A little boy was asked by his father to say grace at the table. While the rest of the family waited, the little boy eyed every dish of food his mother had prepared. After the examination, he bowed his head and honestly prayed, “Lord, I don’t like the looks of it, but I thank you for it and I’ll eat it anyway. Amen.”
Have you ever felt like that? You know you should be thankful but it’s not really what you want and yet you make the choice to be thankful anyway. That little boy was being pretty mature. His mother may not have appreciated it but I believe God did. Thankfulness is a sign of maturity. Babies are not thankful to their mothers for changing their diapers and giving them food and a warm bed. But nobody expects that from a baby. But as we mature, expectations change.
Because of the holiday Thanksgiving, November is a natural month to talk about being thankful. And so for the next 3 Sundays, I would like to look at 3 different biblical characters that were thankful. Now, some of you may hear that and think that a whole 3-sermon series is not really necessary since we are all thankful. I mean, we talked about it just this morning. Everybody is thankful to some degree or another, right?
And maybe that’s true but at the same time, I believe it is time well spent to see what true thankfulness looks like and how it manifests itself in our lives. Webster defines it as “grateful and appreciative”. That’s it. But I am afraid that there is more to it than that, at least from God’s perspective. Maybe it is just the depth of your gratitude that is the difference.
If you came to me and said, “Pastor, here are the keys to that new yellow Corvette ZR1 convertible you have always wanted. I hope you like the leather seats and engine upgrade. We just wanted to show you how much we love and appreciate you.” And if I grabbed the keys and walked off toward the car and said, “Thanks” over my shoulder, how would you feel? I mean, I met the qualification for being thankful at least according to Webster. But you would tell everybody about what an ungrateful and unappreciative pastor you have!
At Christmas time people can be so sensitive. Have you ever opened a present and not shown quite enough gratitude? “I’ll just take it back if you don’t like it. Don’t worry about it. I picked it out just for you knowing how much you like sweaters with pictures of squids on them but I’ll take it back and stand in line for 2 hours and just bring you the money so you can go waste it on something stupid. Don’t worry about me.” Good grief.
At the same time, nobody wants you to drum up or manufacture or fake your gratitude, especially God. He wants you to feel and show true thankfulness and we do that by wrapping our brains around what all He has given and the price that He paid. That changes everything about our attitude of gratitude when we realize that. But over the next 3 weeks, I want us to see what thankfulness looks like when it truly manifests itself in our lives.
Let’s do that today by looking at an interesting and unique character from the Old Testament in Genesis chapter 50, verses 15-21. Joseph may not be the person in the Bible that most people think about when they think of characters who are grateful and appreciative. Joseph may be the person you think about when you think of people who have gotten a raw deal from God.
You know the story of Joseph. As a young man he was sold into slavery by his brothers. He spent years and years in jail for crimes he didn’t commit. He had everything taken away from him on more than one occasion. He was forgotten, abandoned, lied about and yet while we know that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, there is no record in the Bible of Joseph ever doing anything worse than being a little arrogant as a youngster. And yet, Joseph was thankful. Let’s see it in Genesis 50:15-21.
15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” 16 So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: 17 ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.18 His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.
I got a little creative this week and added a bulletin insert on which you can take notes and follow along. I hope it helps. I can’t say I will continue to do it every week but we will see. And we all know that a good sermon has 3 points and a poem and this one has 6 points and no poem so hopefully it will be twice as good and not twice as long, huh?
I want you to look at verse 20 once again. That is a sentence that can only be said by a mature person who is thankful. He is not saying it didn’t happen or that it didn’t hurt. He is not saying that there was a misunderstanding nor is he saying it was his fault. He is not pretending to accept part of the blame to make them feel better. Joseph says it like it is. “You wanted to harm me…”
So, now he has stated the facts. The next thing that comes out of his mouth is the important stuff. Whatever he says next will show how he feels and what is about to happen to his family. He has all the right to finish that phrase with a death sentence or a hanging or at least a punch in the face and we would know that Joseph had not forgiven nor was he thankful for how it turned out.
Instead we see that Joseph was a forgiving person, which is in itself a sign of thankfulness, but he also sees the big picture and that makes Joseph very thankful. “But God intended it for good…”
If I were to ask you this morning if you are a thankful person, I am quite sure that almost everybody would say yes. And as we discussed earlier, depth of thankfulness becomes an issue. But for some others, timing is the issue. I was thankful yesterday because such and such happened but not so much today. I will be thankful tomorrow when it rains but today I wouldn’t say I’m as thankful.
Looking at the life of Joseph in Genesis 50, we can see that thankfulness has nothing to do with timing. In fact, in this passage, we see that Joseph has his brothers right where he wants them if he wanted to get revenge. He remembers what happened. They remember what happened. Nobody has forgotten. It is interesting what they tell Joseph. I don’t believe for a minute that their father left them instructions telling them to tell Joseph to forgive them. That was just the brothers feeling guilty and trying to save their necks.
And I believe that Joseph sees this too and that is why he wept in verse 17. You see, for Joseph, thankfulness is not dependent on the past. For Joseph, the past was a harsh memory. Nothing could completely erase those years of imprisonment. Nothing could change the fact that his brothers had hated him so bad they wanted to kill him. But Joseph was thankful even in spite of his past and he proved it by not holding the events of the past over their heads.
Joseph was thankful for what God had done and it did not depend on his own difficulties in the past.
Also, I want you to see that Joseph’s thankfulness is not changed by the present. In the present situation, Joseph has some options and I can see some pretty unpleasant alternatives for his brothers if Joseph had not been mindful of what God had done. At this point, Joseph is in the driver’s seat. He has all the power and the resources to make the lives of his brothers worse than his ever was.
If you had asked Joseph 2 weeks ago if he was thankful, I’m sure he would have honestly said yes but now the proof comes out. Now in the present, Joseph might have said, “Well, I was thankful but now I’m ready for revenge. It’s my time now boys! Bow down before me now and I’ll chop off your heads!” But we see that Joseph’s thankfulness is not changed by the present. His thankfulness supersedes his right and ability to be mad and vengeful.
His thankfulness is not dependent on the past nor changed by the present but it is mindful of the future. He tells his brothers to not be afraid. “I will provide for you and your children.” Joseph understands that God has been at work his whole life. It was not in the way that Joseph had expected and he certainly would not have chosen this path but it is obvious that God has allowed all of the heartache, loneliness and pain so that he would someday be able to provide for his family and so Joseph now does his part to show his thankfulness to God by being mindful of the future of his family.
Now I want us to see how thankfulness manifests itself in our lives. You can talk about it. You can say you are thankful. You can encourage others to be thankful. You can write long, fascinating books on why and how to be thankful but until it shows up in your life, until it bears bold and bountiful fruit, you are just wasting your breath.
In the life of Joseph, we see 3 ways that thankfulness manifests itself. The first way is not mentioned with words here in this passage. Joseph doesn’t say it out loud. He doesn’t have to. It is obvious to the brothers and it is obvious to us that Joseph has forgiven his brothers. When we are truly thankful, it will manifest itself in forgiveness.
I wish I had time to do this subject justice but suffice to say that forgiveness, true forgiveness is difficult. It doesn’t come easy, we all know that. It is not our default setting. But it will show up when we see the big picture. When we see that God has allowed everything in our lives to happen to make us into who we are supposed to be then we can start to truly forgive people. Repeat. He allowed Joseph to be sold, made a slave, slandered, forgotten, and abused to bring him to this point in his life where he can save the lives of his family. And in doing so, God, not Joseph, gets the glory.
That’s how God works in our lives. It is probably not going to be how we would have done it but His ways are higher than our ways and in the end, we see it was for our benefit. That makes you thankful and that will manifest itself in forgiveness.
We also see that in the life of Joseph, thankfulness manifests itself verbally. Joseph could have stopped with the first part of verse 20 and just said, “You intended to harm me!” But he continued with, ”…but God intended it for good…”. He voiced his appreciation for what had happened in his life.
We are very thankful for the veterans in our country and we are grateful all year around. But today is one of the days when we actually voice our appreciation for what they have done. If you never tell someone you love them or appreciate them, it’s hard to believe that you really do. If you never tell your wife that you love her but you feel it in your heart, is that enough? Probably not.
It’s the same way with God. When you are thankful for what He has done, it will manifest itself verbally. And lastly, thankfulness will manifest itself in our lives when all of this comes together and our thankfulness is not diminished by timing, it has been shown in our lives as forgiveness and we verbally express it. But ultimately, it will manifest itself toward God.
Like Joseph, most of us have had difficulties in this life. Job said, “Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble.” But, also like Joseph, we have a lot to be thankful for. God knows the trouble you have seen. Over and over again through Genesis it says this sentence: And God was with Joseph. God was with him in the well. He was with him in slavery, in prison, when it was lonely and when it was painful.
God allowed all of that to happen to make him into the man he was supposed to be but to the very end it says God was with him. And while Joseph was unique in lots of ways, this isn’t one of them. God promises to be with us in everything we go through; the good times and the bad. And like Joseph, that should make us thankful to Him.