"The Transforming Power of a Thankful Heart" by Joel Shorey
Date: 2017-02-26
Text: Philippians 4:4-9
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2017-02-26 • Guest Speaker • Philippians 4:4-9
                                                           
1. Gratitude Fuels Joy, Phil. 4:4
2. Gratitude Strengthens Relationships, Phil. 4:5
3. Gratitude Calms Fears, Phil. 4:6-7
4. Gratitude Focuses Our Thoughts on God, Phil. 4:8-9

[18:50] For the person who dwells on what God has done for them through Christ, gratefulness will grow in them, and that gratefulness will lead them to a gladness of heart. For the soul that dwells on the goodness, grace, and mercy of God, gladness of heart is not far away.

[26:24] Those who live joyful lives, which flows from gratefulness, are those who also live patient, gentle, and forbearing lives with those around them. Gratefulness strengthens relationships because gratefulness makes us more mindful of who we are in Jesus than in our social standing, or in our reputation before others. When we are grateful for who we are in the Lord, we don’t have to prove who we are to each other.

[29:04] If we set our eyes on Christ through gratefulness for what He’s done for us, then suddenly there’s a contentment and peace [we can experience] knowing that we’re in the Lord, so that we don’t have to turn and get anything from anybody else. We can turn and give. We can be patient because we’re not demanding anything, or expecting anything, because we have everything that we need in the Lord.

Thinking about these things requires intentionality.

                                                           
TRANSCRIPT

In 2013, the Huffington Post published an article entitled: EMOTIONAL FORECASTING: PREPARING FOR THE STORM OF HOLIDAY FEELINGS. Here’s some of what it said: “The holidays are approaching, and the emotions they bring can feel like sunshine — or dark clouds. But you are not at the mercy of stormy feelings. If you include some emotional preparation in your holiday plans, you can influence your emotions for the better!” And then it expounds on what it means. It says that for many people, the approaching Holidays offer little more than a stormy forecast that is “partly angry with bit of sadness and a chance of envy”.

The article then talks about each of these emotions. “Sadness” – The holidays promise a kind of warmth and connection that isn’t always attainable.//////The article talks about the emotional storm of “Envy” – It says that if you’re struggling to pay your rent every month, then you may not appreciate all kinds of holiday commercials for shiny new things; or the reminder that your cousin has recently bought a new house. //////It talks about Worry – Will your kids make you late to the party? Will your new boyfriend’s mom like you? How gluten-free does your kitchen need to be to feed your cousin? Will your father criticize your new haircut? The holidays offer endless reasons to worry.

The article is pretty on point in the diagnoses. Whether it’s during the holiday season or any other time of the year, our emotional forecast is often times not very sunny.

But then the article begins to offer advice. It offers – in it’s own words – an “emotional rain coat” to try to stay dry in the storm.//////We are told to plan our holidays in a way to support and cultivate the feelings we want. /////We are told to try to anticipate how we want to feel, and then build in actions that promote that feeling.///////We are told to shift our feelings by using dance music to get us into a better mood.//////Make a phone call to a friend.///////Take a nice walk to sooth our nerves and come back to yourself.//////Be good to yourself! Treat yourself to a small kindness, like a favorite movie or a stroll through a craft or car show.

For having had such a good read on the storm of emotions that we can feel…the article does not seem to offer any really helpful solution. These are not all bad ideas, but when it comes to how severe the storm of emotions can be sometimes, the article seems to fall pretty short of offering any meaningful solution.

I mean, if you are jealous that your cousin just bought a house, when you are still renting a studio apartment…I’m not sure listening to dance music is going to be most helpful thing that you can do. Listening to music can certainly change our mood for a little while – but if we’re honest, it doesn’t hit the root issue in our hearts. If you find it difficult to get along with that brother-in-law who seems so critical, I’m not sure walking through a craft show is really going to change things in any meaningful way. The article doesn’t offer much to help us in the storm of our emotions…UNTIL…the very final paragraph!

After telling us to have a dance party and to buy fun stuff for ourselves, it says something truly helpful. It says: “Gratitude is powerful.” (2x’s) The holidays can teach us to view our situations with gratitude — and that’s the best possible shelter from life’s storms.”

And friends…there we have real help for us. Because, although it is not spoken in a Biblical way, THAT is one of the most fundamental Biblical values for the Christian life. GRATITUDE IS POWERFUL! We all have storms raging around us. Our circumstances are hard, our relationships are strained, we’re anxious and worried about many things, we don’t have peace. The idea of a STORM is actually a really good way to describe so many of our lives. Home feels like a storm. Work feels like a storm. Our friendships are stormy. Our THOUGHTS feel overcast!

But friends, according to God’s Holy and Authoritative Word, in the midst of that storm, there is hope for us. And that hope is found here in the book of Philippians and the value of Gratitude for the believers life. Gratitude IS powerful. God makes it very clear here, that cultivating a heart of gratitude has the power to transform your daily experience of this world.

And so, let’s consider the power of Gratitude for the Christian’s life. Four points. 1) Gratitude fuels joy. 2) Gratitude strengthens relationships. 3) Gratitude calms fears. And 4) Gratitude focuses our thoughts. Let’s look at the first:

First, Gratitude Fuels Joy.

Look at verse 4. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say Rejoice!” This word “Rejoice” is not only found TWICE in this single verse, but almost 10 times throughout the letter, and if you count other words like “JOY”, it is more like 20 times. It is very clear that Paul has joy and that Paul wants us to have joy as well. In fact, here he commands us to have joy!

But for those of us who may struggle with joy, this can be a difficult thing. Maybe our personalities are not naturally joyful. Maybe our circumstances leave us little to be joyful about! SO…how can Paul, who doesn’t know our personalities and who doesn’t know our circumstances, command us to rejoice?

Well, as we read through the book of Philippians, it’s very clear that this call to REJOICE – this call to JOY is something that is not dependent on having a certain kind of personality or on having happy circumstances. And we know this because of who we know Paul to be AND because of the circumstances that we know Paul to be in.

PERSONALITY: Our knowledge of Paul’s personality, particularly before he became a Christian, does not SEEM to be one that is very joyful! It’s hard to speak authoritatively on these things, but it seems like we get the picture that Paul was a SERIOUS, OVERLY ZEALOUS, LEGALISTIC PHARISEE.

In Philippians 3 Paul says that as to the law, he was a Pharisee; as to zeal a PERSECUTOR of the Church. Paul doesn’t seem to be a guy who was necessarily easy to get along with. He seems overly serious and even critical…

I imagine that Paul wasn’t a ton of fun to be around. The kind of guy that can’t talk about anything but work. I imagine that if you ran into Paul at the Company Christmas Party (before he became a Christian) that you would probably try to find new company pretty quickly.

All that we read about Paul before he became a Christian doesn’t seem to paint a picture of a guy that was bursting with joy…

CIRCUMSTANCES: And then, we look at his circumstances in Philippians and what do we see? Well, we see severe hardship. In Philippians 1:12, Paul speaks of how he has been imprisoned! He’s in jail! He’s been wrongfully accused and is now sitting in prison waiting for his trial. So, his personality is likely not naturally joyful, and his circumstances are far from ideal. SO WHY IS PAUL SO FULL OF JOY? AND WHY DOES HE COMMAND US TO BE JOYFUL?

Well, the answer to that question, is found in Paul’s GRATITUDE! Gratitude for what God had done in his life and gratitude for what God was doing in other people’s lives, led him to this supernatural joy. Gratitude fueled his joy, and gratitude is to fuel our joy…

Philippians 1:3 – “I THANK my God in all my remembrance of you!” He’s thankful… which leads him to what? It leads him to make my prayer with JOY!” Paul actively chose to see the grace in people’s lives, even when it was difficult to see. Gratefulness didn’t always come easily – sometimes Paul had to intentionally make a point to be grateful, but he still chose gratefulness, and it brought him the joy that we see here. We see this in 1 Corinthians – when even while dealing with severely difficult people. People in the church who had a LOT of problems and who needed a ton of help – Paul STILL chose to say: “I thank God for you.” He PRACTICED gratefulness. And we see that practice throughout Philippians as well.

Paul seems to be able to choose gratefulness in every situation.

But, this is not just the power of positive thinking. This is not just Paul trying to make the best out of any situation. No, this joy is fueled by a fundamental awareness of what has been done for him in and through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We see this most clearly in our text, Philippians 4:4. “Rejoice IN THE LORD always…” He has spoken of Joy throughout the letter, but here we find out where that joy is most specifically to come from. It is to come from an awareness of who we are IN THE LORD. In Philippians 2:14 he says that we are able to do everything without grumbling or complaining…not by sheer willpower – but “As we hold fast to the word of life.” JOY – the ability to REJOICE – GLADNESS of heart and soul – is for Paul something that comes from holding fast to the good news of the Gospel with a GRATEFUL heart!

This is why Paul doesn’t need to know what kind of personality we have or what kind of sorrows we may or may not be going through in order to command us to REJOICE. He is able to make this command because he knows that for the person who’s soul dwells on what God has done for them through Jesus Christ – GRATEFULNESS will grow in them, despite their circumstances or personality – and that gratefulness will lead to a gladness of heart.

For the soul that dwells on the Goodness of God – Gladness of heart is not far away. (2x’s)

This does not mean that our circumstances will change. It doesn’t mean that we become giddy and happy in personality. It means that we have a confident hope and peace in God that allows our Spirit to have a constant drumbeat of Joy – even while we feel real sorry. 2 Corinthians 6, Paul says that the people of God are SORROWFUL… yet ALWAYS rejoicing. And in our text he commands us to Rejoice in the Lord ALWAYS.

WHY? Because for the Christian – our hope in Christ is CONSTANT, and therefore our gratefulness is constant – and our joy is constant.

UNBELIEVER: Listen, if you are a guest today, and you haven’t been around Christianity very much, it could be very easy for you to hear what I am saying about gratefulness, and just hear it like you would hear a motivational speaker speak to you about the power of positive thinking.

We’ve all heard that sort of thing. We’ve all been told in one way or another that if we just think grateful thoughts, that we’ll be happier.

But listen. this message from Philippians 4 is FAR from just a call to you to think more joyful thoughts. If you walk out of this room today thinking that you just need to think more joyful thoughts, then I have done a terrible job of preaching this text.

Paul the Apostle, who wrote this under the Authority of God, and WE who are in this room are ONLY able to rejoice ALWAYS…because we are IN the Lord. Because we know King Jesus and have been delivered from our sins BY KING JESUS. King Jesus who was willing to set aside his HEAVENLY CROWN in order to become a man like us.

We are ONLY able to REJOICE through all of the emotions of the Christmas season, because we know that the whole reason we celebrate Christmas is that Jesus came to earth, not just to tell us to think joyful thoughts – but to give us ultimate joy by becoming our substitute.

He came as a baby on Christmas day, but he then grew to be a man, and then he DIED on the cross. HE TOOK OUR PLACE. We deserved to die, but he died for us! We deserved punishment for our sins, but he took that punishment by dying in our place, so that we might live. And then he rose from the dead, defeating sin and death once and for all in our lives.

This is amazing love!! And when we think about it – we like Paul – are filled with gratefulness that FILLS our hearts with joy.

BUT listen! If you don’t know Jesus, then no amount of positive thinking about other things that will bring you THIS kind of joy. You might find moments of happiness, but you will not, you CANNOT know ultimate joy. Ultimate joy is only possible for those who have had their SINS – their MISTAKES – their ANGER – their PRIDE and SELFISHNESS – their IMMORALITY – all forgiven by JESUS.

That’s where ultimate joy comes from. And so, if you are here and are not a Christian, but you want ULTIMATE JOY – come and talk one of us – we would love to share with you the hope and joy that is found in Jesus alone. Because that is what we are supposed to be ULTIMATELY grateful for, and that is what causes us to rejoice!

And Christian – as you look at your life – do you have joy? Are you Glad of heart?? Are you able to rejoice in all circumstances? If an honest answer to that is no – if you don’t have joy – then come with me to the foot of the cross again. Come with me to the foot of the cross and remember with renewed gratefulness this morning that He died for you! You deserved the punishment that he received. And because of him you are now alive.

Sinclair Ferguson says: “Think about that, and you will be able to taste joy whatever the circumstances.” Gratefulness fuels joy.

Second, Gratefulness Strengthens Relationships.

Not only do we see throughout this letter that gratefulness fuels joy, but we see now how gratefulness has the ability to strengthen the unity and peace that we can have in our relationships as well.

In verse 5 Paul says: “Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.” This word ‘reasonableness’ speaks to a gentleness or forbearance with others. It means to not be forceful in our relationships and interactions. It means that we don’t push our weight around, but live patiently and gently with others. Philippians 2 says that we are to look not only to our own interests, but also to the interests of others. And this speaks to the “reasonableness” of Philippians 4. Those who live joyful lives, which flow from gratefulness, are also those who live patient, gentle and forbearing lives with those around them.

Gratefulness strengthens relationships because gratefulness makes us more mindful of who we are in Jesus than in our social standing or in our reputation before others. When we are grateful for who we are IN THE LORD, when we are content in Him, we don’t have to prove who we are to each other.

We see the value of this in chapter 4, verses 1-3 where Paul encourages two women in the church (Euodia and Syntyche) who are in conflict with each other – to “agree in the Lord”. And in verse 3 he reminds them that their names are written in the book of life! Paul takes the attention OFF of the relationship problems, and places the attention on the REALITY of who they are personally in the Lord. And who the OTHER person is in the Lord as well…

Isn’t that helpful for us as well? Relationships are most difficult, when we feel that we have to prove ourselves in some way? It’s HARD to build strong relationships, when we care first about ourselves.

HOLIDAYS/FAMILY – We often see this during the holidays, towards our families. Maybe we only see your families once or twice a year, and so when we come together with them, we can feel a pressure to PROVE to them who we are. WE want to prove that we’re not who we used to be. OR that we have overcome some of our mistakes. THAT we are leading really happy and successful lives. BUT when we come in with those priorities – we are coming in – not with a gratefulness and contentment for who we are in Christ but an awareness of who we are in ourselves…and when we do that, we lose gentleness and kindness. Rather than being content in Christ, we crave approval and respect from others, and that leads us towards acting in pride and selfishness.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss says: “Grateful people are loving people who seek to bless others, while ungrateful people are bent on gratifying themselves. They tend to focus on ‘my needs,’ ‘my hurts,’ ‘my feelings,’ ‘my desires,’ ‘how I have been treated, neglected, failed, or wounded.’ An unthankful person is full of himself, seldom pausing to consider the needs and feelings of others.”

The ungrateful person can never be a gentle person because he cares too much about what he can get out of those around him. But the person who is filled with gratefulness and contentment in Christ is able to be gentle and kind towards others, because they don’t need to get anything out of them…

So, gratefulness strengthens relationships.

Church, how wise we would be if, as we come to church, or as we go to community group, or as we go to that women’s bible study, or that hangout time with friends – how wise we would be if we came to things things with hearts that are full of gratefulness and contentment in who we are in Jesus RATHER than craving what we want from others. How much JOY is lost. How much health on our communities are lost because we come in craving approval from those around us…

But what would happen if we stopped for a moment before going into that Community Group to say a prayer of thanks to God for who he is and what he has done for us, AND what he has done for the other people that we are going to be with. If we were to do that…SUDDENLY we wouldn’t need to go into that meeting fighting for approval from others. We could go in the with the sole ambition to honor God by loving and serving others…

Gratefulness strengthens relationships.

Third, Gratefulness calms fears.

Being grateful causes us to rejoice, and it causes us to be gentle towards others… BUT that does not necessarily mean that real concerns do not still exist. God, through Paul, is aware that the Philippians are anxious about many things. There are conflicts within the church; there is persecution against the church; there are financial and material needs in the church: Like in our lives… there was PLENTY to be anxious and worried about.

So, how good of God to tell us in verse 6: “The Lord is at Hand; Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with THANKSGIVING let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

God knows that there are things that tempt us to anxiety, but he gives us a way to deal with those anxieties. He says: PRAY! And pray about EVERYTHING. And don’t just pray, but pray: WITH THANKSGIVING!!

Thankfulness is the accent of this sentence. The Word Biblical Commentary says:

“The real accent of this sentence is not on the fact that the Philippians are to pray, but on the fact that they are to do this with thanksgiving. Such God-directed gratitude accords with the tenor of the book.” – Gerard Hawthorn

Prayer is an essential part of the Christian’s relationship with Jesus. We can’t live as Christians without communing with Christ. We need to be near to him, and prayer is how we draw near to him…

…But there is something particular about the prayers that deal best with our fear and anxieties. They are GRATEFUL prayers.

God tells us very clearly throughout His Word that we can come to him and ask for the things that we need at any time. He is a good Father and he wants us to come to him as children who need help. He says here in verse 6 to pray prayers of SUPPLICATION (to ask for things)…BUT…coming and asking for things alone, is not the best way to handle anxieties in our lives. In fact, asking for things ALONE might even ADD to our anxieties…

…And so, God says that if you want to calm your fears and anxieties – make them known to me – but make them known to me WITH THANKSGIVING. Make them known to me, WHILE calling to mind my faithfulness to you in the past! Pray about EVERYTHING in your life – but pray about it all while giving thanks for EVERYTHING that I have already done for you.

God wants us to pray with thanksgiving, not because he’s looking for a pat on the back, but because he knows that when we set our eyes on what he has done for us in the past, that we are changed. That our hearts will be stirred towards thankfulness and we will see with greater clarity that He is able to meet our needs in the present.

ILLUSTRATION: Sometimes my little girl Angela likes to exercise with me out in our garage. As I work out, she usually finds a little bar and puts 2.5 lbs on each side of it and starts to bench press with it. BUT there have been a few times when she has tried to use 5 or 10 pounders and it’s been too much weight for her. And she’s had to call out for help…and I’ve had to come over to her and gently lift that burden off of her.

AND NOW, because I’ve done that in the past, she feels a confidence to keep lifting with me and even to lift heavier weights. Because of how I have helped her in the past, she feels confident that Daddy is going to be there to lift the weight for her again.

And it’s the same with our relationship with God. When we pray prayers of Thanksgiving – we are calling to mind that THE LORD IS AT HAND. He has helped us in the past – he has carried our burdens in the past – and he is ready to carry our burdens for us again…

Anxiety causes us to feel that our needs are bigger than normal needs. That our money situation is more severe than other money situations. That our health problems are greater than any other health problems. That our depression is deeper than any other depression…

But when we call to mind WHO OUR GOD is and what he has been faithful to do in the past…Our burdens don’t go away, but suddenly our burdens are seen as smaller in his very capable hands.

Gratitude calms our fears.

Fourth and finally, Gratitude Focuses Our Thoughts on God.

In verses 8-9 Paul says: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things…”

The Gratefulness that Paul exemplifies is gratefulness that requires intentionality. It needs to be cultivated in our hearts. We need to choose it, and we need to grow in it.

And Paul tells us here that the way to grow in it is to fill our minds with things that we can give thanks for!

Paul teaches us that true joy and lasting peace don’t come from emptying our mind, but rather filling them properly. Not thinking anxious thoughts is only possible when we replace them with grateful thoughts. Not thinking critical thought of others is only possible when we instead fill our minds with good thoughts.

Paul says: “If there is ANYTHING worthy of praise, think about these things.”