Summary: God’s people are to marked by thankful hearts and lives.
I discovered “Holiday Heart Syndrome” from the electro-cardiologist who was a member of our church. Over the holidays, people often eat and drink more than usual. The sudden excess can cause an otherwise healthy heart to develop an abnormal rhythm, a fast and ineffective heartbeat. I am no cardiologist, but I would warn you of another heart danger — the Ungrateful Heart Syndrome.
Like a “Holiday Heart,” this condition strikes those who overindulge. Not in drink, but in focus on self and forgetfulness of God. And as with every heart condition, we ought to know the causes and cures, that we might live full and happy lives. Psalm 107 tests our hearts, asking if we know the grace of gratitude toward God. [Read Psalm 107. Pray.]
A certain man, living in Budapest, Hungary, went to his rabbi, complaining: “Life is unbearable. Nine of us must live in the one room of my house. What can I do?”
The rabbi answers, “Take your goat into the room with you.” The man is incredulous. Certain he has misheard, he asks again. But the rabbi insists: “Do as I say; take your goat into your one room and come back in a week.”
One week later the man returns, even more distraught: “We cannot stand it; the goat is filthy, it stinks and it destroys everything.”
The rabbi pauses, thinking deeply, and says: “You will return to your home and remove the goat. And come back in one week.”
When the man returns the next week, he is radiant: “Life is beautiful! We enjoy life so much and are so thankful — there are only nine of us in the house.”
Perspective — a different perspective transforms attitudes. Our thoughts actually bend our feelings. So the Bible says that becoming truly grateful requires that we think about life and see the world as God does.
William Shakespeare has King Lear say: “Sharper than a serpent’s tooth is a thankless child.” Maybe you feel Lear’s sentiment. Mom labors hours over a hot stove, and dad rises thrice during the meal to refill cups, clean up plates, and serve desserts, but not a peep of gratitude reaches their ears. “Sharper than a serpent’s tooth is a thankless child.” The bite hurts when those for whom we do so much appreciate it so little.
Scottish Presbyterian Pastor, David Dickson (c. 1640): “There is no duty to which we are more dull or at which we are more awkward than the praise of God and thanksgiving unto Him; neither is there any duty for which we are in more need of being stirred up.” (Quoted in Spurgeon’s Commentary on the Psalms, in loc).
As we prepare for a national day of Thanksgiving, we may not feel particularly thankful. We are easily discouraged; life is difficult; often, things do not go the way we plan. We may not appreciate God because we do not feel appreciated by God. Maybe God would have us “bring a goat in the house” and be stirred to gratitude. I have entitled today’s message “A Holiday Heart.” Just as your cardiologist runs tests, may the Scriptures diagnose the disease and set us on a cure. To do so, let us first ask:
1. Question 1: Am I Naturally Thankful?
Most people consider themselves to be. On Wednesday night, at our Thanksgiving eve service, we will read from the President’s Thanksgiving Day proclamation, which begins: “Americans are a grateful people, ever mindful of the many ways we have been blessed.” Ever mindful — are we? Is the music of our hearts truly tuned to thanksgiving for what we have, or complaining for what we lack?
Psalm 107 was written because Israel needed reminding to be thankful for God’s redemption — his redemption from wandering in the desert, from imprisonment, from sickness and sin and from being lost on the sea. Though experiencing God’s help and favor again and again, the people were not grateful. Their attitude was more of: “What have you done for me lately?”
Those who claim to be Christians have far more reason for grateful hearts than even the church of the Old Testament. Yet we may be quick to leave off thankfulness when God’s providence includes a frown.
I admit — thanksgiving is not my ready response to trials and troubles. James reminds me: “Count it all joy…when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1.2-4). But what James counsels me to call “all joy,” I typically grumble about as misery.
One particularly disappointing time in my career, I called one of the elders from the first church I pastored. I told him of my struggles, of how being a pastor threatened to overwhelm me, and of the inadequacies I felt. I said, “Jim, I’m not sure I know how to find God’s will anymore.” He immediately responded: “1Thessalonians 5.16-18: Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Jim is correct — when we doubt and despair and don’t know what to do — then we most benefit from giving thanks with rejoicing!