For the Manahawkin Methodist Congregation, Pastor Choi designates 2014 to be the Year of Gratitude. He begins his message with a comparison between secular understanding and biblical knowledge on words such as ‘grateful,’ ‘thankful,’ and ‘gratitude.’ He exhorts the people of God to become a character of gratitude through daily practice of being thankful to the Lord in all circumstances.
The following is a summary of his message:
2014—the Year of Gratitude 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18
16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
- I praise and thank God for His continued loving kindness and faithfulness to our congregation throughout 2013. I also thank every one of you for your partnership in the ministry of the good news. We indeed work together as partners for God’s Kingdom both here at Manahawkin and in the surrounding communities. Your presence, services, and gifts are always appreciated. I very much look forward to working with you again this year.
- As pastor of this church, I plan to designate each year for our common goals—something that would strengthen our faith and enhance the practice of our beliefs. I designate 2014 to be the year of gratitude: that all of us stay thankful throughout the year. And, I chose 1 Thessalonians 5:18 for my sermon today.
- Now, I know that a lot of us have a trouble accepting 1 Thessalonians 5:18: how can I be grateful / thankful when bad things happen to me?
- Such a question requires some study on words such as ‘grateful,’ ‘thankful,’ and ‘gratitude.’
- Let’s begin with definitions of those words that are most accepted by the people in America.
- Grateful: is “feeling or showing thanks because someone has done something kind for you or has done as you asked” (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary).
- Thankful: is “pleased about something good that has happened, or something bad that has not happened” (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary).
- Gratitude: is “the feeling of being grateful and wanting to express your thanks” (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary).
- Under such an understanding of ‘grateful,’ and ‘thankful,’ the people in America interchangeably use ‘thankful’ and ‘grateful’. That’s the exact mindset people have, even the people of God, when they read a text such as 1 Thessalonians 5:18: be thankful in all (both good and bad) circumstances. They cry out, “I can be grateful for all the blessings, but don’t ask me to be thankful for something bad! I can’t do it!” We are all conditioned to be thankful / grateful for only good things.
- This is why we need to listen to what the Bible says about gratitude so that we may understand today’s passage: to be thankful in all circumstances.
- First of all, the Bible clearly differs from the world in terms of understanding and using of those words. The Bible, like the secular world, uses the word ‘grateful’ for things that are considered good. When it comes down to all things both good and bad, however, unlike the secular world, the Word of God employs the word ‘thankful’ rather than ‘grateful’. In other words, the Bible brings up and expands the secular definition of ‘gratitude’ to one higher level. ‘Gratitude’ in the Bible and in the lives of the believers means more than ‘being grateful for something good that has happened to you.’ It, rather, means ‘being thankful’ than ‘being grateful’. In all circumstances.
- Based on such biblical understanding, here are my own definitions of the three words:
- Grateful: is same as the Oxford Dictionary. It is “feeling or showing thanks because someone has done something kind for you or has done as you asked” (Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary).
- Thankful: is “pleased about something good that has happened,” (same as the first half of Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary) or “trusting in the Lord for something bad that has happened” (the second half is mine).
- Gratitude: is “being thankful in all circumstances, not just in good ones.”
- Now, we are ready to talk about gratitude. Gratitude is our call. God has called us the Christians to be thankful in ALL circumstances. Be thankful always. That’s our call.
- For three reasons: It is God’s will, it is better than ingratitude, and it is good for your health.
- First of all, it is God’s will for us to be thankful in all circumstances. God wants every child of His to be thankful. He wants you and me to stay thankful in all life situations: both good and bad. When we live out a life of gratitude, it brings glory and honor to the Lord. When we live out a life of thankfulness that transcends circumstances, it sets us apart from the people in the world that show their gratitude only in good circumstances.
- Sometimes, I don’t understand why bad things happen when I never want them to. Neither do I understand why good things don’t happen when I badly need them to. However, over the years, I’ve learned a lesson: that is, when I obey God’s command to be thankful whether I like it or not, whether I understand it or not, in the end, I always harvest wisdom and the fruit of my obedience. I’ve seen in my life that simple obedience to God brings forth unexpected benefits. I will get to this later in the sermon.
- Why be thankful? Because when we are thankful, it brings us closer to God. Because it keeps our communication lines open with God. For instance, did you know that gratitude is a prerequisite to prayers? Do you want your prayers answered? Then, begin them with thanksgiving, because gratitude paves the way for our prayers to God just like when we are thankful to people, it lubricates our relationships with each other. The more we say thanks to people, the better relationships we enjoy with each other. Same thing with God.
- Being thankful also deepens our trust in the Lord. Trust in the Lord means to acknowledge God even in bad circumstances when nothing makes sense to us. Trust in the Lord means to tell God that He knows what He is doing when we don’t. E.g. Cancer survivors. Almost all of whom I know say that they were thankful that it happened to them, because it taught them the life’s priorities. Gratitude is a sign of trust in God while ingratitude and grumbling is a sign of distrust in God. By being thankful in all circumstances we declare that we believe in God’s ultimate good will for us and that the same God will make all things good in the end as He promised (Romans 8:28).
- Show me anyone who walks with the Lord, and I will show you a life filled with gratitude.
- Next, gratitude is a better option than ingratitude or grumbling. If you continue on the path of daily complaint and grumbling, soon it will turn you into a seasoned complainer. The opposite is true with the path of gratitude. Which character path would you like to take?
- Think of Job in the Bible: After he lost everything he owned, after all of his ten children perished in one day, and even after he lost his health, Job didn’t sin against God with his lips (c.f. His wife wanted him to curse God and die). His action not to complain to God in such a difficult time was more than the result of sheer human will. Such a character wasn’t developed overnight, either. It was rather a by-product of Job’s life-long practice of gratitude.
- Lastly, gratitude is good for your health. It’s the real chicken soup for your soul. A lot of us are into body exercise for our physical health hoping that it would keep us fit and healthy for the coming years. Indeed, physical exercise is important and a bit of help for your body. However, very few of us realize that godliness is profitable for all good things: in all areas of spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being, not only in this life but also in the life to come (1Timothy 4:8). So, why not be thankful if you care so much about your well-being?
- Remember I promised at the beginning of my sermon to talk about unexpected benefits of obeying God’s command to be thankful? Here we go. E.g. My triglycerides number was 205 three years ago. It’s a borderline between healthy and unhealthy life style (below 200 is all right, and above 200 is not good). Some doctors would put you on cholesterol medicine with such a number. Instead of putting me on medication, though, my doctor wanted me to monitor my stress level for the next year. Almost at the same time, unrelated to this medical finding, I started practicing being thankful every day. Six months later, I had blood work done again. This time the number went down to 150. Mind you that there was no change in my diet or exercise habits during that time. The only reason I can think of that contributed to this positive change was gratitude: just being thankful everyday improved my health. When the level of gratitude goes up, the level of stress comes down, and so do the bad numbers.
- The Year of Gratitude kicks off today. Throughout the year, I urge everyone to be thankful in all circumstances so that we may become a character of gratitude and bring glory and honor to our Lord in Heaven.
- I plan to remind you of gratitude every other month: six times this year on the first Sunday of January, March, May, July, September, and November.
- I will also introduce you some practical ways to hone your gratitude skills daily.
- As a starter, please pick up your scroll today during communion. One for each person. I prayerfully have chosen 18 verses from the Bible—all are related to thankfulness. Your scroll will have one of those verses. You can memorize the verse or post the scroll on the most visible place where you can see it often throughout the day, such as a bathroom mirror, bedroom, even the refrigerator door so that you may ponder it throughout the year. Let us take every opportunity to give thanks to God for His blessings, for unfulfilled dreams, and even for the things we consider bad. In the end, we will abundantly harvest the fruit of gratitude in all areas of life: physical, emotional, financial, and spiritual.
- Let’s pray.