读经：诗116:12-19 西1:1-23 耶7:30-9:16
Attitude of Gratitude
Jean Smith told me her story. She was in her mid-sixties. She came from Cwmbran in Wales. She had been blind for sixteen years. She had a white stick, and a guide dog named Tina. An infection had eaten away at the retinas and mirrors behind her eyes – they could not bereplaced. She was in constant pain.
Jean went on a local Alpha course. They had a day away to focus on the work of the Holy Spirit. During this time, the pain left. She went to church the following Sunday to thank God. The minister anointed her with oil. As she wiped the oil away she could see the communion table. God had miraculously healed Jean.
She had not seen her husband for sixteen years. She was surprised at how white his beard was! Jean had never even seen her daughter-in-law before. Her six-and-a-half-year-old grandson used to guide her around the puddles to avoid her getting her feet wet.
He said to her, ‘Who done that Gran?’
She replied, ‘Jesus made me better.’
‘I hope you said thank you, Gran.’
‘I will never stop saying thank you,’ she answered.
Yesterday we read Paul’s encouragement: ‘In everything, by prayer and petition, withthanksgiving, present your requests to God’ (Philippians 4:6). Today we see him putting his own instructions into practice. Like Jean, Paul was also constantly giving thanks to God. He had an attitude of gratitude.
Praise is giving glory to God for who he is. Thanksgiving is giving glory to God for what he has done for us. It is the lens through which to view our entire life. Ultimately, as we see in today’s passages, the world can be divided into two categories: those who acknowledge God and give thanks to him, and those who don’t.
How do you cultivate an attitude of gratitude?
1. Publicly offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving
Psalm 116:12-19It is not enough to thank God in the privacy of your own home. There is something significant about coming together and publicly thanking God ‘in the presence of all his people’ (v.14). The psalmist asks the rhetorical question, ‘What can I give back to God for the blessings he’s poured out on me?’ (v.12, MSG).
God has been so good to him. He is thankful that his future is secure, that ‘when they arrive at the gates of death God welcomes those who love him’ (v.15, MSG). He gives thanks for what God has done in the past, declaring that ‘you have freed me from my chains!’ (v.16).
Sometimes thanksgiving is easy. At other times it is more of a sacrifice (v.17). St John of Avila (1500–1569) wrote, ‘One act of thanksgiving when things go wrong with us is worth a thousand thanks when things are agreeable to our inclination.’
The psalmist says, ‘I’m ready to offer the thanksgiving sacrifice and pray in the name of God. I’ll complete what I promised God I’d do, and I’ll do it in company with his people, in the place of worship, in God’s house, in Jerusalem, God’s city, Hallelujah!’ (vv.17–19, MSG). ‘Hallelujah’ is one of the few Hebrew words to have entered the English language – it is a call to praise the Lord.
He remembers his anguish (vv.1–4). He remembers God’s mercy (vv.5–11) and now he ends with great gratitude (vv.12–19).
Lord, how can I ever thank you enough? Thank you that you have saved me from sin and the chains of addiction and taken away the sting of death. Thank you for all your goodness to me. I will give thanks to you in the presence of all your people in ‘the house of the Lord’ (v.19).
2. Continually give thanks to God
Colossians 1:1-23Most people, even today in secular societies, would recognise that Jesus was a great historical figure. They might rank him alongside Moses, Buddha, Socrates and other great religious leaders.
But is Jesus the unique and universal Saviour of the world? This was an issue in the first century just as much as it is now in the twenty-first century. For those in Colossi some cosmic forces were being put on an equal footing with Jesus.
In this letter, Paul, with great humility and gentleness, declares that Jesus is the unique and universal Saviour of the world. It is the God and ‘Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (v.3) who is the one who is worthy of all our worship, praise and thanksgiving.
As he prays for the Colossians, he gives thanks to God for their faith and love springing from the hope that is stored up for them in heaven (v.5).
He prays that they may, in turn, be thankful to God. In vv.9–12 he summarises the ways in which he prays for their faith to develop – asking for ‘spiritual wisdom and understanding’, fruitfulness and ‘knowledge of God’, ‘endurance and patience’. The list builds to a crescendo as each quality feeds into the next, ending on the note of ‘joyfully giving thanks to the Father’ (v.12).
Paul is praying that they will give thanks to the Father for transferring them ‘from the dominion of darkness’ to the kingdom of light – for his redemption, the forgiveness of sins (vv.13–14): ‘God rescued us from dead-end alleys and dark dungeons. He’s set us up in the kingdom of the Son he loves so much, the Son who got us out of the pit we were in, got rid of the sins we were doomed to keep repeating’ (vv.13–14, MSG).
The one you are to thank is ‘the image of the invisible God’ (v.15) – ‘We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen’ (v.15, MSG). He is the one by whom all things were created. Everything was created by him and for him. It all ‘got started in him and finds its purpose in him’ (v.16, MSG). He is the head of the church (v.18). All the fullness of God dwells in him (v.19).
Jesus has made peace with God ‘through his blood, shed on the cross’ (v.20). He has reconciled you to God (v.22a). You are now holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation (v.22b).
This is the gospel for which we give thanks: ‘He was supreme in the beginning and – leading the resurrection parade – he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone… Every creature under heaven gets this same Message’ (vv.17–23, MSG).
Lord, thank you that you have rescued me and forgiven my sins. Thank you for peace and reconciliation with God through Jesus’ blood shed on the cross for me. Thank you for giving us the immense privilege of proclaiming this gospel and seeing other people set free.
3. Beware of neglecting thanksgiving
Jeremiah 7:30-9:16Paul’s words in Romans 1 could be seen as a summary of this passage: ‘For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him’ (Romans 1:21).
In Jeremiah we see God’s warning of his judgment on his people. They have done evil in the eyes of the Lord (Jeremiah 7:30). They ‘just keep on going – backward!… Not a single “I’m sorry” did I hear’ (8:5–6, MSG). ‘They have no shame… they don’t even know how to blush’ (v.12, MSG). ‘They go from one sin to another; they do not acknowledge me’ (9:3). ‘In their deceit theyrefuse to acknowledge me’ (v.6).
‘Their tongue is a deadly arrow; it speaks with deceit. With their mouths they all speak cordially to their neighbours, but in their hearts they set traps for them’ (v.8). At the root of all their sin was a failure to acknowledge God and give him thanks; they ‘refuse to know me’ (v.6, MSG).
God had given them so much, yet they failed to acknowledge him or thank him for it. Therefore he says, ‘What I have given them will be taken away from them’ (8:13d). ‘I will take away their harvest… there will be no grapes on the vine… no figs on the tree’ (v.13).
This judgment is painful for Jeremiah: ‘Are there no healing ointments in Gilead? Isn’t there a doctor in the house? So why can’t something be done to heal and save my dear, dear people?’ (vv.21–22, MSG).
All our passages today call on us to give thanks and praise to God. So we draw all our thoughts and prayers together in the words of one of the Anglican communion services:
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give him thanks and praise.
It is indeed right,
It is our duty and our joy,
at all times and in all places
to give you thanks and praise
holy Father, heavenly King,
almighty and eternal God,
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.
Therefore with angels and archangels,
and with all the company of heaven,
we proclaim your great and glorious name,
forever praising you and saying:
Holy, holy, holy Lord,
God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
‘Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.’
With the horrific news of so many brutal killings happening in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere, the knowledge that God knows and cares about each one of them is comforting.