Bigger is better, right? Sometimes--but not always. Often quantity is not very important in comparison with quality. I'm reminded of events pertaining to the battle at Gettysburg. During the first three days of July 1863, over 60,000 men were killed. Seventeen acres of the battlefield were purchased for a cemetery, and in November of that year it was dedicated with a ceremony. Edward Everett, the leading orator of the day, was asked to give a speech. When the cemetery commissioners learned that President Lincoln planned to attend, they felt obligated to invite him to give "a few appropriate remarks", although they had doubts concerning his competence. Everett gave a two-hour oration, a glee club sang an ode written for the occasion, and, at the close, they allowed the president to speak. Lincoln spoke for less than two minutes. The next day Everett wrote to Lincoln and said, "I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes."
That which is larger or longer in duration is not necessarily better, as the speeches of Everett and Lincoln illustrate. Often the size or length of something has nothing to do with its value. So it is with God's commands. The length of a command (i.e., the amount of words used to state it) has no relation to the authority behind it, its importance, or the ease or difficulty in obeying it. There is a simple two-word command at the end of Colossians 3:15, and it is one that is often neglected - "Be thankful." That is not a request. It is a command to God's people! "Be thankful."
I want our lesson today to focus on some suggestions that will help us to obey this command. I don't doubt that all of us are thankful to a certain degree. However, I suspect there is room for improvement in this area for all. I believe these suggestions, if taken to heart and applied, will help us cultivate an attitude that is more thankful.
1. COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS AND NOT YOUR TROUBLES.
God has blessed us all in many ways, both physically and spiritually. He created us and sustains us. He makes the sun rise and sends the rain (cf. Matt. 5:45). God has reserved His greatest blessings, however, for His children (cf. Eph. 1:3). To them He has given the gift of forgiveness through the blood of Christ, the joy of a contented earthly life, the peace of mind that only comes from serving and trusting Him, and the hope of everlasting life with Him. When Christians count their blessings, they should be thankful for the necessities of life and the other physical blessings God has bestowed, but they should be even more grateful for the blessings that are of an eternal nature. We must not forget to count our spiritual blessings that will continue beyond the end of time and the destruction of Earth.
One exercise that I recommend to help you be more thankful is to sit down and literally count your blessings. With paper and pen in hand, devote thirty minutes or more to compiling a list of everything you are thankful for. The Lord has been good to you, and you have a duty to communicate your gratitude to Him. After compiling this list, tuck it away (perhaps in your Bible) and update it periodically. When we're mindful of our blessings, it is that much easier to be thankful for them!
2. REMEMBER WHO YOU ARE NOW AND WHO YOU USED TO BE.
The apostle Peter wrote the following to Christians - "You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy" (I Pet. 2:9,10). Christians are God's own special people! Previously, all have been in darkness, but those who have obeyed God's call through the gospel are now living in His marvelous light! Isn't that something to be thankful for?
Consider what Ephesians 2:12,13 teaches on this subject - "That at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ." When we were without Christ, we had no hope. But, we can be brought near to God by the forgiving power of the blood of Jesus! There is hope in His blood!
Christians, realizing what you are now (i.e., a servant of righteousness) and remembering what you used to be (i.e., a slave of sin) is a wonderful way to help cultivate an attitude of thanksgiving (cf. Rom. 6:17,18). Praise be to God that we have been transformed into children of His! Our sins have been washed away! Only the most ungrateful person could think of his conversion to Christ and not desire to humbly thank the Lord for making salvation possible through His love.
3. LIVE FOR THE PRESENT AND FUTURE--NOT FOR THE PAST.
Please don't misunderstand me here. As suggested earlier, we should be mindful of our past as Christians, especially our conversion. Being mindful of it will help us realize how blessed we are to no longer be children of Satan but sons and daughters of God. However, there is a great deal of difference between being mindful of our past and living there. If we focus all of our attention on our past, it will be very difficult for us to be thankful in the present.
Those who live in the past are usually there for one of two reasons. First, perhaps they committed some horrible deeds in the past and are having difficulty forgiving themselves. Consequently, they allow their remorse over past mistakes to make it impossible for them to live and be joyful in the present. This is certainly not good. We need to pursue forgiveness on God's terms, make amends for our mistakes to the best of our ability, and then go on with our lives. The second reason why people sometimes live in the past is because they can't stop thinking about how great things used to be. They long for the "good old days" since their present circumstances don't seem to compare favorably. It is impossible for a spirit of gratitude to prevail in a life of one who longs for the past.
4. REALIZE THAT IT IS MORE BLESSED TO GIVE THAN TO RECEIVE.
Our Lord taught this truth (cf. Acts 20:35). It is more blessed to give of our time, our energy, and our money, than it is to receive these things from others. But, just because that statement is true doesn't mean that everyone believes it and tries to live that way.
Sadly, some Christians are very much wrapped up in this world and its things. They look for meaning and contentment in the wrong places. Passing pleasure is found in the things of this world, but not true joy! We would all be more thankful if we gave of ourselves and served others! Seeking to satisfy our own desires is not what the Christian life is all about. Jesus declared in Matthew 20:28 - "Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." Let us commit ourselves to thinking more about others and opportunities to serve them, and less about things or our own wants. If we will work to be servants and givers of ourselves, we can conquer selfishness, and it will be easier to be thankful for that which the Lord has blessed us with.
5. PRAY CONTINUALLY.
If you carefully study the prayers of the Bible, you will notice that thankfulness is one of the major components of prayer. Paul testified to this fact in Philippians 4:6 - "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God." Prayer and thanksgiving are linked together in the Scriptures. Our requests can and should be made known to God in prayer. But, a Christian who makes his requests known to God without offering thanks for the many ways God has blessed him is selfish and ungrateful!
We see the same truth demonstrated in I Thessalonians 5:16-18 - "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." If we truly take the time to think of the many ways that God has blessed us and thank Him for all the wonderful gifts He has given to us, we will be able to rejoice always! To not take the time to thank the Lord as He deserves exposes a character that is greedy and self-centered!
Dear Christian friends, there are many who continually neglect the short two-word command that Paul issued in Colossians 3:15, but I hope that you are not of their number. Are you truly thankful to the Lord? Be thankful by counting your blessings and not your troubles. Be thankful by remembering what you are now (a child of God) as opposed to what you used to be (a wretched soul lost in sin). Be thankful by living for the present and future; don't live in the past. Be thankful by implementing the truth that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Be thankful through prayer as you communicate your gratitude to the heavenly Father.
Let me encourage you to ponder the following thoughts from I Samuel 12:24 as they relate to our topic of study - "Only fear the Lord, and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you." Yes, we need to consider the great things the Lord has done for each of us! Above all, he sent His Son, Jesus, to die on a cross so mankind could have cleansing from the sin that separates us from God (I John 2:2; Isa. 59:2). Yes, consider the great things God has done for us and fear and serve Him genuinely. That's what the Lord expects of us.
As we close, let me read from Colossians 3:12-15 - "Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things, put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful."
God commands you to be thankful--are you? Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.