing these products of ingratitude. We think always about the things that aren't good instead of the things that are. And you know what? It's a choice that we make. It's a choice that you and I make. You wanna break the hold of ingratitude in your life, you have to go before the Lord and ask him to forgive you for an ungrateful life, an ungrateful heart. And then begin to do today what the Scripture says, "Express your gratitude to God and to others who, when you minister to them," the Bible says, "you're ministering to God himself, to Jesus Christ".
I pray that thanksgiving will be transformational in our lives. I know it seems like the world is going to hell in a handbasket. I know that. And every day's a reason to get up and watch the news, and before you even the house you're all depressed, and you're worked up about everything that's wrong. I promise you that you can take control of that by what you allow into your mind. Let the Word of God get into your mind. Let the Holy Spirit get in your heart. Let the peace of God take over your life. Get into prayer, and ask God to fill you with a sense of his wonder. And you will have these moments that catch up with you when you just stand in awe that you are a child of God in a country where the gospel has been able to be preached. For everything that's negative in your life there's ten things that are positive. You just have to be willing to discipline your mind to find them and give thanks to God.