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I’m going to speak about something that there’s a great deal said about in the scripture; the theme of thankfulness. All I’m going to do really is present a whole series of scriptures and point out their implications and how they affect us.
First of all, I want to say that to be thankful is a direct command of scripture. And if we are not thankful, we are disobeying scripture. Whatever we may feel like doesn’t make any difference. We’re disobedient.
I want to say, too, that thankfulness, like most of the important things in the Christian life, originates in the will and not in the feelings. You do not have to wait to feel thankful to be thankful. Those of us that have brought up children, at least in Europe, we always trained our children never to receive anything from an adult without saying thank you. In fact, in Britain if you were to give a child a biscuit or a cookie, when you reached out your hand, you would expect the child to say thank you before it actually received the cookie. This was not a question of whether the child felt thankful, it was simply a question of the right way to behave. And what I’m talking to you about this morning is not primarily your feelings, but your conduct. How do you behave? And if you don’t behave thankfully, you’re disobeying God.
The first scripture I want to read is in Colossians 3:15–17. I feel prompted to point out to you that God often deals with us in the way that I described dealing with that child. God often requires us to say thank you for something before we’ve actually received it. Sometimes if you wait to receive it to say thank you, you won’t get it. Colossians 3:15–17:
“And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called...” (KJV)
The word rule in Greek is arbitrate or act as umpire. That’s a very important form of guidance. Are you doing the right thing? You’re not quite sure, ask yourself do I have peace in my heart about it? If I do, it’s one important indication that I am doing the right thing. Let the peace of God arbitrate or act as umpire in your heart. When you start to do something and you don’t have peace, you better check. You’re probably going to do something wrong.
“Let the peace of God rule in your heart, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.” (KJV)
That’s a direct command. If you’re not thankful, you’re disobeying.
“And let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” (KJV)
That covers all our words and all our actions. There are two things, we have to do them in the name of the Lord Jesus and we have to give thanks while we’re doing them. That applies to scrubbing the kitchen counter, cleaning out the bath, starting your car, writing a letter... Whatever you do, do it in the name of Jesus and as you do it, give thanks. It’s a pretty good criteria as to whether a thing is right or wrong. If there’s anything you’re planning to do that you cannot honestly do in the name of the Lord Jesus and giving thanks while you do it, you’d better not do it. That cuts away a whole lot of do not’s and do’s and don’t’s. It gives you a basic principle that guides all your words and all your actions. And notice, thanksgiving should be part of every word and every action. Whatever you do in word or deed, do it in the name of Jesus giving thanks. If you leave out the giving thanks, you’re disobedient.
Turn to 1 Thessalonians 5. Some very short but sweet verses beginning at verse 16 reading through verse 19. John Wesley was criticized in his day like other preachers who have been criticized in their day for preaching what he called Christian perfection. People charged him with setting an impossible ideal. In his journals he once wrote that what he understood by Christian perfection was very simple and very practical, it could be summed up in three verses. And he gave these three verses.
“Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks...” (KJV)
And he said in effect, if you do that, there’s nothing wrong with you. And I would agree. If you can do those three things, you don’t have any problems. Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks. And then with regard to the last thing, in everything give thanks, Paul adds:
“...for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (KJV)
What is the will of God? To give thanks in everything. So if you’re not giving thanks, you’re not in the will of God. Now that’s a very profound fact. I’ve found in dealing with people like missionaries, that a person could be in his right calling, in his right job, doing everything that God asked of him except one thing. Giving thanks. And such a person would keep saying I’m not in the will of God, there’s something wrong. It wasn’t their position, it wasn’t their calling, it wasn’t their job, it was just the fact that they were not giving thanks. Remember the moment you cease to give thanks you’re no longer in the will of God. There may be nothing else wrong with the situation but you can’t be in the will of God when you’re not giving thanks. For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
And then it says quench not the Spirit. What’s the application? Very clear. Once you stop giving thanks, you’re quenching the Holy Spirit. He’s not having the free flow in your life that he desires to have.
All right. Secondly and very closely related to that, giving thanks or being thankful is an expression of being filled with the Holy Spirit. Turn to Ephesians 5:18 and I want to read to verse 21.
“Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess...” (KJV)
It is so regrettable that many times religious people will major on the negative. And they stop there. Well, it’s wrong to be drunk with wine. I fully agree, it’s wrong to be drunk with wine, but that isn’t the real point of that verse. The real point follows in the positive.
“...but be filled with the Spirit” (KJV)
Now I was a logician before I became a preacher. Logic compels me to acknowledge that if it’s wrong to be drunk with wine, it’s equally wrong to disobey the second half of the verse. It’s wrong not to be filled with the Holy Spirit. And that’s what Paul was really aiming at. He just threw in the be not drunk with wine as an example. What’s the expression of being filled with the Holy Spirit? There are three things that follow. Verse 19:
“Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord...” (KJV)
The first expression of being filled with the Holy Spirit is a life of continuous praise. Verse 20:
“Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ...” (KJV)
The second expression of being filled with the Holy Spirit is being continually thankful. For all things. That’ll test your faith. Now I don’t believe we have to be thankful for sin or wickedness or ungodliness, but in every situation there is something to give thanks for. And you’re expected to do it.
I remember years and years ago when we first came back from Jerusalem and we were living in somebody else’s home in a part of England. A Christian couple and my first wife had led this brother into the baptism and we came down for breakfast and he was just ready to go out to his job and his wife was anything but a good cook. And in front of him were two cold, burnt pieces of toast. And he looked at it for a moment and said giving thanks for all things! And I’m sure he went to work in victory that morning.
Then the third expression of being filled with the Holy Spirit is submitting yourselves one to another. It’s a submissive attitude toward other people. Let’s just state those three expressions. A life of continuous praise, continuing thankfulness and a submissive attitude. My personal conviction is that a person who does not have those three marks of conduct is not filled with the Holy Spirit. Such a person may have been filled with the Holy Spirit but you know one thing? It’s easy to leak. And if you are not praising the Lord and not giving thanks and not in submissive attitude, you are not at that time filled with the Holy Spirit.
The third fact I want to state about thankfulness is it’s necessary to make other forms of prayer effective. There are various other forms of prayer which are not effective unless they are accompanied by thanksgiving. Turn to Philippians 4:6.
“Be careful for nothing; [that means be anxious about nothing] but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” (KJV)
I don’t know why, but John Wesley is in my mind this morning. He commented on those words, everything by prayer. He said I believe God does everything by prayer and nothing without it. But you see, everything by prayer, make your requests known unto God, what else? With thanksgiving. Leave out the thanksgiving and your requests don’t carry weight with God. He insists that your requests be accompanied by thanksgiving.
And a very simple one in Colossians 4:2.
“Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving...” (KJV)
Don’t leave out the thanksgiving. I will tell you one psychological truth about thanksgiving. If you always start when you pray by thanking God for all the things he’s already done, then you have an attitude of faith when you come to make your next petition. But if you just start out with bare petitions, you probably don’t have any faith to go with them. Ruth and I since before we were married have been in the habit of taking approximately one day a week for prayer and fasting. It varies, it’s not a legal matter. And we have made the practice of writing out our important prayer requests. And I want to commend that to you because when you have to write it out it forces you to think what am I really asking God to do? And many times that will adjust what you ask for. However, we make it a principle never to start with petitions. In every thing that we deal with we begin with thanksgiving. We always list the thanksgiving first, then we go to the petitions. Sometimes our thanksgivings get so long we don’t have room for the petitions. It’s a tremendously helpful discipline. I want to recommend it to you. I would suggest to you never pray without giving thanks first. Always start with thanksgiving.
And then there’s another form of prayer which is intercession. Praying for people. And again, I believe intercession should always be united with thanksgiving for the person you’re praying for. Now this is something we’re going to have to really deal with ourselves about. How many of you read that little book Praying Hyde? Well, it used to cost sixty-five cents and it’s worth sixty-five dollars if it will do in your life what it’s done in the lives of many people. I’m sure it’s available somewhere. Hyde was a missionary who went out to India probably at the beginning of this century and he had an experience with the Lord. He was baptized in the Holy Spirit on a ship on the way out and he went out there with all sorts of plans for language study and this and that. But the Lord set him apart to a ministry of prayer. And he became I would say, renowned for his prayers. At first his fellow missionaries criticized him because they felt he wasn’t doing enough. But when they began to see the answers to his prayers, then they began to count on his prayers. And he relates, I believe, in this little book early in his experience of prayer life there was an Indian gospel worker who was a rather cold, self-seeking man and had very little fruit in his life. And so Hyde determined he’d pray for this man and he began by praying like this: Lord, there’s Brother So and So. You know how, and he was going to say how cold he is. But the Holy Spirit checked him and said don’t accuse God’s people to God. It’s not your job. So he checked himself and he began to think of anything good that he could think of in the life of that man and thank God for the good, then pray for the man. Within a few months that man was on fire for the Lord. His life became extremely fruitful. But the lesson is that Hyde had no right of access to that man’s life with his prayers until he started by thanking God for the man. Remember when you pray about God’s people, you’re praying about God’s workmanship. And you have no right to criticize God’s workmanship to God. Furthermore, you’re doing the devil’s job for him. Because he is the accuser of the brethren. And he really doesn’t need your help.
Now I want to take quickly some examples of the intercessory prayers of Paul. And I want to show you that almost invariably when Paul prayed for people, he began by giving thanks. I’m going to go quickly through a number of his epistles. Let’s start with Romans 1:8–9. I don’t want to dwell on these but I think just repetition is impressive in its own way.
“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world. For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers.” (KJV)
What did he do first, thank or pray? First I give thanks. Turn to Ephesians 1:15–16:
“Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers.” (KJV)
Which came first? Giving thanks. Philippians 1:3–4:
“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy...” (KJV)
Which came first, praying or thanking? Colossians 1:3:
“We give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you.” (KJV)
Give thanks praying. 1Thessalonians 1:2:
“We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers.” (KJV)
First give thanks, then make mention of you in our prayers. And then for an individual, 2Timothy 1:3:
“I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day...” (KJV)
Always thanks, then prayers.
A rather interesting contrast is found in Romans 11. I don’t know whether you’ve ever noticed this. Paul is talking about God’s dealings with Israel and he refers to Elijah and he’s speaking about the remnant that was in the days of Elijah. But he says something about Elijah that once when I read it really gripped my attention. Romans 11:2:
“God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elijah? How he maketh intercession to God against Israel... (KJV)
And then he catalogs all their sins. They dig down thine altars, they’ve slain thy prophets... And you know, when Elijah did that, he was in a low spiritual condition. He was running away from Jezebel. I wouldn’t dare to criticize a man of God like Elijah, but I believe it’s an indication that he was not in an attitude of faith at the time. And God really challenged me and he said I never want you to make intercession against my people. That’s not your job. And I suggest that it’s a mistake many of us make. Often with good motive, we pray for a wayward or backslidden child and we catalog all that child’s errors and faults. And we build up an atmosphere in the spiritual realm which makes it almost impossible to break through in prayer for that child and creates a barrier between the child and ourselves. And that’s not the only case. It may be a brother in the Lord who has offended you. So every time you pray, the first thing you tell the Lord about is that wrong act that brother did against you. You are creating a barrier between God and you, between the brother and you. Leave God to deal with the wrong act, it’s not your business to intercede against any child of God.
The next thing I want to say about thanksgiving is it is a key to release God’s miracle working power. I’ll give you just a couple of examples in Jonah 2. You want a miracle, you’ve prayed maybe days, weeks, years. Try giving thanks. It worked for Jonah. You read chapter 2, it’s a prayer that Jonah prayed in the belly of the fish. He did a lot of praying. I imagine you and I would have felt prompted to pray in that situation, too. But in verse 9 he changed. He said:
“But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving...” (KJV)
Now that’s definitely a sacrifice to give God thanks when you’re in the belly of a fish. But it paid off. What does the next verse say?
“The Lord spake unto the fish, and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.” (KJV)
I suppose God was saying to himself that thankless fellow Jonah, he’s not getting out of that fish until he mends his conduct. When I hear him give thanks, I’ll talk to the fish. And you know, there are many of you in the same situation. You’ll get out of the fish when God hears you say thank you. God cares for the manners of his children, do you know that? A lot more than some of us care for our children’s manners.
All right. Now an example from the New Testament of the power of giving thanks to release a miracle. John 6. This is the record of the feeding of the 5,000 men plus women and children with five loaves and two fishes. The only miracle of Jesus apart from those associated with his death and resurrection that is recorded in all four gospels, interestingly. And you remember Jesus said make the men sit down, he took the loaves. And then in verse 11 it says:
“Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down...” (KJV)
How did the miracle come? Did Jesus pray a long prayer, did he agonize? Did he quote scripture? No. He just gave thanks. And the writer of the gospel wants us to note that point because he goes back to it. If you go on to verse 23, and I won’t go into the context it says:
“Howbeit there came other boats from Tiberias nigh unto the place where they did eat bread, after that the Lord had given thanks...” (KJV)
So the writer of the gospel was very impressed with the fact and he wanted us to note the fact that all it took to release that fantastic miracle was to give thanks. I can imagine a person like myself being superspiritual, flexing my spiritual muscles and going into prayer, blessing that bread, praying over it, laying hands on it, you know. Rebuking the calories. All the Lord did was give thanks.
Did I tell you the story about Larry Christiansen? This is, by the way, has nothing to do with what I’m talking about but it really appeals to me because it was such a quick answer. Larry was just about to eat something like Danish pastry or something like that and he said jokingly, calories, I rebuke you. And somebody said that sort comes out only with prayer and fasting!
Let’s turn on to John’s gospel to one other example in chapter 11. Jesus is outside the tomb of Lazarus who’s been there four days dead. Verse 41, in the middle of the verse:
“And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.” (KJV)
And that’s all he did. And then he turned to Lazarus and said come out. No long agonizing prayer, just simple giving thanks. And I suppose perhaps that could be the greatest miracle in the earthly ministry of Jesus, the raising from the tomb of a man who had been four days dead. What released the miracle? Giving thanks.
Then I want to say that giving thanks is the simplest possible expression of faith. James 2:26, it’s not really necessary to turn there. James says:
“...faith without works is dead.” (KJV)
Faith without appropriate corresponding actions is dead. And a dead faith produces no living results. Now this is extremely important when praying for the sick. In my own experience I’ve discovered particularly with people who have arthritis or who are deaf. They’re so used to their condition that even if God heals them they’ll go on being sick. I can thank God I’ve prayed for scores of people with arthritis and I’ve seen them healed. But in most cases, I’ve learned from experience I have to make them act out their faith. Your knee joint is all right, well get up and bend it. Do something. Or you can walk, let’s see you walk.
I remember in Charisma Chapel about three years ago praying for an Episcopalian lady who had been five months bedridden. They carried her to the meeting, placed her in a chair in the front. When I prayed for her I said you’re healed, do you believe that? She said yes. Well I said if you believe it, do something about it. Get up and walk. Well she hadn’t walked for five months. The first few steps she took were tottering, but within a minute she was running around the auditorium. But had I just left her sitting there, she would have been healed and never known it. She would have gone back to her sickness. So remember that. Faith without works is dead.
Similarly, when you pray for a deaf person. At least, that’s my experience. You more or less have to get them to take out the hearing aid and practice hearing without it. It’s a strange thing with deaf people. I think they get to enjoy their hearing aid. They almost don’t want to part with it.
But there are times when there’s no obvious act that will express your faith. Like Jonah, what could he do? He couldn’t get up and walk, couldn’t kneel down and pray. There was one thing he could do, what was that? Give thanks, and that was all that was needed. If you really believe God has answered your prayer, touched you, met your need and you want to release your faith, the simplest and easiest and most immediate way to do it is to start thanking him. And you’ll find that faith will become a reality as you thank God.
Finally in this little list of results of being thankful I want to point out that thankfulness sets the seal on blessings already received. Many times people get blessed in a meeting, they get touched, they say oh, I can see and leave off my glasses. And then they walk out and they can’t see any longer. So they put their glasses on. In other words, it’s one thing to get blessed, it’s another thing to hold onto your blessing. Charles Simpson says outside of every meeting there’s a blessing thief waiting at the door to steal your blessing from you. Now there are various different things you can do to hold onto your blessing, not let it be stolen. But one of the best is to start thanking God for it immediately. Don’t wait. I want to illustrate this from the story of the ten lepers in Luke 17. I’m going to read this story, it’s just a few verses. Luke 17, beginning at verse 12:
“And as he [that is Jesus] entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: and they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go show yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed [of their leprosy]. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger. And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way; thy faith hath made thee whole.” (KJV)
The Greek says thy faith has saved thee. And that’s an important distinction. Ten lepers were cleansed, ten were healed, but only one was saved. Which one? The one that came back to give thanks. It is possible to be physically healed and yet not have your soul saved. The thing that changed the experience of that one leper was that he came back to give thanks and he got what I call the package deal. The rest of them simply got the physical deliverance, but didn’t receive the eternal spiritual life which is, of course, the greatest of all blessings.
Now I want to talk for a little while about the opposite because I think to understand something one way is to look at the opposite. Very often if you’re learning a vocabulary in a new language, one of the things they’ll do is teach words to you in opposites, hot and cold. What does God say about unthankfulness? What is the opposite to thankfulness? I find in scripture two words. Of course it depends on which translation you’re following, but in the King James and possibly in the modern translations too I think the two opposite words are murmuring and complaining. So let’s look at what the Bible says about them. Philippians 2:14:
“Do all things without murmurings and disputings: that ye may be blameless and harmless...”
In other words, to be blameless we have to do all things without murmurings and disputings. Children, don’t answer your parents back. That’s disputing. You’re told to take out the garbage, yes mother, that’s all you have to say. Do all things without murmurings and disputings. Okay.
Now let’s look at what God says about murmurers. Jude the 16th verse. The previous verse is spoken about these people and call them ungodly sinners. As a matter of fact, the word ungodly occurs four times in the 16th verse. Speaking about these ungodly persons, Jude goes on to say:
“These are murmurers, complainers, walking after their own lusts...” (KJV)
See what I’m saying? Murmuring is a form of ungodliness. The word complainer there, I happened to look at this in the Greek New Testament and I noticed a very strange word. I don’t want to give it to you in Greek but I checked and went back to the dictionaries and it’s a word that means a person who complains about his lot in life. And I thought what an insight. Why did you make me so thin, so fat, so tall? Why did you give me this job? Why is my hair short, long, curly, straight? In other words, you’re complaining about your lot in life. It’s ungodly to do that. And it creates problems for you.
Let’s turn to 1Corinthians 10:6–10. Paul is talking about the history of the Israelites in the wilderness on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land. He says they made a lot of mistakes which are recorded in scripture as a warning to us not to make the same mistakes. And he lists five specific mistakes, all of which cost the Israelites very dear.
“Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted. Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them... [verse 8] Neither let us commit fornication... [verse 9] Neither let us tempt Christ... [verse 10] Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer.” (KJV)
What are the five things we’re warned against doing? Lusting after evil things, idolatry, fornication, tempting the Lord and murmuring. See where that puts murmuring? The same category with idolatry and fornication. And it says those who murmured were judged of God. You want to look at the judgment for a moment, turn to the book of Numbers, the 14th chapter. This is the record of the spies when they came back from having searched the Promised Land. You’ll remember ten brought up an evil report and only two brought a good report. And it says in Numbers 14:36–37:
“And the men, which Moses sent to search the land, who returned, and made all the congregation to murmur against him, by bringing up a slander upon the land, even those men that did bring up the evil report upon the land, died by the plague before the Lord.” (KJV)
That’s God’s estimate of people who create a murmuring spirit in others.
The scripture contains what we call exemplary judgment. Judgments that are an example of God’s attitude to certain things. For instance, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was an example of God’s attitude to homosexuality. That settles his attitude once and for all. It doesn’t mean that all homosexuals are to be destroyed by fire and brimstone from heaven. But it does mean that’s what God thinks of homosexuality. In the New Testament Ananias and Sapphira tried to cheat on their offerings and they dropped dead. Now lots of other people have done that since, they don’t all drop dead. But that’s God’s verdict of that conduct once and for all. And here we have an exemplary judgment on men who cause God’s people to murmur. Every one of them died instantly by a plague. That’s God’s verdict on that conduct. He doesn’t repeat their judgment every time, but his verdict hasn’t changed.
Then we look in Numbers 21. Again, this is Israel in the wilderness. Beginning in verse 4:
“They [the people] journeyed from Mount Hor by the way of the Red sea to compass the land of Edom: and the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the [long arduous] way.” (KJV)
What did they do? What do people do when they’re discouraged? One of the first things they do is murmur and become critical.
“And the people spoke against God and against Moses, [poor Moses] Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no bread, neither is there any water; and our soul loatheth this light bread [that was the manna].” (KJV)
Now this is another exemplary judgment of God. It doesn’t always happen but it indicates God’s attitude once and for all.
“And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people...”(KJV)
The New International Version says a venomous serpent. Whether they were venomous or fiery, they were very unpleasant. The Lord sent the fiery serpents, do you notice that?
“...and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died.” (KJV)
What’s that the result of? Murmuring.
“Therefore the people came to Moses and said, we have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee; pray unto the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us. And Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, [just like the one that’s bitten the people] set it up on a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live.” (KJV)
That means he’ll be forgiven, he’ll be healed.
“Moses made a serpent of brass, and put it upon a pole, and it came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived.” (KJV)
The remedy for murmuring is looking at the serpent on the pole. Now in John 3 Jesus said, as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up on the cross. And I want to point out to you that is the real remedy for murmuring. It’s looking at the cross. The moment you really look at the cross, you’ve got nothing left to murmur about. If you really believe the eternal sinless son of God came down from heaven’s glory, took the form of a man, willingly went to the cross and bore the whole weight of our sin and our infirmities and our sicknesses and our curse, and he did not have to do it but he did it out of the love of the Father and the Son for lost humanity. Once you look at that, you’ve got nothing left to complain about in this life. So if you’re tempted to murmur, look at Jesus on the cross.
I want to give you one other scripture in Romans. Let me point out without turning there that in 2Timothy 3 there are eighteen moral defects listed that will characterize humanity at the close of this age. And three of them are disobedient to parents, unthankful and unholy. All I want to point out to you is unthankfulness is next to unholiness. And right beside disobedient to parents. And basically, being disobedient to parents is usually an expression of unthankfulness. And it’s dangerous.
Now I’ll turn to Romans 1, beginning in verse 20. Speaking about the depraved, sinful, hopeless condition of humanity. Paul says they are without excuse because the witness of God in his creative power and glory is everywhere in the earth.
“For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse...”
Remember every sinner that walks the face of this earth is without excuse.
“Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful...”
Now you look at the end of that chapter, it contains perhaps the most appalling list of human sinfulness found anywhere in the Bible. If you go on to verse 20, I’ll just read it because the impact of it is powerful.
“Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful...” (KJV)
What a list. You say, how did humanity ever get into that horrible condition? And I want to show you the first two downward steps that will take you into that pit. They’re there in verse 21:
“When they knew God, they glorified him not [step number one. Step number two:] neither were thankful.” (KJV)
And the moment that you or I cease to glorify God and to be thankful we have taken the first two downward steps which, if we do not change our course, will ultimately plunge us in that same abyss. Bear that in mind. The moment you cease to be thankful, you’re starting on a slippery downward path to ruin.
Now I have two more things to say. I’ve already read the story where Israel murmured and God sent fiery serpents that bit them. Earlier I pointed out that giving thanks releases the power of God. I want to point out to you now that murmuring releases the power of Satan. They are opposites. Just as surely as giving thanks will bring God’s power to work in your life, so the opposite, murmuring and complaining exposes you to the fiery serpents; the demonic forces. This is very, very certain. And now I want to give you a personal testimony, very remarkable one in my judgment. I’ve never had another case like it. I’ve asked the permission of the lady concerned to give this testimony because it’s as much hers as mine. The lady is my wife. But when it happened, it kind of opened a new window into the spiritual world for me and I saw a whole chain of consequences and principles that I had kind of been groping for but never been able to lay hold of.
Before Ruth and I were married we used sometimes before we got so busy getting married we couldn’t do anything else, we used to go down to the beach which we both enjoy and we’d swim and sunbathe. And one day while we were down there sunbathing Ruth said to me, I wish you’d pray for my legs. And the Lord had already done a number of miracles of healing in her body including straightening her spine which had been crooked for almost her whole life. I said what’s wrong with your legs? She said I don’t know but I get these agonizing pains in my calves. And if I don’t keep moving or exercise them, if I just sit too long I get these pains. Apparently there was no medical diagnosis for the pain.
Now, I didn’t reason, I didn’t plan, I didn’t think. But instead of immediately praying for her legs I did something that I cannot remember I ever did before. I began to speak to her legs. And I said, legs, I want to thank you. You’ve done a good job. You’ve supported Ruth, you’ve carried her around, you’ve brought her to me. I really appreciate you. I just want you to know that.
Well, that sounds crazy, doesn’t it? And then I prayed for her legs and there was some improvement. But after we were married, when we were in Jerusalem, we were lying side by side in the bed. She said my legs still hurt. I still have that pain. Well I said, I think there must have been a moment in your life when you exposed yourself to that thing. And if you’re quiet, the Lord will show you when it was. And I think it’s important for your full healing and deliverance. So we lay there just a few moments and she said to me I know exactly when it happened. She said when I was about fifteen years old in high school I was in the restroom with another girl who had such beautiful legs. And she said I looked down at my own legs and I said, Legs, I hate you. And I said, in effect, you pronounced a curse on your own legs. You handed them over to the power of the enemy. And her legs had been kind of hard. I put my hands on them, massaged them, prayed for them, but there was something in them that just didn’t give. It’s up to Ruth, but if she’ll let you, you can come and feel them today, they’re soft! I believe in real, you know, flesh and blood evidence.
But can you see what the essence of the problem was? Murmuring. Unthankfulness. Complaining. You know what I came to realize? That must cause problems in the lives of hundreds of God’s people. The failure to thank God. You become a murmurer, complainer. You complain about your hair. It’s too dark, too light, too short, too long, too curly, too straight. God, why did you give me hair like that? Well, you’re really putting a curse on your own hair. Or some other part of your body. I’m too tall, too short, too stumpy, too thin, too wide, my nose is too short, too long.
I remember when I was growing up, about eighteen, I wasn’t spiritual but I had a lot of spirit! For several years I was agonized by the fact that I was convinced that my nose was crooked. It sounds extraordinary. But no one could convince me that it wasn’t crooked. I don’t know whether I grew out of it or what happened. I think it’s probably salvation is really what adjusted that. But I mean I realized the agony that a person can go through because they’re not satisfied with some part of their body. Or their whole body. Or something else. I can’t talk well or I can’t sing or I can’t do this or I can’t do that. The moment you become a complainer and a murmurer about yourself, really you are exposing that part of you to the fiery serpents. And believe me, they’ll move in. And you will have a problem. I believe the only valid and final way out of that problem is to reverse what you’ve said. Cancel it.
I want to say one more thing and then I’m going to give you an opportunity for practical application. As we enter the new year I want to give you one of my favorite scriptures. A very familiar one but it’s a good one. Proverbs 3:5–6:
“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” (KJV)
You want divine direction in the year that lies ahead, there is a guaranteed recipe. Not only is it in the Bible, but I can testify to you that for about fourteen years I systematically obeyed that. I’ve acknowledged God at every turn in my life and known that when I acknowledge him he will direct my ways. Many times we make decisions which we don’t even have time to think about. We may not consider them very important and yet they determine the destiny of our life.
That happened to me when I immigrated to the United States. I never intended to immigrate, I got here by accident and then I became an immigrant. And yet that was one of the most important and decisive turns in my whole life. How can you be sure, even if you don’t have time to pray or you don’t recognize the importance of the decision, that God is guiding? By acknowledging him in all your ways. And then he will direct your paths.
Now how do you acknowledge him? I think the simplest and the best way to acknowledge him is by thanking him. And I’ll show you how I do it. For instance, I intend to do that sometime before this year ends. Lord, I want to thank you that you’ve brought me through this year. I want to thank you for all the blessings. I want to thank you for your mercy. For you love, for your faithfulness, for your power, for your wisdom. They’ve all been demonstrated in my experience this year over and over again. God, I want you to know I’m sincerely thankful for that. I want to thank you for the special blessings. I want to thank you for the wife you’ve given me. I want to thank you for the home you’ve enabled us to establish. I want to thank you for the love of hundreds of people this year, that they’ve showered on us. I’m going to take time to acknowledge God before I step into the new year. And I know God is going to step with me. But the way to acknowledge God is to thank him.
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