The Value of Gratitude


A sermon delivered by Robert Browning, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Frankfort, Ky., on November 20, 2011.

Psalm 92:1-5

They hit the grocery store shelves over fifty years ago and were an instant success. However, had it not been for Thanksgiving, I am not sure that TV dinners would have been designed and produced.

In 1953, the Swanson Food Company had too many turkeys on their hands after disappointing Thanksgiving sales. One innovative employee came up with the idea of packaging individual servings of turkey and vegetables on an aluminum tray. Marketers showed people eating from the trays while watching television, giving them their name. Sales skyrocketed, and a new industry was born.

Thanksgiving has done far more than give us TV dinners, though. It has highlighted the value of gratitude and reminded us of the importance of expressing appreciation to those who have helped us along our journey. 

This is the intent and focus of Psalm 92. Labeled a Psalm of Thanksgiving, it begins with those simple words, “It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord.” The Psalmist proceeds to list those things for which he is grateful, primarily God’s love, generosity, righteousness and faithfulness. He sees God’s hand in creation and his own life, as God continually worked on his behalf. There is no doubt his relationship with God has brought him great joy and a sense of peace and security. He is utterly amazed that there are those around him who do not trust God and walk in God’s ways.

I am intrigued by the Psalmist’s declaration, “It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord.” I like the simple, yet profound way, he begins this Psalm, which was used to lead people in worship. It raises some questions for me that I wish to use to frame this sermon.

When did the Psalmist come to this realization? Had he always felt this way? Had he been one of the fools he describes in 92:6 who failed to understand the importance of trusting God and expressing gratitude? Did someone have a talk with him, or did he figure this out on his own?

He doesn’t tell us. All we know is that at this point along his journey, he was convinced that expressing appreciation was one characteristic of a good person.

Why did the Psalmist believe it was good to give thanks to the Lord? Again, he doesn’t tell us, but maybe that’s best. He leaves this question for us to ponder.

Why do you think it is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord? I’ve given that a lot of thought in recent days and would like to offer some suggestions for you to consider. I encourage you to add your ideas to mine as the week progresses.

I think it is good for God that we express our gratitude. Before we talk about what it does for us, let’s talk about what it does for God. I think expressions of gratitude feed His spirit.

How do you feel when people thank you for what you have done for them? It means the world to you, doesn’t it? It nourishes and strengthens your spirit. I think it does the same for God.

What can we give God that He does not have? He created all things, as the Psalmist reminded his readers often.

However, even though He doesn’t need us like we need Him, our expressions of gratitude bring Him great delight. I have to believe they nourish and strengthen His spirit the same way they do ours.

How do you think God felt when He heard the Psalmist express gratitude for the works of His hands, along with His goodness, generosity, righteousness, love and faithfulness? I think it moved Him to tears. Doesn’t it you when your children express heartfelt gratitude?

Recently I was cleaning out a desk at home when I came across a small piece of paper upon which my youngest son, Josh, scribbled a note almost six years ago. He had been here for a visit and I helped him with something very important to him. When I went upstairs after he left, I found this note on my desk. “Dad, can’t thank you enough. I love my new place, Josh.”

Why did I keep this scrap of paper? If you are a parent or grandparent, you know why. Expressions of gratitude are some of our most cherished memories and significant gifts. Each time we read them, they feed our spirit like manna from heaven.

I also think it is good for us when we express gratitude to God and others for what they have done for us. It feeds our spirits, too.

Gratitude invites us to count our blessings, something we can so easily fail to do when we focus upon what we don’t have instead of what we have.

Dr. Alexander Whyte of Edinburgh was famous for his pulpit prayers. He always found something to thank God for, even in bad times. One dark, stormy morning a member of his congregation wondered what Dr. Whyte would find to thank God for on such a dreary day. He grinned when he heard Dr. Whyte begin his prayer, “We thank thee, O God, the weather is not always like this.”

Gratitude improves our vision. It helps us to see life from a different perspective, one that can sustain us in tough times. Perhaps this was why the Psalmist was committed to thanking God every morning and evening. His expressions of gratitude were not dependent upon his moods. The first thing every morning and last thing of an evening, he concentrated on God’s goodness and faithfulness and expressed his gratitude.

Gratitude also enables us to see the people who have helped us along our journey so we can thank them.

One distinct feature of this Psalm is its emphasis upon forming a caring community where people look after one another. As Clinton McCann writes in The New Interpreter’s Bible, “Its message that trusting oneself is illusory and destructive offers a sobering warning to a generation that generally cannot understand this. As much or more than any generation before in the history of the world, we are inclined to trust our own intelligence, strength and technology more than we trust God or each other.”

“When you see a turtle on a post, you know he did not get there by himself,” someone wrote. We did not get where we are by ourselves, either, and wise is the person who acknowledges this.

I value the words of Abraham Lincoln in his 1863 Thanksgiving Proclamation. “Intoxicated by unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God who made us.” May we never be that arrogant!

I must share one of my favorite parts from the movie Shenandoah. Charlie Anderson, played by Jimmy Stewart, offers the blessing before a meal by saying, “Oh, Lord, we tilled the ground. We planted the seed. We watered the crops and we harvested the grain. But, we thank you anyway.” Even when you are tempted to think you are a self-made person, don’t believe it. 

I believe expressing gratitude does something else for us. It encourages us to be generous and share our blessings. Grateful people make good neighbors. They are willing to see others’ struggles and help them along their journey.

Physician, theologian, philosopher and musician Albert Schweitzer put it this way. “In gratitude for your own good fortune, you must render in return some sacrifice of your life for other life.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it this way. “As long as there is poverty in the world, I can never be rich, even if I have a million dollars. As long as diseases are rampant and millions of people in this world cannot expect to live more than twenty-eight or thirty years, I can never be totally healthy even if I just got a good checkup at the Mayo Clinic. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way our world is made. No individual or nation can stand out boasting of being independent. We are interdependent.”

Remember the movie “Pass it Forward?” It was based upon the premise that good deeds don’t necessarily need to be paid back as much as they need to be passed on to others. Do for others as others have done for you.

This week, what could you say or do which would bring God and others to tears? Children, why don’t you leave a note thanking your parents for something they have done for you? Parents, why not write a note to your children? If you are married, go out of your way to express your appreciation to your mate. Take advantage of opportunities to let people in our church and community know how much you appreciate them.

Also, take advantage of the opportunities to minister through our church to those who need our help. The bulletin insert you received today highlights each one so you can match your interests and talents with specific needs.

If you will do these things, I think the spirit of Thanksgiving will stay with you all year long, feeding your hungry spirit with something more tasteful and nourishing than TV dinners.

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Tags: Bob Browning, Gratitude, Sermons, Thanksgiving