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The Giving of Christmas
“Christmas is for Thanks-Giving”
With Thanksgiving over and Christmas right around the corner, we find ourselves in the middle of two of our countries most iconic holidays, where the giving of thanks is front and center, I’d like to take some time and do a two-part series on the topic of giving.
Lizzie Bolden was the oldest person in the world when she died in 2006. She was 116 years old and according to the family, she had 40 grandchildren, 75 great-grandchildren, 150 great-great grandchildren, 220 great-great-great grandchildren, and 75 great-great-great-great grandchildren.
When I see stories of people living such long lives, I wonder what causes these people to have such longevity? Part of it is wrapped up in their genes or our DNA, but if we boiled down all the characteristics these people possessed, thankfulness and forgiveness would be at the top of the list. And medical reports and studies support this proposition.
Author of several books on aging, Eugene Bianchi said, “One of the common factors of those who are thriving in their senior years is their ability to live with gratitude.” He said that they are able to receive the small and large gifts as blessings that evoke thankfulness. And while there are losses and disappointments, even tragedy, each of these seniors seemed to have the ability to learn from them, rather than being destroyed by them.
Bianchi cites one man in his 90’s who admits that his wife’s frail health makes this the most difficult season of his life. Yet, this man expresses thankfulness at simply having the gift of already having lived a long life saying, “I am swimming in a sea of gratefulness.”
Other studies talk about forgiveness where doctors, psychiatrists, and psychologists say that people who forgive are healthier than people who do not forgive. Researchers have also found evidence stating that if someone has a heart of thanksgiving, it adds longevity and depth to their life.
What these reports are saying is that forgiveness and thankfulness are good for us, which is something that God, through His word, has been saying all along. But then why haven’t we been getting this message out there? Why does it take secular studies to tell the world what God has given to the church to proclaim?
What it seems like is that non-Christians are espousing biblical truths and living their lives by them, while Christians and the church talk and live like non-believers.
But this is nothing new. When God gave His word and commandments to the children of Israel, they did a really good job at following them at first, but soon they became jaded where God’s word and commandments became a religious thing, it became a religion. They spoke biblically, but lived un-biblically.
And we see much they same thing in the Christian church. Christianity is now more about religion, rules and regulations, than it is about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We tend to preach one thing, but do another.
Concerning this phenonium God said, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (Matthew 15:8)
What it seems like is that God is raising up non-believers and secular voices in order to shake up the church. There’s a whole movement out there talking about biblical themes like integrity, forgiveness, thanksgiving, and helping the poor, but they are being espoused by non-Christians.
And I believe that this is a wakeup call for the church to start living what we say we believe. In fact, God is working the same way today as He did in the past. When the children of Israel wouldn’t listen, God would raise up a nation to bring them into subjection, or to take them captive until they cried out and returned to God’s way and God’s word.
And so, as we approach this time of Christmas let’s be a thankful and forgiving people.
Let’s begin then in our time together with this whole idea of thanksgiving being an essential part of our lives and the lives of those around us. The reason is because there are going to be events that take place that we can’t control, but the giving of thanks and being thankful will help us and others get through them.
This is where being thankful in our prayer life comes in.
Think of it like our Thanksgiving Day meal. While cooking the food we need to season it. If the seasoning isn’t applied, then for the most part there is no taste. But when we add seasoning, it kicks the meal up a notch or two, where it explodes in our mouth and creates a sensation that makes our mouths water.
And this is the same for prayer. There is seasoning that God says we’re to add to our prayers, and that’s the ingredient of thanksgiving. The Bible says that thanksgiving is part of the recipe for our prayer life with God.
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7 NLT)
The one important ingredient that should flavor all our prayers is that of thanksgiving. It’s as if God is saying that this one seasoning kicks our prayer life into gear. Thanksgiving should then be flavoring everything we say and do. We, therefore, need to live with this attitude of gratitude, or as that 90-year-old man said, we need to be “swimming in a sea of gratefulness.”
Therefore, the principle that I would like to present is that
“Thanksgiving is the one seasoning that must be in everything we do.”
We live in an ungrateful world, and an ungrateful age, an age of entitlement. It’s where thankfulness is no longer based upon what we have, but upon what we think we are owed.
Mostly what we hear today is one complaint after another as people fail to get what they think they deserve. Our society is becoming more and more bitter, which is one of the major causes for a lot of phycological and medical problems we are facing.
But even more than that, have you ever noticed how ungrateful people ruin your day? And thinking about that, I wonder if our hearts are like that when God tries to speak into our lives? You see, out of all the people in this world, Christians should be the most thankful and grateful.
“Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.” (Colossians 3:16 NLT)
What is being said is that God’s Word will have its way in our lives when we add thanksgiving to our prayers. And this brings me to another principle of thanksgiving
“Thanksgiving should be on the Front Side of everything we do.”
Now this goes contrary to what we think of when giving thanks. We’ve been taught to say “Thank You,” after something good happens, or when we’ve been given something.
But I don’t think I’ve ever said or heard someone say “Thank You,” when something bad happens. Well that not quite true. I have heard it said sarcastically. Think about this, when was the last time one of your children said “Thank you,” when you’ve had to discipline them for their good.
Further, notice something else. Our “Thank You” is usually on the back side, or after a blessing. And this is true when it comes to God’s blessings. But actually, what this whole principle is saying is that we should be thanking God in the good times as well as the bad times, and “Thank You” should be before, or on the front side.
Maybe think about it like this. The Thanksgiving holiday comes before Christmas, not afterwards.
Thanksgiving Comes Before Christmas.
Understanding and applying this will revolutionize our lives and our prayers.
When our prayers come from a heart of thanksgiving, God will turn a tragedy into a triumph, a mistake into a miracle, and something less into something more. Thanksgiving is the flavoring that opens the windows of heaven, because God delights when a spirit of thanksgiving pervades the church and the life of His people. I think it changes us from being mediocre into something miraculous.
And so, the question that I would like to explore is how we develop a heart and spirit of thanksgiving.
The first principle to develop a thankful heart is humility, but it’s when …
1. Humility Is A Choice
Most of the time our humility is forced upon us, that is, we are humbled when disciplined. But true humility, humility that produces a heart of thanksgiving is a choice.
Think about the times when you were the most thankful? Most of us would say it is when good things happened in our lives. But here is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to thankfulness. Are we thankful for a place to live no matter how bad the place may be? Are we truly thankful for having food to eat, or do we complain about how it taste?
Are we truly thankful for being able to get out of bed, or just to breathe? What I have seen is that the people who are the most thankful for breath are the ones who have problems breathing, especially those with COPD. But shouldn’t those who can breathe fully be just as thankful if not more so?
Thankfulness shouldn’t be just for the good stuff, but also for the everyday blessing, and even for the not so good. Thankfulness should not only be for the morning sun, but also for the dark night.
What delights God is not forced humility but when humility is a choice. And catch this, it is such humility that was chosen by Jesus for our salvation.
“Though He was God, He did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, He gave up His divine privileges … He humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8 NLT)
When there is a voluntary choosing of humility, then we’re being like Christ. But there aren’t too many who choose humility. However, when we do, that is when the heart of Christ and a heart of thanksgiving develop, and this brings God joy.
It delights the Father to see His Son, Jesus Christ, within us regardless of what happens. I believe that this is when the tragedies of life turn into miracles. Look at what the Bible says regarding this.
“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.” (1 Peter 5:6 NKJV)
It’s when we humble ourselves that God lifts us up, and gives us His grace to counter our weaknesses.
This brings us to our second principle
2. Giving That Is Intentional
The most giving people are not what we might think. They are not always the affluent or rich, but rather those who have little to give, but give in spite of their poverty.
When Jesus visited the temple treasury where the people would drop off their tithes and offerings, it was the poor widow who Jesus said gave the most. While others put in vast sums, she put in only two small coins. In other words, she gave out of her poverty, not out of her wealth. She put in everything she had. It is such intentional giving that God pays attention to.
This became clear years ago when I went with our missionary to Mexico to the backside of Ensenada. We were invited into several of their homes that were no larger than 15 feet by 10 feet, with a dirt floor, which they swept daily. They were sweeping dirt! And while they had so little, they insisted we share their meal. They gave and shared what they had, even to the last of what they had.
They didn’t give out of necessity, nor were they forced to give, or asked to give, they gave out of their poverty. It was an intentional giving.
This is what I think our prayers should be, that is, our asking God to take that sort of heart of giving and put it into our hearts.
Each time we give intentionally and sacrificially there is a humility that comes into our hearts as a result. When we give sacrificially we begin to be thankful for what we have been given. But when we withhold things, then we can lose that sense of thankfulness. The act of intentionally giving causes our souls to grow.
When we give sacrificially something happens inside that brings us back to God’s original design so that we’re not conformed by the world, but rather we’re transformed into what God intended.
Look at Paul’s instruction to Timothy for the church
“Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share.” (1 Timothy 6:17-18 NKJV)
Why, it’s because of what Paul goes on to say.
“(Because they are) storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.” (1 Timothy 6:19 NKJV)
When we hold onto things, we think that the quality of our lives is determined by what we possess. But in actuality, when we give to help someone and help them meet their needs; it advances the kingdom of God. When we see the results and the joy of giving, this brings life.
Intentional giving helps build a heart of thanksgiving.
3. Thankfulness That Is A Decision
We need to decide beforehand that we are going to thankful no matter what.
We’ve all heard of these rags to riches stories of how a person turned a negative setback into something positive. Like a person gets fired from their job, but instead of thinking the worse they started doing something they like or are passionate about, and they’ve become successful and happy, all because of something negative that happened.
And this is how we turn those tragedies into triumphs, those mistakes into miracles, and less into more. It’s when Christ is in our lives and we become thankful no matter what happens, and regardless of the circumstances.
Life is made up of 10% of what happens to us, and 90% of what we make out of it. We cannot just wait for something good to happen to be thankful, we need to be thankful at all times with this promise to hold onto.
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28 NKJV)
And so, a heart of thanksgiving is the one ingredient we all need to possess.
There was this guy who had dandelions growing in his front yard. Dandelions is an invasive weed that takes over yard if they are not eradicated. More dandelions mean less grass.
• He tried everything, but nothing worked. So he wrote the county’s agricultural department and asked how he could get rid of dandelions.
• They wrote back, “Use weed and feed. It will feed your grass and kill your dandelions.” But it didn’t work. So again he wrote them telling them that he now had more dandelions than before.
• Again they wrote back saying, “Try this herbal mixture,” and gave him the ingredients. And again it didn’t work. So he wrote back saying that he now had more dandelions than all his neighbors combined.
• They then wrote back telling him to treat the soil with a special chemical, and I think you’ve guessed what happened? Nothing. So he wrote them back telling him that he has so many dandelions that he was now known as the dandelion king.
• They wrote back, “Since you have tried everything and nothing else works, we suggest that you now begin to enjoy dandelions.”
The Bible tells us to develop this heart of thanksgiving.
“In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NKJV)
Notice it says that we are to give thanks “In everything.” This is the heart of thanksgiving, that whether the outcome is good or bad, whether we can control our circumstances or not, we are to bring our prayers to God with a heart of thanksgiving.
For an example, many are going to be invited to a Christmas party, maybe at the place where you work, with family, or with those that you’re not particularly fond of. But instead of being miserable, be thankful for all the free food you can eat.
If we don’t intentionally develop a heart of thanksgiving, we will become bitter, because life isn’t fair nor is it just.
And while we’re all outraged at the injustice that we see around us, we can still be thankful for the justice of God that will prevail in the end.
Let me throw this out there. Sometimes we become just as unjust in our thoughts than the injustice were so worked up about. And if that is the case, we can’t expect others to be what we ourselves are not.
This is why we need to give it over to God in prayer seasoned with thanksgiving, knowing that he will deal with the injustice His way, because He is the only one who is just.
Think of it this way. If God worst hatred was over injustice, then Jesus would have never died, because His trial and death were unjust. But still, Jesus prayed with a heart of thanksgiving humbling Himself, intentionally giving His life for us, and made the decision, “Not my will by Your will be done.”
And He made sure we understood this in that before He was unjustly tried and crucified He took the bread and wine of the Passover Table and gave thanks. He said that the broken bread represented His body that was about to be broken for us, and then He would have said the tradition blessing of, “Blessed are You, Oh Lord our God, King of the universe.”
And then He took the cup and said that it represented His blood that was about to be shed for us, and then again he blessed it and gave thanks.
Jesus gave God the Father thanks even though He knew of Him upcoming death.
When we possess that same heart of thanksgiving then we’ll be like Christ. There is a humility we choose, a giving that is intentional, and a decision to be thankful. And when all these come together, then the power of God will be released turning our tragedies into triumphs, and our mistakes into miracles.
And so, the greatest gift we can give this Christmas is a heart of thanksgiving, and that’s because
“Thanksgiving Always Comes Before Christmas.”
Wednesday Evening Bible Study