Gratitude Photo

Exercising Gratitude

We are going to exercise this morning. We’re going to exercise a muscle group that often gets neglected. For the typical person, this muscle group is weak because it is rarely used; it’s not often stretched and exercised. I’m talking about exercising gratitude. Expressing thanks and praise and appreciation.

  • Writer Jim Glassman points out “a culture of complaint” has infected American society. We have problems that need attention and injustices that need to be confronted, but it is also true that we are abundantly blessed
  • We are blessed with clean water.
  • We are blessed with a strong infrastructure that enables us to travel far and wide safely and efficiently.
  • We are blessed that our economy is strong.
  • We are blessed with abundant food—even while people in many places struggle to scrape together the basic necessities, no less the luxuries we enjoy.
  • James K. Glassman, “Whine, the Beloved Country!“,

The “culture of complaint” puts us at risk of becoming like the ancient Israelites. The Lord provided for them—freedom, provision, guidance and more—yet they became a nation of grumblers. Speaking of them, 1 Corinthians 10 warns…

“Do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come.”
1 Corinthians 10:10-11

The Ephesians passage we come to today challenges us to be marked by thankfulness, by an attitude of gratitude.

The Bible is filled with calls to exercise thankfulness. 60 times we are cautioned against grumbling and complaining, while more than 270 times we hear about being thankful. It’s a mindset shift, from pointing out problems, to looking for reasons to praise; from griping to expressing gratitude.

And the effect of being around either kind of person is dramatic. Grumblers suck the joy out of a group. Grateful people brighten the environment. They make you want to be with them and want to be in the group. Let me give you an example from the workplace.

In a survey of 2,000 Americans on gratitude, some 80 percent agreed that receiving gratitude makes them work harder, but only 10 percent managed to express gratitude to others every day. “Thanks”—whether sent up, down, or sideways—was rarely heard. 80% of us appreciate being on the receiving end of gratitude; 10% practice extending gratitude.

There’s also an experiment that was done to gauge the effect of exercising thankfulness. A couple of college business professors asked professionals to advise students about the cover letters they were using to apply for jobs.

After receiving those suggestions, the students asked for help with another letter. Some 32 percent of the professionals agreed; one out of three.

But when students added a very brief note to their note about the first feedback, writing—”Thank you so much! I am really grateful!”—a full 66 percent of the advisers agreed to help again. Even the simplest exercise of gratitude doubled the response.

Janice Kaplan, “It Pays to Give Thanks at the Office,” The Wall Street Journal (8-7-15)

Open your Bible or app to today’s Scripture, Ephesians 5:18-21. If you have ever attended a charismatic or Pentecostal church or had friends in them, you may have heard this passage used in order to emphasize speaking in tongues. You’re about to see that in context, that isn’t at all what Paul is speaking about. It’s all about exercising thankfulness. We read, Ephesians 5:18-21:

“Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Ephesians 5:18-21

Paul in this letter has already declared that to be a Christians means you have been sealed with the Holy Spirit (1:13). He has cautioned us not to grieve the Holy Spirit (4:30). Here, he adds the command to be filled with the Holy Spirit. As an ongoing, constant way of life, keep on being filled with the Holy Spirit.

For the word nerds among us, the command consists of two imperatives (don’t get drunk, be Spirit-filled), followed by four present participles (speaking, singing, thinking, and submitting). Those four are evidence that you are a Spirit-filled person. We’re going to cover the first three today, and the fourth next week.

Paul begins by contrasting drunkenness with being Spirit-filled. To get drunk is to lose self-control, which in turn leads to other sins. To be filled with the Holy Spirit is to grow in self-control. We know from Galatians chapter 5 that the fruit or evidence of being Spirit-filled is not tongues but Christlike character, including self-control. The greatest sign or evidence of being filled with the Holy Spirit is becoming more Christlike.

That is seen, Paul says, in four ways:
• How we speak to one another;
• How we sing with one another;
• What we dwell on before God;
• And how we give ourselves to one another.
This is practical Christianity—a call to exercise your gratitude muscles in the ways you speak, sing, think, and display respect toward one another.

Let’s unpack them one at a time. Comedian Jeff Foxworthy made it big based on his jokes, “You know you’re a redneck when…”

Speak to encourage others in following Jesus.

“be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit.” Ephesians 5:18-19a

What is Paul thinking of here? Sunday worship. When we as Christians gather together, let your speech be intentionally different from the world at large. Because when we gather on the day of the week that Jesus rose from the dead, we gather to refocus, to recharge, to remind one another how awesome it is to know Jesus Christ, who is Lord!

Someone is in charge—of the world, of the nation, of the city or town, of your family, of your life and health and finances and hopes and fears. There is a Lord, and you know him. He’s got you in the grip of his grace. Remind one another of this.

Let me very practical here. I think this means being intentional about things like what time you go to bed on Saturday night, so that you are able to come ready to encourage others.

I think it means being intentional about whether you drive here with the radio on, and if you do, what kind of content you’re listening to on the way to church. Be intentional about preparing to speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. If that’s the kind of content you’re listening to on the way in, I think you’re better able to fulfill this charge. If you’re listening to disturbing things on the way in, guess how you’re going to feel coming in, and guess what’s going to come out in conversations with one another?

The first-century church had an advantage over us. The way to church—which was in someone’s house, typically a wealthier member who had a large room in which to gather—the way to church was walking together as a family. There was no radio, no streaming service, no internet to peek at the rest of the world before heading to church. I imagine it was easier to reach church ready to speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit.

We have an amazing advantage compared to them, however, in that we have not just Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, but the entire Old and New Testaments. The same tools that can distract from speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit can also be directed intentionally to prepare us to come together ready to encourage and build one another up in following Jesus.

Engage in the Bible reading plan. Again, don’t sweat it when you miss a day or week or month. Just do it today. You’ll be blessed, and you’ll be better prepared to bless someone else with what you’re reading or hearing.

So you know you’re Spirit-filled when…
• I speak to encourage others in following Jesus.
• I sing to thank God for his many blessings.
“Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord…” Ephesians 5:19b

Sing to God when we gather together

If the first gratitude exercise is about our fellowship, how we speak to one another when we gather together, the second gratitude exercise has to do with our worship, how we sing to God when we gather together. The emphasis is on sincerity, wholeheartedness instead of singing halfheartedly.

You know you’re Spirit-filled when you want to sing to the Lord and praise him for his blessings. It’s not that we have to; it’s that we want to and get to!

The Bible is filled with reasons to thank God, his many blessings. When you add up all the mentions of blessing in the Bible, both God blessing us as well as us being a blessing to one another, they tally well over 700 times. God has blessed us, and so the Spirit-filled Christian blesses God back; thanking him for his blessings. The Spirit-filled Christian has a song in their heart.

You ask how has God blessed us, blessed you? How about this?

You woke up this morning. That’s a blessing. God has blessed you with a new day, another day. And if you ever feel like you don’t want to wake up, open up to a trusted friend who knows Christ. If no one comes to mind, come to me. God wants to bless you. He has blessings waiting for you to experience them. Believe it.

What other blessings has God blessed you with already today? When you went into the kitchen this morning, did you have any question whether there would be food waiting for you? That’s a blessing, another reason to sing to the Lord.

God blessed you today so that you didn’t have to worry about having clothes to wear. You might have to do laundry, but God has blessed you with a washing machine, too!

God blessed you already this morning with the means to get to church.

God is blessing you already this morning with the people around you. Each one of you is a blessing from God.

Here’s the point: gratitude wells up when you look for the good. Look for the good. Society is not going to help you with this. Some people would rather criticize and complain than bless and thank God. We are to take our cues from Jesus, who regularly thanked God for his blessings.

If we took even half an hour to quietly think and write down all the blessings we’ve tasted in our lifetimes, we could go on and on in encouraging one another to praise God from whom all blessings flow.

One of the richest old hymns is titled, “The Love of God.” It poetically describes what Paul urges here, singing:

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell
It goes beyond the highest star
And reaches to the lowest hell

The guilty pair [that’s Adam & Eve representing all of us],
bowed down with care
God gave His Son to win
His erring child He reconciled
And pardoned from his sin

Here’s the most famous verse in the song:

Could we with ink the ocean fill
And were the skies of parchment made
Were every stalk on earth a quill
And every man a scribe by trade

To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry 
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though stretched from sky to sky

O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure
The saints’ and angels’ song

That great third stanza was written in the year 1050 A.D. by a Jewish poet, and it is used today in celebrating the Jewish feast of Pentecost. So there was a Jewish poet in the 11th century standing on a beach facing the vast Mediterranean Sea as he pondered the love of God and his many blessings. And his imagination begins to run:

Could we with ink the ocean fill
And were the skies of parchment made
Were every stalk on earth a quill
And every man a scribe by trade

To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry 
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though stretched from sky to sky

In a message titled “The Great Gratitude Experiment,” John Ortberg points out that every devout Jew in the first century—including the Jewish believers in the Ephesian church—every day prayed something known as the 18 benedictions. Bene means good, diction refers to our “words” or “speech.” So a benediction is good words. In Hebrew, a benediction was any prayer that began with the word bless. So to bless is to speak good to somebody else. Spirit-filled people, rabbi Paul says, speak good, bless, and thank God rather than gripe, grumble and complain like our forefathers who died in the wilderness.

So if you and I were Jewish believers in Jesus in the first century, in the morning when we woke up, we would pray the 18. “Blessed are you, God.” • In the middle of the day, we would pause and pray the 18. “Blessed are you, Lord, who abundantly forgives.” At night before we went to bed, we would pray the 18. “Blessed are you, God.”

Every day at several occasions throughout the day, we would exercise our gratitude muscles. Again, this is a mindset shift, that I am blessed. God continuously blesses me, so I will look for reasons to speak and sing blessings back to him.

Every rabbi would teach his disciples to pray the 18 in their own way. When Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Lord, teach us to pray,” they were asking, “What’s our way of praying the 18, of blessing God?” The Lord’s Prayer is a super-condensed form of blessing God.

The early church would pray the Lord’s Prayer three times every day. Then at mealtime, they would bless God for each portion of the meal. We see this at the Last Supper when it says, “When they were eating, Jesus took the bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it.” Later during the same meal: “Then he took the cup, and when he had given thanks…”

Each time another part of the meal came, Jewish believers would say, “God, this is from you too. I get to have this? Thank you!”

And gratitude wasn’t just at mealtimes. They would come up with blessings for everything. We would practice looking for things to thank God for.

Thank God for all that is ours through Christ.

You know you’re Spirit-filled when…
• I speak to encourage others in following Jesus.
• I sing to thank God for his many blessings.
• I thank God for all that is ours through Christ.
“…Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 5:20a

Here, Paul advocates Jesus-shaped gratitude, cruciform thankfulness. Makes me think of the person who asked Jesus, “How much do you love me?”
So Jesus stretched out his arms and answered, “This much,” and died.

The Spirit-filled Christian is a thankful person, thanking God for all that is ours because of Jesus:
• New life
• Hope
• The family of God
• The presence of God with us
• The promises of God
• Power from God to walk in new habits
• And more.

Author Fleming Rutledge pushes us to look for deeper reasons to thank God, writing,

“The life of thankfulness—biblically speaking—is lived in view of the hard things of existence. As the life of thanksgiving deepens, we discover that the more mature prayers of thanksgiving are not those offered for the obvious blessings, but those spoken in gratitude for obstacles overcome, for insights gained, for lessons learned, for increased humility, for help received in time of need, for strength to persevere, for opportunities to serve others.”

-Fleming Rutledge, The Bible and The New York Times (Eerdmans, 1999)

Grumbling is natural. The Holy Spirit in the believer enables the supernatural—namely, to be grateful instead of a grumbler. The everything here is to be understood in the context Paul is writing about, which is the blessings of belonging to Christ. He’s not suggesting giving thanks for anything that is evil. This is the call to thank God for every good thing that becomes ours because of Jesus. Back to the hymn, Paul is referring to the same thing as that rabbi in the 11th century…

To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry 
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though stretched from sky to sky

This is where we stop for today—with the call to be Spirit-filled. Are you? Here’s how you can know.
• You encourage others in following Jesus. The first thing on your lips is encouragement, not criticism or complaint. There are a hundred things a church could be about. We want to be about encouraging one another, at all times, and in all situations, to follow Jesus.
• You know you’re Spirit-filled when you sing from a sincere heart, thanking God for his many blessings.
• You know you’re Spirit-filled when you make it a habit to thank God for all that is ours through Christ. You constantly look for the good, and when you see it, you thank God for it.

That’s the challenge starting right now, moving into the new week, and for the rest of your life. Be grateful, not a grumbler. Be filled with the Holy Spirit, as evidenced by changed speaking, singing, and thanksgiving.