5 Ways to Demonstrate A Thankful Heart

The history of Thanksgiving is interesting.

Although the tradition of Thanksgiving is being attacked like every other tradition in our land, it is still generally recognized that the holiday points back to the celebration of the pilgrims in the New World in 1621. The official holiday didn’t come about until a proclamation was made by President George Washington in 1789, although it was later discontinued. It wasn’t until 1828 that a campaign was begun to restore Thanksgiving as a national holiday, and formalized when it was proclaimed in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln to be the official National Thanksgiving Day on the fourth Thursday of November. What a roller coaster!

But even this wasn’t the first thanksgiving. We could go all the way back to the time of King David, found in 1Chronicles 16 to see another Day of Thanks that came far before Lincoln made his proclamation.

Israel’s King David had finally found peace from the homicidal Saul and his foreign enemies. He moved into Jerusalem and had built a house for himself. Life was good for the king! He had finally brought the Ark of the Covenant into the city and placed it into a special tent made especially for the worship of the Lord.

In a spirit of great thankfulness and gratitude, David offered up burnt offerings and peace offerings to His God. He distributed gifts of food to everyone in the nation of Israel, and along with these national festivities, David brought in musicians and singers to offer songs of praise to the Lord. This song, written by David is also found in Psalm 105.

As we begin to prepare our hearts for this season of thanks, I wanted to take the first five verses of this song of praise (vv. 8-12), and direct your heart, dear reader, to worship the Lord, as David sought to direct the hearts of his people.

As Christians, we are to have a thankful heart on a daily basis, and David would have agreed. But Thanksgiving in the U.S. is a special day set aside so that we might dedicate our hearts heavenward, because of all the people on earth, we as sinners saved by unmerited grace should be the most thankful for his electing grace and mercy.

In today’s post, I’d like to share with you Five Ways Which We as Believers Can Show Thankfulness in Our Lives

1. Depend Upon His Strength For Your Needs (v. 8a)

“Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name;”

Part of giving thanks is recognizing that the Lord’s past gifts are a reminder of His future provision. It is interesting how quickly we forget the Lord’s past provision as we grow anxious about our future. Israel struggled with this as well. Look at Exodus 15:11 in what is called the Song of Moses. It says, “Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” Later, in verse 22 it says, “Then Moses made Israel set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water.”

Did you see how long has passed? Three days! Verses 23-24 continue, “When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah. And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” What happened to the great God they sang about only a few days earlier?

And we are the same sometimes, aren’t we? We gather on a Sunday and sing “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing, our helper, he amidst the flood of mortal ills prevailing.” And then we go home, and a few days later crumble in despair over our situations, trials, and circumstances.

We need to understand that our thanks and praise must not only look backward, but forward. We must thank the Lord and praise him for what he will do in our unforeseen future. Give him thanks for future grace–those blessings and the strength that you have not yet received, but like manna, we will receive in due time according to his perfect will.

2. Declare How He Has Answered Your Prayers (v. 8b)

“make known his deeds among the peoples!”

We ought to start thanksgiving in how we talk with one another, shouldn’t we? Part of stirring one another up in the community of saints is to share not only our needs but also the glorious ways in which the Lord answered our prayers. We have seen the miraculous deeds of God over and over again. Our living Savior has heard our prayers and satisfied our needs repeatedly. We should have words of praise and thanksgiving constantly on our lips.

But in this song, David was speaking primarily about our testimony to the unbelieving world. “The peoples” is a reference to the nations outside of Israel, the pagan world. Spurgeon wrote, “Let the heathen hear of our God, that they may forsake their idols and learn to worship him.”

Do you remember the name Dr. Kent Brantly? He was the Samaritan’s Purse doctor who recovered from the deadly Ebola virus that he had contracted while working with Ebola patients in Liberia, Africa. In 2015, Dr. Brantly and his wife published a book of their account, and Time Magazine wrote a short story about it. Listen as Dr. Brantly declares how God answered his and many others’ prayers:

“I know that some consider it controversial for me to claim that God saved my life when I had received an experimental drug and some of the greatest medical care available in the world. I can see how these two realities appear to contradict each other. I also feel the dissonance with claiming God saved my life while thousands of others died. These issues are not clear-cut for me. I wrestle with these tensions… Some may call it a grand coincidence, and I couldn’t argue against them. But when I see the unlikely and highly improbable events that occurred—not only during my illness, but also for decades preceding the Ebola epidemic in West Africa—I see the hand of God at work, and I give him the credit.” [http://time.com/3965989/ebola-survivor-brantly-book/]

Most of us won’t ever get that sort of stage to declare the glory of God to the world. But we have a small stage of unbelieving family, friends, and co-workers who are watching and listening. We need to declare to them how God has been working in our lives, so that as Spurgeon said, “that they may forsake their idols and learn to worship him.”

3. Direct Your Praises to Him Alone (v. 9)

“Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works!”

Now, this might mean that we need to make sure that we don’t do what Israel did in Exodus 32, in redirecting our worship from God to something else, like a golden calf. This can happen the way it did for the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 3:3-5, where there were different factions in the same church, who weren’t really worshipping Christ, but their favorite teachers. That is a real danger for some.

But there is another pitfall that we need to avoid. We can see it in Jesus’ parable in Luke 18:9-12, where Jesus speaks about the Pharisee and the tax collector. Although this is called a parable by Luke, this scenario probably was enacted many times right before the people who frequented the temple. The godly-looking Pharisee prays with arms extended, speaking in pious tones, while the tax collector stood off in a corner looking as guilty as he was before God. To the casual observer or even the so-called worshipper, this looks like thanksgiving and praise. But it isn’t, is it? It’s self-worship and congratulations.

We need to be aware that when we sing or pray or speak about the Lord that we aren’t twisting worship to God into worship of self. We see this when a musician is all about himself, absorbing all the attention and praise–as he supposedly sings to “the Lord.”

Instead, we need to focus all our attention and praise on the Lord alone. Listen to Spurgeon again, “Bring your best thoughts and express them in the best language to the sweetest sounds. Take care that your singing is “unto him,” and not merely for the sake of the music or to delight the ears of others. Singing is so delightful an exercise that it is a pity so much of it should be wasted upon trifles or worse than trifles. O ye who can emulate the nightingale, and almost rival the angels, we do most earnestly pray that your hearts may be renewed that so your floods of melody may be poured out at your Maker’s and Redeemer’s feet.”[C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David: Psalms 88-110, vol. 4 (London; Edinburgh; New York: Marshall Brothers, n.d.), 336.]

4. Delight Yourself in God More Than Just His Gifts (vv. 10-11)

“Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice! Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!”

Notice the focus here, “Glory in his holy name….those who…seek the Lord (2x)….seek his presence.” Today we will find ourselves giving thanks for many blessings and gifts, and we should. But our love and the thanksgiving that accompanies it, should be more for God and not only for what he can and has given to us.

Remember what it says in Habbakuk 3:17-19? “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places. To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.” (Habakkuk 3:17–19, ESV)

Our ultimate joy and thanks should be for receiving Christ as our Savior and Redeemer. That is the best gift we have ever or will ever receive. Everything else is simply grace upon grace. Jesus said, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?” (Mark 8:36–37, ESV).

5. Dwell on What the Lord Has Said and Done (v. 12)

“Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles and the judgments he uttered,”

Our struggle with being discontent is usually a memory problem. The root of our discontentedness is most often found in our unwillingness or inability to recall all that the Lord has already said to us and done for us.

I always think it’s a perfect sign of the self-centered world we live in that the day after “Thanksgiving” we have the biggest shopping day of the year. We are thankful, but we must have more! And we as Christians can get sucked up into that same attitude. Instead of dwelling on the eternal blessings and gifts given to us, we look at the flashy bobbles everyone else seems to have and we want to know why we don’t have them. We want to know how we can have them. And it’s not just tangible “stuff” that we crave. We crave prestige, power, influence, friends.

But listen to the prophet Jeremiah: “Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”” (Jeremiah 9:23–24, ESV)

Our greatest riches are not from the Lord: our greatest riches is the fact that we know the Lord. Let us give thanks for this most magnificent gift!

The Pastor and His Schedule

No matter where you serve the Lord, whether in a city or rural setting, it is easy to become overwhelmed with the many responsibilities that are required of a minister. For 12 of my 17 years as the pastor of a small church in an urban inner-city area of Los Angeles, I juggled two sets of responsibilites—leading our church in many of the main teaching responsibilities, which consisted of preaching for about 45 minutes three times a week from three different books of the Bible, along with men’s discipleship, and counseling. There were, of course, many other responsibilities which we could sprinkle in along with those, but those took up major chunks of my time.

Additionally, I taught pastoral ministry courses at a nearby seminary twice a week during the regular semesters. Because of Los Angeles traffic and the distance to the seminary, I would spend about 4 hours each day on congested freeways as I travelled to and from the school. That meant that on the days that I taught, I would spend most of my days either commuting to and from the seminary as well as teaching. When I returned I would most often drive straight to my office at church and pick up my duties there.

These two worlds, church pastor and seminary professor, required that I have a very good grasp of time management and discipline or else I knew that all those involved—my wife and children, my church, and my students—would suffer and I would not be able to faithfully discharge my duties.

Because of this, I understand the time constraints that are placed upon any servant of God as they seek to make the best use of their time to bring glory to God. To help those that might be working at doing this very thing, I’d like to share with you how I did this, even thought it was imperfect, in hopes that you might benefit from the lessons I learned.

I remember reading several years ago in a book by the famous productiviy guru Stephen Covey, the illustration of the big rocks and little rocks. It helped me to see the importance of prioritizing the big responsibilities in my life and ministries, and was a help in looking at the big picture.

In this illustration, Covey says he invited a seminar attendee to the front of the room to a table with a glass jar and several bowls with rocks, pea gravel, sand, and a glass of water. He asked the woman if she thought she could fit everything on the table into the jar. She said she’d try and made a few attempts, trying to put the sand and gravel in first. By doing this she found that the larger rocks wouldn’t fit. After a few more attempts she said that she didn’t think it was possible. Covey thanked her and then proceeded to take an empty jar and added in each element one at a time. He started with the larger rocks, then added the pea gravel, shaking the jar to settle in the gravel as much as possible. Then he added the sand. At each step he asked the women who had failed if she thought the jar was full. At first she said it was, then as she caught on, she answered that somehow she knew more would fit in. After the gravel and the sand, Covey once again shook the jar so the sand filled in all the spaces between the large rocks and the gravel. Finally, Covey added the water, which filled the microscopic spaces between the grains of sand, assuring his audience that the jar was now truly full.

Covey used this illustration to show that unless the large rocks, which represent the important things in our lives, are put into place first, we will never accomplish what matters most. And when what matters most is our families and our ministry to the Lord, we want to make sure that these things are placed in the most important place of priority in our life and limited time. The other stuff, the small stuff, can be added afterwards if we so desire.

So, for me, I set up a general day by day schedule that looked like this:

Mondays—Family Day. This was time that unless absolutely necessary due to a real emergency, I did not work or neglect the family. These focused days were filled with great joy and helped me to relax and spend time with my wife and children. I understood that if I lost my family, I lost my ministry.

Tuesdays—Seminary teaching in the day, church administration and counseling appointments in afternoons and the evenings.

Wednesday-Study and sermon preparation for Wednesday night, and teaching in the evenings.

Thursday– Seminary teaching in the day, study and sermon preparation for Sunday mornings.

Friday-Continue study and sermon prep for Sunday morning if not finished, study and sermon prep for Sunday evenings.

Saturday-Men’s Bible study and/or evangelism; finish sermon prep for Sunday nights if not done.

Sunday-Worship in the morning and evening, monthly leadership training and board meetings in between services.

This was my regular “big picture” schedule for most of my 17 years as pastor of my church. When the seminary had a break, then usually my involvement at church increased and I was able to divert my attention to other necessary needs at church.

And although I can’t say that I never struggled with being exhausted at times, or having too much on my plate, my schedule helped me to fit the big things into my days, and then the smaller “pebbles, and sand,” like phone calls, visitation to homes and hospitals, and pop-in-visits, fit in without losing sight of the important responsibilities that needed to happen.

Most people within your church will never have any idea how many hours and how much time you put into serving them—and that’s as it should be. We are servants after all. But the Lord knows, and we will all have to give an account for how we spent our time as ministers of the gospel. So, if you are a pastor of a church, take that seriously. The pastorate is no place for lazy men.

Hurl Grenades into the Enemy’s Ranks

That is what you must do with your sermons, make them red-hot; never mind if men do say you are too enthusiastic, or even too fanatical, give them red-hot shot. There is nothing else half as good for the purpose you have in view. We do not go out snow-balling on Sundays, we go fire-balling; we ought to hurl grenades into the enemy’s ranks.

—C.H. Spurgeon, The Soul Winner: How to Lead Sinners to the Saviour; Fleming H. Revel edition, 69.

Placing our Hope in God Alone

“The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a false hope for salvation,
and by its great might it cannot rescue.” Ps 33:16-17

A few years ago I had the opportunity to walk through the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, OH. Moving from one hangar to the next I saw the evolution of aircraft from the Wright brother’s first plane to the modern surveillance drones of today.

It isn’t hard to be in a place like that and not have an overwhelming sense of patriotism as I see the military defense weapons and aircraft that our nation has used in the defense of our country and many other countries all around the world. Seeing these beautiful machines and their sheer size made me feel a little sorry for anyone that stood against them in a battle.

It makes me think about how Pharaoh felt about his horses and chariots, and the king of Babylon about his weapons of war. The same can be said about the Medo-Persians, Greeks, and Romans at different parts of world history. Whether the weapons are spears, swords, arrows, or chariots, tanks, and airplanes, our hearts can become fooled into thinking that it is the weapon and strategies that win the war. Sometimes we think we can simply outnumber the enemy with more soldiers, more money, more missiles, and more technologies. This is heady stuff and it can divert the attention of a nation away from their inherent weakness and need for God.

In Psalm 33, the unnamed psalmist recognized this prideful blindspot and seeks to refocus the attention of the worshippers of Yahweh. The king, he writes, is not saved by his army-no matter how great. A read through the Chronicles and any history book will give credence to this reality. Kings are overthrown, betrayed, killed in battle, poisoned, and even killed by their own sons in a grab of power. King David himself survived an attempted coup by his own son. Some rulers are better than others, but no ruler can exist without God’s help. The Lord puts the man on the throne or behind the desk, but it is God alone who keeps him there, and it is God who removes him.

The psalmist also recognized that the same is true about those warriors that seem unbeatable in battle. We laud those warriors that fight valiantly and bring to our nation victory over the enemy. Stories are told of campaigns where all hope was lost and then the hero emerged and snatched victory out of the jaws of defeat. But even the greatest hero among our warriors should not be hoped upon more than our God. Do not forget men like the mighty Goliath who boasted in his mighty size and ability to defeat Israel, even defying the Lord with mockery. That warrior’s great strength could not deliver him when a boy with a sling brought him to his death on the battlefield.

The warhorse was a great advantage to any ancient kingdom that sought to be a military powerhouse. The war horse was large, brave, and strong. He could charge into a mob of warriors with courage and bowl over those in his path, allowing his rider to swing his longsword or thrust his spear into the melee while remaining out of reach by the foot soldier. Any army that had a cavalry was an almost unstoppable force. Almost.

Knowing the confidence that men put in warhorses, he commanded that the kings of Israel were not to amass large numbers of them knowing that it would easily allow the king to seek confidence in his cavalry and not place his trust in the Lord. In modern weaponry, confidence is placed in ships, drones, fighter jets, missiles, and many other weapons that can unleash “shock and awe” in our enemies.

The writer of Psalm 33:16-17 should be heard. Anything we place our confidence in outside of God can and will fail. It is inevitable. As a matter of fact, it is worse than failure. These things that we place above our trust in God are an affront to Him, and they will not only fail but they will also be brought low as they have become a challenge to God for supremacy in our hearts. He will not allow anything else in His place.

Pastor, Make Sure You Worship Before You Lead Others to the Throne of Grace (weekend repost)

I love congregational singing before listening to the preaching of the Word of God. It prepares my heart to hear from God in a special way. And when I am the one who will be delivering the Word, it is no different. Singing not only prepares my heart, it settles my spirit, focuses my heart and mind, and begins the process of worship within my own soul.

Read the rest of the post here: Pastor, Make Sure You Worship Before You Lead Others to the Throne of Grace