(The weekly GPS Small Group Guide can be downloaded in .PDF format from the individual sermon page, found at http://www.cor.org/worship in Sermon Archives)
The Road to Thanksgiving
A Grow-Pray-Study guide for small groups
This guide uses the Scripture readings from the daily “GPS” study guide. Group members may read the daily readings before the group meeting, or read the verses aloud when the group meets. The group may subdivide into two or three smaller groups, each discussing a set of the daily readings and the matching questions on page 2, or the entire group may discuss those questions together. We pray that, whatever pattern of study you choose, the Holy Spirit will weave God’s Word into the life and heart of each group member.
1 Chronicles 16:1-14, 37
King David had jubilantly brought back the sacred Ark of the Covenant to Israel’s capital. (If you don’t know the story of how they lost it, it’s in 1 Samuel 4.) Then David offered “entirely burned offerings and well-being sacrifices before God,” and “blessed the people in the Lord’s name.” He also gave Asaph and his family a new job: making thanksgiving a permanent part of Israel’s worship. (At least 13 of the psalms bear the heading “A psalm of Asaph.”)
1 Chronicles 29:9-14
As the end of his life and reign drew near, David invited the Israelites to join him in giving the materials Solomon would need to build the Temple in Jerusalem. The people’s response (in a process a bit like our congregation’s stewardship commitments) was much more generous than anyone had expected. Filled with joy, they thanked God for the privilege of giving!
While our vision can narrow to the confines of our own life and activities, in this exuberant song of thanks the psalmist looked to God’s creating power and righteous rule. He invited all of God’s people to join in thanking God for creating us, and for exercising ultimate rule over all that goes on in our lives.
The psalmist located the center of our gratitude to God in the refrain he repeated over and over in this psalm: “God’s faithful love lasts forever!” Above all else, the grand story of the Bible is the story of a God who loves us with a tireless, durable, embracing, never-ending love. What a promise! “Give thanks to the Lord” indeed!
1 Corinthians 15:50-57
The apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth that we can have total confidence, even when we face death, that “the worst thing is never the last thing.” Paul’s words about the resurrection body weren’t a science lecture, but a ringing statement of faith. Like him, we can count on Jesus’ victory over death, and thank God for the gift of eternal life.
1 Thessalonians 5:12-18
“Give thanks in every situation” may sound like the kind of “happy talk” we’d hear from a person who’s never faced any big trouble, any of life’s deep hurts. But Paul wrote these words to Christians in a city where a mob had tried to arrest and snuff out the message he preached (see Acts 17:1-10; see also 2 Corinthians 11:23-30 for Paul’s summary of the kind of life he’d led). Paul really meant “every situation,” including very hard times as well as good times. At all times, he said, there are reasons to thank God.
To access the Family Activity suggested in this week’s GPS, download the printable GPS from http://www.cor.org/guide.
Lord God, we thank you not only for your many blessings to us, but also for a holiday that reminds us to count those blessings. We thank you for all those who surround our lives and help us along the way. We thank you for making us aware of your creation’s majesty and for the depth of your love for us. We thank you for making us part of your family and filling us with the capacity to love others. We thank you for the blessings we’re aware of, and for blessings we have forgotten or, sadly, never even noticed. Amen.
Does it make you angry, sad or some other feeling that some people, even if they have been blessed, never seem to be thankful? Are they missing out on something positive that you feel, especially during the Thanksgiving holiday? Does this holiday have any lasting effect on you? If so, what effect?
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND STUDY
Read 1 Chronicles 16:1-14, 37. What was David thanking God for (see 1 Samuel 4)? Why was it important to David to thank God? What kinds of things should all of humanity thank God for? Do you have things personal to you that cause you to thank God? Why do you think it’s important for you to thank God? Is giving thanks a way of praising God? How does the traditional doxology begin? Does remembering your blessings and thanking God give you more hope for your future? Do we do a good job thanking others for all that they have done for us?
Read 1 Chronicles 29:9-14. When David praised the Lord, who did he say that wealth, honor, strength and power came from? Is this still true? If so, what is your part in working so hard achieving your success? Why would our ability to give be considered a privilege? Re-read verse 14, breaking it down. What was David getting at? Are some people successful even if they have not made God the foundation of their lives? Why does this often seem true? What if we, as believers, don’t acknowledge that we achieved every success only with God’s help?
Read Psalm 33:1-12. How is this Psalm different from a prayer that thanks God for personal, individual blessings? What does this Psalm praise? How do verses 10 and 11 offer hope to all people whether they feel good or bad about the recent election results? When the psalmist wrote verse 12, which “people” was he thinking of? Who are God’s people today?
Read Psalm 136:1-9. This Psalm describes who God is. That said, why is one line repeated again and again? How long will God put up with our failures? Will he act to correct our shortcomings? Why doesn’t he ever seem to give up on us? On Thanksgiving day, is it possible for us to think of and thank God for all the blessings we have received in our lifetimes? Can the attitude of our hearts cover that kind of omission?
Read 1 Corinthians 15:50-57. Do you think of your body as “the real me”? Do these verses affect your sense of the “real you”? How would you describe the way in which God has (already) defeated death? How will Christ’s resurrection affect the physical death of each of us? Do you hope for, or really believe in, your eternal life? What gives you confidence?
Read 1 Thessalonians 5:12-18. Paul endured all manner of suffering in his life. Yet he sincerely wrote, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Is this simply “churchy, happy talk,” or something else? Why does Paul say this? When we are suffering, why would we give thanks? Earlier in these verses, Paul encourages us to thank those around us for all they do for us and for others. What happens if we fail to do this? What happens when we do as he says and thank people liberally? Why is our behavior toward God and toward others so important to the “success” of our lives?
From last week: Did you watch your buying practices carefully? Did you find yourself about to buy something you really don’t need, dig down and find the discipline to avoid the purchase and consider making a special donation in God’s name to your church or a worthy charity? Tell the group about this experience.
FOR ADDITIONAL INSIGHT
From Pastor Steven Blair’s sermon, November 18, 2012:
We don’t say thanks more often because…we don’t say thanks more often. Neuroscience has identified that our thoughts travel along routes called neuropathways. The more we have a certain type of thought, the more well-worn the pathway becomes and the easier it is for the thoughts to happen again…The more we connect some event in our life with the need to say thanks for it, the easier it will get to say thanks. This is very helpful for people dealing with depression, anxiety, negative thinking, or any addiction. When our minds start going down one path, we recognize it, and forge a new path by naming what we are thankful for. To be more thankful, we need to be more thankful.
But there is something else that stops us from even starting to blaze that new neuropathway. The second reason we struggle with being thankful is based on our frame of mind.
A little while ago, during hospital visits I heard a nurse compliment another nurse on the ring she wore. She complimented the ring’s “dazzle.” The nurse said, “My husband gave me this. I earned every part of it.” There wasn’t much Thanksgiving in her voice.
Let’s look at what was behind her statement. On the left is her train of thought; on the right, an alternative:
Earned Grace (define grace as an unearned blessing)
The alternative is a change of perspective. We could replace the word “Ring” with the Hug or Friendship. The first column leads to “entitlement,” second column leads to “thankful.” And thankful is much better than entitled. In order for being thankful to be about more than just good manners, it has to be connected to a feeling that we received something, a blessing that we did not earn.
We struggle to be thankful because we believe we have earned everything we have received. We earned our house. We earned our spouse’s affection. Yes, there are consequences both positive and negative to our actions. But at no point can we ever make someone love us. Even the fact that we have a job is somewhat due to our ability, and somewhat to the fact that the supervisor who has our back still has their job or that the market hasn’t duplicated what it did a few years past. Being thankful requires that we are aware that we receive things we have not earned.
This week, carry a small pad of paper and a pen wherever you go, keeping an abbreviated journal of everything you are able to notice that you are grateful for. Throughout the week, thank as many people as you can who have played a part in your gratitude. Next week, share with the group whatever you discovered as a result of the process