Tremont United Methodist Church
Sermon by Noah D. Lee
November 22, 2009
The Secret of Thanksgiving
First of all, I want to say how happy my family and I are to be in Tremont. After 9 years of ministry in Texas, we decided we wanted to know what winter was and moved here. I accepted the call to be the minister of Tremont Baptist Church, effective July 1. We are thankful for the kindness and warmth we have received from the good folks here in Tremont.
I am particularly delighted to be involved in tonight’s service. It is very good and fitting for Christians who love the Lord Jesus Christ to come together and express our common commitment to the Lord, to pray for our community, and to demonstrate sincere thanks to our God for all the good he has done for us in the past year. I am grateful for all the preparations made by Reverend Travis and the good folks here at Tremont United Methodist Church. I’m also glad to see many of my friends from the Tremont Baptist Church as well as others from the community.
I’m a list maker. I’ve made it my custom for several years now to make a list of things I’m thankful for during the Thanksgiving season. At some point this week, I will find a quiet corner and write down things I am particularly grateful for over the last year. I won’t share my personal lists with you, but I did come across one you might find interesting.
5 Things Housewives are Thankful for During Thanksgiving
1. Automatic dishwashers. They make it possible to get out of the kitchen before the family come in for their after-dinner snacks.
2. Husbands who attack small repair jobs around the house. They usually make them big enough to call in professionals.
3. Children who put away their things and clean up after themselves. They’re such a joy you hate to see them go home to their own parents.
4. Football. They provide an opportunity for afternoon naps.
5. Smoke alarms. They let you know when the turkey’s done.
Thanksgiving is more than a day
I love Thanksgiving Day. Watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade while the aromas of lunch waft in from the kitchen… Eating a delicious meal with family… Watching football… afternoon naps… playing football in the backyard… eating leftovers… laughing… playing games… being with people I love the most in this world… What joy it is.
But for Christians, Thanksgiving shouldn’t come just one day a year. We may not have the elaborate celebrations or meals. But the spirit of thanksgiving ought to permeate our very souls.
The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Thanksgiving it a perpetual attitude and disposition all Christians are to have.
Question: How can we develop an attitude of perpetual gratitude?
The Secret of Thanksgiving
Tonight, for just a few moments, I want to share with you the secret of thanksgiving.
We find the secret in Verse 11 of our text.
I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.
Contentment is the secret to thanksgiving. Until you and I learn to be content, we will never be thankful.
Author and speaker Steve Brown writes in his book Jumping Hurdles:
“The most unhappy person in the world is not someone who didn’t get what he or she wanted. The most unhappy person is the one who got what he or she wanted and then found out that it wasn’t as wonderful as expected. The secret of a happy life is not to get what you want but to live with what you’ve got. Most of us spend our lives concentrating on what we don’t have instead of thanking God for what we do have.” (pg. 150)
How many of us have closets, garages, basements, and storage buildings full of stuff we thought might make us happy only to discover it didn’t.
But the issue is not just related to things. It is related to the circumstances of our lives. We are unhappy because of our job situation. Or we complain about the situations we find ourselves in.
Before we will be truly thankful in all circumstances, we must learn contentment in life.
Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs wrote a wonderful book on the subject of contentment titled The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. Burroughs, who died in 1646, was very insightful when he called contentment a rare jewel.
• Contentment, like a jewel, is a precious, priceless treasure. It is to be prized by every Christian because God himself values it so much.
• And like other costly jewel, contentment certainly is rare. It not only was the case in Burroughs’ day, but ours as well. In fact, an argument might be made that we, living in the 21st century, who benefit from and have much more than any other generation in history, are less satisfied and less content now than ever before.
Burroughs defines contentment as “the inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, freely submitting to and taking pleasure in God’s disposal in every condition.”
How can you and I develop such a spirit about us? How can you and I become content in whatever circumstance we find ourselves in?
Happily, it is something we can learn. Paul said, “I have learned to be content.” I am delighted to find a saint of Paul’s spiritual stature saying, “I had to learn something. Here is an area where I had to grow” because I have to learn it and grow in it too.
Background of Philippians and the Surprise of Contentment
Now it is one thing to be content when you have everything you need or want. It is easy to learn to be content when you are comfortable and free. It is easy not to complain when everything is going your way. We might be tempted to think that Paul was on easy street when he wrote Philippians. But we would be mistaken.
Paul wrote this letter while in chains. He was under house arrest. He had limited freedom, but he was not permitted to leave his house. He had guards with him 24 hours a day. He was dependent upon the kindness of others to provide for his needs.
When Paul wrote “I’ve learned the secret of being content in any and every circumstance” he was not sitting under an umbrella on the beach sipping lemonade watching the surf roll in. He was experiencing real hardship.
In fact, Paul’s entire Christian life was marked by hardship. In 2 Corinthians Paul chronicles some of the hardships he endured.
2 Cor. 11:23b-28 (NIV) …I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again.  Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.  Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea,  I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers.  I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.  Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.
Let’s be honest. How many of us would have thrown in the towel with just a couple of those things happening to us?
Instead, Paul can write to the Philippian Christians, while in jail, “I’m content.”
How in the world can you and I learn to be content and by extension learn to be thankful? The same way Paul did.
I see Five practices Paul engaged in to learn contentment. They are the same practices you and I need to learn to develop contentment in our lives.
First, we must rejoice in the glorious presence of God.
Paul says “Rejoice and be gentle.” The way we are able to do these things is by recognizing God is with us.
Jesus promised in Matthew 28, before returning to heaven “I am with you always, even until the end of the age.”
Hebrews 13:5 (NKJV) Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."
When you are going through the best or the worst in life, you ought to always remember that the Lord is with you.
And let’s be honest, if the Lord is with us, what else do we really need?
Discontentment for a Christian is essentially declaring, “Lord, you are not enough in my life. I need and want something more than you. You are insufficient for my needs.” How blasphemous such an attitude is.
Content Christians are people who are keenly aware of the presence of God in their lives. They continually rejoice. They do not get stirred up or distressed with others. Instead they are gentle and calm of spirit because the Lord is near.
So first, we must rejoice in the glorious presence of God. Secondly, we must rest in the prefect peace and provision of God.
Philippians 4:6-7, 9
One of the greatest privileges we enjoy as Christians is the privilege of prayer. And oh how shameful it is that we would neglect such a precious gift. But for the Christian who is committed to prayer instead of worry, supplication instead of anxiety, what a gift of peace awaits!
Friends, contentment doesn’t mean we ignore pain, sorrow, or difficulty in life. Rather, it takes those things to the Lord and gives them to Him. We present our requests, our grief, our sorrow, all of it to the Lord and we lay it at His feet. And in exchange, he gives us his peace.
One reason so many Christians are not content is they are too busy with worry. And the reason they worry is they think God is going to fail. Or God is too small to handle their problems.
Peace of mind and spirit go hand in hand with contentment. And we will not be content until we lay our burdens at the feet of Jesus.
Dear friends, one of the many precious gifts we have from Christ through is cross is his continual, divine intercession for us. Jesus even now prays and intercedes for you while he sits at the right hand of the Father. So don’t hold on to your worries any more. Give them to Jesus. Get peace and learn to be content.
First, we must rejoice in the glorious presence of God. Second, we must rest in the perfect peace and provision of God through Jesus Christ.
Third, we must refocus on the beautiful things of God.
It would do a world of good for some of you to not watch the news or read the newspaper for a week. Bad news sells and we can get fixated on all the bad news out there. It becomes like a toxin in our souls. Soon we have lost faith and we despair.
Instead we ought to look into that which is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. This means we ought to begin in the Word of God and spend more time there, listening to his voice through Holy Scripture.
We should focus on the good things and beautiful things God is doing. Even in the worst of times, circumstances and situations, we can find the good of God at work.
As the old hymn says, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.”
First, we must rejoice in the glorious presence of God. Second, we must rest in the perfect peace and provision of God through Jesus Christ. Third, we must refocus on the beautiful things of God.
Fourthly, Let us recognize the kindness of God through his people.
Philippians 4:10, 14
The Lord has not created us to be alone. We are a family of believers, brothers and sisters in Christ. We are to love and care for one another. As the Lord so allows, we are to watch for and help each other in our times of need.
Galatians 6:10 (NIV) Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
God works through us to care for each other.
Sometimes we let pride prevent us from caring for each other. Don’t rob yourself of this blessing.
Be humble and be willing to be blessed by your brothers and sisters. And see the hand of God in all of it.
Finally, we have seen that to learn contentment like Paul, we must: rejoice in the glorious presence of God; rest in the perfect peace and provision of God through Jesus Christ; refocus on the beautiful things of God; recognize the kindness of God through his people
And fifthly, we must rely on the powerful strength of God.
This is a very popular verse, used by many. Often, Christian athletes will use this as a life verse. It is the motto verse of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. But this verse isn’t about athletic ability or other forms of achievement.
This verse means, in its context, that you and I can do all that God would have us do, go through all God would have us go through, be all God would have us to be, because His strength is at work in us.
Again, Jeremiah Burroughs in The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment writes:
A Christian finds satisfaction in every circumstance by getting strength from another, by going out of himself to Jesus Christ, by his faith acting upon Christ, and bringing the strength of Jesus Christ into his own soul, he is thereby enabled to bear whatever God lays on him, by the strength that he finds from Jesus Christ… There is strength in Christ not only to sanctify and save us, but strength to support us under all our burdens and afflictions, and Christ expects that when we are under any burden, we should act our faith upon him to draw virtue and strength from him. (p. 63)
I’ve heard it said, “The Lord won’t give you more than you can bear.” It is a pleasant idea, but it doesn’t find support in the Bible. In fact, I think the notion that God won’t give you more than you can bear is completely unbiblical.
Jesus said in 2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV) "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."
No friends. You will have more than you can bear and the Lord will give it to you. But the Lord will never give you more than He can bear for you.
When we rely on his strength and power, we can be content in whatever we face, because we know He is sustaining us through it.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us learn the secret of thanksgiving. Let us be content. Let us delight in the Lord and in Jesus Christ, our Savior. Let us find joy, peace, beauty, kindness, and strength in him.
He supplies all our needs. He gives us our daily bread. He is the satisfaction of our soul. He is our savior. Let us therefore be happy with Him and give thanks.