Is Thankfulness a Noun or a Verb?


Luke 17:11-21

There’s a legend about two angels who were sent to earth to gather up the prayers of humans. One angel was to fill his basket with the prayer requests, the pleas for help to God, of humans. The other angel was to gather the prayers of thanksgiving to God for the things He had done which humans had made. The first angel returned with a basket that heaped high and running over with innumerable petitions from people. The second angel returned with a basket that was almost empty for only a few humans had offered prayers of thanksgiving to God. Are we humans really like that? “That’s just a legend”, you might be thinking.

Maybe you would be right in the implication that humans are not naturally thankful, but consider the criminal defense lawyer who, of the 78 men whom his defense skills in court had saved from the death sentence, not one had bothered to thank him. “But those 78 freed men were probably hardened criminals”, you protest. “We’re different!”

Ok, then, consider the brilliant U.S. army general, the late George Patton. In his 35 years of service, he only received one letter of gratitude from any of the servicemen he led. “But he was a tough taskmaster”, you could retort. “Besides which, army people aren’t known for having good manners. You can’t judge us by them!”

Well then, ponder on the case of Edward Spencer, who was a young seminary student at the time he personally rescued from the icy waters of Lake Michigan 17 people from a sinking ship, “The Lady Elgin”. When asked years later what impacted him the most about that event, Spencer replied, “Not one of those 17 people I rescued even thanked me!” You might say, “But that was undoubtedly such a traumatic experience for them that they could be excused for slipping up in not expressing thanks. Besides which, we aren’t them!” Ok…

A final example: One Christmas, of all the requests Santa Claus received in the mail for specific gifts, only one child took the time to write afterwards to thank him. “But Santa isn’t real.”, you might say, but listen, if parents encourage their kids to only be askers or takers, and not givers or thankers, that is poor parenting which will create problems of thoughtlessness and selfishness later in life. The apostle Paul wrote bluntly about what happens to such people:

Since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:19-21)

It seems to me that ingratitude involves both selfishness and a tendency to sin. When a person is not grateful to God, Paul warns that they then live for themselves, under the control of the sinful nature, resulting in the throwing off of moral or ethical restraints, restraints that God has put in place for our protection. One’s thinking becomes mixed-up, and anxiety and confusion grips them, and then they get to the place where, though, they might believe in God and ask Him for help, they don’t have the relationship with Him that would recognize it when He does help them or answer their prayers.

I heard about a woman who had a doctor’s appointment, but the doctor was late, so by the time she left the doctor’s clinic, the lady was well behind schedule. She still had to pick up her prescription, then her children from the baby-sitter, and then rush home to make dinner. As she began to circle the busy mall parking lot, looking for a space to park, the skies opened, and a downpour of rain began. The woman prayed, “Lord, you know what kind of a day I’ve had, and there’s still an awful lot to do. Could you please get me a close-in parking space, so I don’t get soaked?” The words weren’t even out of her mouth when she saw a cars’ backup lights come on at the end of the row. It was the best parking space in the whole lot, right next to the handicap spots and in front of the store door. She made straight for the parking space and got it, but as she pulled in, she said to God, “Never mind God, something just opened up.” Oh, man! Unthinking people can’t even recognize it when God is at work. Paul says to live this way:

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

He expands on that teaching in another of his letters:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7)

On a similar track to that teaching is another legend, this one being about a man who found the barn where Satan stored his different seeds that he planned to sow in human hearts: sadness, anger, faithfulness, lying. On finding the seeds of discouragement more numerous than the others, the man, believing that those seeds of discouragement should be easy to plant anywhere, asked Satan why there was a surplus of them. Satan reluctantly admitted that there was one place in which he could never get his seeds of discouragement to thrive. “And where was that?”, asked the man, to which Satan replied, “In the heart of a grateful person.”

It seems clear to me that, to be a thankful person, is a good thing. But intentionality is involved in order for blessings to result. Alexander Whyte, the early 20th century preacher in Edinburgh, Scotland, was known for how, in his public prayers, he could always think of something to thank God for. One stormy, miserable Sunday morning of pelting rains and a howling wind, Alexander Whyte prayed: “We thank you, O God, that the weather is not always like this.” What a great prayer of thanksgiving! He reminds me of Job, who thanked God not just in the good times of receiving blessings, but in the bad times of losing those blessings and seeing his family killed off. In the midst of that, Job still thanked God for his life! Thinking produces thankfulness!

Like Alexander Whyte and Job, Matthew Henry, the famous British evangelical pastor of the 17th century, was a thankful person. When he was accosted by thieves and robbed of his belongings he wrote in his diary: “Let me be thankful, first, because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my belongings, they did not take my life; third, because although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.” As for me, having prayed about thanksgiving, I have come to 6 conclusions. Here are the first four:

  1. A grateful heart thwarts Satan’s plans for your life.
  2. You need to be a thinking person to be a thankful one.
  3. An unthinking person does not recognize God’s blessings.
  4. A thinking person does recognize God’s blessings and thus has God’s peace in their life.

If you stop and think, then the actions of both humans and God that you are thankful for will come to mind. We must not simply stumble through life, not thinking about all that has been given to us or who has blessed us and when we are thankful, as the apostle Paul notes,

“The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

What a wonderful blessing is the peace of God in one’s life. Every human being at one time or another instinctively longs for God’s touch in their life. And those who are thankful to Him experience God in their life. Conversely, when God is not involved in one’s thought process, His peace is not in one’s life, which is such a shame because the Lord wants to bless us all in varied ways. Let’s, out loud, now read together a passage in which Jesus blesses 10 men, but one a little bit more:

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.” (Luke 17:9-17)

The nine Jewish men all rushed to the priests for priests were the only ones in Jewish society who could officially proclaim a leper healed, cleansed from his or her contagious wounds, and thus able to return to living in their homes that they had been kicked out once they become leprous, as well as telling everyone that this now healed and cleansed person could be part of society once again. But, but one thankful man, a Samaritan, before going to the priests, first turned back to Jesus, the one who had actually healed him, to thank him. That Samaritan had a grateful heart. All 10 men had been physically healed. Jesus asked where the other 9 were, the 9 who had not bothered to thank him but then for the grateful man, Jesus gave him another blessing of his presence, his words, and his approval of his faith. When we take time to think and then thank the Lord for his blessings, He will then bless us even more. If Jesus had continued his chat with that Samaritan man, he may have encouraged him in the way the apostle Paul did his Christian readers:

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:6,7)

Living for Jesus, going deep – intentionally so – in our faith, and gaining strength from the faith we have been taught; those things produce in us a life “overflowing with thankfulness”. I read of such a person, who wrote an article entitled, “Things to Be Thankful For”: ‘The mess to clean after a party because it means I have been surrounded by friends. The taxes I pay because it means that I’m employed. The clothes that fit a little too snug because it means I have enough to eat. A lawn that needs mowing, windows that need cleaning and gutters that need fixing because it means I have a home. The space I find at the far end of the parking lot because it means I am capable of walking. My huge heating bill because it means I am warm. Weariness and aching muscles at the end of the day because it means I have been productive. The alarm that goes off in the early morning because it means that I’m alive.’ Thinking produces a thankful heart, which result in God’s blessings. I mentioned earlier that I have reached 6 conclusions as I have prayed and thought about this topic of thanksgiving. Here are the first five (having already said the first 4):

  1. A grateful heart thwarts Satan’s plans for your life.
  2. You need to be a thinking person to be a thankful one.
  3. An unthinking person does not recognize God’s blessings.
  4. A thinking person does recognize God’s blessings and thus has God’s peace in their life.
  5. How we live affects our level of thankfulness.

So, welcome to this Canadian Thanksgiving weekend! In 1578 A.D., the renowned British explorer Martin Frobisher left Plymouth, England bound for the Canadian Arctic, on his third attempt by boat to find the fabled “Inland Passage” of sea leading to the Orient. After months of treacherous travel by boat on freezing cold water, encountering nasty weather and icebergs, Frobisher’s fleet reluctantly turned back, and retreated south, landing on the “Countess of Warwick’s Island” as the island of Newfoundland was then called. There, the crew erected houses and storage sheds, and harvested crops. Eventually, the decision was made to not go north again to look for Inland Passage but to return to England as Frobisher and the others realized that the calendar was not on their side as the weather was getting colder. On August 30th of that year, 1578, the crew gathered to thank God for “His journeying mercies and His continued care”, as all of them had survived their adventures thus far. A Mr. Wolfall preached a sermon focusing on God’s provision during the many hardships which had been suffered by the men and, in a “solemn manner”, communion was celebrated in the Western Hemisphere for the first time. Following it, a thanksgiving feast provided a “time of merriment and fellowship”. The next day the men started their long journey back home to England.

That first Thanksgiving Day and meal in Canada occurred 43 years before the much more famous American Thanksgiving meal in November, 1621, shared between the Puritan settlers and the indigenous natives at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts. Influenced by the dating of the American event which had been coincided with the bringing in of their harvest, our Canadian Thanksgiving was first celebrated later in the fall before being moved to a date closer to our own earlier-in-the-year harvest season in Canada.

The ancient Israelites also had a Thanksgiving celebration. It marked the first crop each spring and it was called “Pentecost”. Christians, of course, associate Pentecost with the birth of the church and the coming of the Holy Spirit into the lives of believers but the Jews celebrated it, first. They would celebrate Pentecost with worship and prayer and would show their gratitude to God by bringing to Him offerings of crops and finances (much as we did earlier in today’s worship service). To properly celebrate Pentecost, Jews would travel from wherever they were living around the world to go to Jerusalem where in the Temple they would prove their thankfulness to God by bringing their offerings and giving them to Him in that setting.

So, here are my 6 conclusions about giving thanks:

  1. A grateful heart thwarts Satan’s plans for your life.
  2. You need to be a thinking person to be a thankful one.
  3. An unthinking person does not recognize God’s blessings.
  4. A thinking person does recognize God’s blessings and thus has God’s peace in their life.
  5. How we live affects our level of thankfulness.
  6. Being thankful is a verb involving action. It is not a noun.

Take time to thank those who have blessed you. This weekend, express your thankfulness to others. Seek them out, phone them or meet with them or write to them. In whatever manner you do it, thank them for the difference they have made in your life and for the blessings they have brought you. As for God, let’s verbally thank Him now as we come to our sharing time this Thanksgiving. Let’s share…

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