Steve Harvey has a classic “rags to riches” story. He is the epitome of overcoming every obstacle in life and climbing his way to success. Mr. Harvey talks a lot about his faith and the people who helped him along the way. In one motivational speech that he gave, Mr. Harvey said “there is no elevator to the top; you have to take the stairs, climbing step-by-step.” It’s excruciatingly painful. And he would know. He spent the better part of three years homeless, living in his car. He would shave, shower, and brush his teeth at public pools. He says that the greatest key to success is gratitude–giving God thanks every day for the blessings we have in life.
And that’s exactly what makes the saints successful. We need to take it step-by-step, giving thanks to God for everything he’s given us. Psalm 145 is a song of praise. David writes, “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable” (Psalm 145:3 ESV). He continues, “All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your saints shall bless you!” (vs. 10).
These people, giving thanks and blessing God, “make known to the children of man your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom” (vs. 12). God returns blessings because he cares for his children. This is our prayer of praise. We should begin each day with gratitude, proclaiming the greatness of God!
Employers are not known for inviting their workers into their home to sit down at family meals. There is a separation of work and family, and workers are expected to do their jobs. We’ve been talking about passages where Jesus talks about the cost of being his disciples. People who plow and look back (come up with excuses) are not fit for the kingdom. Likewise, whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Jesus cannot be his disciple. Jesus also told a story of unworthy servants.
So what is an “unworthy servant?” Here’s what Jesus had to say: “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty'” (Luke 17:10 ESV). Unworthy servants do their job. Unworthy is not the same as unvalued. In fact, unworthy servants have incredible value. Unworthy servants do not expect favors. They don’t demand or expect to sit at their boss’ table to eat until their work is done. They don’t expect to be thanked and commended for the work they were hired to do.
Christianity needs to remember this lesson. No job is above us. We are all called to serve our neighbors. We shouldn’t demand to be rewarded with praise and excessive gifts for doing the work God has called us to do. Entitlement is ruining the church. Instead, we need humility and thanksgiving. We are entering into the season of American Thanksgiving and it’s a reminder that we ought to always be thankful for all that we have. Every opportunity to serve others is a gift from God.
Last week we spoke about the importance of giving thanks always-to not expect thanks, but rather to give it. Paul breaks a little in 1 Thessalonians from giving thanks always (time) to giving thanks in everything (circumstances). The difference may seem inconsequential, but it is not. Giving thanks in every circumstance is incredibly challenging when storms of life are crashing against us.
Paul says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 ESV). Paul, of all people, knew how difficult life could become. He was routinely beaten, stoned, arrested, and hunted by people who much preferred him to be dead. In addition to the physical harm, there were always people attempting to undermine the Gospel message, spreading lies about Paul and preaching a message counter to the saving message of God. Many people hated Paul and desperately wanted him shut down.
Imagine attempting to preach when you are constantly shouted down, chased out of cities, and hated by the very people you are attempting to save. To say it would be depressing is an understatement. It would be incredibly difficult, if not near impossible, for any of us to go on. At some point, the opposition would take its toll on us. But not only did Paul prevail, he thanked God along the way. Paul knew his blessings, and he urged the church in Thessalonica to know theirs too.
Sometimes it becomes difficult–even tedious–to offer thanks to God when we least feel like it. Some people are plagued with bad heath. Others with financial woes. Still others are grieving immeasurable loss in their lives. But God still blesses those of us who are struggling. In fact, it’s in those darkest moments when we see God emerge victorious. His will for us is to offer thanks in every circumstance. We have much to be thankful for, even when we suffer.
If ever there has been a trying year for large numbers of people, 2020 certainly has delivered. From the pandemic, to economic strain, to race relations, it has been a very taxing year. It’s no surprise that many people are stressed out and on edge. As Christians, we are called to be the light in this world. The way we live our lives and treat others matters. Thanksgiving is an important time when we reflect on our important history and give thanks for all that God has blessed us with.
Paul urged the Ephesian church to “walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2 ESV). Paul also urged, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (verse 15). How the Christians behaved in the midst of unrest mattered. It mattered then, and it matters now. Paul warned them to flee from sexual immorality, avoid drunkenness and debauchery, and to instead be filled with the Spirit.
Christians were to be different from the world, singing and making melody in their hearts, “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” (vs. 20, 21). It’s easy to be ungrateful, angry, disappointed, and mean-spirited towards people. But as Christians, we need to set an example in word and deed, thanking God the Father for everything he’s given us. When we do this, we live as an example of Christ, who died for our sins.
This year our congregation was able to send a group of ten to Ecuador. We have a heart for missions and have been able to keep up with some pretty tremendous works, including supporting missionaries in both Haiti and Ecuador.
It’s always good to go back and reflect on our work throughout the year so that we can remember how far we’ve come. Though we’ve experienced some losses, we have much to be grateful for! God is always doing great things and we owe him all the honor and praise!
This Sunday Dan Pyle will share pictures and stories from our trip to Ecuador. Short term trips are great for our kids to go on because they get to serve beside their parents. We had five (half of our group!) who were young kids. Our youngest was 4 years old-the youngest to visit Camp Bellevue in Ecuador! From old to young, everyone worked hard and a lot of lives were impacted.
We are coming up on the American Thanksgiving season. It’s a reminder of our nation’s history and how the pilgrims broke bread with the natives after enduring the long, dangerous trek across the open ocean. As we enter this season, we’re reminded of all that God does for us. He sustains, protects, loves, saves, and executes justice.
The current general mental and spiritual outlook in the US is grim. Suicide among our youth is the highest it has ever been and is the second leading cause of death among young people. Drugs and negativity have overtaken our cities and have permeated even the deepest of our rural communities.
An article from two years ago called The shocking impact negative people have on your brain, according to science, is making its rounds again. The article explains how neurons in the brain that “fire” are neurons that “wire.” In other words, if we hear negativity all the time, our brain chemically becomes hardwired to perceive the world through negativity, regardless of reality. The opposite is also equally true–the more thanksgiving we hear, the quicker our brains become hardwired to perceive things with optimism and hope.
It’s no surprise that the Bible instructs us to be thankful. Over and over again. Psalm 100 says, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth! Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing! Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; 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!” (Psalm 100:1-4 ESV).
Photo by Kiy Turk on Unsplash