Gratitude Is Born in Hearts that Take Time to Count Up Past Mercies!
O Lord, as I prepare to join my spiritual brothers and sisters in worship on this day of thanksgiving, fill my heart with gratitude towards You in view of Your past and present mercies. You have blessed me in so many ways, Lord! With Jeremiah of old, I proclaim: "Great is Your faithfulness!" May I ever rejoice in Your forgiveness, eagerly praise Your name, attentively listen to Your Word, and go forth joyously to serve You with faithfulness until my life's end. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.
Paul encourages us in our Christian lives. We are to work together to accomplish that which is good, to rejoice and give thanks in all things, to test all things, and to hold fast to everything that is good!
Text: Lamentations 3:22-24
Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I hope in Him.”
In Christ Jesus, our merciful Savior upon whom we rest our hopes, dear fellow redeemed:
Gratitude—it is the big word printed across the top of your bulletins today…it is a concept so very important for us in our Christian lives! It is important, for its presence or absence affects every one of our relationships either positively or negatively. This is true whether we are talking about our relationship with God or with one another. Gratitude is that feeling of appreciation and thankfulness which arises within our hearts when we recognize that someone has been kind to us. GRATITUDE, as the cover of your bulletins once again states, IS BORN IN HEARTS THAT TAKE TIME TO COUNT UP PAST MERCIES! Let us take time today to do that—to count up past mercies. For then not only will our hearts be filled with gratitude towards God and others, but as we consider the words of our text in connection with that review of God’s mercies, we will recognize that the mercies we receive are mercies we do not deserve, they are also mercies that just keep on coming, and that all of our blessings are in fact mercies proceeding from the LORD!
It is difficult for gratitude to take root and grow in a heart filled with pride. A heart filled with pride believes it deserves everything it receives and so feels no gratitude—just impatience with those whom it views as supplying just deserts. Instead of looking back with thankfulness or rejoicing in present blessings, the heart filled with pride looks ahead to what it has become accustomed to receiving by what it considers to be its right.
Jeremiah’s attitude, in stark contrast, reveals knowledge which the Spirit of God alone places in the penitent sinner’s heart. He writes, “Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.” Jeremiah was living through what few if any of us has ever endured. His homeland had been invaded by the forces of Nebuchadnezzar. The city in which he lived, Jerusalem, and the temple, in which he had served and at which he had worshipped, had been destroyed. It lay around him in smoldering heaps of burnt stones and charred timbers. In stark contrast with its former glory, Jerusalem was described by Jeremiah in this way as he began Lamentations: “How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow is she, who was great among the nations! The princess among the provinces has become a slave!” (1:1) Yet, in the midst of devastation we do not find Jeremiah complaining and blaming God for his situation and that of his homeland—suggesting that God was somehow unfair. Rather, he recognizes that if they had received what they deserved, they would no longer be living, for their many sins deserved the just judgment of God. But, Jeremiah states that God’s compassions never fail. Instead of judgment, Jeremiah experienced mercy and grace—forgiveness and the promise of future blessings through a Savior of whom he was privileged to prophesy!
In the same way true gratitude will only grow in our hearts when we too realize that we do not deserve the mercies we so richly receive. Who among us can claim that during the past year, we have been free from sin—that all our thoughts have been pure, that all our words have been encouraging, that all our actions have been selfless and helpful to others? None of us can, for our confessions each Sunday morning in church are accurate—we do sin in thought, word, and deed, and we do so often. Truly, were God to deal with us directly and in accordance with what we deserve, we would be condemned. Yet, our Savior God has loved us and given His Son for us, so that the judgment which we so rightly deserve was endured by Jesus on our behalf. “What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul,” we sing, “that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul!” (Worship Supplement, 723:1) We cannot rightly explain it, yet the fact that we are the objects of God’s redeeming love in Christ is the foundation of the gratitude we find in our hearts! GRATITUDE IS BORN IN HEARTS THAT TAKE TIME TO COUNT UP PAST MERCIES…mercies we do not deserve, but mercies we have so richly received beginning with God’s forgiveness of our sins!
But let us count up some of those past mercies, for as Jeremiah explains they are mercies that just keep coming! Jeremiah writes, “His compassions are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness!” Let us count up some of our every day blessings—those we often do not think about. This morning all of us no doubt woke up sleeping in a bed covered by sheets and blankets in our own or perhaps a shared bedroom. We entered a bathroom in which we could turn on lights. There was heat and running water—a sink, a toilet, and a bathtub or shower. We had a razor with which to shave, soap with which to wash up, soft towels with which to dry off. We had deodorant and toothpaste, make-up for some…cologne for others. We put on several layers of clothing, picking them out from an assortment in a closet set aside for storage or a dresser often overflowing with items we often do not use. Do you know that I have just described material blessings which separate us from probably 90% of all other human beings, and I have not yet even gotten us to breakfast! Consider then our refrigerators full of food; our toasters, microwaves, ovens, and dishwashers; our single, double, and triple garages filled with cars, trucks, SUV’s, four-wheelers, and snowmobiles! Truly “His compassions are new every morning,” but their presence will not lead our hearts to gratitude, if we never think about them and the One who gives them to us, but rather take them for granted!
I was reading a book this week by a well-known Christian author, who earlier in his life was an atheist. He was at that time in his life a newspaper reporter and he spoke of writing a human interest story about a family in the Chicago area by the name of Delgatos. The family was made up of a disabled grandmother named Perfecta, who lived with her two granddaughters, Lydia and Jenny. A fire had destroyed the tenement building in which they had once lived and the three of them had moved into a two room apartment. When the reporter visited them, they had no furniture in their home apart from a small kitchen table and only a handful of rice with which to survive. The girls had lost all of their clothes except one short-sleeve dress for each of them and one sweater between them. When they walked to school, one would wear the sweater half way and then the other. Yet, in spite of their dire straights, the reporter mentioned that they had not given up their faith in Jesus and the little two room apartment seemed filled with feelings of hope and peace. Some weeks later on Christmas Eve the reporter decided to stop by the apartment to see how the three were getting along. To his amazement the apartment was filled with furniture, appliances, and rugs. There was a brilliant Christmas tree with wrapped packages piled underneath. Dozens of warm coats lay stacked in one corner. The people in Chicago, who had read the human interest story, had responded in a big way to meet the needs of this family. What amazed the reporter, however, was that Perfecta and her two granddaughters were in the process of distributing the various gifts among their neighbors who also had very few possessions. When asked by the reporter, Perfecta told him: “We did nothing to deserve this—it’s a gift from God. But it is not his greatest gift. No, we celebrate that tomorrow. That is Jesus!” GRATITUDE IS BORN IN HEARTS THAT TAKE TIME TO COUNT UP PAST MERCIES! At times when we go without, we become more aware of the mercies that just keep coming!
Even more importantly, genuine gratitude recognizes that all mercies proceed from the LORD!Perfecta Delgatos recognized that all of the gifts she had received were from God, even though He used the generosity of people in Chicago. What was more important and impressive, however, was that she considered Jesus to be God’s greatest gift to her and her family. In the same way Jeremiah was able to say: “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “Therefore I hope in Him!”
What did Jeremiah mean when he said, “The LORD is my portion”? That phrase is used numerous times in the Old Testament to refer to the situation of the priests and Levites, who had not received specific portions of the Promised Land, but were to serve the Lord and receive their support through the tithes of the people to their God. Consequently, the prosperity of the priests and Levites was tied directly to the service of their fellow believers to the Lord.
“The LORD is my portion,” however, refers to much more than mere physical blessings and support. It speaks to our relationship with God, who is the most important person in any of our lives. The LORD is our heavenly Father to whom we can turn and upon whom we can depend for help at any time and in any place. The LORD is our blessed Savior, Jesus, who is our dear brother. Jesus entered this world and become one with us, in order that we might be one with Him in heaven throughout eternity. The LORD is the Spirit of God who lives in our hearts by faith and sustains us in the midst of every trouble.
Consequently, as Jeremiah sat in the midst of the rubble of Jerusalem and contemplated his future and that of his people, he did not do so with fear and pessimism, but rather with hope, and with joy, and with confidence. God had promised to preserve His people in spite of their current dire situation, because through them the Savior was to come. Consequently, Jeremiah could trust in and find his ultimate hope in the LORD! Even so, you and I can trust in the LORD and have absolute hope and confidence as we rely upon Him. We can have the attitude of the apostle Paul who wrote, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:31b-32)
My dear friends, GRATITUDE IS BORN IN HEARTS THAT TAKE TIME TO COUNT UP PAST MERCIES! May we see in the blessings that surround us the hand of God, for then we will truly be grateful! Amen.
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting