The Thanksgiving holiday is quickly approaching. For our country, it is generally a one-day recognition, an encouragement to be thankful for health, wealth, family, friends, food, and fun. But be thankful to whom? Many will talk about being thankful to “god,” but most don’t know who that is, much less believe in Him.
Not only has a lack of recognition of—and saving relationship with—God contributed to the lack of thanksgiving or directionless gratitude, but for those who do believe in and know the true God, there’s another incredibly dangerous enemy lurking around: the spirit of entitlement.
In an abrupt way the horror of the terrorist attack on 9/11 revealed that spirit of entitlement: “How could this happen here? We deserve protection! We demand safety! After all, we live in the United States of America!”
As a country, we had taken protection, safety, our well-being, the opportunity to work and enjoy life, the blessing of family, friends, health, and the pursuit of happiness for granted. Taking things for granted, not being thankful for the daily blessings that God affords to all often leads to a spirit of entitlement. Entitlement is the sly, deceptive, selfish enemy forged by Satan himself, which blinds us to the presence of God. It lives right next door to thanklessness.
I think we’ve all known people whose understanding and quality of life is diminished by a sense of entitlement. Their attitude is: “The government owes me; my parents owe me; the company owes me;” maybe even, “God owes me.” We’ve all known children who, after being deluged with extravagant gifts on Christmas Day, look up from the piles of wrapping paper and say,“Is there another one? Is this all?”
A lack of gratitude—and the sense of entitlement that often comes along with it—drains the life out of life. It is a prescription for misery. On the other hand, gratitude is the key to a blessed, content, and divinely connected life … and we have every reason to be thankful each hour. Our God is the giver of every good and perfect gift.
So, let us abandon the attitude of entitlement—that the world owes me an easy ride, that God owes me—and recognize and enjoy the gifts you have already been given. This is what I know: If God never did anything else for me—if He never answered another prayer or never sent another blessing my way—I could not pay Him back, even in a thousand lifetimes, for all that He has already done for me. And yet still, for all of His children … God promises more!
Isaiah 12 is one of the shortest chapters in the book of Isaiah, and, I believe, one of the most powerful:
In that day you will say: “I will praise you, O LORD. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me. Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD, is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.” With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. In that day you will say: “Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that His Name is exalted. Sing to the LORD, for He has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world. Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.”
These few verses primarily remind us of three blessings we can remain continually thankful for. First of all,
1. God Comforts You With Forgiveness.
I once heard a Christian comedian say something along the lines of, “I travel around the country trying to convince people that God isn’t mad at them—and it’s a tough sell.” Having been in the ministry for over 35 years I can also say, “It IS a tough sell;”not because of a lack of biblical proof for the doctrine of grace, but because people are often reluctant to receive and believe this incredible Good News. Martin Luther once said of the burgeoning Reformation movement: “It’s easier to persuade people to hate the pope than it is to convince them that they are saved by God’s grace.”
I haven’t met too many people who can sin with reckless abandon without their conscience “kicking in.” However, I’ve met a lot of people who are convinced that God is so angry with them that they could never experience a close relationship with Him. Since we are often reluctant to forgive ourselves, we assume that God is equally reluctant to forgive us. But that is not the case!
More than anything else, God wants for you to experience the comfort of His love and forgiveness. He doesn’t want you to live a life of isolation, loneliness, and ignorance of His compassion, seeking fulfillment in drugs, sex, alcohol, money, and all the other empty pleasures the world has to offer. He wants to bury your past, take away all of your sins, and give you a new life. Isaiah said, “I will praise you, O Lord. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me” (v. 1).
To be sure, sin has to be acknowledged and confessed. There is a definite need for repentance, holiness, and obedience. We can’t pretend that sin doesn’t exist. The Apostle John writes, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves …” (1 John 1:8).
Tim Keller, in one of my favorite quotes of his, puts it like this: “The power of the gospel comes in two movements. It first says, “I am more sinful and flawed than I ever dared believe,” but then quickly follows with, “I am more accepted and loved than I ever dared hope.” [Keller, Timothy. Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Kindle Locations 1098-1105). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.]
So, let’s not give sin more power than it deserves. Sin is powerful—no question about it—and it can bring a lot of misery into our lives. But God’s grace is more powerful! He can …
free us from the guilt of sin;
heal us from the brokenness of sin;
erase the stain of sin;
replace the pain of sin with the comfort of his mercy;
destroy the grasp of sin; and
free us from the power of sin in our life.
Best of all … He wants to!
We’ve all done things we regret. And yet, God has made us an incredible offer: “Turn to me, and I will remove the pain of those regrets, and comfort you with mercy and forgiveness.” How awesome! How thankful we should be!
Because of God’s grace, we can begin every day with a renewed sense of gratitude: “God, thank you for …
forgiving my sins;
comforting my troubled soul;
not being ashamed of me; and
making me your own.”
2. God Gives You Strength in Your Weakest Moments.
Isaiah exults, “Surely God is my salvation. I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song” (v. 2).
Many of us have experienced emotional ups and downs … and I’ll bet recently. There have been times, in my weakest moments, when I’ve been concerned, maybe even afraid of the future. You have “what if” questions also, right? What if family members move and don’t get together anymore? What if one of us is in a debilitating car accident?
In those moments, the still small voice of God speaks: “Trust Me, and don’t be afraid. I will give you strength. I will take care of you. I will take care of the family. All things will work for good.”
When we talk about salvation, most of the time a good percentage of our minds jump to thoughts of eternity in heaven. I’m thankful that we have heaven to look forward to! But salvation isn’t just about our future eternity; salvation is about NOW—our lives today. God doesn’t just want to forgive us of our sins, He wants to save us from our sins, and give us a purpose, strength, and courage to live each day.
You will not find a verse in the Bible that encourages you to quit. Neither will you find a verse that encourages you to live in fear of this world. There’s no verse that says, “Fear death. Fear terror. Fear disaster. Fear sickness.” But there are many verses that encourage us in the face of fear, to put our trust in God.
“The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1).
“Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you” (Jeremiah 1:8).
“Peace I leave with you … do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).
“Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
In the gospel of Mark there is the account of a man who came to Jesus asking Him to heal his dying daughter. While Jesus was on His way to the man’s house, messengers came and said, “It’s too late. She’s dead.” Jesus turned to the man and said, “Don’t be afraid. Just believe” (Mark 5:36b).
In that man’s weakest moment, when his worst fears seemed to become reality, Jesus told him, “Don’t fear. Just believe.” It wasn’t long before that man, Jairus, saw the power of God demonstrated in a miraculous way.
God is our salvation; we don’t have to give in to fear. He has promised to give his people the strength to face whatever comes our way. We can count on Him, even in our weakest moments.
3. God Promises to Never Be Far Away.
Isaiah said, “Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you” (Isaiah 12:6).
Notice those last two words. “Among you.” He is here. He is with us now. We don’t pray to a distant God who is billions of light years away in a remote universe; we pray to a God who is right here with us, right now, all day, every day. God choses to beclose to us! He gave us Immanuel—God with us! —Jesus! And Jesus promised, “And surely I Am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b).
In the book of Hebrews He said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). And, in case you’re wondering, the Greek word(s) for “never” (Οὐ μή) means “never!”
When the sun rises and you wake up in the morning and say a prayer, your prayer doesn’t travel across the universe in order for Him to hear it. He is right there with you. When you sin and cry out to Him for forgiveness, he is already there with you.
God is literally as near to you as your next breath. He is among us. He is near to bless us even though we don’t deserve it. He is a loving God of infinite supply.
God is not mad at you; he wants to forgive you and comfort you. He doesn’t expect you to fight your own battles; He wants to strengthen you and save you. He hasn’t abandoned you; He promises to be with you always. What, then, should our response be?
Gratitude. Exuberant gratitude. When it comes to expressing thankfulness to God, foot-stomping, cheering, shouting, hand-clapping—they’re all acceptable to Him. Isaiah said in verse 4, “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done, and proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world. Shout aloud and sing for joy.”
As a youth pastor with a group of about 47 youth and adults in Estes Park, Colorado, I can remember the kids being so thankful after a Bible study that really connected with them, where the personal work of Jesus had never been more “real.” After a prayer, one of the kids led everyone in spelling out and shouting the name of Jesus. I can remember thinking, “I hope the entire U.S. of A. can hear us. I want them to know how thankful we are for all that Jesus has done for us.”
We’re a little more sophisticated in our approach these days; we don’t shout as much as we used to. Maybe we should. We need to proclaim to Him—and to the world around us—our gratitude for all that He has done.
Gratitude is the key to a blessed, content, connected life. I believe it is the key to a dynamic relationship with God. Our relationship with Him does not begin with what we do for Him. It recognizes what God has done for us and continues by receiving in faith what He promises to still do. Isaiah reminds us: “With joy you will continue to draw water from the wells of salvation” (v.3). And then, the words of Jesus in John 4 come to mind: “But whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:14).
What reason do we have to not be joyful? To not be supremely thankful? In Him, we have forgiveness, comfort, salvation, strength, and His promise to be with us always.
Mark Tidd of Webster, New York, describes an experience from his college days:
An old man showed up at the back door of the house we were renting. Opening the door a few inches, we saw his eyes were glassy and his furrowed face glistened with silver stubble. He clutched a wicker basket holding a few unappealing vegetables. He bid us good morning and offered his produce for sale. We were uneasy enough that we made a quick purchase to alleviate both our pity and our fear.
To our chagrin, he returned the next week, introducing himself as Mr. Roth, the man who lived in the shack down the road. As our fears subsided, we got close enough to realize it wasn’t alcohol but cataracts that marbleized his eyes. On subsequent visits, he would shuffle in, wearing two mismatched right shoes, and pull out a harmonica. With glazed eyes set on a future glory, he’d puff out old gospel tunes between conversations about vegetables and religion.
On one visit he exclaimed, ‘The Lord is so good! I came out of my shack this morning and found a bag full of shoes and clothing on my porch.’
‘That’s wonderful, Mr. Roth!’ we said. ‘We’re happy for you.’
‘You know what’s even more wonderful?’ he asked. ‘Just yesterday I met some people that could really use them.’
Gratitude helps you see the gracious supply of God.
Gratitude allows you to give.
Gratitude helps you to truly live!
This Thanksgiving, as we reflect on all that we have to be thankful for, let’s remember to be thankful, first and foremost, for all that He has done for us, remembering His gracious promise, “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Written by Pastor David Maier as printed in the Michigan District’s ‘Michigan in Touch’, news magazine, November, 2018:
Photo (c) marekuliasz/iStock