November 19, 2023, The Benefit of Gratitude, Pentecost 25

If you prefer to worship at home at this time or simply wish to listen to the service or sermon again, you’re welcome to use the links below to have a time of worship at home. (Just click on the link to play each hymn or the sermon in a separate tab, and close that tab when finished.)

Lord, I believe: Help my unbelief. Help me to see my world as You see it.
Lord, I obey; Help my disobedience. Focus me; guide me. Prune me.
Lord, I follow; Help me to stay on the path. Thank you for the path, for guidance, for Providence and protection.
I humbly ask for wisdom and for knowledge in every human situation.
Lord, help me to flourish as a part of the vine, as a means of grace, as a person through whom your Holy Spirit flows. Amen.

HYMN 694 Come Ye Thankful People Come
Come, Ye Thankful People, Come by The N Crew (acoustic guitar)

A TIME OF PRAYER (Testimonies, Joys & Concerns)

Congregational Prayer − Dear Lord, This morning as I contemplate a new day, I ask you to help me. I want to be aware of and filled with your Spirit—leading me in the decisions I take, the conversations I have, and the work I do. I want to be more like you, Jesus, as I relate to the people I meet today—friends or strangers. Amen.

Please pray for yourself and your neighbors, lifting up your needs to God while giving thanks for answered prayer.

The Lord’s Prayer: Our Father, who art in heaven; hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

HYMN 131 We Gather Together
THE HYMNS ENSEMBLE – We Gather Together… “Lockdown Session” (A cappella)

MOMENTS WITH THE CHILDREN – If you are blessed to have children with you, ask them what they are thankful for, and then thank God together!

GIVING OF OUR TITHES AND OFFERINGS – these can be mailed to the church office.

MESSAGE: The Benefit of Gratitude
Text: I Thessalonians 5:1-25, Romans 8:24-28, 1 Corinthians 13:9-13
Series: The Benefits of Belief

Right-click, open in new tab to play … Sermon audioSermon slides as a PDF file.
Wesley Sermon Audio


I Thessalonians 5:16 Rejoice always, 17 pray constantly, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit, 20 do not despise prophesying, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good, 22 abstain from every form of evil. 23 May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful, and he will do it. 25 Brethren, pray for us.

Romans 8:24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. 27 And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

1 Corinthians 13:9 For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; 10 but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. 12 For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. 13 So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.


HYMN 369 Blessed Assurance
Alan Jackson – Blessed Assurance (Live)

BENEDICTION The Prayer of St Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith
Where there is despair, hope
Where there is darkness, light
And where there is sadness, joy

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console
To be understood, as to understand
To be loved, as to love
For it is in giving that we receive
And it’s in pardoning that we are pardoned
And it’s in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

All Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

If you worship at home, please let us know so we can pray for you!


For the last six weeks, we’ve been talking about how there are benefits that come to us because we believe. But there are benefits that come to anyone who chooses to believe and to follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. And we’ve talked about all of those. And now we’re down to the last Sunday in the season of Pentecost and the last benefit, which is the benefit of gratitude. To be thankful.

It is not always easy to be thankful because life does not always provide us with reasons that push us to be thankful. But every single one of these benefits of belief are choices that you and I make to go against the flow, to go against the way the world wants us to think, to go in the direction of God’s will. And to be thankful is exactly that, a choice. And it will lead us to a better life because here’s something important:

What has your attention?

Because whatever has your attention, your attention is like fuel for that to grow in your life. In the middle of a storm on the Sea of Galilee, the disciples saw a figure walking across the water toward their boat in the middle of a storm. And they were frightened and they thought it was a ghost. And the more their attention focused on this figure, the more frightened they were.

And then the figure announced, “It’s I, Jesus.” And now their focus was on Jesus, and they were no longer afraid. And then the apostle Peter, for some bizarre reason known only to him, says, “Jesus, if it’s really you, tell me to come and walk on the water with you.” Where do people get those ideas? And Jesus, though, just says, “Come.” And so Peter steps out from the boat onto the water and he takes steps toward Jesus. And he’s watching Jesus. And he finds that as long as he’s watching Jesus, he can walk on the water.

Now, if you took driver’s ed like I did back in high school years and years ago, they tell you that you’re supposed to look in the distance where you want your car to go. Now, you do have to keep an eye out, but the point they were making is, if you watch the side of the road, if you watch the ditch, your car will automatically go where you’re looking. So at least some of the time, you need to look in the distance where you want to go, where you hope to be, and that will help you keep on the road. And as long as Peter is looking at Jesus, walking on water doesn’t seem to be a problem.

But he takes his eyes away from Jesus, and maybe he looks over to the disciples in the boat going, “Eh, look at me.” But he notices the waves that are high, and he notices the storm. And all of a sudden, now that his eyes are off Jesus, as it says in Matthew 14:30, “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid. And beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” You see, when you stop looking at Jesus, it’s hard not to be afraid, and it’s hard to walk on water. But verse 31, Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him saying to him, “Oh man of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Now, certainly, when Peter got afraid, he was doubting what Jesus could do. But please notice what happened before Peter got afraid. He took his eyes off Jesus and gave his attention to the problems all around him. And that’s why you have to think about what you are seeing, what has your attention.

So I want to ask you a question: when you look at that picture, do you see a duck or do you see a rabbit? Because I guarantee you, in every one of life’s circumstances, there will both be ducks and rabbits. But see, here’s the problem. If you look at the duck, the duck causes you to feel despair. When you see a duck of despair coming toward you, what you need to do is duck. Or do you see the rabbit of rejoicing and you think to yourself, “Well, let’s play tag with the rabbits.” But you’re able to see both things in life when you look around you. You’re able to see both, but you have a choice as to what you give your attention to.

Now, this is why the way God made us need some awareness in our hearts. Because see, here’s the reality, friends. You were driving down the road. You were looking in the distance where you want to go. That’s where the rabbits are. But your attention is still focused on the side roads where a duck may run a stop sign and hit you. Your brain is wired to watch for duck danger. That is normal and that’s good. That helps us to avoid injuries and problems. So our mind automatically notices anything that’s wrong. But see, here’s the problem. If that holds your attention, it can cause more trouble than whatever it is itself.

You’ve heard me mention the name of psychiatrist Dr. David D. Burns, who is one of the persons who has popularized what is called cognitive behavioral therapy. And at the foundation of cognitive behavioral therapy is the idea that what you’re feeling is largely influenced by what you’re paying attention to. And they have identified 10 specific negative ways to see the world around you that are almost addictive. They pull your attention to not only what’s wrong, but also everything that can go wrong. And if you focus your attention on these cognitive distortions, they will take you around and around and around and around and literally cause a significant cognitive depression. In fact, Dr. Burns– and by the way, I have the books. I would loan any of them to anyone who would like to see them — maintains that managing your perceptions is more effective than medication. Now, I’m not telling you not to take any medication your doctor gives you, but I am telling you that managing your perceptions is free.

We need to not notice only the ducks. We need to also be able to see the reasons to rejoice. Because reasons to rejoice, reasons to be thankful, are the antidote, are the best medication for fear, anxiety, and depression.

Now, let’s look at another verse that’s sometimes taken out of context. We know that in everything— Romans 8:28 says, “We know that in everything, God works for good with those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose.”

And if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, every single one of you is called to fulfill God’s purpose. This verse is true for you. But don’t make the common misunderstanding. This verse does not say that everything is good. Not everything is good. What this verse says is that if you look, you can see God working for good in everything. But it may be a little hard to see if you don’t look for it. One of the things that I remind myself constantly in dark days and dark times is the darker it gets, the more clear any little tiny bit of light will shine in the darkness.

And you see, friends, if it’s true that God works for good in everything, it’s a good investment of our attention and life and time to look for the light and to look for God at work because wherever God is working, that’s the direction we want to move in a hard time, in a bad time, in a difficult day.

And consequently, we come to this beautiful verse in 1 Thessalonians 5:16. To me, it’s the verse for thanksgiving. Please keep in mind, not everything is good, but rejoice always. If you can find a reason to rejoice, even in the midst of trouble, that will be light that will draw you away from darkness. It will lead you to verse 17, which says to pray constantly. Pray constantly that in the darkness, God’s will be done because you know the verse says, “God is working for good.”

Finally, verse 18, “Give thanks in all circumstances.” And somebody will say, “Well, I don’t want to be thankful for something that’s not good.” Friends, it’s true. Not everything is good. But if you can choose to be thankful, being thankful is literally like finding the light and moving toward it. Psychologists have proven this. If you take a piece of paper each day and write down what you’re thankful for in that day, even if there were lots of other things going on. If you can make a list of everything you’re thankful for, that will change how you feel. That will change how you perceive the world around you. Not everything is good, but you have some control over your perceptions. And if you move toward being thankful, it helps you to recognize what God is doing, which is why the rest of that verse says, “This is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Lord, what a terrible day. What a terrible thing. How can I be thankful? What God wants you to do in the midst of a terrible thing is to find a reason to be thankful because that will point you to see more and more of what God is doing. Because, as psychiatrist David Burns says, hope is powerful medicine. When we choose to be thankful, it draws our attention to what we hope will continue and get better. Hope is like a rope that pulls you up and out of the quicksand. David Burns says that hope is the most powerful antidepressant. And you and I can add hope to anything and any human situation. Jesus inspired hope. And hope inspires faith. Hope empowers faith, and gives it energy to work. Hope inspires energy and enthusiasm so we can do what we need to do.

Hope doesn’t even need to be realistic to work. It will still benefit you. Watch out for people who say, “Let’s be realistic.” Oh, no, no, no. Let’s not be realistic. Let’s be hopeful. Let’s be thankful. Let’s be grateful. Because here’s the reality, honestly, friends, you can adjust your emotions. You are not controlled by your emotions.

Some of you have heard me tell this story before. Kim and I, in the pocket behind the driver’s seat, we have a joke book. And anytime we get in a bad mood as we’re going down the road for any reason, I pull out the joke book and I look for a joke that causes her to lose control, not of the car, but of whatever frustration she’s feeling. Because see, here’s the thing. If you can laugh at a joke, even when your heart is breaking, that teaches you that your point of view can instantly change because you can tell yourself a joke.

You can ask the right questions.
What’s funny about this? What’s funny if there’s a mistake in the bulletin?
You can ask yourself, what’s good about this? Sometimes there’s even one tiny little thing that’s good that you can be thankful for, like cheesecake in the church kitchen.
What can I learn from this? Well, that makes what’s happening to you a lesson that is intended to help your life to be better. What can I learn from this?
How is God at work? That’s looking for the light in the darkness and seriously, in the dark, look for the light because that’s where you will find God at work. And when you find how God is working, you will find a reason, however small, however tiny, however insignificant, you will find a reason to give God thanks. And that makes the light grow even stronger.

I’d like to tell you a story. Once upon a time, a farmer’s donkey fell down into a well. The animal cried piteously for hours as the farmer tried to figure out what to do. Finally, he decided that the animal was old and the well needed to be covered up anyway. It just wasn’t worth it to retrieve the donkey. He invited all his neighbors to come over and help him. They all grabbed a shovel and began to shovel dirt into the well, onto the donkey. At first, the donkey realized what was happening and cried horribly. And then to everyone’s amazement, the donkey quieted down. A few shovel loads later, the farmer finally looked down the well, and he was astonished at what he saw. With each shovel of dirt that hit the donkey’s back, the donkey was doing something amazing. He would shake it off, and then he would take a step up and he would stamp the dirt down. As the farmer’s neighbors continued to shovel dirt on top of the animal, he would shake it off and take a step up. And pretty soon, everyone was amazed as the donkey stepped up over the edge of the well and happily trotted off.

Friends, here is the moral of the story. Here’s the moral of the story. Life is going to shovel dirt on you. It will happen. All kinds of dirt. The trick to getting out of the well is to shake it off and take a step up, because each of our troubles can be a stepping stone. We can get out of the deepest wells just by not stopping and never giving up and shaking it off and taking a step up. And that’s why this is called the donkey dance. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen those little diagrams that help you to see the steps of a dance, but here are the steps of the donkey dance.

Number one, cry if you need to, but then calm down.
Number two, shake off what life shovels on.
Number three, take a step up and stamp it down and stand firm.
Number four, repeat until you’re out of the hole.
And as you trot off, be sure to say, “Thanks for the dirt.”

Everybody, you ready? Please say it. Thanks for the dirt.

At the right time, that phrase will change your heart. You see, you always have a choice, even in difficult times. You have a choice to rejoice, you have a choice to pray, and you have a choice in everything to give thanks. And to find a way to do that even when it’s hard– although if it’s hard, it’s even a greater benefit to you. To find a way when it’s hard to make these three simple choices will empower you up and out of any kind of human darkness.

Please pray with me. Lord Jesus, sometimes we feel just like a donkey that is down in a deep, dark hole, and we don’t know what to do. We feel betrayed, we feel hopeless, we feel alone, but Lord, help us to remember that we have choices. And in the realization that we have choices, Lord, help us to see that if we can notice how you are working, even in the worst of things, we can add our strength to your work and see the light grow stronger than the darkness. And so, Lord, for each of us, whenever we find ourselves in a hole, whenever we find ourselves on a difficult day, when we find ourselves surrounded by darkness and our attention is drawn to what’s going wrong, help us, Lord, to turn our attention to the even smallest of lights shining in our darkness so that we can learn from what you are doing as you work in the darkness to help those whom you love. And so, Lord, we pray for that blessing, not just for ourselves, but also for the people around us who feel smothered and surrounded by darkness in their lives. Lord, may your light shine upon them and help them to see reasons to be thankful. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION: Let’s have a conversation! Please reflect upon the questions below as you consider the material presented above. In a comment, share your thoughts and additional questions. What would you like to know?

What grabbed your attention?
What is the human need or problem?
What questions do you have about any quotes provided?
Does the Bible say anything about this?
What solutions do you see for the problem?
What specifically could we begin to do to make a change?

Additional Resources

Kinmundy United Methodist Church is located at 308 E. Third Street, Kinmundy, IL 62854. Worship begins at 9 am Sundays. The building is handicap accessible.
Wesley United Methodist Church is located at 3381 Kinoka Road, Patoka, IL 62875 in the country between Kinmundy and Patoka. Worship begins at 10.45 am Sundays.
VISION: We are a functional family of God, where Jesus is Lord and people grow.
MISSION: Every layperson is called to carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20); every layperson is called to be missional. (¶126 of the 2016 Book of Discipline)
Paradigm: There are two kinds of people in this world: people who need to become disciples and disciples who need to become disciple makers.

(If you wish, you can listen to the Prayer of St. Francis being sung:
Sarah McLachlan – Prayer of St. Francis )

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