The Ultimate Lifestyle: Living Gratefully
This week and next, we’re looking at the ultimate lifestyle. It’s a good time to talk about the ultimate lifestyle, because Toronto Life just released its annual list of who makes what. For instance, we learned that Conrad Black’s butler makes sixty thousand pounds, not including his apartment and living expenses. That works out to about $140,000 Canadian a year. Or that the chair of the TD Bank raked in $8.4 million in salary, bonus, and stock options. Or of the woman who went to her boss and said, “I’m having a nervous breakdown and you have to pay for it.” I guess a lot of us have been having nervous breakdowns for free. In any case, it appears that there are a lot of people who are living the ultimate lifestyle.
No matter what you make, I can guarantee that no one here this morning believes that they are living the ultimate lifestyle. Today is the first long weekend of the summer – the official kickoff of summer. This morning, if I took you two hours north of here, you would discover people living in bigger cottages than the home that you own. You would find people having a more relaxed time than you – partying more than you. They have better toys than you have. This morning, I could take you to downtown Toronto to one of the office towers and show you somebody who is working at their desk. It’s a long weekend but they’re too busy. They’re too important. No matter where you turn, you can find someone who is richer than you, more relaxed than you, having more fun than you, or is more important than you. There’s always someone that we think is living the ultimate lifestyle.
What is the ultimate lifestyle? It has nothing to do with how much you make or what you own. It has nothing to do with how retired you are or how much fun you have on weekends. The ultimate lifestyle can be defined by two words: gratitude and joy. If you have these two qualities, it doesn’t matter what is happening in your life. You will be living the ultimate lifestyle.
Now, most people aren’t grateful automatically. An older fellow who had a post card in his hand approached a man writing at the post office desk. The old man said, “Sir, could you please address this post card for me?” The man gladly did so, and he agreed to write a short message on the post card, and he even signed it for the man, too.
Finally the man doing the writing said to the older man, “Now, is there anything else I can do for you?” The old fellow thought about it for a minute, and he said, “Yes, at the end could you just put, ‘P.S. Please excuse the sloppy handwriting.'” People aren’t naturally grateful.
One of the reasons we struggle with gratitude is the pace of life. We’re too hurried to be thankful. We’re so accustomed to being on the run that we never stop long enough to recognize how blessed we are. We’re also too consumer oriented. We begin to approach life as if it’s a big shopping trip, in which the name of the game is acquiring more. We’re so busy and given to consumerism that we take everything for granted. We forget to show gratitude to God for all that he has given us.
Why should we be grateful? Three reasons.
1. UNGRATEFUL PEOPLE ARE NEVER SATISFIED
No matter what happens in life, ungrateful people are never satisfied. It’s never good enough for them. People who live without gratitude are always waiting for something bigger and better before they’ll be thankful. In Isaiah 1:3, God says, “Even the animals-the donkey and the ox-know their owner and appreciate his care, but not my people Israel. No matter what I do for them, they still do not understand.” Ungrateful people are never satisfied, no matter what they receive from God.
The truth is – if you’re never satisfied with the little things in life, you won’t be satisfied with the big things either. Ungrateful people are never satisfied.
2. UNGRATEFUL PEOPLE ARE STRESSED OUT
I found a can that said, “Warning: Contents Under Pressure.” I thought that should be a warning label I put on people that I meet often. We are a stressed out generation. And one of the reasons that we are so stressed out is that we are ungrateful.
Here’s how it works. People who lack gratitude believe that they have done it all themselves. Now, if you believe that you have done it all for yourself in the past, you probably believe that it’s up to you as well in the future. You don’t need people. You don’t need God. You end up carrying the load yourself. And the result is a stressed-out life.
What’s the antidote to stress? Gratitude. Grateful people realize that everything comes from God. 1 Chronicles 29:16 says, “O LORD our God, as for all this abundance…it comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you.” If you don’t realize that everything comes from God, then you start feeling responsible. Ungrateful people lead stressed out lives.
3. UNGRATEFUL PEOPLE ARE JOYLESS
Most people don’t enjoy life; they just endure it. They don’t enjoy happiness. We think that life must be perfect for us to be happy. Ungrateful people are never satisfied and always stressed out. As a result they miss out on the joy that God wants them to experience.
I’ll put it this way. The healthiest human emotion is not love but the healthiest human emotion is gratitude. It actually increases your immunities. It makes you more resistant to stress and less susceptible to illness. It’s the healthiest emotion. It’s an attitude of gratitude. People who are grateful are happy. But people who are ungrateful are miserable because nothing makes them happy. They’re never satisfied. It’s never good enough. So if you cultivate the attitude of gratitude, of being thankful in everything, it reduces stress in your life.
How do you be thankful in tough times? When the economy is not good; when things aren’t going your way. How do you be thankful in tough times? The Bible gives us three keys to developing thankful hearts:
1. RECOGNIZE THAT EVERYTHING IS A GIFT OF GOD
The first key to being thankful is to remember who gave us what we have in the first place. We’re very good at getting. But the problem is that we very quickly forget who gave us all that we have in the first place.
Here’s an experiment for you. Go to a McDonalds one day and buy a coffee. Sit close to the cash and watch parents buy things for their kids. Then watch as they sit down and the parents try to eat one of those french fries. Who gave the kids those french fries? We have a tendency to forget that everything that we have isn’t ours – it’s God’s. We just get to use it. Everything that we have is a gift from God.
A lot of us are falling into the trap that God warned about a long time ago. Listen to what God said to Israel in Deuteronomy 8:
When you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold multiplied along with everything else, that is the time to be careful. Do not become proud at that time…Always remember that it is the LORD your God who gives you power to become rich. (Deuteronomy 8:12-18)
1 Chronicles 29:16 says, “O LORD our God, as for all this abundance…it comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you.” Acts 17:28 says, “In him we live and move and exist.” Every breath that we take is a gift from God.
If God never did another single thing in your life, you owe him everything. We say, “I’ve worked for what I have. I deserve it.” Where did you get your talent? God. Where did you get your health? God. Your mind? God. The opportunity? God. Freedom? God. Everything you have is a gift of God.
How can we do this? How can we remember that God is the source of everything? The best way is to establish a relationship with him. Romans 1:21 says talks of wicked people this way: “Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t wors hip him as God or even give him thanks.” One of the signs that you don’t have a relationship with God is when you don’t thank him. The first step to thanking God – to living the way that he designed – is to come to have a relationship with him. You do this by coming to him and asking for this relationship to be established.
This morning we celebrated communion. One word that churches have used to describe communion is the Eucharist – which means give thanks. Give thanks for what? For the fact that Jesus came to this earth to pay for our sins – all the things that we have ever done wrong against God. Jesus came to take care of the mistakes of your past, to give you a purpose for the present, and to give you a hope to the future. The most important way to develop a grateful mindset is to come to know God through his son Jesus.
Another way to remember that God is the source of everything is simply to pray. Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). When we pray like this, we begin to realize that we really are dependent on God for everything that we have and do.
Another way to remember that God is the source of all things is to give back to God. Giving back to God reminds us that God owns everything in the first place. We’re just the managers of what he gives us. We’re not the owners. Giving reminds us that everything that we have is a gift from God.
I’ll tell you something. What you give is an indication of how grateful you are. Giving is a sign of gratefulness. Deuteronomy 16:10 says, “Bring him a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings you have received from him.”
We also need to make time to give thanks. That’s what today is. We came to worship God. Why? Because he’s worthy of our worship. But another reason is that we want to thank him for all that he’s done. God deserves our worship because of how good he is to us. Recognize that everything that we have is a gift of God.
There’s a second key to developing a thankful heart:
2. RECALL ALL THAT GOD HAS DONE
There used to be an old song, “Count Your Blessing, Name Them One By One.” I think that’s a good thing for you to do. Go make a list. I did the other day. I sat down and made a list of things I was grateful for – my heritage, my wife, my kids, and the wonderful staff that God has brought to serve with me here. I began to think of the privilege of living in Canada; the wealth that God has given me. I never have to worry about where I’m going to sleep or what I’m going to eat. I’m grateful for my friends – those who are praying for me, who let me know in small ways that they’re committed to me. Yesterday I got to spend an entire day with my family. What are you grateful for? Make a list.
One thing that you notice in the Bible is how many times thankful people recall all that God has done for them. Psalm 103:2 says, “Praise the LORD, I tell myself, and never forget the good things he does for me.” What kind of things? For one thing, for God’s grace. David writes, “Who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases…he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:3.10-12).
Aren’t you glad that God doesn’t give you what you deserve? Aren’t you glad instead that God gives you what you need? If you don’t understand grace, and if your heart doesn’t explode with gratitude when you understand the grace of God, you have no idea of what bad shape you were in before you met Christ. Let me summarize it in one word – hopeless. You had no meaning, no purpose in your life, guilt, fear, bitterness, worry, regrets. You had nothing you could do to get rid of them. You had no hope for the future. You were headed for hell not heaven. There was nothing you could do about it. You would never be good enough to earn your salvation. But God came along in his wonderful love and said, “I’m just going to show you grace.” I am thankful to God for the grace that he has shown me.
Bud David is also thankful for everything else that he has received from God. “He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (Psalm 103:5). I love that. Someone translated this verse, “He wraps you in goodness-beauty eternal. He renews your youth-you’re always young in his presence.” Psalm 68:19 says, “Praise the Lord; praise God our savior! For each day he carries us in his arms.”
What has God done for you? Make a list. Recall all that God has done.
There’s one more key to developing a grateful heart:
3. RESOLVE TO GIVE THANKS IN EVERY CIRCUMSTANCE
Many of us are waiting for ideal circumstances before we’re thankful. If you’re like me, you’re always waiting for things to get better. For our health to improve. For our relationships to improve. For the bills to be paid. For the time when we can sit back in our lazy chair and say, “Life is good. I’m finally thankful.”
But that’s not what the Bible says. We’re to give thanks in every circumstance – even when life isn’t going well. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Now, circle the word “in”. That’s one of the most important words to keep you from misinterpreting this verse. It does not say “Give thanks for every circumstance.” That’s often a misinterpretation you hear with TV preachers. They’ll say things like, “You should give thanks for everything.” The Bible doesn’t teach that. It says give thanks in every circumstance. You have a flat tire. Do you say, “Thank God”? You just had a car wreck … “Praise the Lord!” Be serious. That’s loony Christianity, not biblical Christianity.
You don’t have to give thanks for evil in the world. If my children were murdered I would not be thankful. If my wife came down with cancer, I would not be thankful. When there is a war with one country against the other, I’m not thankful for the war. The Bible does not say be thankful for evil. It says, “In every circumstance give thanks.” Not for every circumstance. What’s the difference?
Even out of bad God can bring good. In every circumstance, no matter how bad it is, you can give thanks to God because (a) I know He has a purpose bigger than the problem and (b) He will give me the power to overcome the problem, and (c) I will grow through the experience if I allow it to help me grow. In every circumstance. Even in the evil that happens in the world I can be thankful because I know God is greater than the problem.
A lot of people ask, “What is God’s will is for my life?” It’s right there. “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will.” You want to know God’s will for your life? “In everything give thanks.” In fact, if you’re not experiencing the attitude of gratitude you’re out of God’s will. If you are experiencing this attitude of gratitude, I’ll make you a promise: it doesn’t matter what circumstances you’re under. You’re experiencing the healthiest emotion. You have a grateful heart. You have the greatest stress reliever known to man.
How can I be grateful when I’ve lost so much? I’ve lost my job, I’ve lost my health, I’ve lost my husband or wife. How can I be thankful in that situation? You look not at what you’ve lost. You look at what you have left. And you have an awful lot left. You’re still alive. You look at what you have left.
A friend of mine lost his wife. In the hospital waiting room one night, someone asked him, “How can you say you still love God? God is taking away your wife. How can you say you love him?” My friend said, “God gave me my wife. He allowed me to be married to her for decades. Why do I love God? I love him for giving me my wife in the first place.”
So the question is: What are you taking for granted? Your health? Your freedom? Your relationships? In everything give thanks. Gratitude is a stress reliever because it gets your eyes off the problem and puts it on the positive things in your life.
Colossians 3:17 says, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Whatever you do, give thanks.
Mother Theresa told this story in an address to the National Prayer Breakfast in 1994:
One evening we went out, and we picked up four people from the street. And one of them was in a most terrible condition. I told the sisters, “You take care of the other three; I will take care of the one who looks worst.”
So I did for her all that my love could do. I put her in bed, and there was such a beautiful smile on her face. She took hold of my hand as she said two words only: “Thank you.” Then she died. I could not help but examine my conscience before her. And I asked: What would I say if I were in her place? And my answer was very simple. I would have tried to draw a little attention to myself. I would have said, “I am hungry, I am dying, I am in pain,” or something. But she gave me much more; she gave me her grateful love. And she died with a smile on her face. Gratitude brings a smile and becomes a gift.
I don’t know what you are going through this morning, but I will tell you one thing. You can be grateful. You can give thanks to God no matter what circumstance you’re in. Recognize that everything that you have is a gift from God. Recall all that God has done. And resolve to give thanks no matter what circumstance you’re in.
The attitude of gratitude can do a miracle in your life. It releases the power of God when we thank Him, when we praise Him. It frees you from being dissatisfied, stressed out, and joyless.
Today, instead of complaining about your problems, start counting your blessings. Instead of looking at what you’ve lost, start looking at all you have left. Say today, “Dear Jesus Christ, today I realize how everything I have is a gift from you. I thank you for the peace that you offer me through prayer. I thank you, Lord for the list of things I can write down that you have given me as I count my blessings. I acknowledge that you have been at work in my life, even in the difficult circumstances.
I pray, Lord, that you would help me to show my gratitude by singing, and serving and giving and telling others. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.”