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A Thankful Heart and the Will of God

Peninsula Community Church

A Thankful Heart and the Will of God

November 19, 2017

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.

As I was preparing for this message, I read an interesting quote by Willian Arthur Ward. He stated “Gratitude can change common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” A grateful heart has the power to establish a positive direction and outlook on life. A grateful heart causes us to have a positive mindset. The opposite is true as an ungrateful heart leads to a negative mindset.

While last week we looked at the call from Paul to rejoice in every situation, today, we will focus on the attitude of gratitude and thankfulness. This is a command of Paul who understood the power of a grateful heart. He understood the power of contentment. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content (Philippians 4:11). Once again, Paul makes a seemingly impossible statement. Give thanks in all circumstances. Giving thanks can be a difficult proposition because like rejoicing there are some things that make it more difficult than others. Paul is not saying that we have to be thankful in regard to the individual circumstances we face, but rather we should our focus our gratefulness on the one who is able to redeem every circumstance. We are able to give thanks because we have a confidence that Christ will make a way through every event we encounter.

As I was preparing for this message, my mind drifted to a story found in Luke 17:11-19. This story focuses on ten lepers who approached Christ for healing. This is a story of contrast between nine who did not give thanks and the one who did. Listen Luke’s version of the story. On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” 

To understand this encounter, it would be helpful to review the disease known as leprosy. In Jesus’ day, leprosy was a kind of catch all classification for any infection or skin problem. While leprosy was a catch all, there were serious cases of leprosy where the disease would cause open sores. Being left untreated a person with leprosy could potentially lose their fingers, toes, ears, and nose. There is an assumption here that this was a critical case of leprosy in these ten individuals.

In this passage we should notice a couple of things. When they approached Jesus they were desperate. They were at the end of their rope, so to speak. Notice they stood at a distance from Christ and yelled to Him. They were not being rude or disrespectful but this was in reality a common action by lepers as they were forbidden to be near healthy people. Because of the magnitude of their disease they lived lonely and isolated lives. They were rejected by their friends, family, and society. But they had heard about this man who was known to do some powerful miracles. It is noteworthy that rather than being fearful, Jesus reached out to them. Normally, they would stand at a distance to cry for food or money, but now they had a different reason. They were hoping for more than a few cents in change or their next meal. They expected a miracle.

Upon their encounter with Jesus, He commanded them to go the priest to show they had been healed. It is noteworthy that they were not healed immediately but only as they acted upon Christ’s command. By their action they were healed. This is a noteworthy thought for us as God’s answer to prayer often comes as we are obedient to His will. You might ask as to why Jesus would send them to the priest. He did so because the law of the land in that day required anyone diagnosed with leprosy to be pronounced clean by the priest. As noted, leprosy in that day could be a simple rash or it could be full blown leprosy. If it were a simple rash, it would often clear up on its own. For that reason, the priest needed to pronounce them clean. All ten of the lepers, in obedience to Christ and the law of the land, left to go to see the priest.

When they left, they were focused on getting to the priest but one of the lepers stopped and turned back to give thanks to Jesus. He knew he was healed, but he also knew that it was in direct correlation to the command to go to the priest by Jesus. He recognized something the other nine did not. Notice, also that this was not a simple thank you, but was an exuberant praise of thanks. Listen to Luke’s own remembrance of the occasion. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. 

He turned back and began to praise God with a loud voice. He was excited about the fact that he was clean from the disease that held him bound, isolated, and desperate for answers. He wanted everyone to know he was healed. He was filled with joy and that joy overflowed into thanksgiving and praise. Not only did he turn back. Not only did he give thanks, but he also fell at the feet of Jesus. This was the highest sign of praise and honor that could be given to anyone. He, with a loud voice, fell upon his face to give praise and to honor the Lord.

As we look at this story, notice that this particular leper was a Samaritan. On a first read this may not mean much to some, but the reality is that the Samaritans and the Jews did not get along too well. The Samaritans were Jews who had been left back at home when the Children of Israel had been taken into captivity. They had intermarried with the Babylonians and were no longer considered to be Jews by those who had returned from the captivity. In fact, the division was so great they started their own church and set up their own doctrines. You might say it was the first recorded church spilt. So we have the most unlikely man in the group stopping to give thanks. How awesome is that? It tells us that no matter who we are, Christ will touch our lives.

When he returned, Jesus made an incredible pronouncement. “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” To read this in our modern translation you might miss the depth of the meaning of the verse. In the Greek, Jesus uses a play on words. At first, the Scripture says they were cleansed. The word used for cleansed is a medical term that means the disease was healed. When He responded to the Samaritan the word He used meant to be saved. The word could also mean healed but it often took on the deeper meaning of spiritual healing or salvation. What Jesus was communicating was that he had not only been healed physically, but now his faith had made him whole and complete, as well. So the nine received healing for their body, but the the tenth received healing of his soul.

So what do we learn from this? First, we should be thankful for the work of God’s goodness. God is always working on our behalf, if we look for it. This is the kind of thankfulness that leads us to worship God. You see the other nine lepers had received the benefits of Jesus but failed to extend gratefulness. Thus they failed to worship the One who provided the healing. We can miss the opportunity to worship and give thanks for His goodness because we fail to recognize all that He has done and is doing. A thankful heart increases our awareness of God’s purposes. Without a grateful heart, we tend to be self-centered and self-focused. Without a grateful heart, we can neglect giving God thanks. Without a grateful heart, we can forget all that He has done. Notice the leper was filled with thanksgiving and gratefulness. That is the motivating factor for his returning to worship and give thanks to Jesus.

Secondly, a thankful heart also keeps us from the destructive influence of bitterness. This is especially true as we continue to face difficulties and problems in our life. Without a grateful heart, that looks to Christ, we can easily be negatively impacted by the issues we face. The fact is it is hard to be bitter and thankful at the same time. Hebrews 12:15 we are reminded that we are to See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled. The best way to do this is to live with gratitude and thankfulness in one’s heart. Without a grateful heart we can miss the grace of God.

Thirdly, a thankful heart prevents us from falling into pride. When we have a grateful heart, we are able to maintain a right perspective in life. It helps us keep our feet on the ground. With a grateful heart, we are humbled because we know that all we have comes from above. In Obadiah 1:3, we find that the pride of your heart has deceived you! A thankful heart keeps us humble and focused on the gift giver.

Fourth, a thankful heart permeates our circle of influence with faith. As with rejoicing, a thankful heart is a testimony of God’s grace. People watch how we handle the crisis in our life and as a result Christ will be glorified in us. When we walk with a grateful attitude people will see us. They will see us as complainers or worshippers. Worshippers draw people to Christ, complainers push people away.

So how is your heart today? Do you have a thankful heart?

For an audio of this message go to http://pccministry.org/media.php?pageID=14

Copyright © 2017 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom

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The Power of a Grateful Life

Peninsula Community Church

The Power of a Grateful Life

November 27, 2016

Philippians 4:4-7 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Last Saturday at our men’s breakfast I shared this passage briefly. When I left the breakfast I felt the push of the Holy Spirit to share this for thanksgiving Sunday as well. As I continued to pray and meditate on the passage, I felt encouraged even more to do so.

I think the reason for this in part is that there is so much around us that can rob of us of a grateful heart. We are faced with economic issues. So many are being overworked with little return on their investment. Sin is being manifested it seems without any boundaries. People and relationships are being tested beyond measure. There are health issues, job problems, spiritual issues, addictions, and moral failures that all lend themselves to an ungrateful heart.

Paul’s letter to the Church at Philippi details for us how we can maintain a joyful, grateful heart. It exemplifies those things we are to focus on to create an atmosphere and a attitude of gratefulness. We should note that Paul does not write this from the advantage of a problem free life. In fact, his life was anything but problem free. Paul had been beaten. He had been left for dead. He was on board a ship that crashed. He had friends turn against him. His ministry had been rejected. The Jewish leadership did not accept him and in fact they had great disdain for him. He had been thrown out of several cities and towns because of his ministry and lifestyle and upon the occasion of this letter to the church at Philippi, Paul now found himself in prison. He had been thrown in prison because of his ministry and his work associated with the kingdom of God. He did not choose this way of living but instead he was forced into prison because of what he stood for and how he lived his life. Based on his circumstances, he should have been the most ungrateful person in the world but he was not. Instead of ungratefulness the theme of the book of Philippians, is joy.

As we read this passage, we find four key items that lend themselves to developing a grateful heart. First of all, we are called to celebrate what God has done. Paul calls us to rejoice and then he emphasizes that call by repeating himself. As we have noted on a number of occasions, when something is repeated in Scripture it means that it is important. Paul instructs us that we are called to celebrate what God has done because in doing so we will exhibit a lifestyle of joy and gratefulness. Paul states that we are to rejoice in the Lord Always. This means that our rejoicing in the Lord should be an ongoing process of worshipping Him and recognizing the place of God in our life.

Here is the rub for us, however. How can we rejoice when the events of life are not going well? Does that not seem impossible if not at least very strange. The point Paul is driving home is that we do not rejoice in the events or circumstances of our life but rather we rejoice in Christ. The fact is life is not fair and life is certainly filled with problems and difficulties. That is why our rejoicing is not in the events, circumstances, or even the people in our life. Our rejoicing should be focused on the Lord, who is Christ.

There are a couple of things about the Greek word used here for rejoice that bears comment. First of all the root of the word CHAIRETE, to rejoice, is the word for “grace.” This is important because at the root of our ability to rejoice is grace. We recognize that He, God, has done so much for us and when we recognize this it ushers us into place of praise. So the first way to maintain a grateful heart is to rejoice in God even when we do not feel like it.

A second idea expressed in this word is that the command to rejoice is in the present tense and the active voice. That means that it can be translated: “Go on being glad in the Lord.” In other words rejoice and keep on rejoicing in the Lord. Do not stop. Our rejoicing and celebration is not conditioned upon what we do or what happens to us. It is a work of grace within us. It is a gift and a gift worth receiving. It is a gift worth grasping and taking as our own.

A third comment worth noting is that there is a difference between earthly happiness and spiritual joy. Earthly happiness is produced and maintained by events, by things, by experiences, and these often involve money, moods, and materialism. Spiritual joy is a product of one’s relationship with God through Christ and is a constant in our life. Earthly happiness on the other hand fluctuates greatly as things happen or do not happen.

The second item that lends itself to having a grateful heart is that we are called to respect others. Paul calls us to let your reasonableness be known to everyone. What Paul is saying is that we must treat people with respect. When we have a grateful heart we tend to treat others in a more reasonable way. When we are grateful, emotions like jealousy, anger, and distrust are diminished. As I was preparing this, I came across this statement, Gentleness breathes grace into the midst of tension. Remember the truth of Proverbs 15:1 “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Here is the point, grateful people tend to be patient people. Grateful people tend to be gracious people.

 

The third item to consider for having a grateful heart is that we are not to stress over things, events, or people. Paul calls us to not to be anxious for anything. Wow! Can you imagine that Paul would dare say such a thing? Do not be anxious for anything is the command of Paul. How can Paul even think such a thing? Does he not know what we are dealing with? Does he not know the problems we have? For Paul this is not just a passing statement, it is a commitment to trust God. This is a reminder of Jesus’ own words in Matthew 6. Do not worry! Do not be anxious. It is a matter of trust in God’s ability to supply our needs, take care of the problems we face, and help us with those in our life that are hard to be grateful for. Once again, this call to a life without anxiousness is only possible as we focus on God and what He has provided for us. A lack of anxiousness also flows from a heart that is grateful because we recognize that God will supply our every need.

Listen to the words of Christ in Matthew 6. Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Do not be anxious! God will provide all that we need.

The final item needed to have a grateful heart is that we are called to be focused on a heart of gratefulness. Paul calls us to prayer and supplication with a thankful heart. Being grateful is a matter of focus and where we place our affections. We are less grateful when we focus on ourselves and what we don’t have rather than on what God has already given us and provided for us. We are less selfish when we pray with an attitude of gratitude. From a heart of gratefulness we pray with expectation but not a selfish heart. Instead, we pray with the amazement of all God has provided.

At the end of this passage we see God’s response to a grateful heart. Paul states And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. In this, Paul describes two outcomes of walking in gratitude and thankfulness. The first response from God is that He will give us a peace that surpasses all understanding. Have you ever experienced that kind of peace? Have you experienced a peace that is almost indescribable? It is a peace that overwhelms us when we are overcome by the difficulties of life. It is a peace that controls us when what we want to do is explode and lash out. It is a peace that comforts us and establishes a patience and control in us that does not come from any other source.

How valuable is living at peace? I don’t know about you but to live in peace with myself is critical. I can live at peace because I live content in the Holy Spirit. That does not mean that I do not desire things or want things, it simply means that my desire for things never exceeds my ability to give thanks for what he has already been given. Think about this. When I live a grateful life I am less likely to want what I cannot have as I am so fully grateful what God has already given me and what God has already done for me.

The second response of God is that by living with a grateful heart God will guard our hearts and minds. Think about this, by having a grateful heart God protects our hearts and minds against the onslaught of negativity and the lies that are so often propagated by the enemy of our souls. Gratefulness transforms our heart and our mind.

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to be negative? We begin to look at the negative things around us and soon we sense we are becoming even more negative. A number of years ago we had a fellow that worked with us. He was always so negative and he was a bit of a hypochondriac. One day one of his buddies had enough of his negativity and decided to make a bet with his friends that he could get him to go home before lunch because he was sick. The bet was on and sure enough he was headed home by lunch. When questioned, the fellow who made the bet said it was simple. I continued to tell him that he did not look good and that there was a major stomach bug going around. He believed the lie.

The enemy loves to magnify the failures and difficulties of life but a grateful heart magnifies the glory of God. The enemy magnifies the problems but a grateful heart magnifies the good of life. We must be careful here because this never means that we deny the problems we face but rather they are always defined within the context of what God has done for us and a grateful heart.

As we close today I would like to do something a bit different. Instead of praying for anything I would like for us to take a moment and give thanks to God for what we have. In giving thanks we are motivated to gratefulness and praise. So, let us give thanks today!

For an audio of this message go to http://pccministry.org/media.php?pageID=14

Copyright © 2016 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom

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