In his popular book, “The One Minute Manager”, Ken Blanchard recommends that leaders develop the practice of what he calls “one-minute praising”. The idea is that you try to catch your employees doing something right. Now, we’re all used to bosses who catch us doing something wrong. But it’s rare to be praised when we have done something well.
Blanchard’s idea is to “catch them doing something right” and then give them a one-minute praising right there on the spot. He says, don’t wait, because waiting takes away the impact. Tell them right then, right there, how much you appreciate the good job they are doing.
I think that’s a great practice, but I think it’s difficult because most of us are better at criticism than we are at praise. We’re much better at “one-minute blaming” than we are with “one-minute praising.”
But I would challenge you to make an effort to put this into practice this week. Catch someone doing something right. And then praise them right on the spot. It could change your marriage, change the way you relate to your children, encourage those who work for you, and in general, make you a much nicer person to be around.
But it needs to be intentional. And that’s Blanchard’s point. And I think that same principle applies very much to our relationship with God as well. Most of us are better at complaining than we are praising.
But the Psalmist said, “It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to Your name, O Most High.” (Psalm 92:1).
Unfortunately, it’s so easy for us to take things for granted. We live in a wonderful country. We are well fed. We have a roof over our heads, and money in our pockets. We have electricity, running water. And even if we might not be as well off as some others around us, compared to most of the world we are rich beyond measure.
And that’s not intended to make us feel guilty, but it is intended to make us aware of just how much we have – we’re not only blessed materially, we are blessed with friends, family, and a church family. As James says in James 1:17, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights….”
And yet, in spite of all this, we are sometimes slow to acknowledge our blessings. In the book of Deuteronomy, one of the themes that appears over and over is Moses saying to the Israelites, “When you get to the land of Canaan and everything’s going really good for you, don’t forget God!” And I can just imagine that when Moses spoke those words, everybody thought, “He doesn’t need to tell us that. We would never forget God.” But he did need to tell them. Because when they got to the land of Canaan, and everything was going great, what happened? They did forget God!
And we do the same thing. We have grown so accustomed to all the things that God has given us, we often take them for granted. G. K. Chesterton once put it like this. He said, “The world shall perish not for lack of wonders but for lack of wonder.”
Occasionally we need to be reminded of all those things that we have been taking for granted, things that we need to be thankful for. It is at special times, like Thanksgiving, that we’re able to focus our attention on all of those things.
And in a few days, we will all celebrate Thanksgiving in our homes, and it’s always a special time of the year. It is a time when we look back on the blessings God has given us, and a time when we look forward to the blessings we will enjoy for all eternity. And of course, it is a time to celebrate the greatest gift of all — the gift of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
But Thanksgiving, the day, reminds us of our need for thanksgiving, the attitude. It reminds us that we need to cultivate what someone has referred to as an “attitude of gratitude”. And the reason is because we live in a world that is filled with ingratitude. It’s not a new thing. Four centuries before Jesus came to this earth, Aristotle recognized it as a problem and said, “What soon grows old? Gratitude.”
In his second letter to Timothy, Paul described the last days in this way: “For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” (2 Timothy 3:2-4). That’s a terrible list of sins! But did you notice that right in middle of that list is the sin of being “ungrateful” or “unthankful”.
One of the primary ways that ingratitude manifests itself is in complaining. Remember the Israelites in the wilderness who didn’t appreciate all that God had done for them and so they grumbled and complained about everything. After everything God had done for them, after his brought the plagues on Egypt, after the great miracle at the Red Sea, they were griping and complaining and moaning and groaning. God sent manna and they complained. They said they missed the good food they had back in Egypt. Keep in mind, while they were in Egypt they were slaves, but they were willing to trade their freedom for a better menu. So God sent quail. But for forty years, there was nothing but complaints.
But I can’t be too hard on them, because we are just like them. I don’t know about you, but there are times that I tend to forget all the blessings I’ve received from God, and when I do that, I find myself complaining a lot.
Focusing on our blessings must be a deliberate choice. When I do premarital counseling, one of the things I will do is to ask couples to list three faults of their fiancé. And I find it humorous that sometimes they have trouble filling in all three blanks, and the one or two minor flaws they list are usually brushed aside. All they can think about is, “He is so wonderful, so kind and considerate!” “She is so beautiful! She has such a sweet disposition!”
But then, after a few years of marriage, they come into my office saying, “He doesn’t care about anybody but himself!” “She is such a nag! She complains about everything!” Their focus has changed! When we take our eyes off of all the things we appreciate, all we can see are the negative things.
And it’s easy to fall into the same trap spiritually. If we don’t focus on the blessings God has given us, we will tend to focus on those things that we are unhappy about, and complain. And if you happen to be someone who likes to complain, then you can find plenty in this world to complain about!
You can start with the cost of groceries, or the cost of medical care. You can complain about everything from the traffic in Spring Lake to the fact that Trump was elected president. And then you can move to complaining about things like slow Internet service, or how long it takes you to get through the drive-through at McDonald’s, or the weather, which is either too hot or too cold, too wet or too dry. And you can get your list drawn up and sit down with someone else who has their list and you just sit and complain to one another about how terrible everything is in this world.
And let’s be honest. The thought of doing that is tempting to many of us because we enjoy complaining. We may call it griping or grumbling. In the Bible, the most common term used is “murmuring.” But regardless of what we call it, complaining always has the same symptoms. The dictionary defines complaining as “an expression of unhappiness, dissatisfaction, or discontent.” Which means that it is the very opposite of being grateful.
But everyone on the face of this earth ought to be thankful. And those of us who are a part of God’s family ought to be especially thankful.
As we look through the Bible, it’s in the book of Psalms that thanksgiving is really stressed. There are at least 16 of the psalms that were specifically written for the purpose of giving thanks to God, and many more than that which include words of thanksgiving.
Of those 16 psalms, about half of them are considered to be psalms of community thanksgiving. Those psalms give thanks for the kinds of things that everyone is able to enjoy by the good hand of God —- things like the rain that makes the crops grow.
The other half of the thanksgiving psalms are considered to be psalms of individual thanksgiving. Through them, we get a glimpse of David and other men giving thanks to God for things that happened to them in their own personal lives.
This morning, I want us to take a look at Psalm 103, which is a psalm of individual thanksgiving which was written by David. Listen to these words:
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
- The Basis For Gratitude
One of the first things that I want you to notice here is that to be thankful, a person has be grateful for something, and to someone. David says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” To put it another way, if we’re going to say “thank you” we’ve got to say “thank you” to somebody.
Harriet Martineau was an atheist. One morning, she and a friend stepped outside on a beautiful fall morning. As she saw the sun peeking through the haze, and the frost on the meadow, and the brightly colored leaves falling to the ground, Harriet was filled with its beauty and she said. “I am just so grateful for it all.” And her , who believed in God, asked her, “Grateful to whom, my dear?”
And that’s a good question. If you’re grateful, if you’re truly thankful, then the next question would have to be, “Grateful to whom?”
There was an article in the Christian Herald a few years ago that made the point that atheists can’t really celebrate Thanksgiving. They can celebrate Christmas, because they can make that a holiday about giving gifts, which anybody can do. But Thanksgiving is a holiday about giving thanks. As the article points out:
“Atheists don’t think God exists.., and so don’t think there is anyone around to whom to give thanks. Can’t atheists just be thankful for all the people in their lives who matter to them, or for their well-being and happiness, or just for being alive? They can, if ‘thankful for’ simply refers to an emotion of contentment or happiness. Best, though, just to say they can be happy for being alive and for enjoying their lives.” But, “They do not…feel grateful for these things, for the emotion of gratitude requires believing that someone exists to be thanked.”
As the Hebrew writer put it, “Through [Jesus] then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” (Hebrews 13:15).
Governor William Bradford of Massachusetts made this first Thanksgiving proclamation three years after the Pilgrims settled at Plymouth:
“Inasmuch as the Great Father has given us this year an abundant harvest of Indian corn, wheat, peas, beans, squashes, and garden vegetables, and has made the forest to abound with game and the sea with fish and clams, and inasmuch as He has protected us from the ravages of the savages, has spared us from pestilence and disease, has granted us freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience.
“Now I, your magistrate, do proclaim that all ye Pilgrims, with your wives and ye little ones, do gather at ye meeting house, on ye hill, between the hours of nine and twelve in the daytime, on Thursday, November 29th, in the year of our Lord One Thousand Six Hundred and Twenty-Three, and the third year since ye Pilgrims landed on ye Pilgrim Rock, there to listen to ye pastor and render thanksgiving to ye Almighty God for all His blessings.”
You see, those early Pilgrims recognized that the provisions they had experienced came from God. They were thankful, and they didn’t hide the fact that they were thankful to Almighty God.
A second thing David shows us is that not only do we need to be thankful to someone, but we need to be thankful for something. And to truly be thankful, we need to “Count our many blessings” and “Name them one by one.” I think sometimes we make the mistake of just saying, “Thank you, God, for everything, and we leave it at that.”
But David was very specific. Notice how his list in Psalm 103 starts. In verse 3, he begins by thanking God for being a God “who forgives all your iniquity.” It’s interesting that he didn’t begin by thanking God for making him king. He didn’t mention that Israel had become the strongest nation in the world during his reign. He didn’t mention the palace he lived in. No, first of all, he thanked God for forgiving our sins.
Then he said that God “heals all your diseases.” David didn’t know anything about germs or infection. All he knew was, when the people of Israel obeyed God’s laws, they didn’t have the plagues that laid waste the nations around them. And when troubles arose and they called upon God for help, He was always there to help them.
Next, David said that God “redeems your life from the pit” and “crowns you with steadfast love and mercy.” God certainly did that for King David, and he’s still doing it for us today.
Then he said that God “satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” I like that. Almost everybody seems to be searching for a fountain of youth. But I’m a realist, and when I stand in front of a mirror I realize I wasn’t born with gray hair or poor eyesight or the wrinkles I have now. But Paul explained it best when he said that “Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)
You see, all of these things David focuses on here are spiritual blessings. If we don’t appreciate what God has done for us spiritually, it is unlikely we will ever appreciate what he does for us physically. The basis for true thanksgiving is an encounter with the living God. As we get to know God better, we will find that our gratitude grows.
- The Benefits of Gratitude
There are over 550 references to thankfulness in the Bible. There are a lot of benefits that come from cultivating an attitude of gratitude. Perhaps the greatest benefit is that thanksgiving has a powerful effect on our lives. It changes us. Thanksgiving makes us a different person.
I’ve already made the point that we live in an ungrateful age. Look around you. Every day, you will see people who are bitter. It is said that “some people are bitter, not because they do not have anything, but because they don’t have everything.” We have been taught in our society to be greedy and grasping. We are bombarded by commercials that remind us of all those things that we don’t have. We’re led to believe that if we don’t have all these things, we can’t experience happiness. As someone has said, “There are two kinds of people in the world — those who dwell on what they want, and those who dwell on what they have.” And if we become a people who focus on what we want, we will be an unhappy people.
Most unhappy people are also unthankful people. Now, you might think that people’s unhappiness makes them unthankful. I don’t believe that’s true. In fact, I think just the opposite is true. I believe people are not ungrateful because they are unhappy; they are unhappy because they are ungrateful.
Thanksgiving has the power to transform us into different people. As we seek to cultivate an attitude of gratitude, our thinking will be transformed. This world tends to concentrate on the negative. Our tendency is to look for all the bad. But the way of Christ is to emphasize the positive. We are to look for the good in everything. And just as we can find the negative when we look for it, we can also find the positive when we look for it.
As Paul said in Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
As we begin to focus our attention on the things which are good, our minds will be transformed. And there’s always a positive side even to negative things.
As someone has said, you wives can be thankful even for husbands who try to do small repair jobs around the house. They usually make them big enough to call in professionals and get the job done right. We can be thankful for children who put away their things and clean up after themselves. They’re such a joy you hate to send them home to their own parents. We can be thankful for smoke alarms. They tell us when the turkey’s done. There is always a positive side.
And as our thinking changes, our attitude changes. We read in Colossians 3:15-17, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
In all of these different Christian attitudes, giving of thanks is interwoven. It is mentioned there because it is an essential part of a Christ-centered mindset. Thanksgiving should be as natural to a Christian as swimming is to a fish. It becomes a way of life.
There are many times when we could choose to look on the negative. Matthew Henry, the famous scholar, once had such an occasion. He was beaten by thieves and robbed of his purse. Later that day, he wrote this in his diary:
“Let me be thankful first, because I was never robbed before; second, because, although they took my purse, 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.”
Those are the words of a man who had a transformed attitude and transformed thinking. His life was changed by choosing to be thankful. Making that choice will affect a lot of other areas of our lives as well. Cicero once said, “A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all other virtues.”
There are so many reasons to be thankful, but perhaps there is one reason which rises above them all. Thanksgiving is really the only thing we have to give to God. When you think about it, all the material things we own – those are things that belong to God, and when we give them back to Him, we’re only giving him back something that was already his to begin with. But thanksgiving is ours to give. It is something we choose to do. It is an offering of our praise to God.
But we’re sometimes like a little boy I heard about. After he came home from a birthday party, his mother asked him, “Bobby, did you thank the lady for the party?”
Bobby said, “Well, I was going to. But a girl ahead of me said, ‘Thank you,’ and the lady told her not to mention it. So I didn’t.”
Let me ask you — have you mentioned to God lately how thankful you are for all his blessings? What kind of attitude characterizes you? You can either take things for granted or take them with gratitude. You can either be a person who is constantly giving thanks, or someone who is constantly complaining.
I want to close by reading a prayer that I think is beautiful. Unfortunately, the author is unknown to me:
Gracious God, Giver of Every Good Gift,
We acknowledge that life, health, and joy
Are your pleasant favors to us.
Thus we thank you for parents, mates, and children,
For siblings, friends, and colleagues who bless our lives.
We affirm your greatness at sunrise and sunset,
Praise you for productive days and the sweet rest that follows.
Yours is the glory and honor and majesty
For all the things we seek and enjoy and savor.
We understand that work, responsibility, and the power to earn
Are granted to us by your sovereign goodness.
We praise you for all that has been provided to us
And for all you have enabled us to provide for others.
We also recognize the dark gifts that life brings to all
In the forms of loss and illness, lack and heartache.
While these are neither your intent nor work in our lives,
Even there we honor you for your faithfulness as our God.
We sense your strength when we are at our weakest,
And we experience your fulness best in our emptiness.
Thus we dare to sing in prison cells and laugh at death,
For you are the God of life beyond these mortal limitations.
If we sensed no pain, would we flee to you for comfort?
If no imperfection, could we marvel at your excellence?
If no insecurity, would we worship any gods but ourselves?
If no sin, would we ever choose the path of redemption?
On this Thanksgiving Day, then, we thank you for sunshine and storm,
For Eden that gave us a glimpse of your beauty and holiness,
For Egypt that made us desire a Land of Promise,
For Gethsemane that revealed to us a sympathetic High Priest.
Whatever the life situation with any one of us today,
Teach us the spirit of thanksgiving and gratitude and joy.
For all that we have and hope for, we praise you;
For all that compels us to seek you, we praise you even more.
In the Blessed and Holy Name of Jesus we pray. Amen.
As you give continue to thanks this week, don’t forget to give thanks to someone, for something. Don’t allow yourself the vague, warm-fuzzies of Thanksgiving Day. Articulate — maybe even with the help of Psalm 103 — your personal prayers of gratitude to God for his material bounty, for the people in your life, for his presence in your trials, for his continued power in your spiritual life, and — above all — for the salvation he has provided in Christ Jesus.
Would you recite these words of Psalm 103 together with me:
“Bless the LORD, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name!
Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: