The most important attitude that we will ever nurture, that we will ever exhibit, is the attitude of thanksgiving. I am more convinced of that every day. The attitude that makes the difference is an attitude of being thankful, of being grateful.
Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, says, "Make your petitions known. Pray to God for what concerns you, what troubles you, what you desire; but, in everything, give thanks." If we are able by the grace of God to cultivate an attitude of thanksgiving in what we do, say, and are about, we will know a life that is at once more challenging and more fulfilling.
I saw a cartoon not long ago of a family gathered for a common meal. The father said to the mother, "I don't want to complain about leftovers but haven't we already said grace over this meal three times?" He didn't want to complain about leftovers … but he did. He wanted to give thanks in all things but he found that a little difficult to do. The greatest challenge and opportunity we have is to give thanks in all things.
In All Things Obvious, Give Thanks
In all things that are obvious, give thanks. So what does that mean? There are some good things so close at home, so obvious, that we forget to give thanks for them.
Paul begins this letter by saying, "At every remembrance of you (or every time I think of you), I give thanks for you." The next time you recognize the following thought in your mind or you hear it as you say it aloud, stop and take notice: "It goes without saying." When it comes to thanksgiving, it does not go without saying.
You remember that story about the ten lepers healed by Jesus? Nine went on their way and only one came back? That one person, a Samaritan, knew that it doesn't go without saying. The first opportunity of giving thanks in all things — and thus changing our attitudes and our lives — is to give thanks for the obvious things. These are the people and other blessings so close that we seem to look right past them.
When we were going through the Bethel Bible Training up in Madison, Wisconsin, several of the folks doing the teaching were descendants of Norwegian pioneers. They used to tell stories about themselves. The Norwegians, they said, were not known for expressing their feelings very freely. One of the speakers said that he knew a Norwegian farmer, however, who loved his wife and appreciated her so much that one day he almost told her so.
Norwegian or not, that's the way we are sometimes. It's so obvious that we forget to give thanks. The Psalm says we are to give thanks for God's benefits. Think for a moment of the benefits of being here right now: We can laugh and sing and cry. These benefits are a part of God's wonderful love for us. One of the greatest benefits of being fully alive is to give thanks for all of God's benefits. What benefits go unnoticed because they are too obvious?
As we have many children here it would be interesting to ask, "Have you ever given thanks for the wonderful miracle of your body?" A great architect said there's been no invention like the human hand, and it's true.
Children (of all ages), have you thought about your noses lately? Suppose that your nose was on upside down. Every time you would sneeze, you'd blow your hat off. That's right. And if your nose was on upside down, when it rains you'd drown. That may sound silly but you know what I think is sillier? Forgetting to give thanks to God who created this marvelous miracle called our body. The Bible says we are wonderfully made. We are!
Although we are wonderfully made, we're too small to cling to all of the thankfulness that wells up in us. When we want to thank God, it spills over and we begin thanking other people. When we're truly thankful to God, we begin to thank people for what they have meant to us. We write a note. We make a phone call. We stop a person in our busy schedule and say, "You know, I really appreciate you." Thanksgiving — it is not a time of the year but an attitude of the heart that changes people. We are to give thanks in all things obvious.
In All Things Obscure, Give Thanks
Obscure? What does that mean? It means opportunities that are hidden, people that we don't see right away, things that seem of little value until we take a closer look.
In this passage Paul says, "Whatever is true, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good report or gracious … think on these things." It means calculate. Stop and ponder. Think about them for a while and begin to see that these "things obscure" go beyond our casual seeing.
"Give thanks for those things that are true." That word is a wonderful word. It means not only that which is true in terms of truth-telling, or honest speaking, but also those things that are solid, of lasting substance. It is not what flits away, is here today and gone tomorrow, but the enduring things: to give thanks for friendships that don't just blow away in tough times; to give thanks for a marriage.
We were at a conference where the President of Princeton Seminary was the speaker. His daughter came to him one day and said, "I've looked around and there just aren't any good marriages. I'm so discouraged. I don't want to get married." I've heard that many times and I must admit that it seems to be true. But I loved his response. He said, "I'll tell you one marriage that's good. It's the marriage of your mother and I." She said, "Oh, that doesn't count." And he said, "It counts!"
And that's what I want to say, It counts! It counts to give thanks for those things that are true and that endure.
Paul says whatever things are lovely, think on those things. This suggests that whatever people are loveable and amiable, give thanks for them. There is a famous psychologist who calls some folks "noxious people." They are people who seem to make us sick because they're always negative and pointing out our foibles, inconsistencies and the things we've done wrong. But he says there are also "nourishing people" in our lives. Give thanks for those who nourish you, who feed you, who are a part of God's gracious plan to build you up.
Whatever things are of good report, whatever things are valuable, give thanks for them. Even though you can't see the value at first, meditate, calculate, reckon, think on them and they become more clear. Even in those things that are obscure, give thanks.
In All Things Objectionable, Give Thanks
I saved the toughest for last and you know it. In all things objectionable, give thanks. This is the one with which we have the most difficulty.
"Do you mean to say I am to give thanks for this tough patch that I am going through?" "Am I supposed to give thanks for this thorn in the flesh that doesn't seem to be taken from me?" That's a tough one, isn't it? But if we are to have an attitude of thanks that can transform the situation, we are to give thanks in all things objectionable.
Quite naturally you may say, "I'm not going to give thanks for this illness," or "I'm not going to give thanks for what this person has done to me." Then at least start here: Give thanks for the Presence of God in that situation, that God has not left you. Even though you had a setback, God is still present and willing to redeem the situation. Then there's the next step. Begin to realize that even through the worst circumstances God can work. Isn't the risen, living Christ the great reminder that even the evil of the cross can be transformed into new and exalted life?
I remember Corrie ten Boom. She died after many years of serving the Lord. What a remarkable, gracious lady. She and her family lived through the Nazi holocaust and they hid Jewish people in their home who would otherwise have been killed. When she was in a Nazi prison camp it was such a flea-ridden, terrible place that she couldn't stand it.
Her older sister Betsy said, "But I have found something in the Bible that will help us. It says, 'In all things, give thanks'." Corrie said, "I can't give thanks for the fleas." Betsy said, "Give thanks that we're together. Most families have been split up." Corrie thought, "I can do that."
Her sister continued, "Give thanks that somehow the guards didn't check our belongings and our Bible is with us." She gave thanks for that. But Corrie would not even think of giving thanks for the fleas. Later they found out that the only reason they were not molested and harmed by the guards was because their "captors" were so repulsed by the fleas that they would not go in. Give thanks even for those lowly creatures!
In the town of Enterprise, Alabama, there is a monument in the middle of the town square. You'd think it's probably of a Confederate general. It's not. It's a monument to a boll weevil. A boll weevil is an animal that destroys cotton. That town depended upon cotton. In 1915 the boll weevil destroyed their livelihood, but through this they learned the importance of diversified farming. They learned to plant peanuts, corn and other crops. In two years they erected a monument to the boll weevil to be a reminder that through a terrible event, good things came to their town.
The Old Testament patriarch Joseph said to his brothers, who sold him into slavery and would have killed him, "You meant this to be for evil but God meant it for good." That was his monument to the power of God to bring good out of apparent evil.
God can use even the worst in the circumstances of this fallen world to bring the best about. You know why we can believe that? Because God certainly did not want His Son to die on the cross but, when it became necessary, the despised instrument of death became the way we could come to know God. The cross became the means by which we can give thanks in all things, those things obvious, obscure and even objectionable. In everything, give thanks.