THE MOST POWERFUL WORD IN THE WORLD
1. What would it be worth to you to be able to come up with just the right word at just the right time? One of my favorite stories is about a time when a man did exactly that.
a. It happened when Rudyard Kipling, author of The Jungle Book and other popular works, was at the height of his career. It was widely reported that his words were generating income at the then-astonishing rate of ten shillings each.
b. A group of wise-guy college students doubted that anyone’s words were that valuable. They sent the renowned writer a sarcastic letter with the challenge, “Send us your best word.” Enclosed were ten shillings.
c. A few days letter they received in the mail Kipling’s one-word reply: “Thanks.”
2. “Thanks” is still anybody’s best word. It has a value that cannot be measured.
a. Of course, its power lies, not in the language that may be used, but in the quality the term expresses: gratitude.
b. N.T. Wright said flatly, “Gratitude is the foundation of Christian character.”
c. I believe it may also be safely said that “gratitude is the genuine application of Christian doctrine.”
3. The presence – or absence – of what this one word means in our lives is so powerful that it sets the course of our walk through this world and determines our destiny hereafter.
1. The power invested in what this word means may be illustrated by two astonishing episodes in the Bible.
a. “Thanks” brought Jonah out of the fish. (Jonah 2:7-10)
i. The LORD told Jonah to arise and go to Nineveh and call out against it, but Jonah did not want to run the risk that the people there might repent and God would forgive them.
ii. So Jonah fled from the LORD in a ship going the other way, but the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea.
iii. The sailors, upon discovering that Jonah had brought this trouble upon them, hurled him into the sea, where the LORD had appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah.
iv. Then, in his distress, Jonah prayed to the LORD, and the LORD heard him.
v. Jonah determined to sacrifice to the LORD with the voice of thanksgiving, and the fish vomited him out upon the dry land!
b. “Thanks” brought Lazarus out of the tomb. (John 11:41-44)
i. Jesus had been called to Bethany by Martha and Mary because their brother, his dear friend, was so ill.
ii. When he got there, he found that Lazarus had been dead four days, and his body was in a cave with a stone against its opening.
iii. The Lord, deeply moved, told them to take away the stone, and they, with some hesitation, did so.
iv. He lifted up his eyes and thanked the Father for hearing him.
v. Then the Lord called out Lazarus’ name and had him come out – which he did, still bound with the grave cloths!
2. The quality conveyed by this precious word has the power to transform our lives for the good, too.
a. Gratitude is one of the factors which determines whether a person will have a healthy sense of self.
i. Will you be humble or haughty? Content or dissatisfied? Joyful or bored? Secure or afraid? Capable or inferior? It depends on whether you are thankful!
ii. Paul advised the Colossians, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful...Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving” (3:15; 4:2).
iii. There’s a story of a man who found the barn where Satan stores the seeds he sows in the hearts of people – envy, greed, anger, hatred, lust, dishonesty, and so on – all the ugly things that spoil life. The fellow soon noticed that Satan had more seeds of discouragement than any other kind. He wanted to know why. Satan explained that they could be made to grow almost anywhere, and that wherever they began to take root any of his other seeds would grow better. He reluctantly admitted, though, that there is one place he just can’t get them to grow. “And where is that?” the man asked. Satan replied sadly, “In the heart of a thankful man.”
b. Gratitude is what enables a person to make honorable ethical choices throughout his life.
i. In fact, the epistles in the New Testament have a pattern about them in which the first half says “here’s what the Lord has done for you,” and the last half adds “now live like you’re thankful for it!”
ii. Ephesians, for example, exalts the unsearchable riches of Christ to start with, then explains that those things which are out of place – sexual immorality and impurity and covetousness and filthiness and foolish, crude talk – must be replaced by thanksgiving (5:4), and that “always and for everything” we are to be “giving thanks...to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:20).
iii. One of the most memorable illustrations of the moral power of this principle I’ve ever run across is from Barclay’s observations on the parable of the wicked husbandmen. He wrote, “One of the supreme tests of life is, ‘How did we use our privileges?’ Oscar Wilde has a terrible kind of parable like this. Jesus was walking though the streets of a city. In an open courtyard, he saw a young man feasting gluttonously and growing drunk with win. ‘Young man,’ said Jesus, ‘why do you live like that?’ ‘I was a leper,’ said the young man, ‘and you cleansed me. How else should I live?’ Jesus went on, and he saw a young girl clad in tawdry finery, a girl of the streets, and after her came a young man with eyes like a hunter. ‘Young man,’ said Jesus, ‘why do you look at that girl like that?’ ‘I was blind,’ said the young man, ‘and you opened my eyes. How else should I look?’ ‘Daughter,’ Jesus said to the girl, ‘why do you live like that?’ ‘I was a sinner,’ she said, ‘and you forgave me. How else should I live?’ Here were three people who had received priceless gifts from Jesus and who had used them like that.” (And Jesus Said, p. 141)
c. Gratitude prepares a person to be material out of which strong relationships can be built.
i. Relationships that bless people and last through life are constructed of loyalty and compassion and respect – characteristics that are nothing but the outworking of thanks in daily experience.
ii. We’re having trouble in so many of our relationships because thankfulness is too rarely at the core of our character. Consider, for example, the contrast between these two quotes:
(1) “Gratitude is the most exquisite form of courtesy.” (Jacques Martin)
(2) “Blessed is he who expects no gratitude, for he shall not be disappointed.” (W. C. Bennett)
iii. In the first chapter of Romans, Paul vividly describes the descent into degeneracy by which mankind is ruined and lost. The terrible picture ends with people who are incapable of the most basic relationships of life: “They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness....disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless” (29b, 30b-31). But that awful state begins with ingratitude: “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him...” (21a).
d. Gratitude enables a person to cope with all the circumstance, good and bad, which he may face in life.
i. The challenge of the scriptures is: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks is all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for your.” (1 Thes. 5:16-18)
ii. People who approach life that way do not necessarily have fewer problems, but they do have an unusual strength and dignity about them.
iii. Several years ago I was made aware of the work and the writing of Tom Kelton.
(1) Brother Kelton was a gospel preacher who did much good in the area around Pharr, Texas where he served for a long time.
(2) But Tom was also the victim of a mental illness that required hospital treatment on more than one occasion.
(3) Think of these words from his article on “The Way of Gratitude”: “We have a choice in our experiences...One alternative is the way or resentment; we can ask angrily, ‘Why did this have to happen to me?’ The other alternative is the way of gratitude; this involves asking, ‘What is there here to be thankful for? How can I use this to build toward the future?’...The second alternative – gratitude – makes the difference between being a victim or a victor over events. By learning to evaluate events from the perspective of gratitude rather than resentment, one gets the courage in the worst of times to keep on doing the best of things. Of all the forces that enable one to meet the challenges of life, gratitude is the most potent.”
e. Gratitude is the crucial quality which leads a person to respond to God in an appropriate manner.
i. It considers what the Bible says God has done for us and thinks, “He has done something for me I did not deserve, at great cost to himself...I’m dependent upon it...And I’m indebted to him!”
ii. A person who thinks that way will be moved into humble and happy submission to God by his gratitude.
iii. Obedience to the gospel by repentance and baptism into Christ is “thank you” for the death and burial and resurrection of Jesus. (Rom. 6:3-4, 17-18).
iv. The Lord’s Supper is “thank you” for the benefits of the body and the blood of Christ. (1 Cor. 10:16)
v. Thankfulness in our hearts to God makes us want to do what he has said rather than insisting that he hasn’t said not to. (Cf. Col. 3:16-17)
1. “Thanks” is the most powerful word in the world!
2. This summer we did our camp session the theme “I Will Thank You.” Our song was the one that begins, “For all that You’ve done, I will thank You. For all that You’re going to do. For all that You’ve promised, and all that You are Is all that has carried me through...” A few weeks after we got back, I got a card from one of our long-time workers. He wrote, “I wanted to thank you again for a great camp session. This week, in my opinion, was the best we have had in a few years. The theme was outstanding! It was applicable to everyone, staff and campers alike. At least to me as part of the staff. Although I was hesitant when you first told me the theme, it was really a strong message that I needed.”
3. How about you? What kind of power does “thanks” have in your life? Is it a strong message that you need? Remember that the song says, “Thank You for loving and setting me free...Thank You for giving Your life just for me. How I thank You...” How will you thank him?