Much Obliged

Much Obliged

How often do we find ourselves prompting our children to say “thank you?” Whenever they’re offered a treat from a friend or an adult helps them out, we find ourselves asking, “Now, what do you say?” We want our children to be respectful and use good manners, which are why we teach them to say “Thank you,” but I wonder if in our attempt to produce properly mannered children, we actually overlook the purpose for thankfulness. Do we bring our children to a place where thankfulness is more than politeness; to a recognition of God’s provision? Better yet, are we at a place where thankfulness is recognition of God’s provision?

Many years ago, the Peanuts cartoon pictured Charlie Brown bringing out Snoopy’s dinner on Thanksgiving Day. But it was just his usual dog food in a bowl. Snoopy took one look at the dog food and said, "This isn’t fair. The rest of the world is eating turkey with all the trimmings, and all I get is dog food. Because I’m a dog, all I get is dog food." He stood there and stared at his dog food for a moment, and said, "I guess I should be thankful. I could be a turkey."

There was very little joy in Snoopy’s thankfulness, for his thankfulness was based on a comparison. His thankfulness was based on the fact that he was better off than the turkey. Therein lies a small lesson, in that, when we’re down in the dumps and full of complaints because life isn’t fair, we should recognize that there are so many others far worse off.

However, thankfulness is so much more than a comparison of our own situation to someone else’s. Thankfulness is so much more than having enough food to eat, a nice, warm home to live in, good health, or financial security, because each of those circumstances can be taken from us in an instant. Thankfulness is a state of being and a way of life, and we usually fail to live in a state of thankfulness because we take our blessings for granted and forget about God.

When I was younger, I would often hear adults say the words “Much obliged". I haven’t heard that expression for a long time. I suppose we do hear it once in a while, but by and large it is a forgotten phrase. It is a colloquialism that we used to use, but which has been largely forgotten.

But maybe that phrase expresses what Thanksgiving really ought to be. Because "to be obliged" means that someone has done us a favor, and therefore, we are indebted to return the favor - to do something in return.

As we consider our blessings, we surely must conclude that we are indeed "much obliged." Much has been given to us; therefore, we have a tremendous obligation. But to whom are we obliged and what is that obligation?

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 "Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus."

Notice that it doesn’t say, "Give thanks FOR all circumstances," but rather, "give thanks IN all circumstances." No matter how terrible some of the circumstances of life may be, it is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus to be joyful always, pray continually, and give thanks to God. That is our obligation. By the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, we can sincerely do it and glorify God.

Harriet Martineau was an atheist. One morning she and a friend stepped out into the glories of a beautiful fall morning. As she saw the brilliant sun peeking through the haze, and the frost on the meadow, and the brightly colored leaves making their way lazily to the ground, she was overcome with the beauty and burst forth with "I am just so grateful for it all." And her friend asked, "Grateful to whom, my dear?"

That’s a good question. If we are grateful, really thankful, then the next question would have to be, "Grateful to whom?" Make sure that it is the right person. It makes a lot of difference to whom we are obliged.

For example, scanning the headlines of the latest scandals in America’s schools, we read about cheating, bullying, cyber-sexting, hazing, molestation, suicide, drug abuse, assault, and murder. It’s quite clear the problem is not that there’s too much God in students’ lives or in the classroom. The problem is that there isn’t nearly enough of Him.

Rather than acknowledge or teach there is a God from whom all blessings flow, to whom we should give thanks, many public schools refer to Thanksgiving Day as “Turkey Day”. They don’t’ want to offend anyone who doesn’t believe in God. So, they tell students about the Pilgrims eating a turkey and thanking the Indians for teaching them how to survive in their new home, and they leave God out of the feast. How sad. Without God, life is meaningless and without purpose. Therefore, it is easy to come to the conclusion that we might as well cheat, bully, cyber-sext, haze, molest, abuse drugs, assault, murder, and kill ourselves. What difference does it make? I have no obligation to anyone but myself. It’s my life and I will do what I want!

However, King David knew the answer to the question, “grateful to whom?” David was a shepherd boy who became the hero of a nation; a hunted fugitive who became its king; a condemned sinner who became a "man after God’s own heart." From David, we get several psalms of praise and thanksgiving unto God.

Psalms 103:1-5 Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits--who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

When we focus on all of God’s benefits and blessings, we should be thankful. But be sure that you, like King David, are obliged to the right person. Then make sure you thank God for the right reasons.

If you were to draw up a Thanksgiving list of things for which you are grateful, what would you put on the list? I know some of the things that I would naturally list.

1. First of all, I’m thankful for the country in which I live.

2. Secondly, despite all my aches and pains, I’m thankful for physical blessings, too. Someone said, "Count your fingers and toes, and thank Him that you can see your fingers and toes, and that you have the ability to move them. Then if your mind is sharp enough to count that high, give God thanks for your mind, too."

3. Thirdly, I thank God for supplying me with everything that I really need. No, I don’t have everything I would like to have, but He has met all of my needs and made me content. And I know that He is the supplier of "every good and perfect gift" that comes my way.

Such a list could go on and on, but are these the best reasons to be thankful? Let’s take a look at the list that David made in Psalm 103.

He begins by thanking God for being a God “who forgives all your sins." He doesn’t begin by thanking God for making him King. He doesn’t mention that Israel had become the strongest nation in the world during his reign. No, first of all, he thanks God for forgiving our sins. David realized that is the most precious gift that any of us can ever receive. God has provided the way for our sins to be forgiven through His Son’s atonement on the Cross. What a tremendous gift of love, for this gift gives meaning and purpose to life! We are precious in God’s sight. For this gift, we are much obliged to live holy unto the Lord!

Then he says that God "heals all your diseases." David didn’t know anything about germs or infection. All he knew was, when the people of Israel obeyed God’s laws, they didn’t have the plagues that laid waste the nations around them. And when troubles arose and they called upon God for help and repented of their sin, He always delivered and healed them.

We may not be able to understand everything that happens in life, but I’m convinced that God is still the great physician, that He still heals us, and knows the deepest needs of our life even better than we do. Sometimes that deepest need is repentance and forgiveness. So whether our need is physical or psychological or spiritual, God is our healer, deliverer, and redeemer. When our body wears out and we leave it behind, if Jesus is our Lord and Savior, we have eternal life with Him. For that, we are much obliged.

Next, David says that God "redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion." God certainly did that for King David, and He is still doing it today through faith in Jesus Christ. I thank Him for His love and mercy every day, because I don’t deserve the abundant blessings He has given me. I am much obliged.

Then David says that God "satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s." I like the sound of that. But when I’m standing in front of a mirror, I realize I wasn’t born with gray hair or poor eyesight or the wrinkles I have now.

Paul best explains what David is saying in 2 Corinthians 4:16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.

For the Christian, as our bodies grow weaker, we become more dependent on God for our strength. As we draw closer to Him each day, our spirit is renewed with love, peace, and joy. These good things satisfy our desires and renew us daily as we look forward to being with Jesus.

But not everybody is sharing in our joy and thanksgiving this morning. There are many who are suffering. Each week our congregation spends time praying for people on our prayer list. On that prayer list you’ll see some who are anticipating surgery, others with a terminal illness, some who are struggling with family or financial problems. Others will have an empty chair at their Thanksgiving dinner because a family member died recently. Some don’t have the joy of knowing Jesus Christ as their Savior. In fact, if the whole truth were known, almost everybody here is suffering in one way or another, and if not today, then tomorrow.

It was Job who said, Job 5:7 Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.

Even so, we can still give praise and thanksgiving to God. Why? Because the great difference between God’s people and all the rest is that God’s people do not suffer alone. We have nothing to fear. We have His comfort.

Psalm 23:4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

With the comfort God gives us, we can show our thanksgiving and meet our obligation by comforting others. Everyone hurts. The people who never darken the door of the church are hurting. The people who never lift a voice in praise or thanksgiving to God are hurting, too. The great difference is that when we hurt, God, the Holy Spirit, is here to help us through those difficult moments of life. It is our obligation to lead hurting people to Jesus, who will help them, too.

Exodus 2:24 God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.

You and I forget names that we were told just a few minutes ago. Friends that used to be a part of our lives move away and soon we forget their names, too. But God, who created billions of people that He loves, never forgets them. For instance, He heard the groaning of Israel and He remembered the covenant that He made with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Exodus 3:7 The LORD said, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.

We, who have been grafted into the family of God by re-birth of the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus, are God’s people. God is saying, "I hear every cry that comes from the lips of my people, every prayer from the depths of their hearts. I’m concerned about their tears and their suffering. And I’m reaching down to rescue them." That is another good reason to be thankful, isn’t it?

It has been my experience that when our children or grandchildren are hurting, that those are usually the times when we are most able to communicate our love and concern to them. Because they are hurting, we scoop them up in our arms.

Or if they are too big for that, we try to communicate verbally our love for them. We want them to know that we hurt, too, because they do. And we try to do everything we can to ease the hurt. Those have been tender, precious moments.

And some of our greatest moments with God have been the times we have hurt the most, when we felt the most empty, when we’ve cried from the depths of our soul, to find that He was there, always faithful, always keeping His promise.

This morning, if you are here and you are going through the trials of life without the help of Jesus, then we want you to know that you don’t have to continue down that lonesome road any longer. God sent His Son into the world, as the sacrifice for your sin, which separates you from God. It is finished. Your debt has been paid. Your life has meaning and a purpose. You can find that comfort, meaning, and purpose by choosing to enter into a love relationship with God, your Maker, through faith in Jesus Christ and His work on the Cross. Repent of being your own boss and receive forgiveness of your sins through the precious blood of Jesus. Then you can begin your list of blessings this Thanksgiving Day with "I thank God that He has forgiven me of all my sin."