November 28, 2013

Expressions of a Thankful Heart - Nov 28, 2013

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Thanksgiving has been celebrated in our country ever since 1863. During that year, in the middle of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln made a proclamation to the citizens of America. They were to “set apart and observe the last Thursday of November, as the day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwells in the Heavens.”

Of course, that wasn’t the first time thankfulness had ever been expressed. People have been thanking God, and thanking each other since the beginning of the world. In the book of Genesis we read about how Cain and Abel offered the first-fruits of farm and herd on an altar, as an expression of gratitude to God. Down through the ages people have expressed their gratitude to each other by giving gifts, sending cards, making speeches, and in countless other ways.

When we thank someone, we’re not trying to pay someone back for the good they’ve done. We’re simply saying, “I value you.”

Different cultures go about thanking people in different ways. In Japanese culture, when a person gives a gift they often denigrate their gift. They say how terrible and pathetic their gift really is. They apologize for giving such a substandard gift. In America we do the opposite. We often talk the gift up, describing how it’s the newest and the best. Interestingly, both cultures are  trying to say the same thing.

The Japanese gift giver denigrates their gift as a way of saying, “There is nothing that I could possibly give you that would come close to matching how valuable you are.” The American gift giver brags up their gift as a way of saying, “You’re so valuable, I would only dare give you the best there is.” Isn’t that funny? Both cultures are trying to say the same thing, they’re just going about it from different angles.

So, what is the best way to say, “I value you.” I suppose there are as many ways to say thank you, as there are people to thank. 

Today, to help us learn how to thank “our beneficent Father who dwells in the Heavens”,  we’ll see how King David and the leaders of Israel expressed their thankfulness to God. May the Holy Spirit use these words to teach our hearts. Amen.

1 Chronicles 29:10-14 (ESV)

10 Therefore David blessed the Lord in the presence of all the assembly. And David said: “Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. 11 Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. 12 Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. 13 And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name.
14 “But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.
King David and the leaders of the Tribes of Israel were thankful to the LORD for all that he had done for them. If it weren’t for the LORD’s actions year ago, their people would probably still be slaves in Egypt. But the LORD had led them out of Egypt with a mighty hand.

Then came their forty-year wandering in the wilderness. The LORD had watched over them there, even though they were a rebellious and unthankful people. He sustained them with bread from heaven, and brought them to the borders of a rich new land.

They wouldn’t have had the power, or the courage to take this new land for themselves. But the LORD gave them victory after victory until the land was theirs. It was God’s gift to them.

And in the following years, when the nations around Israel rose up to raid their land, the LORD caused great heroes to come forward from the people to beat back the invaders.

And throughout all of this he had blessed their land each year with harvest after harvest, with children and grandchildren, with blessing after blessing. And in recent years he had granted them their wish—to have a king. And David was now that good king.
For all these things, David and the leaders of Israel were thankful. And their thanks is expressed in a number of ways here in our text.

First of all, we see their thankfulness to God displayed in David’s prayer. This was a public prayer. The people were gathered and heard David’s words. In his prayer David recognizes God’s great glory, his ownership of all things, and his rule over all people.

Furthermore, David also recognizes the LORD as the source of all riches and honor given to man. David and his fellow leaders of Israel would not have had the wealth and honor they did if it weren’t for the LORD, and they knew it. God had given their nation its greatness and strength, and David says as much in his prayer.

When it comes to thanking the LORD, praising God with our words is one of the best ways. We do this when we pause during the day to send our inner prayers to God. Prayers of gratitude for the many daily joys he sends us. Thankful prayers for the food he sets before us. Thankful prayers for the special people the LORD has placed in our lives.

We praise God with our words at church too, when we sing hymns together. When we confess our faith in the words of the Apostles’ Creed, or some other expression trust in God’s Word. We praise God when we lift up our hearts to him in prayer as one people.

Whenever we speak about the LORD to others we are performing an act of worship. When we let the Word of God govern what we say and how we say it, then also we are praising God. Honoring him with our lips.

In all these things we are doing the same thing David did—we are saying, “LORD, I value you.”
We also see the thankfulness of David and the leaders of Israel displayed in their generosity. In verse 14 David prays,

“But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly?” (1 Chronicles 29:14 ESV).

To understand what David is talking about you have to skip back a few paragraphs in this chapter. You see, the Temple had not yet been built. The LORD was still being worshipped in the movable “tent” that the Israelite had carried along their journeys. David had wanted to change all that. He wanted to build God a glorious Temple where the people could come to worship him properly. But God had told David that was a job set aside for David’s son Solomon.

But that didn’t prevent David from getting the temple materials ready. And so David gathered up gold, silver, bronze, wood, precious stones, and marble. But David didn’t just raid the nation’s treasury to provide all these things, David also dipped into his own personal wealth. We’re told that David gave three thousand talents of gold, and seven thousand talents of silver toward the building of the Lord’s Temple. In our measurements today, that’s about 110 tons of gold and 260 tons of silver. That’s 4.6 billion dollars worth of precious metals.

When the leaders of the Tribes of Israel found out about David’s generosity, they chipped in their own offering with 190 tons of gold, 375 tons of silver, 675 tons of bronze, and 3,750 tons of iron. That’s about 8.1 billion dollars worth. Not to overstress the point, but we’re talking about 12.7 billion dollars worth of freewill offerings to build the LORD’s Temple!

Of course, these offerings would only be true expressions of thankfulness to God if they were given as a genuine expression of devotion and not just as a way of looking good to other people. But David and company knew that all too well. And David prays in a later verse,

“I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things have I given willingly and with honest intent. And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you” (1 Chronicles 29:17 NIV).

Human beings are not generally inclined to give with generosity. But a thankful heart responds in this way. When we give our time, our effort, or our possessions to the LORD’s service, we are praising him. These are acts of worship when they come, as David describes, from a willing and honest heart. And when that happens, God hears what we’re saying. He hears, “LORD, I value you.”
And this leads us to see the third way in which the thankfulness of David and the leaders of Israel was displayed. We see their thankfulness displayed in their humility.

In verse 14 David prays,

“But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly?” (1 Chronicles 29:14 ESV).

And he adds…

“For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you” (1 Chronicles 29:14 ESV).

If we really want to grow more thankful toward God, we have to start with humility. I’m not sure anyone can truly be thankful without becoming humble first. If we feel entitled to what the LORD gives, can we really be thankful to him? Or, if we feel like our blessings come to us because we’re so talented and hard-working, can we really be thankful to God? No.

David expresses the right attitude to have, “God, we don’t deserve these things. But you’ve given them to us because you’re an amazing God. And anything we happen to give back is really something we got from you already. So gracious accept our child-like gifts as an expression of this fact—we value you.”
When the LORD teaches us humility, an amazing thing happens. HUMILITY toward God is like rich soil. And from this soil springs up a little sprout called GLADNESS. We look at what we have, be it little or much, and are glad to be blessed by God. And if that little sprout of gladness grows up it becomes THANKFULNESS. Thankfulness to God that expresses itself in word, deed, and attitude. And when this plant matures it becomes CONTENTMENT. And we feel that whatever we have at the moment, that is enough. God will provide what we need, when we need it. And this contentment flowers in the form of lasting PEACE. And we know that come what may, God has our back. We don’t have to scrabble around and worry about what tomorrow will bring. The great God who brought us to this day will carry us tomorrow. He knows who we are, and what we need. He knows all we are with our ugly sins and bad habits, and amazingly—he loves us anyway.
God didn’t bless King David and the nation of Israel because they were such thankful and thoughtful people. He blessed them because he loved them. The thankfulness came later, as a result of God’s goodness.

And there was another reason why he watched over them from Egypt to the Promised Land and beyond. It was from these people that the Messiah would be born—the Savior of the world. When the Son of God was born as a human child, he was born in the nation of Israel.

That’s how God works. He blesses people who don’t deserve it, so that they might turn to him and see his love. And when they see that he is a gracious and loving God, then he can then show them the greatest gift that he has in store for them—forgiveness for their sins. Forgiveness that was earned when the Son of God gave HIMSELF to suffer the penalty for our sins.
One hundred and fifty years ago, the people of America celebrated Thanksgiving Day for the first time. A day set aside to thank and praise our “beneficent Father who dwells in the heavens.”

Today, let’s celebrate Thanksgiving right. By praising the LORD with our words, with our generosity, and with a humble heart that continually looks to the God of the Bible as OUR God, and the source of all things good.


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