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Seriously, Thanksgiving? [11-22-20]

Updated: Jan 6, 2021

Let's be honest. None of us are as thankful as we should be some. Some of us are thankful most of the time. Most of us are thankful some of the time. But none of us are thankful all the time. Before we look at how to increase in gratitude, we're going to take a trip to negative land, exploring how to be miserable the rest of your life.

Here are some simple guidelines.

First, admit that thanksgiving isn't easy. Life isn't always fair. Just because you got a participation ribbon, doesn't mean you were good at it. Complain a lot about life being hard. When something bad happens to you, make sure people hear your lament, "Why do bad things always happen to me?" Be sure to stay in victim mode. You've had it bad…bad genes…bad upbringing…your ancestors had it bad…your family lived on the wrong side of the tracks…people aren't nice to you…you can never catch a break. If you can hear yourself in any of these, then you are well on your way to a

thanksgiving-less attitude.

Second, keep a journal. Oh, but not just any old journal of thoughts, feelings, or events. Keep track of everything that bugs you. Make a record of the slights, the slings and the arrows that come your way. That'll help you remember them as the years wear on. Here's a helpful hint - write down at least three things that irritate you daily. Nothing is too insignificant not to keep track of. If, by chance, you have a moment where something makes you happy, do two important things. Use your journal to review all the garbage in your life to drown out the happy moment, and then put it in the distant past so you'll have nothing positive to build on when you start your day tomorrow.

See how helpful I am? Oops…that sounds positive…forget I said it.

Third, use negative words whenever you can. Now, I'm not talking about profanity. A little side note, and understand, this is neither a statement for or against profanity {which, by profanity, I absolutely don't mean blasphemous language}; but studies show that people who use colorful language now and then tend to be happier, healthier, and less stressed than the population as a whole. When I talk about using negative words, I mean framing your experiences with words like horrible, bad, atrocious, irritating, stupid, and so on. My wife tells me I should never use the word stupid in a sermon, but sometimes I just can't help myself. Have you seen how people drive? {Stupid} While using their mobile devices? {Stupider} C'mon, man! Anyway, the more strongly you labels things - for the worse - the better you're going to be able to cultivate a grumbling spirit.

Fourth, be constantly distracted. That adorable squirrel running along the top of your fence? Ignored. The nine times person A was kind or helpful or positive or gracious in your life? Act like it never happened. Focus instead on that one time they got snippy in the midst of a bad day. Don't waste your time enjoying a meal. Wolf it down while watching TV or looking at your mobile device. The beautiful blue sky? The wispy clouds? Everyday occurrences to be ignored. Instead, replay bad stuff that's already happened to you. Or give the skunk eye to what's going on right now. Distraction is the bread-and-butter of "Debbie or Donald Downer."

Fifth, focus on yourself when you pray. This is foundational to the prosperity gospel. I, me, mine when you pray. Pray for what you want. Absolutely do not use your prayer time to praise God {can you imagine if someone just now joined the sermon in progress?}. That's a waste of your me time. God already knows how great He is. He doesn't need to hear it from you. You've got a whole bucket of wants and needs to unload on Him. Instead of pouring out your heart in praise for His glory, remind God of everything you want that you don't have.

Finally, let your health deteriorate. Overindulge all the time. Forget a balanced diet. Treat exercise like poison. Soon enough, you'll have health problems to complain about, as well as all that time in the waiting room and later, the cost, which will trigger complaints about insurance companies. Before you know, you've hit the complaining jackpot.

I should end the sermon right here. Then you could have something to complain about on your drive home. But we're here for the gospel. I've share six ways to be less than thankful. So, now go and don't do likewise. Instead:

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless

and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.

- Philippians 2:14-18

So, how do we build thanksgiving into our lives?

First, thankful people usually can't…or even refuse to…remember the bad stuff that happened in the past. Here's how Paul puts it in Philippians 3:12-14:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward

what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God

has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Can you do that? Are you doing that? You need to be doing that. The past has passed. As Jesus taught, you can't be a good farmer if you look at where your plow has been. You need to keep your eyes fixed on where your plow is going. Press on, with a thankful heart. Instead of feeling sad because a wonderful moment or experience has passed, instead thank God that you had the moment in the first place.

Second, don't expect other people to make you happy. Take responsibility for your own happiness. Root it in Jesus. Look at the Beatitudes. Jesus is giving us a way to make sure we build and protect thankful hearts. Jesus redefines for us what happiness is.

Let's break a few of them down:

  • Matthew 5:3 - “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." In other words, those who recognize they are in need of God's help, give Him thanks in all things.

  • Matthew 5:5 - “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the

earth." Jesus isn't talking about being wimpy. Christian and wimp is

an oxymoron. When you are trusting in God, there is no need to push and shove your way through life. Obnoxious people are trusting the least in God. You could phrase this one another way - happy are the humble.

  • Matthew 5:7 - "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy." You have received mercy and grace from God, so extend that same grace and mercy to others. If you've ever said to yourself, "I don't know if I'll ever be able to forgive that person," I guarantee you, at some point in your life, someone has probably said that about you. How do I live out of my thanksgiving for what Jesus has done for me on the cross? By remembering that my sins might be as bad as the other person's sins. And so I am merciful.

  • Matthew 5:11-12 - “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." In other words, don't be a people pleaser. You don't have to fit in with everyone else or go with the crowd. Don't do things just so others will like you or accept you into their group. Be yourself…be who God has called you to be. He is sanctifying you. He is growing you to reflect the love and grace and mercy and joy and kindness and generosity of Jesus Christ every day. Every day. Don't let others define you. Happiness is understanding who you are in Jesus Christ.

I love how C.S. Lewis put it:

Don't let your happiness depend on something you may lose.

Give thanks every day for the joy and happiness you have in Jesus Christ. That is a strange and unique way to live.

Third, make thanksgiving your default position. Throughout your day, there are all kinds of things you can thank God for.

Now, we all understand how complaining is part of our nature. It's in our fallen DNA. Adam complained to God and he complained about God. "The woman you made for me caused me to sin." Loser attitude. The Israelites, right after they were freed from Egyptian captivity said this:

And all the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The whole

congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become a prey. Would it not be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”

- Numbers 14:2-4

Now that's some first-class complaining right there. How about, "Thank you God, for leading us out of Egypt. We'd rather die in freedom than live as slaves." To paraphrase one of my favorite slogans, "The person who gives up a little freedom for security deserves neither."

You can always find something in your life to be thankful for. Just getting up today and having fresh air to breathe is reason to be thankful.

Fourth, be thankful in all situations. Here's what Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

The Christian life is marked by thanksgiving. We give thanks in all circumstances because God wills it. Why do we do that? Because we never see the full picture, but God does. We can't understand everything that's happening in every situation. But we do know that God is at work in these situations, for our good and His glory. As one man observed:

Perhaps it takes a purer faith to praise God for unrealized blessings than for those we once enjoyed or those we enjoy now.

- A.W. Tozer

Fifth, give God thanks when all is well. That sounds dumb that we have to be reminded of that, but how many times do we take the good times or the blessings for granted? When life runs smoothly, we're so caught up in them, we feel like yes, this is the way things are supposed to be. When we're walking through the valley of the shadow of death, we cry out to God. But don't forget to give thanks for the green pastures and still waters.

Sixth, train your heart and mind to see how bad experiences can produce good outcomes. How many times does that happen to us? Something bad happens, and man, does it hurt when we're in the middle of it, but coming out of that dark valley we discovered something good or wonderful or helpful. Distance from a heartbreak often gives clarity. You'll see how others have blessed your life. You'll be stronger to face the next hardship. Or you'll be better equipped to help someone facing their own difficulty. It's amazing how God works. He uses our hardships to help others. It's one of the ways God equips His saints for every good work.

Do you want to know how you can measure your growth as a follower of Jesus Christ? If, while in the middle of a hardship, you thank God for His grace and mercy. What a lesson when you know that, even while in deep pain, you can affirm that no matter what you go through…no matter what you experience or go through in life, you are never alone, because Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior. A thankful heart affirms the sovereignty of God in all things. "Yet I will thank the Lord…"

Finally, make gratitude part of your interactions with other people. It doesn't cost us anything to be kind. And, as Paul reminds us, kindness is a fruit of the spirit. You really can't be thankful and unkind. Make it a regular practice to express thankfulness to people in your life. Are you with me on that? One of the things I like about Chick-fil-A is their approach to customer service. They always say, "My pleasure." You don't know how much I love that. They give you your order, you say thank you, they say, "My pleasure." Not, "no problem." Never, "no problem." Make it a regular practice to express gratitude to others.

This week, wherever you go…whatever you do…may your Thanksgiving week be a reflection of Isaiah 12:

You will say in that day: “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me.

“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.”

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day:

“Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted.

“Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth. Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”

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