Amazing Things Can Happen With Thanksgiving

New World UMCPastor's Blog

This is the tenth of eleven messages in the series of “Amazing Things Can Happen.” So far, we have learned how Amazing Things Can Happen when we pray, when we plan, when we work together, when we overcome antagonism, when we stop strife, when we stay steadfast, when we welcome joy, when we confess, and when we are committed. Today’s message is “Amazing Things Can Happen With Thanksgiving.”

“Thanksgiving” is a recurring theme in the Bible. It is often mentioned as an act of worship. For example, Psalm 100:4, “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name.” And Psalm 50:23, “Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honor me.” Here, worship is our way to say, “Thank you!” to God. Hence, these Scriptures speak of thanksgiving as our response to our knowledge and experience of God in our lives.

Why does the Bible speak of thanksgiving so much in the way it does? I believe because God wants us to appreciate the gift of life—even with the challenges and all the suffering we may face. With thanksgiving, we worship and honor God and experience peace and hope because we are reminded we are not alone and that life is more than what we see or have at any given moment. In other words, when we are grateful, we can see the future with our hearts.

The apostle Paul speaks of this in Philippians 4:10-13, saying,

“I rejoice… for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me.”

Paul’s strength in Christ “to do all things” was based on his ability to be grateful in all circumstances—even as he may have been upset, discouraged, or disappointed. Thanksgiving made him strong not for selfish gain but to remain faithful to his faith, knowing he had a promised future and life in Jesus. So, no matter what happened to him, he knew life was much more than having plenty or little.

(Now you know what that verse means. So, next time you want to conjure it to help your team win, don’t be that person.)

What does this have to do with Nehemiah? We are now arriving at the conclusion of this book. This is the second-to-last message in this series. Today we are learning from chapters 11 and 12, which cover people’s commitment to populating the city of Jerusalem and acts of thanksgiving for what God had accomplished through them and for them.

I have two main points for this message: thanksgiving happens when we appreciate the blessing, and thanksgiving is expressed with unreserved joy.

Let’s look at what happened in these chapters and what they teach us about thanksgiving. Here is Nehemiah 11:1-2,

“Now the leaders of the people lived in Jerusalem; and the rest of the people cast lots to bring one out of ten to live in the holy city Jerusalem, while nine-tenths remained in the other towns. And the people blessed all those who willingly offered to live in Jerusalem.”

What is happening here is that now that the walls and gates of Jerusalem were restored, the following action was to inhabit the city. It began with the leaders setting an example by moving to live in the city, and then others volunteered or were drafted.

Why is that? For a city to prosper, it must be populated. Nehemiah and the rest did not rebuild the walls and the Temple to lose it to antagonistic neighbors or a foreign army.

By doing this, these people exhibited an exemplary commitment to their faith and future. They dedicated themselves with all they had for the success of their people. They moved out of their comfort zones by leaving behind their homes, work, neighbors, and all the familiar. They had a pioneer spirit and were willing to endure temporary discomforts to make things better.

Why would they do all this? Because they believed in a greater cause and knew where they belonged—and it was not away from their ancestors’ homeland. This was their home too, and they were committed to it.

What does this have to do with thanksgiving? The most powerful and life-changing experiences that lead to thanksgiving are the ones we get to live and know what they cost.

For example, those who have experienced profound hardship are thankful for peace; those who have been abused are thankful for kindness; those who have been mistreated are thankful for compassion; those who have experienced the loss of a loved one are thankful for family and friends; those who have experienced illness are thankful for health.

These people grew away from their homeland for many years, and now their home, where they belonged, was there, and they were not going to let it go. They were willing to endure the challenges of rebuilding their homes because they were grateful for having one.

The more we experience life, the more thankful we become for everything and anything we have.

How many times have we missed the blessing of God because we thought too little of what we had? How often have we been ungrateful for blessings because they stretch us out too much?

One of the saddest things I sometimes see is people being ungrateful and even complaining about what they have because it makes them uncomfortable or challenges them.

Imagine these people saying, “Yeah, the wall looks good, but now we have to repair a home for us too. Why did you do this to us, Nehemiah? Why would God give us the hardship of rebuilding our homes?”

Putting aside the obvious (the complaining), the blessing will never come as a final product. Why? Because we would not appreciate it and like spoiled kids, we will always ask for the newer thing, wasting everything away (see The Parable of the Prodigal Son, Luke 15:11-32).

Instead, God’s blessing is nurtured and grown in our lives through grace and dedication. Think of a seed that you plant and tend to it to see it grow and give fruit. The fruit is the blessing of the nurturing that happened over time through sunny and rainy days, through hot and cold weather. So, when we pray for fruit, God does not give us a full-grown tree but seeds.

So, let us not say we are thankful and then discard the blessing because it does not look like too much or challenges us. But let us always be grateful whether we have little or plenty.

This leads me to the second and last point from Nehemiah 12:27,

“Now at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought out the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with rejoicing, with thanksgivings and with singing, with cymbals, harps, and lyres.”

These people had joyful hearts and sang songs of thanksgiving. They got loud worshiping God with all kinds of instruments and singing. There is a choir, a band, worship leaders, and all of them are jubilant.

Did you know at least twenty-two different musical instruments are mentioned in the Bible, including the harp, the lyre (a guitar), horns, trumpets, flutes, tambourines, drums, cymbals, and bells? (I think God likes all kinds of music and instruments, like a lot. Don’t you think?)

These people were obviously excited for the gift of having back their ancestral land and homes—and they showed it enthusiastically. Verse 43 says they were loud too, “They offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced. The joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.”

Everyone knew they were celebrating. They were no longer the quiet and fearful people they used to be. Their worship was a testimony to others, and what they heard was not so much the singing itself as the joy in singing. Being thankful changed them. Imagine that.

What does this mean to us? We should not be mute about God’s goodness and never be ashamed for what we are thankful for and what God is doing in our lives. There are people out there that rejoice in evil and the suffering of others. Shouldn’t we be louder rejoicing in goodness and people’s blessings? Shouldn’t we celebrate and rejoice with thanksgiving for the gift of life and faith?

If you ask me what’s the secret to a good life, I would tell you a kind, thankful heart. Having a thankful heart means appreciating life in the present moment and holding onto the promise of a better future. It is appreciating our blessings as little or as big as they may be today and being responsible and dedicated stewards. It is noticing simple acts of kindness and acknowledging God’s generosity.

A thankful heart makes us healthier in all kinds of ways. It gives us a positive outlook on everything. It provides us with the strength to face any challenge because of the promise of a better tomorrow—as with the apostle Paul.

Remember, Nehemiah and the others were rebuilding in what used to be a war zone—like in Ukraine right now. They were coming out of rubbles, yet this is what they were doing: committing themselves to the rebuilding of the city with thankful hearts.

My friends, when we trust God in whatever circumstances we are facing, acting on what is right and kind, we will always be the overcomers because amazing, miraculous, unexpected, wonderful things happen with committed thankful hearts.