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“The Heart of Thanksgiving”

1 Chronicles 29:10-16
Bob DeGray
November 18, 2001

Key Sentence

God’s people should get to Thanksgiving through praise.


I. Praise Him because he is the substance of everything we consider great. (10-13)
II. Praise Him because everything we have comes from him. (14-16)


        In his book Living Life on Purpose, Greg Anderson shares the story of one man's journey to thanksgiving: “The man's wife had left him and he was completely depressed. He had lost faith in himself, in other people, in God __ he found no joy in living. One rainy morning he went to a small neighborhood restaurant for breakfast. There were several people at the diner, but no one was speaking to anyone else. Our miserable friend hunched over the counter, stirring his coffee with a spoon.

        In one of the small booths along the window was a young mother with a little girl. They had just been served their food when the little girl broke the sad silence by almost shouting, "Momma, why don't we say our prayers here?" The waitress who had just served their breakfast turned around and said, "Sure, honey, we pray here. Will you say the prayer for us?" And she turned and looked at the rest of the people in the restaurant and said, "Bow your heads." Surprisingly, one by one, the heads went down. The little girl then bowed her head, folded her hands, and said, "God is great, God is good, and we thank him for our food. Amen."

        That prayer changed the entire atmosphere. People began to talk with one another. The waitress said, "We should do that every morning." "All of a sudden," said our friend, "my whole frame of mind started to improve. From that little girl's example, I started to remember who God was and thank him for what I did have and stop majoring in all that I didn't have. I rediscovered praise and thanksgiving.”

        ‘God is great. God is good. And we thank him for our food. ’ That familiar prayer is not one that I used as a boy but, if real, it’s a good one. It combines praise ‘God is great. God is good’ with thanksgiving. King David would have liked that prayer. The prayer he prays in 1 Chronicles 29, while more elaborate, is not really very different. Both of them recognize that praise is the heart and soul and substance of thanksgiving. Both get to thanksgiving through praise. We ought to do the same. We ought to get to the point of thankfulness by first recognizing God’s greatness.

        Before we jump into the text let me illustrate what I mean. Ancient cultures worshiped the sun - the one in the sky - as being the center and source of life. In doing so they recognized scientific if not spiritual truth. The sun does provide the gravity that holds the earth in place, and the light that is directly or indirectly the source of all life and energy. Now imagine that someone has been told these things but has never seen the sun. They have lived in a darkened room, with hints of light around the edges of the windows, but with no understanding of what lies beyond. On the few occasions that they have gone into the sunlight they have been carefully and thoroughly blindfolded. They have heard about the sun, but never experienced it.

        America has for a long time set aside a day known as Thanksgiving, but in modern culture it is often celebrated by people who have been blindfolded. They have received benefits, but they have never acknowledged the one who sends them. The secular world view and political correctness of our culture have almost eliminated any recognition of the God we’re giving thanks to - let alone any profound wonder or praise toward him. Chuck Colson, in a Breakpoint commentary wrote “A few years ago I spent a Thanksgiving in happy hours with my children and grandchildren. Over turkey and dressing, I decided to quiz my eight_year_old grandson, as proud grandparents often do on such occasions. I said, "Charlie, why did the Pilgrims celebrate the first Thanksgiving?" Charlie resorted to the obvious answer, as grandchildren often do. He said, "They wanted to give thanks." "And who did the Pilgrims give thanks to?" The boy's face clouded and he squirmed. "I don't know_ I guess they were thanking the Indians. That's what we learned at school."”

        Colson goes on to say: “I took some time that day to make it clear that the Pilgrims didn’t give thanks to the Indians, they invited the Indians to join them in giving thanks to God_the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God made known in Jesus Christ. Today we don't hear much about thanking Almighty God. The holiday has been secularized; we conjure up a generic gratefulness directed to nobody in particular.”

        I heard about a culturally sensitive fourth_grader who stood up to give a report about the origins of Thanksgiving: “The Pilgrims came seeking freedom of you_know_what. When they landed, they gave thanks to you_know_who. Because of them, we can worship each Sunday, you_know_where.” But the problem is people don’t know who we’re supposed to thank, and even those of us who do know can have at times a stunted view of what he has done and therefore an anemic Thanksgiving.

        King David of Israel didn’t have this problem. In 1 Chronicles 29, which is a chapter about fund raising, we see a marvelous example of thanksgiving. David gets to thanksgiving through praise, and shows us how we can do the same. First, by praising him because he is the substance of everything we consider great, and second, by praising him because everything we have comes from him. If we do those two things we’ll find ourselves much in possession of a heart of thanksgiving.

        Let me read this brief text and then we’ll talk about it some more. 1 Chronicles 29:10-16 David praised the Lord in the presence of the whole assembly, saying, "Praise be to you, O Lord, God of our father Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. 11Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. 12Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. 13Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.

         14"But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand. 15We are aliens and strangers in your sight, as were all our forefathers. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope. 16O Lord our God, as for all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name, it comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you.

        You can hear in the first verses the focus on praising God for who he is. David had a big view of God, not a blindfolded view of God, and that came out in his praise. “Praise be to you O Lord, from everlasting to everlasting.” Praise is not a momentary thing but the habit and preoccupation of God’s people for eternity. God is worthy of praise from eternity past to eternity future. We’ve been singing a chorus that Kemper Crabb wrote from the words of the Episcopal communion liturgy: “Therefore with Angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven. We Laud and magnify Thy Glorious name, evermore praising thee and saying “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, Heaven and Earth are full of thy glory.” Praise is the eternal joy of the redeemed because God is eternally worthy of it.

        Verse 11: “Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours.” God is the pinnacle of everything that we consider great. J. I. Packer, whose book Knowing God forever changed my life says “the Christian’s instincts of trust and worship are stimulated powerfully by knowledge of the greatness of God. But this is knowledge which Christians today largely lack, and that is the reason why our faith is so feeble and our worship so flat. We are modern men, and modern men, though they cherish great thoughts of man, have as a rule small thoughts of God. In this we are poles apart from our evangelical forefathers. When you start reading Luther, or Edwards, or Whitfield, though your doctrine may agree, you soon find yourself wondering whether you have any acquaintance with the mighty God they knew so intimately.”

        Thanksgiving grows out a recognition of God’s greatness, and his majesty, his power and his glory. How do we cultivate this praise? The only way is to spend time in Scripture, studying God as he is there presented, and turning the thoughts of Scripture about God into our own thoughts. Packer’s formula for this has been one of the things that changed my life. He says “how may we form a right idea of God’s greatness? The Bible teaches us two steps we must take. The first is to remove from our thoughts of God limits that would make him small. The second is to compare him with powers and forces which we regard as great.” The Bible itself constantly leads us into these steps. When God answers Job’s lament, he does so by comparing himself to things Job considered great: the behemoth and the leviathan, the winds and storm, snow and hail, the sun and stars, the constellations in their array, the greatness of the creatures he has made: ox, ostrich, eagle. Then God says if I created and rule all these “Who is able to stand against me?”
        God’s power is greater than the greatest power you see displayed in creation: greater than the earthquake, greater than the hurricane, greater than the glaciers, greater than the surging sea. In the same way God’s glory is greater than the greatest glory of creation: greater than the glory of the sunrise, greater than the glory of the universe seen through our most powerful telescopes, greater even than the glory human love and heroism and self-sacrifice. God’s majesty is greater than the majesty of any king who has ever lived: even the greatest and most benevolent of kings is only a picture of the majesty on high. And it is the praise of his greatness that opens our eyes to what he has done for us, which leads us in turn to thanksgiving.

        Amy Carmichael, the missionary to India wrote “I believe that if we are to be and to do for others what God means us to be and to do, we must not let adoration and worship slip into second place, for it is the central service asked by God of human souls; and its neglect is responsible for much lack of spiritual depth and power. Here is the reason why we so often run dry. We do not give time enough to what makes for depth, and so we are shallow; a wind, quite a little wind, can ruffle our surface; a little hot sun, and all the moisture in us evaporates. It should not be so.”

        Notice too that God’s greatness is not just abstract, but is at work in the world. The end of verse 11: “Yours, O Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all.” Over all what? Over all other kingdoms and rulers. Individuals, like David, are the kings of individual kingdoms: some are presidents, some are prime ministers, some are even dictators. But God’s is ‘the’ kingdom, and he is head over all. I’ve told you before about an episode in my youth when Richard Nixon seemed to be getting away with the entire Watergate episode, and the guy who led me to the Lord, Pete Fosberg, said ‘Richard Nixon does not have the final say.’ God does.

        Verse 12: “Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things.” When we recognize that God is ultimately in control, and that all we have comes from his hand, we are more likely to thank him for it. Bart Simpson and Jimmy Stewart don’t often agree about anything, but they are on the same page when it comes to forgetting this truth - that everything comes from God. One of Jimmy Stewart’s characters, in the movie Shenendoah, prayed a prayer like this “God, we have plenty of food on this table. We plowed the fields, we planted the grain, we took out the weeds, we harvested the grain, and now we have prepared the food. We have done all the work but we thank you for this food anyway. Amen." Bart Simpson, of course, put the same blindness much more crudely on prime time televison when he said “Dear God, we paid for all this stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing." But David, who was closer to God than either of these two says “Wealth and honor come from you.” If God is the creator of all things, then he is also the owner of all things and the one who is free to distribute his things as he sees fit. We get to thanksgiving when we recognize that everything comes from him: every morsel of food, every molecule of air is something to be thankful for.

        Furthermore, God is at work, not just in our world but in our lives: “In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all.” Have you ever experienced the reality that the strength to keep going, the strength to carry on, the strength to be faithful comes directly from God and not from within? Those in difficult circumstances have found his strength and know that he holds them up. He exalts, he gives endurance. Isn’t he worthy of our praise? And of our thanksgiving? He is.

        And that’s where David goes with this prayer. Verse 13: “Now, our God, we give you thanks and praise your glorious name.” Praise leads to thanksgiving. You and I also need to get to thanksgiving through praise. One tool I’ve been using recently is one I’ve mentioned before, “Face to Face” by Kenneth Boa, which give you daily personalized Scriptures to help you praise and confess and give thanks. I’ll order you one for nine dollars if you put your name on the list at the back.

        I also ran across a one month praise starter by Bob Hostetler which I’ve printed up for you to pick up on your way out. Each day focuses on a different characteristic of God and his care. For example, Day 1 is “God the creator”; day 2 is praise of “The Only God”; day 3, “The Almighty God”; “the Loving God”; “the faithful God”. Once characteristic a day for a month, with Scripture sentences to start your praise.

        Why am I giving you these things this week? Because this kind of praise, praising him for being the substance of everything we consider great, leads to thanksgiving: praise is the foundation on which we build thanksgiving. It removes the blindfold from our eyes. But there is a second kind of praise here: Praising him because everything comes from him. This leads even more directly to thanksgiving. We’ve already seen this in the text, but we see it even more in verses 14 to 16: “But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand. 15We are aliens and strangers in your sight, as were all our forefathers. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope. 16O Lord our God, as for all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name, it comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you.”

        Did I mention that David was involved in fund raising when he first prayed this praise? He was. He’d been told by God through Nathan that his job wasn’t to build the temple. That would be Solomon’s job. But David must have figured that even if he couldn’t build it, at least he could do the fund raising. So he gathered all the leaders of the people in Jerusalem, and he himself gave an extremely generous offering toward the building of the temple - gold, silver, and other things. Then he asked those gathered to make their offerings, and when it was all counted they found that they had given an abundant amount for the work. 1 Chronicles 29:9 says that they rejoiced because they had given freely and wholeheartedly, which is certainly a feeling we can share today.

        But David has a very godly humility about this giving. He says “who am I and who are my people that we should be able to give so freely? Everything comes from you.” Thanksgiving starts when we recognize that everything we have comes from God - even everything we give does not bring us glory, but him, because everything we give comes from Him. It is his provision. Notice how a right view of God and a right view of man are implicit in this attitude. God is God and we are not. God is creator, provider, sustainer, and we are recipients of his common grace, by which he sustains the whole world, and of his saving grace by which he rescues and provides for his people. In neither case have we earned what we have been given.

        Yet Jimmy Stewart, Bart Simpson and most of us constantly fall into the trap of thinking that what we have is ours by right. We constantly mistake ourselves for owners, when the Scriptures teach that we are rightly stewards of all that God has given. A steward is someone who manages another person’s resources for the benefit of the other person, and following that person’s instructions and guidelines. Is that your attitude toward your possessions? That their purpose is to benefit God, not you?

        The right view of God recognizes him as provider and the right view of man recognizes us as stewards. David has the humility associated with this right view: “who are we anyway that you would allow us to give so generously to your work?” There is nothing intrinsic in us, just as there was nothing intrinsic in the people of Israel, to merit this grace. As David says ‘we are aliens and strangers in your sight, as were all our forefathers’. ‘Aliens’ are those from a different country. ‘Strangers’ are people from a different tribe or people group. And all of us are ‘aliens’ and ‘strangers,’ foreigners in God’s sight because of sin. We have no right to his blessing, no claim on Him. Anything we have is a gift of His grace.

        Verse 16 summarizes what David is saying: “O Lord our God, as for all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name, it comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you.” Our praise leads to thanksgiving when we recognize the true source of all we have. This is where the tried and true expression ‘count your blessings’ has its foundation. You have to look with fresh eyes - steward’s eyes - at all that God has provided. What may not seem like much as you live with it day to day will appear much greater if you step back and take that fresh look. A man who owned a small estate wished to sell it. Sending for a real estate agent, he asked him to write an advertisement describing the house and land. When the ad was ready, the agent took it to the owner and read it to him. "Read that again," said the owner. The agent read the description of the estate once more. "I don't think I will sell after all," said the owner. "I have been looking for an estate like that all my life, and I did not know that I owned it!" Ask God to open your eyes to see all that he has given. Begin by recognizing all that you have in Christ. This could change your entire perspective and transform your Thanksgiving this year from perfunctory to profound.

        Frederick Buechner, in his book The Sacred Journey describes this transformation of thought in a compelling way. “One winter I sat in Army fatigues somewhere near Anniston, Alabama, eating my supper out of a mess kit. The infantry training battalion that I had been assigned to was on bivouac. There was a cold drizzle of rain, and everything was mud. The sun had gone down. I was still hungry when I finished and noticed that a man nearby had something left over that he was not going to eat. It was a turnip, and when I asked him if I could have it, he tossed it over to me. I missed the catch, the turnip fell to the ground, but I wanted it so badly that I picked it up and started eating it anyway, mud and all. And then, as I ate it, time deepened and slowed. With a lurch of the heart that is real to me still, I saw suddenly, almost as if from beyond time altogether, that not only was the turnip good, but the mud was good too, even the drizzle and cold were good, even the Army that I had dreaded for months. Sitting there in the Alabama winter with my mouth full of cold turnip and mud, I could see at least for a moment how if you ever took truly to heart the ultimate goodness and joy of things, even at their bleakest, the need to praise someone or something for it would be so great that you might even have to go out and speak of it to the birds of the air.”

        That’s what I want us to do this Thanksgiving - recognize that there are untold numbers of good things that God has done even for those of us in the bleakest of situations. To help you, I’d like to suggest some categories of thanksgiving - and I’ve listed these questions at the bottom of that ‘month of praise’ handout. Take this list and think out the answers in advance and then share some of them at your Thanksgiving table - say between the main course and dessert. In the DeGray family we’re usually too hungry before we eat. So, here are suggested Thanksgiving questions:
        What is something very small you can be thankful for?
        What is something very large you can be thankful for?
        What ‘natural' process (e.g. something in nature) can you be thankful for?
        What daily provision you usually take for granted can you be thankful for?
        What spiritual provision can you be thankful for?
        What unexpected provision have your received that you can be thankful for?
        What frequent act of kindness toward you can you be thankful for?
        What unexpected act of kindness toward you can you be thankful for?
        What person or people can you be thankful for?

        You get the point - there is much we can be thankful for if we will open our eyes to see it - especially to see all the seemingly little things that we have been given that hold our lives together - physically, mentally and spiritually. But how do we open our eyes? Don’t forget that: it’s by praise first of all. Praise of God for who he is broadens our understanding of all that he has done for us and leads to Thanksgiving. Let it lead to Thanksgiving for you this week.