Sermon preached by
The Reverend Charles Royden
2 January 2000
Sometimes things are really hopeless and we know that human efforts can not make any difference any more. Often in films you will hear a doctor say
'there is nothing we can do now except pray.'
Well that is true, but—! Turning to God is not something which we should do just because there is no other alternative. What would you think of somebody who only bothered with you when they needed something? They would not be much of a friend.
Today I want us to think that we need to think about not just what God can do for us. Some people think of God as the Genie in a bottle, you give it a little rub when you want something. But God is not there for us just to shout when we want something. God isn't there just for when somebody is ill, for when we need to have a wedding, for giving us hope when we are down. God is there for all the time.
There is a news station on the television the God channel. This channel is free I understand to those who have cable telephones through NTL. But only watch it with a spiritual health warning, there are some really dreadful things being said and done in God's name on that channel. Just because it calls itself a 'Christian channel' do not be uncritical in what you listen to. I was watching this last week a sermon was on called 'Dirt digging days are over.' The message was clear, be faithful in your Christian life and God will bless you, the children of the preacher were cited as examples of this. They had been faithful and God had blessed them. The result was that they had paid off their mortgage after just 6 years!
God does not want you to get used to living on a fixed income we were told, God doesn't want Christian to have a fixed income. God wanted to bless them and they would receive financial, material blessing, you deserved to be able to take your wife to Hawaii more often.
I was discussing this channel with somebody this week and they were telling me about a preacher they had watched who said that we must praise God for all situations in which we found ourselves. I wondered what I thought about that. So today I want us to think about how we handle the Christian life, with its ups and down, its joys and its disappointments.
I want to start by asking you to think of the Apostle Paul, who faithfully served God. As he lay in his prison bed the next footsteps in the corridor, he knew, might be those of the guards taking him away to his execution. His only bed was the hard, cold stone floor of the cramped prison cell. Not an hour passed when he was free from the constant irritation of the chains and the pain of the iron manacles cutting into his wrists and legs. We know that some of the time he was under house arrest, but we also know that he spent a great deal of time also being flogged, punished and was cruelly treated. Separated from friends, unjustly accused, brutally treated—if ever a person had a right to complain, it was this man, languishing almost forgotten in a harsh Roman prison. Yet this is the secret. Instead of complaints, his lips rang with words of praise and thanksgiving!
The Apostle Paul was man who had learned the meaning of true thanksgiving, even in the midst of great adversity. Earlier, when he had been imprisoned in Rome, Paul wrote, "Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."( Ephesians 5:19-20) Think of it! "Always giving thanks ... for everything"( Ephesians 5:19-20)—no matter the circumstances.
Thanksgiving for the Apostle Paul was not a once-a-year celebration, but a daily reality that changed his life and made him a joyful person in every situation. Thanksgiving—the giving of thanks—to God for all His blessings should be one of the most distinctive marks of the believer in Jesus Christ. Now you ask yourself the question 'Is that true in your life?' Are you thankful to God for what you have? Or has a spirit of ingratitude hardened your heart and chilled your relationship with God and with others? Nothing turns us into bitter, selfish, dissatisfied people more quickly than an ungrateful heart. And nothing will do more to restore contentment and the joy of our salvation than a true spirit of thankfulness.
We are given examples of the right way to behave in the Bible. Leprosy was a terrible disease in the ancient world. It hopelessly disfigured those who had it, and it permanently cut them off from normal society. Without exception every leper yearned for one thing: To be healed. One day 10 lepers approached Jesus outside a village, loudly pleading for Him to heal them. In an instant He restored them to perfect health--but only one came and "threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him." (Luke 17:16) All the rest left without a word of thanks, their minds preoccupied only with themselves, gripped with a spirit of ingratitude.
And today too ingratitude and thanklessness are far too common. Children forget to thank their parents for all that they do. Common courtesy is scorned.
- We take for granted the ways that others help us.
- Above all we fail to thank God for His blessings.
An ungrateful heart turns us into bitter, selfish, dissatisfied people. Ingratitude is just as much a sin as lying or stealing or immorality or any other sin condemned by the Bible. One of the Bible's indictments against rebellious humanity is that "although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him." ( Romans 1:21) An ungrateful heart is a heart that is cold toward God and indifferent to His mercy and love. It is a heart that has forgotten how dependent we are on God for everything. That is why from one end of the Bible to the other, we are commanded to be thankful. In fact, thankfulness is the natural outflowing of a heart that is attuned to God.
The psalmist declared, "Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving."( Psalm 147:7) "Be thankful,"( Colossians 3:15,) Paul wrote. A spirit of thanksgiving should be the mark of a Christian. Why should we be thankful? Because God has blessed us in so many ways...
1. Thank God for the material blessings He gives you.
We seem never to be satisfied with what we have—rich or poor, healthy or sick. But what a difference it makes when we realise that everything we have has been given to us by God! King David prayed, "Wealth and honour come from you. ... We give you thanks, and praise your glorious name. ... Everything comes from you."( 1 Chronicles 29:12-14,) If we are honest we will realise how wealthy we all really are. Those who are truly rich are those who are satisfied who have learned to be thankful for everything that God has given them. Paul declared, "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want."( Philippians 4:12) A spirit of thankfulness makes all the difference. Are you constantly preoccupied with what you do not have? Or have you learned to thank God for what you do have?
2. Thank God for the people in your life.
It is so easy to take people for granted, or even to complain and become angry because they do not meet our every wish. But we need to give thanks for those around us—our spouses, our children, our relatives, our friends, and others who help us in some way. One of the most important places for this is in our marriages. How many marriages and other relationships grow cold and eventually are shattered because of the sin of ingratitude? Do you let others know that you appreciate them and are thankful for them? The Christians in Corinth were far from perfect, but Paul began his First Letter to them by saying, "I always thank God for you."( 1 Corinthians 1:4,) When a group of believers (whom Paul had never met) came out to greet him as he approached Rome, we read that "at the sight of these men Paul thanked God and was encouraged."( Acts 28:15,) Thank God for those who touch your life.
3. Thank God in the midst of trials and even persecution.
We draw back from difficulties, yet not one of us is exempt from some kind of trouble. In many parts of the world it is dangerous even to be a Christian because of persecution. And yet in the midst of those trials we can thank God because we know that He has promised to be with us and that He will help us. We know that He can use times of suffering to draw us closer to Himself: "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance."( James 1:2-3) When the Prophet Daniel learned that evil men were plotting against him to destroy him, he "got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before."( Daniel 6:10,) The Bible commands, "Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."( 1 Thessalonians 5:18) Paul declared, "You will even be able to thank God in the midst of pain and distress because you are privileged to share the lot of those who are living in the light."( Colossians 1:12) I don't know what trials you may be facing right now—but God does, and He loves you and is with you by His Holy Spirit. Cultivate a spirit of thankfulness even in the midst of trials and heartaches.
4. Thank God especially for His salvation in Jesus Christ.
God has given us the greatest Gift of all—His Son, who died on the cross and rose again so that we can know Him personally and spend eternity with Him in heaven: "Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!"(2 Corinthians 9:15, ) The Bible tells us that we are separated from God because we have sinned. But God loves us—He loves you, He loves me—and He wants us to be part of His family forever. He loves us so much that He sent His only Son into the world to die as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. All we need to do is to reach out in faith and accept Christ as our Saviour and Lord: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."( John 3:16,) Have you opened your heart to Jesus Christ? If not, turn to Him with a simple prayer of repentance and faith, and thank Him for what He has done for you. And if you do know Christ, how long has it been since you thanked God for your salvation? We should not let a day go by without thanking God for His mercy and His grace to us in Jesus Christ.
5. Thank God for His continued presence and power in your life.
When we come to Christ, it is not the end but the beginning of a whole new life! He is with us, and He wants to help us follow Him and His Word. In ourselves we do not have the strength that we need to live the way that God wants us to live. But when we turn to Him, we discover that "it is God who works in [us] to will and to act according to his good purpose."(Philippians 2:13, ) Jesus promised His disciples, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. ... Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."( Matthew 28:18,20,) In many countries a special day is set aside each year for a time of thanksgiving. But for the Christian every day can be a day of thanksgiving, as we are "always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."( Ephesians 5:20)