By Pastor Bryan Niebanck

Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.

Psalm 126:6

When you sit around the table at Thanksgiving, do you think about what you are thankful for?  Do you have a moment where you share those things?  Do you pray about those things?  I always try to pray my prayer of gratitude, thanking God for family, or for the friends who have invited me to Thanksgiving these past couple years, for the good things that have happened in my life, and whatever else I can think of.  I try not to focus on the things that I am not so happy about.  But even those, sometimes I should thank God for.  I should thank God for not sending me down a path that would have overwhelmed me, or worse, defeated me.  There are many times that I expected something to be exciting and good for me, and God put a stop to it only to show me that there was something better for me down the road.  I am thankful that God overwhelmingly protects me and loves me.  God only wants the best for me, and will do his best to make that happen.  Can you tell yourself this too?  Can you also believe this yourself?

Who has ever felt like the world was out to get them?  Everything seemed to be going wrong; something keeps you up late the night before and then you sleep late and miss a morning meeting.  Or maybe the water heater breaks and floods your basement – and even though there is never a good time for that, it had to happen the day before you had family visiting from out of state.  Sometimes, it may just seem like the world is stacked against you.  I’ve been here too; I would be surprised if anyone has never thought this a number of times in their lifetime.  When you do feel like the cards are stacked against you, do you ever wonder why you think this way?  Oh, because the cards actually are stacked against you, of course!!  Have you considered that you have not allowed yourself enough time to be grateful?  If you do not allow yourself to be grateful, or just do not think that it is worth the time to give, you are naturally going to get less and less grateful until you are critical of everything   Nothing will go right for you.  Or at least that is how you perceive it.

If you remember one thing today, remember that you need to make time to express gratitude.  Express gratitude to others who do nice things for you, even if you think that they already know that you are thankful for them.  If someone regularly gives you a ride, thank them.  Do not just assume that they know.  It means a lot to them to hear you say it.  When I did not yet have a car when I was at college in Albany, New York, a couple took me to church every Sunday, picking me up and dropping me off.  They even took me to lunch and paid for it every single time.  I may have forgotten to express gratitude a couple times, but I tried to thank them as often as I could.  Here is your challenge for this week: Find three people to thank for something, and also find three things to thank God for.  You may be surprised that this way of thinking changes your attitude about how everything is lining up against you.

I have found that in order to think about gratitude best, sometimes we need a change of scenery.  Do you, or does someone you know, have a lake house or a house in the woods or the wilderness that you can retreat to every now and again?  If you have access to such a place, use it.  If you do not, find one anyway.  This past week, I drove a distance to a cabin where I could pray, re-center myself, and figure out who I am now after my life plans have been altered drastically.  I also took the opportunity to visit a cousin I had not seen since 2019, who now lives in Chicago.  I think that making this trip was something that was well timed.  God is all around us, but if we do not explore, go off the beaten path a little, and/or go somewhere new, we may become blind to God’s presence.  My second challenge is especially for those who are having trouble feeling gratitude: Find a change of scenery.  Do you not have anyone to go with?  It is okay to go yourself, as long as you can do so safely.  For me, it is traveling to a place I have not been before, and seeing new things.  It satisfies my enjoyment of traveling.  For you, maybe it is making that intention to sit in your backyard for an hour or two.  But do try something.

Psalm 126 asks us to consider God in gratitude.  The Psalmist reminded the listener that God “restored the fortunes of Zion, … then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy” (Psalm 126:1-2).  God brought the people out of Babylon and brought peace back to Jerusalem.  God brought the people out of Egypt and led them to a Promised Land.  There have been countless times where God has led the people out of suffering and into a better place.  Can you think of a time where God has done this for you and/or your family?  As the Psalmist continues, and as we should be continually reminded, “The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced” (Psalm 126:3).  We are not receiving the good things from God and taking them for granted.  We are showing God our appreciation for what God has done.

Isaiah 43 is recited by the prophet to the people while they were still in Babylon.  God is proclaiming a message of hope.  As he tries to get the people to be able to see the hope, and not be blinded by the suffering that they faced being exiled, he tells them, “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.  I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?  I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:18-19).  The exile is all that this generation has ever known.  All the former things are mostly bad for them.  They have to let go of those things if they are going to be able to feel hope, if they are going to be able to sense something new coming, and if they are going to be able to express gratitude.  Perhaps you have to let go of the old things, or the old thoughts, in order to ring in the new.  We may not perceive the good things that God is doing or is working on if we are blinded by the way that we have always known things to be, which is often clouded by our own perceptions of the world being against us or bad things always happening to us.  If we are never open to a change, we will never be able to see it or hear it.  Therefore, to be able to experience gratitude, you may need to try two things: First, change your scenery.  Second, let go of the former things.

In this part of Isaiah, it is also worth noting that God was trying to distinguish Godself from all the other gods that the people of Israel had been exposed to while in Babylon.  According to John Oswalt in a 2004 sermon called “The God of Newness,” God is not just one of the gods known in Babylon who just do the same old thing all the time.  God is the God who can do anything new too!  So you don’t have to lose hope in assuming that the way things have been is the way things always will be.  You can move past that.  Christians can move past that.  Anyone can move past it.  God makes things happen in a new way, and if God was making things new back then, God is surely still making things new today.  The life that you have led, as you have known it, is always capable of changing for the better.

An attitude of gratitude brings us closer to God.  It prevents the negative emotions and thoughts from overpowering us until that is all that we think about.  What can you be thankful for?  Do not just answer that question one day a year; try to answer it as your first thought when you wake up every morning.  I have tried a gratitude journal a few times.  I have found that my mind is much clearer when I keep it well.  I purchase a daily calendar from the dollar store or somewhere, and write one thing positive that happened each day.  It could be something that happened yesterday, that already happened that day, or that you are looking forward to that day.  But try to have one thing per day to be thankful for.  And then, try to express that thankfulness.  Write about it.  Sing a hymn.  Pray about it.  Give someone a testimony about it and perform an act of service for someone.  There are countless ways that we can show our gratitude to God.  Remember, your challenge is to find three things to thank God for this week (maybe you can find ten or more!), and also to find three people to express gratitude for.  Gratitude journals include a little bit of both.

If I were to read the gratitude journal Mary, the sister of Lazurus, I might read that she is thankful that she could serve the Lord in her home by washing his feet with her hair.  Martha may have said too, “Thank you that I had the privilege of cooking for my Lord.”  The opportunity to serve may be one of the things you find yourself thankful for: “Thank you God for giving me the resources to help this other person in their time of need.”  They also were expressing their gratitude to Jesus by cooking for him and washing him (John 12:1-8).

Remember, as you practice your attitude of gratitude, that the promise is eternity.  It is not a life free of suffering right now.  Too many people turn away from God because they expect life to be free from suffering.  They say, “If I am a Christian, God will bless me.”  Jesus did not promise this; he only promised a life of eternity in Heaven.  Do not let the little things that go wrong – nor the big things – steer you away from this path again.  Stand your ground.  Make gratitude a regular part of your life.  Thank God.  Thank your neighbor.  Give yourself opportunities to change your scenery.  Let go of the former things.  God is doing a new thing – in the world, in your life, and in the kingdom.  May all glory and honor be unto God.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

Scripture Readings:

Isaiah 43:16-21
43:16 Thus says the LORD, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters,
43:17 who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick:
43:18 Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.
43:19 I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
43:20 The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people,
43:21 the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.

Psalm 126
126:1 When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.
126:2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.”
126:3 The LORD has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.
126:4 Restore our fortunes, O LORD, like the watercourses in the Negeb.
126:5 May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.
126:6 Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.

John 12:1-8
12:1 Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead.
12:2 There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him.
12:3 Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
12:4 But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said,
12:5 “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?”
12:6 (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.)
12:7 Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.
12:8 You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

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