The Lens of Thanksgiving

The Lens of Thanksgiving

Psalm 100
Philippians 4:4-7
November 19, 2023


Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him; bless his name.

from Psalm 100


Unfortunately, our streaming software malfunctioned today. We especially regret that we are unable to share an amazing testimony by Peg. Below is a written version of the sermon.

Please note that I preach from an outline as a starting point but do not stick with it. Today's sermon included some wonderful interactions and responses from the congregation that are not reflected in the written text.

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The Lens of Thankfulness
Psalm 100, Philippians 4:4-7
Preached by Paul Ogne on November 19, 2023
Oviedo Presbyterian Church

I am convinced that one of the things on God’s wish list for us is, 'Be thankful.' To be grateful and to live our lives out of that reality.

To be thankful is appreciating the water that half-fills a glass, as well as the air we breathe. To be thankful is a lens, in some cases a corrective lens, for viewing the world and ourselves. It acknowledges pain, loss, need, and difficulty, but also sees what is possible and good. Thankfulness brings a spark of light to dark times and places, revealing opportunities that might otherwise be lost in the shadows.

Thanksgiving is a holiday, but we are missing a great blessing if thankfulness is not at the foundation of our lives and faith. God deeply desires for us to experience the blessing of a thankful heart. Thankfulness is the core spiritual discipline.

The Bible is full of admonitions to give thanks. Here are just a couple:

  • 'Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let
    your requests be made known to God.' (Philippians 4:6)

  • 'Entirely out of place is obscene, silly, and vulgar talk; but instead, let there be thanksgiving.'
    (Ephesians 5:4)

  • 'Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving.' (Colossians 4:2)
  • 1 Thessalonians says it pretty clearly: 'Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.' (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18)

Whether it is the Old or New Testament, we are called to be thankful and have much to be thankful for. Jesus, on the night he is betrayed, takes the bread and what does he do before breaking it? He gives thanks. Even with the cross before him, Jesus does what? He gives thanks.

Now you might say, 'What if I don’t have anything to be thankful for?' Life contains pain, suffering, and need. Loved ones die. Jobs are lost. Times are tough. I love that the Bible is honest about these things; it doesn’t make light of suffering and sorrow. The Psalmist dares to ask God hard questions. Jesus, surrounded by a dead man’s friends, weeps with them. Instead of a God who is above it all, we find Jesus who empties himself and suffers, to be with us and for us. Until that final day, there will be tears and pain, but they don’t get the final word. There will be tragedy and sorrow, BUT there is also hope and strength. 'Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for Thou art with me.' In the dark valleys, we can become overwhelmed, or we can give thanks because we are not left on our own. Even Jesus, on the cross, understood this saying, 'Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.' Just as things may be more than we can bear, we are not alone. And, when we are not alone, just knowing that God is with us, is reason to give thanks.

Thankfulness is the lens through which we can view ourselves and the world. If you are lost in the woods, what is more helpful? What you have with you or what you left in the car? Obviously, what you have with you. It may not be the charger for your cellphone or the jumbo-sized Snickers bar you wish you brought, but if you keep complaining about what you left behind, you’ll never appreciate what you have. Thankfulness is an honest inventory of our lives and faith. Thankfulness is not a denial of pain and sorrow; it is the appreciation that there is more than pain and sorrow. Thankfulness is not a denial that things could be better; instead of willful ignorance, thankfulness is purposeful awareness – of the full picture.

Do you want to know where to find thankful people? It’s not on the lifestyles of the rich and famous, not in the Mercedes showroom, not in Windermere, and not in Hollywood. In my experience, I have found more thankful people in poor villages in Guatemala and along the Amazon River than in the country clubs where I have been a guest. They are appreciative of what they do have, rather than consumed by the pursuit of what they don’t. I have experienced greater thankfulness for life in people on their deathbed than I often experience in people who are healthy.

Ultimately, who do you think is happier? Those who are thankful for what they have, or those who are focused on what they lack?

The theologian Reinhold Niebuhr captured this possibility in what has become known as The SerenityPrayer:
'God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.'
Being freed from the things that bind us is a great opportunity and gift. Recognizing the things we can change is thankfulness. Being blinded to even small opportunities for gratitude leads to a cycle of doom.

The good news is that, when we’re mindful of the things for which we can be thankful, the difficulties and disappointments in our lives have less power over us. When we’re thankful we can find opportunity in the midst of difficulty. When we’re thankful we’re more likely to look for what we can do rather than what we can’t: what we have rather than what we’re missing, what we can give rather than what we want. Thankfulness is powerful and life-changing stuff.

Begin the practice of thankfulness today, not tomorrow. Today, not Thursday. Take the time to reflect upon all for which you can be thankful. As you do, you will discover God at work where you thought you were alone, His strength when you think you are weak, opportunity where you see dead ends, and God’slove and presence when you feel all alone. As Christians, thanksgiving is our way of life, not just a holiday.