Gratitude Deuteronomy 26:1-11 Luke 17:11-19
A country preacher decided to skip worship one Sunday morning to spend the day hiking in the wilderness instead. But as he rounded a sharp bend in the trail, he collided with a bear - and was sent tumbling down a steep grade. He landed on a rock and broke his leg.
With the ferocious bear charging at him from a distance, the preacher prayed, “O Lord! I’m so sorry for skipping church today. Please forgive me and grant me just one request. Make a Christian out of that bear that’s coming at me!”
At that very instant, the bear skidded to a halt, fell to his knees, clasped his paws together and began to pray aloud at the preacher’s feet, “Dear God, please bless this food I am about to receive.”
Stewardship is all about giving God thanks for all He has given us. We’re certainly grateful for all the blessings... the many, many blessings of our lives.
But what if... what if... God only granted us today, the things we were grateful for yesterday?
Giving back to God in grateful appreciation for His blessings dates back to Old Testament times. In Deuteronomy, the Law of Moses commanded the Israelites to give thanks to God for delivering them from slavery in Egypt. They were to give thanks by offering God the “first fruits” of their harvest. They were commanded not take anything for themselves until they had given the “first fruits” to God.
The concept of giving God the “first fruits” was rooted in the fact that everything - EVERYTHING - belongs to God in the first place... And in gratitude that God - who owns everything - grants us blessings from HIS abundance... blessing us with what we need... returning the best to God was/is an act of honor and worship and thanksgiving. God is worthy of the best - the first - not the last or what’s leftover, an afterthought!
We’re attempting to offer God our “first fruits” when we gather on the First Day of the week (the Lord’s Day) for worship. We’re dedicating ourselves... our gifts and graces, to God, as an act of worship.
Of course, by doing so, we’re making a statement: we’ve committed ourselves to living in God’s way. We, like the Israelites, are called to remember and share with others the story of how God has rescued us... redeemed us... saved us.
Which makes the act of giving back to God not only an act of stewardship... but an expression of discipleship... it’s a spiritual discipline that strengthens our faith and gives us the courage to persevere, knowing that as we honor God with our time, talent and treasure... God will bless us again, again, and again.
Of course, if giving an offering was all that God expected... then simply bringing the “first fruit” to the temple and leaving it would have been the end of it!
But true stewardship always involves doing... action... an act of worship. Being truly grateful means thanking God for our talents and abilities by accepting our talents and abilities as obligations to be invested back into the community of faith.
In other words, we’re called to use our talents and abilities to do God’s work... ministry! Being truly grateful means thanking God for all that He has done for us by doing things for others. We honor God best, by “paying it forward...” - we’re blessed to be a blessing.
Of course, it’s easy to be grateful when we feel blessed... isn’t it? But what about those times when we’re down... and struggling? What about the times when we don’t feel so blessed?
*1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.”
*Philippians 4:4 tells us, “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.”
*Isaiah 40:31, “they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”
*Romans 8:28 reminds us that, “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
Sometimes we have to wait until the fruit of God’s labor, God’s timing, appear. Don’t we? God might be preparing us to receive his blessings. He may be teaching us to have faith in him. Sometimes God will withhold blessings to protect us from harm that we can’t see.
We need to be grateful and rejoice in all those blessings in life that are guaranteed... all the blessings that are always present, regardless our circumstances. Things like...
*God never changes... and He’s always with us. That’s guaranteed.
*The Word of God is always with us... a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. That’s guaranteed.
*Jesus, through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit never leaves us, nor forsakes us... period. That’s guaranteed.
*Prayer... we can always pray! Who can stop us? That’s guaranteed. We’re called to be grateful for all the things that can never be taken away.
Of course, in order to have a right relationship with God, we need to have an attitude of gratefulness. We need to be mindful and purposeful when it comes to gratitude.
For example, in our Scripture Lesson, where Jesus encountered “Ten Lepers” who cried out to him for pity... Jesus commanded the Lepers to go and show themselves to the priest in the temple - and they would be healed... but only one of them came back to say thank you, after receiving healing... only ONE was grateful for his blessing.
I think it’s pretty clear, that you and I are called to be like the one who returned - falling at the feet of Jesus to give thanks! We’re called to be grateful.
Of course, being grateful comes from an attitude of obedience to God and his Word. Gratitude doesn’t equate faith with a desired outcome. In other words, gratitude is NOT conditioned upon us getting our way... or getting what we want! Gratitude is an expression of trust... it’s about trusting and thanking God regardless the outcome, or the circumstances.
Paul says in Philippians 4:6-7, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Paul’s not suggesting nor offering a magic formula or easy solution. He’s calling us to the serious business of bringing our lives before God, examining our dependence on God, placing our lives in God’s hands to be used, remembering and celebrating what God has already done... as we confess our needs and dedicate our gifts and graces (and in fact, all that we are) to make our mission... our purpose... God’s kingdom, not our own kingdom.
Let me ask us all this morning: Are we grateful... truly, honestly, grateful... for all the many blessings God has lavished upon us?
Stewardship is not about what your neighbor’s doing. It’s about what WE are doing (what I’m doing) to express, and live, a life of gratitude.
In what ways are you and I giving God our best? Do we offer God our “first fruits” or our leftovers?
Are we grateful? Truly grateful for all the Lord has done for us? Do we return to the feet of Jesus... to worship... to simply thank him... to express our gratefulness for his salvation... his deliverance? Are we mindful of the fact - are we grateful - that Christ redeemed us... we’ve been set free from sin and death?
When we’re grateful... we’re quick to acknowledge our dependence upon God, confessing our need and placing our lives - our whole lives - in the hands of the One who loves us first and loves us most?
Let’s choose to live a life of gratitude.