I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength because he considered me faithful. So, he appointed me to ministry even though I used to speak against him, attack his people, and I was proud. But I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and without faith. Our Lord’s favor poured all over me along with the faithfulness and love that are in Christ Jesus. This saying is reliable and deserves full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the biggest sinner of all. But that is why I was shown mercy, so that Christ Jesus could show his endless patience to me, first. So, I am an example for those who are going to believe in him for eternal life. Now to the king of the ages, to the immortal, invisible, and only God, may honor and glory be given to him forever and always! Amen.
Timothy, my child, I am giving you these instructions based on the prophecies that were once made about you. So, if you follow them, you can wage a good war because you have faith and a good conscience. Some people have ruined their faith because they refused to listen to their conscience, such as Hymenaeus and Alexander. I have handed them over to Satan so that they can be taught not to speak against God. (CEB)
Toward the end of his life, the Apostle Paul reflected upon the grace given to him by God. In writing to Timothy, his protégé, Paul distilled his reflections into one short succinct phrase: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
Before Christ got a hold of his life, Paul actively opposed Christians as much as he could. He had the persecution of Christ’s followers down to a science. But God had mercy on Paul and delivered him from his misguided and tortuous ways.
Paul was forever grateful for the grace of God. He well knew that he deserved no good thing from God. Paul knew firsthand the words of the Lord Jesus:
“I didn’t come to call righteous people, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17, CEB)
Once one’s heart has been captivated by God’s mercy, that person is never the same. Grace results in a new and wondrous perspective. The soul is filled with love. The mind is changed and charged with the realization that God is not only good but has given you a status as his beloved – a privilege and a position which you neither earned nor deserve. Gratitude erupts from your lips: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, to save me, the chief of sinners!”
We need not have a past like Paul’s to know God’s grace. Whether you are now a follower of Jesus after having lived a life far from God; or, you cannot remember a time when you didn’t know God; or, you grew-up in faith, walked away from it all, then were captured by grace and came back to Christ – from whatever backgrounds we all come from, it is the saving grace, the delivering mercy, the infinite love, the abiding compassion, and the undeserved kindness of Jesus Christ which makes your world spin the opposite direction on its axis.
Take time throughout today to utter that simple phrase over and over: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. What does this mean for the world as it is right now? What does it mean for you?
Loving Lord Jesus, there are not words to express my gratitude for your salvation given to me. I was once lost, but now am found by the boundless mercy of God. May sinners be saved, as was your servant Paul, so that the world will be undone and changed forever by grace. Amen.
Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (NIV)
Today’s Gospel story is both joyous and sad. The healing of ten lepers is astonishing and elicits thanks – yet from only one. Perhaps this is because they stood at a distance. After all, it is connection which causes gratitude to arise within us. So, maybe we ought to consider what the nature of our connections are, especially on this Thanksgiving Day.
Food, football, and family have become the annual trifecta of the American Thanksgiving Day. I confess that I liberally indulge in all three. I am not here to bash on the fact that Thanksgiving has become almost a day of secular worship around an unholy trinity. That is because I believe underneath all the gravy, naps at halftime, and the occasional obnoxious relative that we know why we are celebrating the day: To give thanks for our abundant blessings. It seems even those who do not readily acknowledge the Divine intuitively know there is a power and source of blessing well beyond themselves which makes all good things occur.
Celebrations are a spiritual activity. God invented parties. When Israel was preparing for a new national life in the Promised Land, God told them to celebrate the Feast of Harvest with the first fruits of the crops (Exodus 23:16). The Levitical law prescribed how to go about giving thanksgiving offerings. Gratitude was commanded, expected, and was an important dimension of Old Testament worship:
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! (Psalm 95:2, NRSV)
Be thankful and praise the Lord as you enter his temple. The Lord is good! His love and faithfulness will last forever. (Psalm 100:4-5, CEV)
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. (Psalm 118:1, NLT)
It ought to have been reflexive for all ten lepers healed by Jesus to offer thanksgiving. A Samaritan, considered by many of the time as the lowliest of the low, a “half-breed,” was the lone person who came and fell at Christ’s feet with intense gratitude. While the other nine went about their lives free from disease and glad for it, only one guy took the time to thank Jesus.
Indeed, sometimes we must be reminded to give thanks and show gratitude for the ways God has provided for us. It is often the homeless, the sick, the lowly, and the outsiders who lead the way and demonstrate for us what genuine thanksgiving looks like.
The people of God are to always remember what they possess in Christ:
So, live in Christ Jesus the Lord in the same way as you received him. Be rooted and built up in him, be established in faith, and overflow with thanksgiving just as you were taught. (Colossians 2:6-7, CEB)
Never stop praying. Be ready for anything by praying and being thankful. (Colossians 4:2, ERV)
Everything God made is good, and nothing should be refused if it is accepted with thanks. (1 Timothy 4:4, NCV)
God and giving thanks are to go together like mashed potatoes and gravy. Since God created everything, and since Jesus has brought healing to us through the cross, every juicy morsel of goodness we have is to be received with the full cognizance that God is behind it all.
Our lives need to be punctuated with times of celebration, praise, giving thanks, and even (virtual) blowout parties. Otherwise, we become dull, boring, lifeless, and bereft of Christ’s lifeblood coursing through our spiritual veins. Conversely, a joyous and raucous group of healed believers chatting incessantly with thanksgiving of God’s goodness are winsome and peculiar (in a good way and not in the strange way of your weird uncle who wants the turkey neck to gnaw on).
It seems to me that Christians really ought to be at the forefront of having maximum fun because they have been forgiven; know the presence of God; are provided for; are confident in the fact they are protected; and, experience the power of the Spirit and the shepherding ministry of Jesus.
Yes, eat to your heart’s content and have a belly full of cornbread stuffing. But remember to give thanks – out loud and with others – for the God who stands behind every good gift of creation. Let thanksgiving (not complaint) shape you and I. Be the person who comes back to Jesus and offers praise, worship, and gratitude – and see how such gratefulness can change the world.
Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks for all your goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all whom you have made. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.
Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (NIV)
A lot of problems would resolve themselves if gratitude was a default way of life. Giving thanks in all circumstances creates peace; causes encouragement to flow freely; warns those who are busybodies; builds patience; and spreads goodness.
It can be easy to give thanks when things go our way. It is quite another matter when circumstances are difficult, and our expectations are not realized. The Apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica was written to people caught between a rock and a hard place. In fact, it was so hard that the believers focused completely on the return of the Lord.
When times are tough, Christ’s second coming comes forth from the recesses of our minds and straightaway to the forefront of our thinking. Gratitude is typically not a first response to trouble and hardship. Instead, we may look to escape. We long for Christ’s return as a way out of trouble.
Although we know we should be thankful, we often are not. Envy and resentment are the twin enemies continually looking to subvert our gratitude. In our frustration of missed expectations and unwanted situations, ingratitude can easily slip into our spirits.
A life of unhappiness awaits those who are resentful of what they do not possess. Those who envy shall never be satisfied because they are always dreaming about how much better life would be without their troubles.
No matter how good we have it, someone else has it better. To envy is to be overly future-oriented, like the Thessalonians, always thinking about how the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. And it squelches gratitude. For example, according to a study by the Templeton Foundation, gratitude has all but gone missing from the workplace. Their research found that only 39% of people are grateful for their current employment; 74% of employees have rarely or never expressed gratitude to their bosses; and, 60% have rarely or never expressed gratitude to anyone of their fellow employees. Workplace dissatisfaction is nearly a guarantee apart from gratitude.
If we want to live happy contented lives, then we will observe the biblical exhortation to give thanks in any kind of circumstance. It can be a challenge to give thanks during hard times. Yet, that might be the most important time to do it.
In her book, The Hiding Place, the late Corrie ten Boom tells about an incident that taught her the principle of giving thanks in all things. It was during World War II. Corrie and her sister, Betsy, had been harboring Jewish people in their home, so they were arrested and imprisoned at a concentration camp. The barracks was extremely crowded and infested with fleas.
One morning they read in their tattered Bible the reminder to give thanks in all things. Betsy said, “Corrie, we’ve got to give thanks for this barracks and even for these fleas.” Corrie replied, “No way am I going to thank God for fleas.” But Betsy was persistent and persuasive, and they did thank God even for the fleas. During the months that followed, they found that their barracks was left relatively free, and they could do Bible study, talk openly, and even pray in the barracks. It was their only place of refuge. Several months later they learned that the reason the guards never entered their barracks was because of those blasted fleas.
Sometimes we neither understand what God is doing nor perceive that the Lord is up to anything. You may feel as if you are sitting still right now, yet, planet Earth is spinning around its axis at a speed of 1,000 miles per hour. We are also hurtling through space at an average velocity of 67,108 miles per hour. Even on a day when you feel like you did not get much done, remember you traveled 1,599,793 miles through space!
That is amazing, yet we do not feel it. So, it is off our spiritual radars. When was the last time you thanked God for keeping us in orbit? I am guessing you likely never prayed, “Lord, I wasn’t sure we’d make the full rotation today, but you did it again!” Yet, we are to learn to thank God in every circumstance, both big and small. If we can trust God to keep our feet on the ground with a big thing like gravity, then we can have faith in any and every situation we experience.
Here are three simple ways of being intentional about gratitude
Pray with prayers of thanksgiving.
I am a believer in using biblical prayers for ourselves rather than just saying what is always on our minds and hearts – because we might never get around to gratitude. But Scripture does. The Apostle Paul typically began every discussion with gratitude. For example, when beginning his letter to the problem filled church at Philippi, he said:
“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus…. And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge of depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:3-4, 9-11, NIV).
Write your thanksgiving.
Cards, letters, emails, social media messages, and whatever other ways are available, use them to express thanksgiving to God and others. Again, Paul ended his letter to the Philippians just as he began it, with gratitude:
“It was good of you to share in my troubles. Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need” (Philippians 4:14-16, NIV).
Keep a gratitude journal.
Identifying and writing down at least three things you are thankful for everyday has healing power. Any common fool can bellyache about how bad things are and play armchair Deity about how to fix all the world’s ills. However, it takes a wise person to find gratitude and choose to give thanks for all the good things God has done and is doing, being careful to give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will in Christ Jesus.
Almighty God, we give you humble thanks for all your goodness and kindness to us and to all whom you have made. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life. Above all, we are grateful for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, for grace and the hope of glory. Give us such an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days. We pray with thanksgiving through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.
Thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live (1 Thessalonians 5:18, The Message).
Gratitude has the power to change our lives and our churches. That is, if we let it. If we want to live happy contented lives, then we will obey the Scripture’s exhortation to give thanks in any kind of circumstance in any kind of context. It can be a challenge to give thanks during hard times. But that might be the most important time to do it. The biblical character David had the where-with-all to acknowledge his desperate condition, yet chose to praise God in the middle of it. In Psalm 57 he said, “I am in the midst of lions; I lie among ravenous beasts – men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords… They spread a net for my feet – I am bowed down in distress… But my heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music… I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples.”
If you are in between a rock and a hard place, for what can you express praise and thanksgiving to God? Our spiritual ancestors, the pilgrims, came to this country. The original colonial pilgrims of America numbered over a hundred when they came, and, after the first winter, less than fifty of them remained. It does not get much bleaker than that. Yet, instead of retreating into bitterness, resentment, and envy, they decided to set aside a particular day to give thanks for what they had, and not be constantly upset about what they did nothave.
We are to give thanks in all kinds of circumstances, whether good or bad, whether big or small. In her book, The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom tells about an incident that taught her the principle of giving thanks in all things. It was during World War II. Corrie and her sister, Betsy, had been harboring Jewish people in their home, so they were arrested and imprisoned at Ravensbruck Concentration Camp. The barracks was extremely crowded and infested with fleas. One morning they read in their tattered Bible from 1 Thessalonians the reminder to give thanks in all things. Betsy said, “Corrie, we’ve got to give thanks for this barracks and even for these fleas.” Corrie replied, “No way am I going to thank God for fleas.” But Betsy was persistent and persuasive, and they did thank God even for the fleas. During the months that followed, they found that their barracks was left relatively free, and they could do Bible study, talk openly, and even pray in the barracks. It was their only place of refuge. Several months later they learned that the reason the guards never entered their barracks was because of those blasted fleas.
Sometimes we do not understand what God is doing. Sometimes we just don’t perceive that the Lord is up to anything. You may feel as if you are sitting still right now, yet, planet Earth is spinning around its axis at a speed of 1,000 miles per hour. We are also hurtling through space at an average velocity of 67,108 miles per hour. So even on a day when you feel like you did not get much done, do not forget that you traveled 1,599,793 miles through space! To top things off, the Milky Way is spinning like a galactic pinwheel at the dizzying rate of 483,000 mph.
That is amazing. But we don’t feel it, so it’s off our radars. When was the last time you thanked God for keeping us in orbit? I’m guessing you have never prayed, “Lord, I wasn’t sure we’d make the full rotation today, but you did it again!” We just don’t pray that way. But we are to learn to thank God in every circumstance, both big and small. If we can trust God to keep our feet on the ground with a big thing like gravity, then we can trust him in any and every situation we experience.
Gratitude has healing power. It is easy to complain about church. Any common fool will go on and belly-ache about how bad things are and play arm-chair Deity about how to fix all the ills of the church and the world. But it takes a wise person to find gratitude and choose to give thanks for all the good things God has done and is doing, being careful to give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will in Christ Jesus.