Today’s Sermon From The Ranch – Giving Thanks

(This Day’s Thought is pleased to bring you Eric Elder’s new series of sermons on the book of Romans.  Please note this is the last week Eric will be offering the CD, “Hymns,” for a donation of any size to The Ranch ministry this month.  Please see his note in the P.S. for details.) 

Giving Thanks

Lesson 3 from
Romans: Lessons In Renewing Your Mind
By Eric Elder

One of the quickest ways to get a new perspective on life is by giving thanks—by taking a few minutes to thank God for the things in your life for which you are truly grateful.  But giving thanks to God doesn’t always come naturally.  
You can sometimes get so caught up in the heat of the battles you’re facing that all of your thoughts, prayers, and attention are focused on the battles themselves.  And when you get so consumed by the battles that you stop giving thanks for the rest of the good things in life, you can start down a path that leads to destruction.
I’ve heard it said that “rebellion against God doesn’t begin with a clenched fist, but with a heart that refuses to give thanks.”
When we stop giving thanks for the things in our lives that are good and meaningful to us, we can oftentimes find ourselves slipping into anger and frustration with the world and the God who created it.  Our fists begin to clench and we start to rebel against anything further that He might have to say to us, or that He might want us to do.
The Apostle Paul attributed this refusal to give thanks as the beginning of the end for the people of Rome who were engaging in all kinds of evil.  He said:
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness… For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:18, 21).
If it feels like your thinking has become futile and your heart seems to have darkened, perhaps it’s time to reverse that cycle and begin giving thanks.  
In her book, The Hiding Place, Corrie Ten Boom tells the story of a time when she and her sister were in a concentration camp in Germany during the Holocaust.  When they were thrown into a bunkhouse that was infected with fleas, her sister remembered that they needed to give thanks in all circumstances—even for the fleas.   But Corrie said this was too much.  She said, “There’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.”
As the weeks went on, however, she discovered that they had a unusual amount of freedom in their barracks to read to each other from a Bible they had hidden, and to pray with one another.  One day they discovered why, when Betsy overheard the guards say that they wouldn’t step into their barrack.  Why not?  Because of the fleas!  “That place is crawling with fleas!” the guard said.  It was then that Corrie remembered her sister’s prayers when they first entered, and her thanks to God for creatures for which Corrie could see no use at the time.  
The movie, Fireproof, tells the story of a fireman whose wife wants out of the marriage.  She’s fed up with him, and he’s equally fed up with her.  But as they head towards divorce, the fireman’s father steps in and challenges his son to try something he calls, “The Love Dare,” for forty days.  He hands his son a hand-written journal in which he’s written specific steps the son can take each day to try to show his love to his wife.
After 20 frustrating days of trying to do it on his own, the fireman has a heartfelt conversation with his dad.  His dad encourages him to put His faith in Christ and ask God for His help, but the son refuses, saying he doesn’t need a crutch to get through life.  The Dad responds by saying that Jesus is more than a crutch—He’s become the most significant part of his life.  The son still doesn’t get it, so the conversation continues:
DAD:  “If I ask you why you’re so frustrated with Catherine, what would you say?”
SON:  “She’s stubborn.  She makes everything difficult for me.  She’s ungrateful.  She’s constantly griping about something.”
DAD:  “Has she thanked you the last 20 days?”
SON:  “No.  And you’d think after I washed the car, I’ve changed the oil, do the dishes, clean the house, that she would try to show me a little bit of gratitude.  Well, she doesn’t.  That is what really ticks me off.  Dad, for the last three weeks, I have bent over backwards for her.  I have tried to demonstrate that I still care about this relationship.  I bought her flowers, which she threw away.  I have taken her insults and her sarcasm, but last night was it.  I made dinner for her, I did everything I could to demonstrate that I care about her, to show value for her, and she spat in my face.  She does not deserve this, Dad.  I am not doing it anymore.  How am I supposed to show love to somebody over and over and over who constantly rejects me?”
DAD:  “That’s a good question.”
SON: (after a long pause) “Dad, that is not what I’m doing.”
DAD:  “Isn’t it?  Son, you just asked me: ‘’How can someone show love over and over again when they’re constantly rejected?  You can’t love her, because you can’t give her what you don’t have.”
You’ll have to see the movie to find out how it ends!  But the Dad made his point:  What does it feel like to God, when He shows His love to us over and over and over again, yet we refuse to, or forget to, or get so overwhelmed with life that we no longer want to give Him thanks?
For me, I keep a prayer journal handy and try to write in it at least every few days.  I used to begin by writing down all the prayers that were on my heart, which felt good to get them down on paper.  But I began to realize that I wasn’t taking as much time to stop and give thanks to God for all the prayers that He had already answered.
I changed my approach several years ago and began starting every entry with the words, “Father, thank you for…” and then listing something for which I was sincerely thankful, something specific that had happened in the past day or two, or even those things that were particularly hard or challenging, trying to see them from God’s perspective and how God might be using them for good.
I’ve found that as I start my prayer time with thanks, it changes my perspective on the way I approach the rest of my time in prayer.  I have more expectancy, more eagerness to see how God might answer my prayers, and more hope that God can bring good out of even the bad things that I might be facing.  
Rather than waiting to see how things turn out before I thank God for the things in my life, I’ve found it much better to thank Him up front.
I remember eating an incredible fish dinner up in Boise, Idaho one time on a business trip.  Our hosts had taken us out to a fancy restaurant, and I’m sure it was the best fish I had ever eaten.  After the meal, when the waitress came to our table to ask how everything was, I could hardly contain myself in thanking her for the great meal.  
But as I was thanking her, I realized that she didn’t cook the fish, she just brought it to the table, so I asked her to please give my thanks to the chef.  But as she walked away, I realized that the chef didn’t make the fish, he just prepared it.  The one I really needed to thank was God who created the fish!  So I said a heartfelt prayer in my head before we got up from the table, saying, “Thank You, Lord, for this food!”
It was then that it hit me.  Wasn’t that the same prayer I said before I ate it:  “Thank You Lord, for this food”?  But somehow it meant so much more to me after I had eaten it!  I made a mental note that the next time I prayed before a meal, I’d try to make it just as heartfelt before I ate it.
I also found that this is what Jesus did, before His meal with over 5,000 on the hillside in Galilee, when all He had was two loaves of bread and five pieces of fish.  
“Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, He gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over” (Matthew 14:19b-21).
Jesus could have waited till the end of the meal to give thanks for His Father’s incredible provision, but He didn’t.  He gave thanks up front, and His Father took His prayer of thanks and Super-sized their meal right in front of their eyes!
You don’t have to wait to give thanks to God till you see the answers to your prayers.  Give thanks to Him up front for what you have been given, and trust Him to take the next step.  
The Romans, because of their refusal to give thanks to God, found that their thinking had become futile and their hearts were darkened.  If you want your thoughts to be more purposeful and your hearts to become brighter, do what Paul recommends:  begin by giving thanks to God.
Come to the Father today with your prayers.  Come to Him with thanksgiving in your heart.  Thank Him for those things in your life for which you’re truly grateful.  Thank Him for those things—even fleas—that may be hard to give thanks for right now, but which God can use for good.  And thank Him for the answers to your prayers that haven’t even come yet, but by faith you believe will come in a way that goes beyond all you can ask or imagine.  
Let God renew your mind today by giving thanks to Him.
Will you pray with me?
Father, thank You for the answers to so many prayers that we have prayed in the past.  Thank You for those things which we’re struggling through today, for as hard as they may seem, we trust that You can work all things for good, for those who love You and are called according to Your purpose.  And Thank You in advance for the answers to prayer that are yet to come.  We trust that You can supersize those answers in just the right way and at just the right time.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.
P.S. This is the last week we’ll be offering Marilyn Byrnes’ beautiful piano CD called, Hymns, for a donation of any size to our ministry.  If you’d like to take advantage of this offer, just click the link below to make a donation by the end of the month and get the music.  It’s available on CD or downloadable MP3’s, and is a great selection of eleven hymns of faith to bless you in your quiet times with God.  Just click the link below to make a donation and get the music:
Questions for Reflection
1.  Read Romans 1:18-32.  What did Paul say happened to the thinking of those who refused to give glory and thanks to God?
2.  Why do you think that caused them to fall into some of the sins listed in this passage?
3.  According to verse 32, what is the ultimate outcome for those who head down this path?
4.  What are some things in your life for which you can truly give thanks to God?
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