This week we all have plans to enjoy another Thanksgiving. It will be a time for appreciating what we have been given and the people who bless our lives. This is a time to reflect on how gracious and kind God has been to us.
What is the best way to celebrate Thanksgiving? What is the best way to show our appreciation to the God who has given us every breath and every blessing? If you answered that question by looking around you might conclude that it involves enumerating blessings, cooking all day, watching a parade with giant balloons, getting together with family, over-eating, watching football, taking a nap and then heading out to the Black Friday madness (which starts now on Thursday). I want to suggest that the Bible gives us an even better way to show our gratitude.
In Ephesians 4:17-23 Paul tells us that there is a right way and a wrong way to show our gratitude to the Lord.
What Not to Do: Live Like Everyone Else
Just because we say we are thankful doesn’t mean we are living as grateful people. Paul admonishes the Ephesians:
17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.
The first thing Paul tells us is everyone else is heading the wrong direction. He says our previous way of life was futile. Listen to the way the New Living Translation states this,
Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. 19 They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.
The unbeliever has “closed their mind and hardened their hearts”. Basically, they have ignored God enough that they no longer even hear His voice. They have concluded that their only truly reliable guide for life is their own desires. They may be religious but they are not interested in following the Lord; they are interested in getting the Lord to help them reach their goals and their agenda. Such people are not interested in truth . . . they are interested in vindication, validation and victory!
The book THE MARRIAGE MIRACLE suggests that the cause of most marriage breakups is actually this same kind of hardening of heart. One or both of the people become self-absorbed. They stop trying to understand and care for the other person. In other words, they stop working and give up. You might hear them say they have “fallen out of love”, but the truth is that they have decided to stop working at love.
No one develops a hardened heart overnight in marriage or in any other area. The process begins as we ignore God’s clear commands and justify our sin. We convince ourselves that our behavior is not wrong in spite of what the Bible says. We eventually numb our spirit. As we continue to make excuses we bury the truth deeper and become increasingly deaf to the whispers of God’s Spirit. Eventually our hearts become unresponsive to the ways of God.
John Stott notes the downward slide that happens when we start to harden our heart,
1) hardness of heart
2) darkness of heart
4) recklessness — unrestrained abandonment to sin.
The best example of this in the Bible is David with Bathsheba. He knew it was improper to lustfully watch a woman bathe, but he ignored the warning of the Spirit in his heart and mind. He ignored his conscience. He had to continue to “run through stop sings” for him to not only ask about Bathsheba, but then also send for her (knowing where it would lead). His private sin was becoming public and he didn’t care! When Bathsheba was found to be pregnant, David was able to justify the murder of Uriah, her husband. To marry Bathsheba David had convinced himself that somehow he was “doing the right thing”.
This is what Paul is describing when he says, “Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more.“ (v. 19)
The word for “sensuality” is the word aselgeia in the Greek. One author says.
The great characteristic of this word is this—the bad man usually tries to hide his sin; but the man who has lost sensitivity in his soul does not care how much he shocks public opinion so long as he can gratify his desires. Sin can get such a grip of a man that he is lost to decency and shame.
Look critically at what you see movies, television and even some of the popular literature of today. It is obvious that people are not bothered by what God calls sin; they even want to celebrate and encourage that sin in others!
All of these people will sit down this week and talk about their “blessings” yet they are unwilling to submit or truly honor the one who does the blessing! Many are only thankful that they are such fine people; that they are so “open-minded” and progressive. They may talk about God but they do so in much the same way they talk about Santa Clause.
What to Do
20 You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. 21 Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Before we look at the specifics, notice something important: Paul is talking to those who have “come to know Christ”. He is talking to believers, those who have turned to Christ for salvation and new life. These are people who have been made new by God’s Spirit.
We will never truly honor God, we will never truly live a different life, until we are first redeemed people. As long as we refuse to bow before the Lord of life and accept the salvation and the new life that He offers EVERYTHING we do is really an attempt to exclude Him from our lives; to make Him irrelevant. So, these are not words telling people to work harder, they are words to redeemed people telling them to live as those who have been redeemed.
Paul gives us three steps: Put off the Old Self. This is like the old joke where the patient says “Doctor, my arm hurts every time I lift it over my head”. The Doctor responds, “Then stop lifting it over your head!” There are times when the first step toward godly living requires that we stop doing what is destroying us! We must put away the old life.
The notion that we can live comfortably in both worlds is wrong. Jesus said you can’t serve two masters. We can’t serve the world and the Kingdom of God because they are going in opposite directions! We must make a decision.
Paul says the first step to grateful living is to leave behind that which was destroying your life and your relationship with God. We all know that this is much easier said than done. There are some preliminary steps to leaving the past behind,
- Acknowledge there is a problem. Denial makes healing impossible. We must recognize that something is going wrong in our hearts and our lives.
- Face the reality of your sin. Don’t blame it on others or on your circumstances. Don’t blame your personality or even your “needs” (these seem to imply that God “made you this way”). Face the reality: you are rebelling against the clear instruction of our Holy God. You are refusing to submit to His rule in your life.
- Ask God (and those you have hurt) to forgive you (Pr. 15:9). True forgiveness and restoration requires that we confess the specific sin and hurt we are guilty of to both the Lord and to the one offended. We have a tendency to say, “Sorry!” and conclude that this “fixes” everything! Implying that a deep hurt can be fixed with a simple “sorry” is absurd. We must show that we understand what we have done and how it has affected the other person.
- Rest in God’s transformational mercy. Once we have squarely faced the wrong in our lives and confessed that sin to God and to those hurt and offended by our actions, then we must rest in the incredible and undeserved forgiveness from the Lord. Other people may or may not accept your apology but if you have been sincere and specific, you have done what God requires and He will extend forgiveness. Embrace that forgiveness.
- Head in the new direction God has provided for you.
In order to truly break with the past we may have to change some relationships, develop new interests, check in to a treatment program, get counseling, or even get a different job. It all starts by facing the truth.
The Second step is to Change the Channel of your mind. When you are watching television, if you don’t like what is on TV you simply “change the channel”. This is what we need to do in our thinking. We are to be “made new in the attitude of our minds. Here’s what I mean,
- Rather than focus on pleasing the crowd, focus on pleasing the Lord.
- Rather than dwelling on your hardship choose to be thankful for blessings.
- Rather than complaining about life choose to sing.
- Rather than spotlighting the faults of family members (may be important for this week), enumerate and celebrate their strengths.
- Rather than listing why you can’t do something, choose to focus on brainstorming ways that will help you to do something.
- Rather than defending your self-image, choose to admit your weakness and failures in humility.
Do you get the idea? We must change the channel of our mind. In the process we must change what we feed our minds. One of the keys (I’m told) to weight loss and healthy living is eating differently. We must eat better and eat smarter. We can’t keep feeding our body garbage and think that it will work at its optimum level. It’s like putting sugar in a gas tank . . . eventually the engine will be destroyed.
If we feed on God’s Word rather than on the schemes, propaganda, and whispers of the world, we will naturally begin to think differently. Imagine how your thinking would change if you turned off the TV for an hour and read from your Bible instead. What if you kept the radio tuned to Christian teaching and music rather than to Talk Radio or secular music? What if you made spending time with other believers a much higher priority in your life? What if you watched one or two less games and used that time to read a book that would enrich your walk with Christ? What would happen is you would begin to think differently.
The last step has to be the last step in the process: Put on the New Self. You can’t put on the new self until you have dealt with the old you. As the old saying goes, “only a fool thinks they can keep doing the same thing and get a different result”.
Charles Sheldon’s classic “In His Steps” which was updated by his family and re-titled, “What Would Jesus Do” is about “putting on of the new self”. Sheldon suggested in his novel that people approach every situation and choice by asking, “What would Jesus do in this situation?”. . . and then doing it.
There are some who respond to this notion of asking, “What does God want me to do?” by saying, “I don’t know what God wants me to do.” Let me be direct. I don’t think that is true! I believe we do know what God wants us to do . . . we just don’t want to do it. It is easier to say we “didn’t know” than admit that we refused.
It’s God’s voice that is calling you to
- Forgive an offense
- To stand up for the Truth of God’s Word
- To Let go of a hurt
- To give more than what is “comfortable”
- To help someone in need
- To love someone who is hard to love
- To talk to a friend who does not know Christ
- To move in a different direction
Instead of ignoring God’s way (and developing a hardness in our heart) Paul calls us to listen and to follow.
What Does this Have to Do with Gratitude?
Suppose you knew that someone needed transportation to work. They needed to be able to take their kids to school and be able to run the errands that come with life. So, as an act of Christian generosity and compassion you just gave that person a car. The family cried when you gave them the keys. They sent you a very nice thank you note. Every week on Sunday they went out to the garage and looked at and admired the car. Sometimes they even sat in it. Once a year they invited their friends over to have a party in honor of the car in the garage. They talk about how the car has changed their life . . .but they never take it out of the garage! They still need transportation!
Here’s the question: Would you feel good about the gift? You would not. You gave the car so it would be driven.
There is a parallel. God saw our great need and sent Christ to die so that we might be delivered from the darkness and be able to walk in the light. Jesus came to that we could be delivered from the bondage of the past and set free to walk in a new direction. He gave us new life so we could actually live a new way!
If you really want to show gratitude for what God has given to us, then use His gift! Don’t simply talk about how great the gift is; use it! Allow God’s grace to truly change your life. If you want to be show real gratitude this Thanksgiving, embrace the life Christ offers and let Him lead you in a new direction. Let God soften your heart and change your life.
Jesus has opened the door to us for new life. The people who truly appreciate His gift don’t simply admire the door or even what appears to be beyond the door. They walk through the door into the life He died to make possible.
Thanksgiving Day is a holiday. But true gratitude is something that is reflected every day in the way we live our lives. May God help us to hear His voice, follow His way, and demonstrate just how grateful we really are.