I can’t think of better series to preach after last week than a series called Thankful, but that’s exactly what I am. I am so thankful for what God is doing in our church and through our church. I am so thankful for each and every person that stepped out and said, “Yes! I’m all in! I’m ready to partner with Connect!” It was absolutely awesome. And I am so incredibly thankful.
And like Brian said, tonight we are kicking off a short, two-week series that is going to lead up to Thanksgiving. The series is simply called Thankful.
But what we’re going to see in this series is that thankfulness is not about a season. And it’s not about our situation. Seasons and situations change, but for people who follow Jesus, thankfulness is constant. It’s not a season. It’s not based on our situation. Thankfulness is a constant every single day of our lives.
We’re going to explore one verse in the book of 1 Thessalonians over the next couple of weeks. In 1 Thessalonians 5, the Apostle Paul writes, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NIV)
Tonight, we’re going to talk about what it means to “give thanks.” Then next week, we’ll see what it means to “give thanks in all circumstances.”
Craig Groeschel tells a story about a Boston consultant who was working with a bunch of college graduates. He told them, “Everyone in the work force today uses one word to describe this emerging generation. It starts with the letter ‘e.’”
He asked all the college graduates what they thought the word was. The came up with words like energetic, excellent, exceptional, and so on.
But actually, none of these words was the correct one. This consultant told all these graduates that the one word that is used to describe this generation is the word “entitled.”
Millenials have labeled as the “entitled generation.” Everyone owes us. We deserve more. We are entitled to it.
But now, for the rest of us, I want to remind us of something. Before we start say things like, “Ugh…kids today!” just remember this…we created this.
We’re the ones that spoiled our kids. We’re the ones that instilled the attitude of entitlement in them. They learned it from us.
For example, we are living with a record amount of consumer debt in our country. You know what debt is? Debt is our way of saying, “I want it NOW! I don’t want to save up for it. I don’t want to have anything to do with delayed gratification. I want it. I’m entitled to it. Give it to me NOW!”
“I can’t afford a new car, but I deserve one, so I’ll finance it for seven years. Doesn’t matter than I’ll end up paying thousands and thousands more than it’s worth. I deserve it, so I’m getting it.”
“I can’t afford a new TV, a premium satellite package, an iPhone 6, and all that stuff, but I want it. Everyone else has it, so I should have it too. Where’s my credit card?”
Let’s be honest…entitlement isn’t just an issue among milleninals. They learned it from us. The Baby Boomers. My generation, Generation X. And the millenials. Entitlement is something that our culture engrains in us, regardless of our age.
And here’s why this is such a huge problem. Because entitlement is the enemy of thankfulness. You can’t be entitled and thankful. They are mortal enemies. One of them is going to completely destroy the other. But we get to decide which one is going to win. It’s not forced on us. We get to choose.
And in the middle of that choice, we need to remember that entitlement is not God’s will for us. Paul says it very clearly. “…give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NIV)
He didn’t say, “Act entitled, for this is God’s will for you.” He didn’t say, “Believe that other people owe you, for this is God’s will for you.”
Paul said, “Give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Thankfulness is what God wants for us. Living with gratitude is God’s will for us.
But for us to embrace God’s will in our lives, we’ve got to kick entitlement to the curb. And if you’re pushing back against this, if you really do believe you’re entitled to something, then I want you to hear this.
You are. You are entitled to something. Hell. That’s what you’re entitled to. That’s what you deserve.
In Romans 6, Paul tells us, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23, NIV)
In this verse, Paul sets up a contrast between wages and gifts. He said the wages of sin is death. Wages are something you earn. It’s like receiving a paycheck. When you go to work tomorrow morning, you’re not doing it out of the goodness of your heart. You’re doing it because you expect to be paid. You work to earn your wages. When you receive your paycheck, it’s not a gift. You worked for it. You earned it. You deserve it. You’re entitled to it.
Paul said that “the wages of sin is death.” In other words, when we sin…and we all do…we earn death. We are entitled to an eternity of death in hell. So if you really want to push back on this whole entitlement thing, there you go. This is what you’re entitled to. This is what you deserve. Death. Eternal separation from God. Hell.
But, Paul also says that “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
A gift is the opposite of wages. You can’t earn a gift. You can’t deserve it. You can’t be entitled to it. Otherwise it stops being a gift.
Gifts are freely given. They can’t be earned or deserved. God gives us eternal life in Jesus as a free gift. And that free gift is the foundation of gratitude.
When you understand what you’re really entitled to, and then you understand what God has given you anyway, you will live with gratitude. You will live a life of thankfulness.
That’s why giving thanks is God’s will for you. Because He wants you to recognize that everything you have, you have because of His grace.
And that leads to joy. In the Old Testament book of Nehemiah, we are reminded that, “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10, NIV)
Our lives are powered by joy. Joy is the fuel in our tank. The joy of the Lord is our strength.
That’s one of the reasons why we do church the way we do here at Connect. Because we’ve seen enough church services that feel a whole lot more like funeral services. We don’t come to church to mourn. We come to celebrate, because the joy of the Lord is our strength!
And that joy is borne out of gratitude. Out of thankfulness.
The truth is that entitlement never leads to joy. Thankfulness always leads to joy.
When you receive something you’re entitled to, you don’t say, “Thank you.” You say, “That’s right. You should be giving me this. It’s mine. I’m entitled to it.”
Entitlement never leads to joy. But thankfulness always leads to joy. And Scripture tells us very plainly that the joy of the Lord is our strength.
But here’s the crazy thing…a whole lot of us sabotage our own joy. We sabotage the very source of our strength. A lot of people are living with no joy and no strength, but it was a total inside job. They took themselves down. It was self-sabotage.
And here’s how it happened…they started living of a life of comparison.
Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” That is absolutely true. So many of us have sabotaged our own joy because we started playing the comparison game. And it’s a game that we can never, ever win.
A few weeks ago, Nicki and I got to hang out with my old college roommate and his family. We don’t get to see them nearly as often as we would like, so it was awesome to get to hang out with them.
My roommate’s name is Janeil. Janeil and his wife are missionaries in Haiti, and it was amazing to hear about what God is doing through them in one of the poorest nations on the planet.
But one thing that he said really struck me. He said, “Things have changed. A lot of the people of Haiti used to be grateful for whatever they had because, to be honest, they didn’t know what they didn’t have.”
But now, he said things have changed because of social media. He said that the kids in their orphanages all have a Facebook account. And through Facebook, they are exposed to western civilization. And now, they know what they don’t have. And he said the result is that it has robbed them of joy and it has created a new sense of entitlement. He said that it has had a profound impact on the entire nation.
That’s what comparison does. And before you think, “Oh, those poor, misguided Haitians,” I’d like to point out that most of us are poor, misguided Americans. We do the same thing. We just do it on a much bigger scale.
Think about it…do you ever compare yourself to someone who has less than you? No. We always compare our lives to the lives of people who we perceive as above us.
We compare ourselves to people who make more money than us, who live in a better house than us, drive a newer car than us, are thinner than us, are better dressed than us, are smarter than us, are more talented than us, and on and on and on.
And does that ever lead to joy? It leads to resentment and anger and envy and frustration and emptiness and jealousy…but it never leads to joy.
But Scripture gives us a better way. Listen to what Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 6. “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. [Contentment is what God wants for us. But watch what happens when we fall into comparison. Look at the next verses.]
Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.
Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1 Timothy 6:6-10, NIV)
When we compare, when we start lusting after more and more and more because we aren’t content with what we have, we end up destroying ourselves. Paul said we plunge ourselves into ruin and destruction. We pierce ourselves with many griefs. It is a completely self-defeating, self-destructive lifestyle…and yet we all do it.
Just like entitlement is the enemy of thankfulness, comparison is the enemy of contentment.
I’m content with the car I drive, until I see the car that you drive. I’m content that my kid is doing his/her best in school, until I log on Facebook and see that your kid got straight A’s. I’m content that our house is good enough, until I visit your house that is bigger and newer than mine, and it has more closet space, and a furnished basement.
And in a flash, contentment is replaced with resentment. And joy is replaced with jealousy. Just like that.
While my family was on vacation this past summer, we took our boys to an arcade. It was pouring down rain that day, so doing something inside seemed like the right idea.
Ryan and Brock had two very different experiences at the arcade. Ryan was playing all the skill games, trying to win as many tickets as possible. It’s kind of like Chuck E. Cheese, where you play to earn tickets that you can exchange for some piece of junk that will be lost or broken by the next day.
But anyway, Ryan was playing the skill games. He was playing skee ball. He was shooting basketball. And he was playing Fruit Ninja. And he was doing pretty well. He had a stack of tickets.
But meanwhile, Brock wasn’t playing the skill games. He was playing games where it’s all chance and luck. No skill. No strategy. Just plain luck.
And Brock hit the jackpot not once. Not even twice. But three times. He won 300 tickets. Then he won 500 tickets. The he won 1,000 tickets. It was crazy. I’ve never seen anything like that before. And in the back of my mind, I’m thinking, “How can I sneak Brock into a casino, because the kid’s on fire!” I had never seen anything like this before.
And neither had Ryan. He could not believe that, through plain luck, his brother had hundreds more tickets than he did.
Now, like I said, Ryan was doing pretty well. He had a nice stack of tickets. And he was good with that…until he compared his stack of tickets to his brother’s stack. And his contentment was immediately gone.
And I tried to use this as a teachable moment for Ryan, but it was also a teachable moment for me because I play that exact same game. I play the comparison game all the time. And I lose all the time. I lose because the game is rigged. The comparison game is something that we can never, ever win.
But Steven Furtick said something so wise about this. He said, the reason we struggle with jealousy and envy and insecurity is because “we’re comparing our behind-the-scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel.”
That really resonates with me. It is so, so true.
That person that you’re comparing yourself to…all you see is their highlight reel.
Their Facebook page…highlight reel.
Their vacation pictures…highlight reel.
Their super nice, super clean house…highlight reel.
Their seemingly perfect family…highlight reel.
All you’re seeing is the homerun. You’re not seeing all the strikeouts. All you’re seeing is the 60-yard touchdown pass. You’re not seeing all the incompletions and fumbles and interceptions.
When you compare your behind-the-scenes to someone else’s highlight reel, you will always lose. Always. It will rob you contentment. It will rob you of thankfulness. It will rob you of joy.
It’s a game that we can never win, so it’s about time that we just change games.
Go back to our verse in 1 Thessalonians again. Paul reminds us to “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NIV)
This is a call to be thankful, to live in contentment. But it’s not just Paul saying, “Do this!” Paul is saying, “Do this, and here’s how.”
Give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
The reason we can be thankful and the reason we can be content is Jesus.
If I am secure with who I am in Christ, then I don’t need to compare myself to you.
If I understand that everything I have is because of God’s grace that is given to me through Jesus, then I won’t ever feel entitled.
If I focus on the fact that I can never be good enough, but Jesus was good enough for me…if I remember that Jesus gave up His life for mine…then I will live in constant, never-ending thankfulness.
Hebrews 12 gives us the key. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2, NIV 1984)
The more we fix our eyes on Jesus, the more content we will be. The more we understand the sacrifice that Jesus made for us on the cross, the less entitled we will feel. The more we see that Jesus did it all for us…He is the author and perfecter of our faith…He sat down at the right hand of the Father, which symbolizes that the work was finished…the more we see Jesus as all we need, the more thankful and grateful we will become.
The first core value of our church is it’s all about Jesus. Thankfulness is all about Jesus. Living with gratitude is all about Jesus.
Stop allowing comparison to define you. Stop allowing entitlement to bring you down. Fix your eyes on Jesus. See His finished work for you. See His all-sufficiency for you.
Every time we compare ourselves to someone else, we are telling Jesus, “I’m allowing someone besides You to define me.”
Every time we act entitled, we’re telling Jesus, “I deserve something more than You.”
Every time we lack contentment, we’re telling Jesus, “You are not enough for me.”
But every time we give thanks, every time we choose contentment over comparison, every time we choose gratitude over entitlement, we’re telling Jesus, “Yes. I believe You are all-sufficient. I believe You are enough for me. It’s all about You, Jesus. You are the source of my joy. I am content and I am thankful because of You.”
There’s a great prayer in Psalm 119. “Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.” (Psalm 119:37, ESV)
There is transformative power in that prayer. “God, turn my eyes from looking at worthless things.”
Do you know how worthless it is to allow yourself to be dominated by comparison? To compare your behind-the-scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel? I can’t think of anything more worthless than that, and yet I do it all the time.
“God, turn my eyes from looking at worthless things.”
Do you know how worthless it is to allow ourselves to be defined by what we do or don’t have? We have been given grace and freedom and life in Jesus. God gave up His own Son for us. Nothing we can buy, nothing we can own, nothing we can accumulate can ever top that. And nothing we don’t have, nothing we can’t own, nothing that is out of our reach can ever take that away.
“God, turn my eyes from looking at worthless things.”
It is so worthless to find our identity in anything or anyone other than Jesus. You are so loved. You are so valued. You are so accepted in Jesus. Why are we thankful? That’s why.
“God, turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.”
We find our life in Jesus. We find our life in His ways, in His truth, in His Word, in His promises, in His grace, in His love. That’s where we find life. And that’s why we are thankful.