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A THANKFUL PERSPECTIVE
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Based on Psa. 138
G. K. Chesterton has written a delightful account of a students encounter with his professor at Oxford. The professor, or tutor as they called them, was a bright young man, but he was a follower of the pessimistic views of Schopenhauer. He was disgusted with the weary worthless lives around him, and with the trash they treasured, and which he had to look at from his second floor apartment. Especially offensive was that unattractive stucco house with a silly duck pond complete with ducks.
At the end of one of his frequent observations on the foolishness of people, the low estate of most human minds, and the futility of life in general, he concluded that the only intelligent course of action for a man of sense and sensibility would be to remove himself from the scene permanently. This is where the student comes in. He felt the time had come to test his professor's theory. He returned to the professor's quarters later waving a wicked looking revolver. He declared that he had come to put his tutor out of his misery. The professor was reduced at once to un-philosophical entreaties. As he begged for his life he backed out of his window and perched on the flagpole hoping to attract the attention of
someone passing by.
The student standing at the window with the revolver called upon the pessimist to recant. He made him give thanks for his miserable life, for the sky, the earth, and the trees. He was also given the opportunity to bless his neighbor and express satisfaction with the ducks on the pond. All of this he gladly did, and thereby showed that his theory on life was not very attractive in practice.
There are many pouting pessimists who would change their tune on a flagpole with a revolver in their back. This would not prove that they were truly thankful people, but it would demonstrate that they were more grateful for life than they were willing to admit. Facing death gives on a new perspective on life, and it makes it look even good to the pessimist. Most pessimists and most un-believers do not need a revolver in their back to admit they have much for which to be grateful. All it takes is the pressure of tradition and a family get together on Thanksgiving to compel them to recognize their good fortune.
Almost all non-Christians will be thankful for their material blessings, and for the fact that they are not freezing with the homeless, or starving with the hungry poor. Christians cannot claim a monopoly on the attitude of gratitude. What distinguishes the Christians thankfulness from the natural thankfulness of all people? The distinction consists basically in the fact that the Christian has someone to thank. The essence of his thanksgiving is a relationship to a person, and a supreme person who has a plan and purpose for his life. The unbeliever's thanks is a sense of well being about his good luck, but there is no ultimate meaning behind it, for he has no concept of an ultimate purpose. This means he loses the essence of thanksgiving, which is gratitude to God for his personal concern and purpose for us as individuals. This is a key to happiness, for only people with a purpose can be truly happy on a permanent basis.
Paul tells us that the cause of much of the misery and darkness of the pagan world is due to the fact that they were not thankful. This led to all kinds of perversions in religion and sex in a futile effort to find happiness without God. Many are seeking to do the same thing today, but they are failing as men always have. Man's only hope for happiness is in a thankful relationship to God, and in a finding of His purpose through Christ. William Law asked, "Who was the greatest saint in the world?" Then he answers, "It is not he who prays most or fasts most; it is not he who gives most alms, or is most eminent for temperance, chastity, or justice; but it is he who is always thankful to God, who receives everything as an instance of God's goodness and has a heart always ready to praise God for it.
David was far from a perfect man. He was, in fact, notorious for his failures, and yet he is called the man after God's own heart. It is hard to avoid the conclusion as we read the Psalms that the redeeming factor in his life that lifted him so close to God was his grateful heart. Praise flows unceasingly from his lips and heart. He competes with the angels of heaven who praise God night and day. David had more than his share of trials, but he never ceased to praise God. From youth to old age his theme was praise. Whichever way he looked on the path of time he saw the providence of God at work. He would agree with the poem prayer of Will Carlton: "We thank thee, O Father, for all that is bright, The gleam of the day and the stars of the night, The flowers of our youth and the fruits of our prime, And the blessings that march down the pathway of time."
We want to follow David on one of his thankful journey's along the pathway of time, for he establishes a pattern of thankfulness that ought to be a characteristic of our lives as Christians. In whatever direction he looks he has a thankful perspective. Let's go with him first into yesterday and his thankfulness for the past.
In verse 3 David looks back to a time of crisis when he cried out to God for help and mercy. His heart is filled with praise to God because God heard him and gave him the strength he needed to cope with the trial. There is not a Christian alive who cannot look back to yesterday and praise God for what He has done in their past. If you forget all else, you cannot forget the cross and the fact that God has received you as His child because of your trust in Christ. If yesterday was empty of all but the cross the Christian heart would still look back and be filled to overflowing with thankfulness. But God did not stop with the gift of His Son. When God gives He pours. Showers of blessing have been ours already. The reality of the trials does not diminish the reality of the blessings. They are no less real because they have not been all of the real.
Above a bed in an English hospital is a bronze tablet with these words: "This bed has been endowed by the savings of a poor man who is grateful for an unexpected recovery." Most all of us can look back and recognize that God has spared us from some illness or accident that would have taken us from the stage of history. None of us would be here to praise God today had he not delivered us in some yesterday.
When Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper to keep us ever looking back to the cross, He knew the human tendency to forget and neglect the blessings of the past. That is why he urged us to do this in remembrance of Him. Benjamin Franklin had the same idea in mind when he moved at the Constitutional Convention in 1787: "That henceforth prayers, imploring thee the assistance of Heaven and it's blessings on our deliberations, beheld in the assembly every morning before we proceed to business." In his speech in support of this motion he said the following: "In this situation of this Assembly, groping as it were, in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish when presented to us, how has it happened, sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of Lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the contest with Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayers in this room for the Divine protection. Our prayers, sir, were heard; and they were graciously answered. To that kind Providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful Friend? I have lived, sir, a long time; and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of men!"
This illustrates the tendency of American people to be like the people of Israel, and to forget God's great blessings of the past. It also illustrates how a man who believes in a God of purpose and providence is filled with thankfulness. Therefore, let us like David look back on yesterday and be grateful. Look back, not like Lot's wife to mourn over what was forsaken to obey God. Look back, not like the Israelites longing for the garlic and onions of Egypt. He who puts his hand to the plow and looks back like this is not fit for the kingdom Jesus said. But let us look back like David to review the blessings of yesterday stored in the attic our memory, and let us praise God for His providence in guiding us as individuals and as a nation. David was not one to live in the past, however, and think that all the good days are the good old days. He is grateful for God's continuous providence, and so in verse 7 he expresses his thanks for the present.
His today is not all filled with sunshine and roses, but he is assured of God's presence and protection. Today is always the most variable part of our lives. the present is in a constant state of change. In just a few moments everything can be altered, but the Christian knows that God never ceases to work toward His purpose, even in the troubles of today to prepare for a better tomorrow. Consider the experience of the Pilgrims. The story is well known of their suffering, and of the many who died the first winter, but less is known of how God was providently working in their troubled today to prepare for a bright tomorrow.
Squanto was an Indian boy who had been carried away to England in 1605 by the exploring party of Captain George Weymouth. Squanto returned to Plymouth in 1614, but he was kidnapped along with 20 others from his tribe and was sold as a slave in Spain. He came under the care of monks who instructed him in the Christian faith. He eventually made his way to England and then back to Plymouth just 6 months before the Pilgrims arrived. He found that his whole tribe has perished in a plague of smallpox, and he was the only survivor. When the Pilgrims came he joined them and never left them, and his presence was a blessing beyond calculation.
Squanto knew the Indians and the ways of this country. He taught the Pilgrims how to build fish traps, snare animals, and how to plant and fertilize corn. He served as their interpreter and adviser in all their relations with the Indians. By his help peace was maintained for over 50 years. God was working every day in their lives, even in the midst of all their trials. Jesus said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." He never promised escape from trials, but He promised His presence and power to endure and conquer. A pastor in East Germany under the communists said, "The pressure is always on. We never know what to expect, but we thank God for His presence in every situation." This is true for every child of God, for we can thank God for yesterday, and also for today, and then go on to the next step as well.
III. TOMORROW. v. 8
David ends on a high note of blessed assurance. He says, "The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me." God's faithfulness and steadfast love endures forever. What He has begun He will complete. This assurance of God's fulfilling His ultimate purpose for us is the greatest cause for thanksgiving. The highest happiness we can experience is in the knowledge that our lives have ultimate and eternal meaning. Christian thankfulness breaks the time barrier and reaches out into tomorrow to praise God for what is yet to come. It is the hope of tomorrow that gives meaning to the blessings of the past and present. If these were ends in them selves there would be no ultimate purpose to life.
In William Saroyon's play The Time Of Your Life, Joe is a bored but rich young loafer who was asked why he likes to lay around and drink. This was his reply: "Everyday has 24 hours...out of the 24 hours at least 23 and a half are, my God, I don't know why-dull, dead, boring, empty, and murderous. Minutes on the clock, not time of living, but spent in waiting, and the more you wait, the less there is to wait for. That goes on for days and days and weeks and months and years, and years, and the first thing you know all the years are dead. All the minutes are dead. You yourself are dead."
This is the purposeless, meaningless tomorrow that drives so many into a foolish and wasteful use of life today. But the Christian has no part in this pessimism. Thank God for tomorrow echoes through the pages of Scripture. God has a purpose for each of us, and He will accomplish it if we put Christ first, and make Him the center of our lives. The work which His goodness began, The arm of His strength will complete; His promise is yea and amen, And never was forfeited yet.
As Pilgrims with a purpose we march forward with praise on our lips and a song in our hearts, for our Lord is the unchanging Christ who is the same yesterday, today and forever. His promise, His presence, His providence, and His protection and provision will be as sure tomorrow as they were yesterday and are today. It seems almost too good to be true, and so it was even for David, for he ends with the prayer, "Forsake not the work of Thine own hands." This is an admission of his unworthiness to be the object of such steadfast love. I summed up David's whole attitude in this poem:
Thank God for yesterday when in need I cried, And he heard my prayer, and gave me strength inside. Thank God for today whether skies be dark or clear, For I am confident that Christ my Lord is near. Thank God for tomorrow however rough and steep the hill. I'll climb in full assurance the Lord his purpose will fulfill. Thank God for all these days When we can in grateful praise Say thank you Lord in joy your sorrow, For yesterday, today, tomorrow. "
May God grant each of us the blessing of having such a thankful perspective.
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