Have you read the letter of Jude lately? It’s a short letter with a bold message, and it’s for all believers everywhere. Jude brings attention to a danger to the faith, and he doesn’t beat around the bush when he writes about it. His passionate appeal is as relevant for us today as it was for first and second generation believers. Are you willing to receive his timeless call to contend for the faith?
Remembering God’s Blessings
Humans are forgetful by nature. We forget where we put our car keys, we forget birthdays, appointments, people’s names… but far too often we also forget God’s blessings to us. We either complain about what we don’t have or we become complacent with what we do have. The Bible instructs us to always remember God’s blessings and goodness to us, and to give Him thanks, regardless of our circumstances. How often do you remember?
Series: Blessed Beyond Belief
Sermon 2: Remembering God’s Blessings
If you have your Bible, take it and turn again to Psalm 103 where we ended up last Sunday. We started a new series last week called Blessed Beyond Belief, and last week we took some time together to consider the fact that we need to “recognize” God’s blessings. Today, I want us to talk about the importance of “remembering” God’s blessings. We’re going to be looking at a lot of verses today, but I just wanted to kind of bring our thoughts back to Psalm 103:1-2, as we get started, and we consider God’s blessings to us.
The Psalmist said, “Bless the Lord, oh, my soul, and all that is within me. bless His holy name. Bless the Lord, oh, my soul and forget not all His benefits.”
Two old friends bumped into each other on the street one day after not having seen each other for a long time. One of them looked very sad, almost on the verge of tears, and his friend asked, “Man, what’s wrong? You look like something terrible has just happened.” The fella said, “Let me tell you — three weeks ago, my uncle died and left me $85,000.” His friend said, “That’s a lot of money.” He said, “Yeah. Two weeks ago, a cousin died and left me $30,000.” And the guy said, “Man, you sound blessed.” The guy said, “Oh, you don’t understand. Last week, my great aunt passed away, and I inherited more than $200,000.” And now his friend was completely confused. He said, “I don’t understand. Why are you looking so sad?” The guy said, “This week, nothing!”
We laugh at that, but how easy is it for us to forget all the blessings that God pours down upon us day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year? All the blessings that have come our way — we’re so quick to forget. Truth is, we don’t have trouble forgetting things. We forget things all the time. We forget where we put our car keys, we forget birthdays and anniversaries and appointments, we forget where we put that important document that we need for the meeting tomorrow. We don’t have any trouble forgetting things.
And while it’s one thing to forget where we put our keys, listen, church, it’s another thing entirely to forget the blessings that God has so generously given to us. And yet throughout history we read the record of history, We read the biblical record, and we see that mankind has always been very, very quick to forget. Here’s one example from Psalm 106. Looking back on this, it says, “When our fathers were in Egypt, they gave no thought to your miracles. They did not remember your many kindnesses, and they rebelled by the Red Sea.” Verse eight says, “Yet God saved them for his namesake. To make His mighty power known, He rebuked the Red Sea and dried it up. He led them through the depths as through a desert. He saved them from the hand of the foe from the hand of the enemy, he redeemed them. The waters covered their adversaries, not one of them survived. Then they believed His promises and sang His praises…” And we pause there and go, “Oh, good, they finally got it!” But verse 13, says, “But they soon forgot what He had done.”
God knows the heart of man. He knows that we’re prone to forget Him and forget His blessings to us. And that’s why when God was getting ready to lead the Israelites into the promised land and shower abundant blessings on them, God went through this series of systematic warnings to his people before they entered into the land, warning them, (if I can put this reverently and rightly referring to God,) God was “begging” them; He was pleading with them, not to forget the One who was about to give them the blessings they were going to receive.
Have you ever done this with your kids, parents? When they’re young, they’re getting ready to go off and do something and you sit them down and you give them that little speech right? “Now remember, when you’re in their house, do this and this and this.” This is the picture of God as He warns His people, “I’m about to bless you like you’ve never been blessed before. This promised land I’ve told you about, you’re getting ready to enter into it. But listen to my warnings!” Let me just share some very quickly with you —
• Deuteronomy 4: “For you saw with your own eyes, what the Lord did for you. And now be careful and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen, or let them fade from your heart, as long as you live.
• Deuteronomy 5: “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt, and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.”
• Deuteronomy 6: “Be careful that you do not forget the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”
• Deuteronomy 7: (I’m just picking one from each chapter) “Remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh, and to all of Egypt.”
• Deuteronomy 8: “Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in obedience and reverence to him, for the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land…” (listen, does this not sound like America and what we’ve been blessed with?) “…a land with brooks and streams and deep springs gushing into the valleys and hills, a land with wheat and barley, vines, and fig trees and pomegranates, olive oil and honey. A land where bread will not be scarce, and you will lack nothing. A land where the rocks are iron, and you can dig copper out of the hills. When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, otherwise when you eat and are satisfied, when you build, fine, houses and settle down and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase, and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud, and you will forget the Lord your God.”
On and on these warnings go. The sad end to this is that despite all of these warnings, they did forget God. When you read ahead through the rest of the Old Testament, it reads like one lengthy, pitiful account of people who have taken all of these blessings from God; they’ve forgotten the very One who gave those blessings to them, and they totally forgot to remember God. God summed it all up like this in Jeremiah 2:32. He said, “My people have forgotten me days without number.” Boy, that hit me like a ton of bricks a few years ago because I read elsewhere in the Bible that God has numbered all of the stars and knows them each by name. Our most brilliant scientists are still searching the universe. They find new galaxies all the time. Each new galaxy contains tens of billions of more stars, and there are billions of galaxies. God knows all of those stars by name. He wakes up every morning and says good morning to each one of them by name. And yet God said, “My people have forgotten me so often I can’t even count it!”
And here’s the scary part: they forgot God while they were still worshipping Him. These were the most religious people on the face of the earth. I’m telling you, they outdid us a thousand to one. We go to church every Sunday, but they followed rituals and religious rules every day of their life. They were “going to church,” (if we could put it in our language,) they were singing all the praise songs, they were quoting scripture, but none of that made them immune from this problem of forgetting God’s blessings. This ought to be a warning for us because we are no different. We’re so quick to forget God’s blessings, and here’s the thing: not because we hate God. Not at all! We’re so quick to forget God’s blessings simply because we have gotten used to them. We are an entitled generation. I’ll go further than that — we’re an entitled society. We just expect all this stuff now. I heard someone saying a few years ago that he happened to be on the very first flight where Wi-Fi was offered during the flight. It was a brand new technology back then for flights. So he’s sitting on the plane, and as they are taking off and they get airborne, someone comes on and says, “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a wonderful surprise for you today. This is the first ever flight where Wi-Fi is available during the flight, and you may now sign on to your computers and phones and tablets and enjoy Wi-Fi.” And he said this cheer went up across the plane — the whole plan. He said people were standing up clapping, pumping their fists in the air like, “Whoa!” He said about 15 minutes later, the Wi-Fi went out, and people were furious. Like, “I can’t believe this. This is ridiculous!” “Fifteen minutes ago, this didn’t exist. And now you’re already mad because you don’t have it?”
You see how quickly we become entitled to things and think that we deserve these things. The same is true with God’s blessings. We’ve gotten so accustomed to them; so used to them, that we don’t even see them as blessings… we see them as expectations. Emerson said, “If the stars only came out once a year, everyone would stay up all night looking at them.” So we don’t even look at the stars anymore, because we’ve seen them so many times. And I think the same is true, or at least the same danger is true for God’s blessings. We’ve had them so long, we’ve become accustomed to them, and we take them for granted.
Well, as I said a minute ago, God knows that people are forgetful. He knew that if his people ever forgot his goodness and faithfulness, they’d be on a road to self destruction. And so to help prevent this, in the Old Testament, God instituted a lot of sacrifices, a lot of offerings that the people had to go through. But one of the offerings that God instituted and commanded of his people was a thank offering. It had to be done at regular intervals. And the purpose of it was to intentionally help the people remember all that God had done for them and to give Him thanks. Well, I’m thankful today that we’re not under the Old Testament sacrificial system anymore… what a nightmare that would be! Because of Christ, that has been done away with. We’re now under the the new law of grace. What a blessing that is.
However, even though we’re not required to regularly bring Thank Offerings in the same sense that they were, we are commanded throughout the New Testament to bring our thanks to God; to be people who continually give thanks to Him. The New Testament tells us to this again and again and again. One of the places that stands out to me that is so easy to miss is the night before the cross, Jesus is in the upper room with his disciples, they’ve had the meal together, and He breaks the bread and He gives it to them. Then He says what? “This is my body, which is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” He took the cup and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Drink this in remembrance of me.” And in a sense, you can feel, (again, I want to be respectful and reverent,) you can almost sense the desperation, that Jesus knows these knuckleheads that he’s spent three years with, they’re going to forget! And he’s saying to them “Guys, tomorrow I’m going to give my life for you. You’re going to get busy, you’re going to get on with other things. Please remember me. Don’t forget what I’m about to do for you.”
And the New Testament, as I said, is just filled with this language. Here are a few:
• Ephesians 5:4 tells us that we must avoid obscenity, foolish talk, crude joking, which are out of place, but rather we must… (and what do you think would be put in there? It seems like a strange fit. Instead of those things, it says we must: “…give thanks.”
• Ephesians 5:20 tells us that we are to give thanks to God the Father for everything.
• Colossians 3:17 says, “And whatever you do in word or in deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father.”
• Philippians 4:6, (We know this right?) “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
So as you as you look through these verses that continually tell us that, in life, as followers of Christ, we must be people who are thankful. You kind of have to ask the question, “What’s the big deal about being thankful? Why is that such a big deal?” We’re going to get into that a little more next Sunday. But one of the reasons it is such a big deal is because thankfulness is evidence that we are honoring God, we’re honoring God for what He has done for us, and how He has blessed us. On the flip side of that, the Bible tells us in many places that one of the marks of a person who does “not” honor GOD is… (well, what would we put in there?… that they’re murderers, they’re thieves?) No. One of the marks of a person who does not honor GOD is that they do not give thanks. Here a couple:
• Romans 1:21 – “For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to him. But their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
• 2 Timothy 3:2 talks about people who are “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient… and ungrateful.” And then it goes right on with, “…unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self control, brutal, not lovers of good, treacherous, rash, conceited…” and on and on it goes. Right there in the middle of that list of things that sort of make us recoil from people, he inserts “ungrateful.”
In contrast to that God’s people are never to be defined that way. We are called to be people who are bubbling over with thankfulness and gratitude for God’s blessings to us. Colossians 2:7 says that we are to be “rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith, overflowing with thankfulness.” Overflowing with thankfulness! When you bump into a person who is carrying a glass of Coke, “Coke” is going to spill out. When you bump into a person who is carrying a mug of coffee, “coffee” is going to spill out. When you bump into a person who is filled with bitterness, “bitterness” is going to spill out. What’s “in us” comes out. You bump into a person who is filled with selfishness, “selfishness” is going to come out. But the Bible says if you bump into a Christian, “thankfulness” should spell out. Again, it just doesn’t seem to fit. It doesn’t seem to be the most important thing he could have said there. “Holiness should spill out.” Wouldn’t that come to mind right near the top of the list? No — “thankfulness” — because it’s a sign of what’s going on deeper inside of us.
You might say, “Phil, you don’t know my circumstances. I can’t be thankful right now.”
First Thessalonians 5:18 tells us that we must give thanks: “…in the circumstances that we feel like giving thanks in?” Is that what it says? No, I read that wrong. “Give thanks in ‘all’ circumstances.” All circumstances. I think in this regard, there are two problems that we need to confess and we need to confront:
Number one is we’re not thankful “by nature.” We talked about this a little bit already. We’re not thankful by nature. Parents, do we not have to “teach” our little children to say, “Thank you?” They don’t come out of the womb saying, “Thank you. Great to be here. Thanks in advance for everything!” No, they don’t think about that at all. Little kids squabble and fight and pull, and they want this — “It’s mine. It’s mine!” Right? An adult gives them something nice… the kid grabs it and runs off. “Hey, what do you say?” “Can I have another one?” No! What do you say? “Thank you,” right? It’s like a chore. It takes time to build that into our broken human nature, because none of us are thankful by nature.
The second problem that we need to confess and confront, (and this is really where the rubber starts to meet the road here today in this message,) and that is — we’ve been conditioned to only say thank you when something “good” happens to us. When’s the last time your family has been slammed with some kind of trial or tragedy, and you’ve gotten your family together, and you bow your heads, and you’ve said, “God, thank you for allowing this to come into our lives. We know that good is going to come from this.” You’re looking at me like I’ve lost my marbles! This is how foreign this concept is to us, even as believers. No, we only say thank you when something nice is done for us. Certainly we would never give thanks when something bad happens to us. The Bible tells us to remember God’s blessings, and give thanks to Him, regardless of the circumstances in our lives. Listen, anybody can give thanks when the sun is shining, when the birds are singing, when everyone likes us, when our bank account is full, when everyone is healthy. But the fact is, life is rarely like that. So what do we do when life brings loneliness and depression and failure and loss and chaos and illness and heartache and broken relationships? Because listen, Christianity has to mean “something” if it’s going to mean anything at all. Even pagans can be thankful when life is going great. But we Christians have been called to remember God’s blessings and give thanks even when life is falling apart.
The reason that we struggle with this, I believe, is because we have learned to base our view of God on our circumstances. We think, “Life is going good, therefore, God is good. Life is going bad, therefore…” well, we would never say what you thought I was going to say… “Life is going bad, therefore, God’s being unkind right now. Or at the very least He’s being inattentive.” I want to tell you that is wrong thinking! Right thinking says God is “always” good, and His blessings to me are always constant, despite what my circumstances look like right now. The problem is, I think, that we almost always live in a state of complaining or complacency. We’re either complaining about what we don’t have, or we’ve become complacent with what we do have. And that’s exactly the pattern that we see in the Israelites, and really, it’s the pattern of all of mankind.
When the Israelites were in the wilderness, they constantly complained about what they didn’t have, and then when God brought them over into the promised land and blessed them, they became complacent with what they did have. This is why God warned them in Deuteronomy 8 that we read earlier — listen to these words again — “When you have eaten and are satisfied…” (what must our response to that be?) “…praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you, otherwise when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down… (all those things that we looked through,) “…then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God.” And that’s exactly what happened. God, looking back on this in Hosea 13:6 said, “When I fed them, they were satisfied…” (In other words, they became comfortable and complacent.) “…and when they were satisfied, they became proud, then they forgot me.”
So you say, “Phil, I hear what you’re saying, but how in the world am I supposed to live out 1 Thessalonians 5:18? How am I supposed to give thanks regardless of the circumstances in my life? How can anybody see life that way?” Well, I didn’t read that entire verse for you. There’s a second part to 1 Thessalonians 5:18. It says, “Give thanks in all circumstances…” (Why? How?) “…for this is God’s will for you, in Christ Jesus.” And in that phrase we find the secret. So you’re thinking, “Phil, are you saying that the hardships I’m going through right now, or the hardships that I went through last year, or five years ago — you’re saying that all of those hardships are God’s will for my life?” No, I’m not saying that “the Bible” is saying that. I think too many Christians have bought into this foolish teaching that if you invite Jesus into your heart, all your problems will go away, and life will be sunshine all the way through. God will give you the best parking place every time you pull into a parking lot. God will give you the best seat in the movie theater. God will pour out favor on you above everybody else. You’ll be the head and not the tail, and all this nonsense that we hear preached today.
Anybody who has lived even a couple of years knows that that is not the true experience of the Christian life. Folks, listen to me — sometimes God’s ways will lead us down very dark and stormy paths. We don’t get excited about that. Nobody says, “Amen. Hallelujah!” about that. But I’m telling you the truth. The question is, can we, in those times, still bless God? Any Sunday school kid can bless God when things are going great. But that’s not when our faith is proven. Can we bless God when life is falling apart around us? I think of Job — in one day he lost his family and all of his possessions, and his health, by the way. Covered in boils from head to toe. Are you kidding me? And he’s sitting there in a pile of ashes, mourning. Oh, mourning. I’m not talking about some fake, phony faith where we say, “Yay, my wife just got diagnosed with cancer. Hooray! God is good.” No, that’s foolishness, folks. No, no, no, no. Job was mourning. But listen to this. Job 1:20 says, “Then Job got up, tore his robe, shaved his head…” (then What’d he do? He shook his fist at the sky and cursed God? No. Well, let’s be a little more subtle — he mumbled under his breath, “God sure is being mean to me!” No, not that either. No, no, listen — “…Then he fell to the ground in worship, and said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” And in all this, verse 22 says, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.
How do you get that perspective — to be able to remember God’s blessings, even when you can’t see them right now? Listen, it comes from this one very churchy-sounding phrase called “the providence of God.” I wish I had more time to dig into the doctrine of Providence. We must come to the place in life where we can trust fully in the providence of God, knowing that whatever comes into our life has come through His good hands. It’s not a mistake. It’s not an accident. You say, “Yeah, but none of my friends have had to go through something that awful.” I understand. I don’t have an answer for you. All I can tell you is, I believe God’s Word. I trust in a good God. We sang about it this morning. He’s a good Father. He makes all of us dads look like Hitler with our kids compared to the way He loves us. That’s how good He is. That’s how much He loves you. Would any of us parents do anything to hurt our children? Never in a million years! We’d give our own life for our children. Multiply that times a billion trillion, and maybe you’re starting to get into the neighborhood of understanding how much God loves us. We must never turn our disappointment or frustration or anger towards God when life doesn’t go our way. He’s the last person we should blame. He’s the one who loves us. Dale read it this morning, and I didn’t tell him to read that: “It is by His mercies that are not consumed. They are new every morning.” The fact that you and I are sitting here with our hearts beating, able to breathe, (like we looked at last week,) all of God’s blessings on us is evidence that we have a good Father who loves us, and we are not yet consumed by His power and His Holiness.
We can only respond this way to the difficulties in the pain of life if we have learned to trust in the providence of God. Don’t ask me for answers of why this or that has happened to you. I do not know. Nor do you have answers for what has happened to me. If we’re looking for answers, we’re looking for the wrong thing. This old hymn came to mind this week that I want to share with you. I’m going to keep reading old hymns to you for as long as I’m alive, because I do not want these to fade from our memory. And I do not want our children to grow up never having heard this kind of language before. This was written in 1676. Listen to this person who went through incredible trials in life. You’re going to have to really force your ear to get around this old language.
Whate’er my God ordains is right,
His holy will abideth;
I will be still whate’er He does,
And follow where He guideth.
He is my God, though dark my road;
He holds me that I shall not fall;
And so to Him I leave it all,
And so to Him I leave it all.
Whate’er my God ordains is right,
He never will deceive me;
He leads me by the proper path,
I know He will not leave me.
I take, content, what He has sent;
His hand can turn my griefs away;
And patiently I wait His day,
And patiently I wait His day.
Whate’er my God ordains is right,
Though now this cup in drinking
May bitter seem to my faint heart,
I take it all, unshrinking.
My God is true, each morn anew
Sweet comfort yet shall fill my heart;
And pain and sorrow shall depart,
And pain and sorrow shall depart.
Whate’er my God ordains is right,
Here shall my stand be taken;
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine,
Yet I am not forsaken.
My Father’s care is round me there;
He holds me that I shall not fall;
And so to Him I leave it all,
And so to Him I leave it all.
“All” folks. We must learn to trust in the providence of God, knowing that all things are under God’s control, and nothing—nothing will ever come our way except that which is ultimately for my good and for His glory. That’s a bitter pill to swallow sometimes. I understand that. It is for me, too. But it’s right. It’s right.
I wrote this down this week: “We must stop letting our circumstances change our view of God, and start letting God change our view of our circumstances.” Then we’ll be able to see His goodness, even in the darkest of times. There are so many precious believers who’ve gone before us in decades and the centuries before, who’ve left us a shining example of a life lived this way. I’ve learned so much from them studying their history. I’m going to leave you with one:
Annie Johnson Flint. She lived with indescribable physical deformities and suffering; her body twisted and racked in pain. Later, she developed cancer and was bedridden for the remainder of her life. She was so twisted and covered in bed sores, they said it took eight pillows to prop her up just so she could begin to feel comfortable. In the midst of those circumstances, she wrote these words:
He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength when the labors increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.
When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.
Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision,
Our God ever yearns His resources to share;
Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;
The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.
His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.
I just ask you, as we close — are there any bad circumstances in your life that have caused you to change your view of God? Are you going through something right now that has caused you to forget that God is still good. We are called to remember God’s blessings and give Him thanks regardless of the circumstances in our life. I pray that the words of Psalm 34:1 will be true of us. The Psalmist said, “I will bless the Lord at all times. His praise will always be on my lips.” Are we people who are remembering God’s blessings regardless of our circumstances?