Introduction: In his book, Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier, Dr. Robert Emmons of the University of California Davis, suggests that everyone has happiness pre-sets that are biologically determined and cannot be significantly changed—except, according to his research, by learn to practice daily habits of gratitude. People who learn, in whatever situation they’re in, to spot items of thanksgiving, increase their overall happiness in life. It’s akin to changing your personality. In Hebrews 12:1-5a, we have five phrases (lifted direct from the NIV) we can use as thanksgiving items on this Thanksgiving weekend.
1. “A Great Cloud of Witnesses” (v. 1a). This is referring to the heroes of the Old Testament, mentioned in the previous chapter, Hebrews 11. This is a unique chapter in the Bible. We don’t have a chapter giving us the heroes of love, or the heroes of courage, or the heroes of accomplishment. It’s the heroes of faith God wants us to consider. We are now able to triple Hebrews 11. We have not only the heroes of faith in (1) the Old Testament; but in the (2) New Testament; and in (3) Christian history. For example, consider the chain of faith that stretched from John Wycliffe in the 1300s to John Huss in the 1400s to Martin Luther in the 1500s. Because of their courage, the Gospel has come down to us. Think of the specific people who brought the Gospel into your life.
2. “The Race Marked Out for Us” (v. 1b). Runners in a marathon can’t just select any 26.1-mile course they want to. There is a route marked out for them. This phrase indicates that God has a specific route marked out for our lives. We travel an appointed way. We have the right starting place; He knows the ending place; and along the way He leads at every turn.
3. “Jesus” (v. 2). As we run this race, we fix our eyes on Jesus who is the author and perfecter of our faith. He endured the cross for the joy set before Him. What joy? He had all of heaven’s glory before His incarnation and all of heaven’s glory after His ascension. The one thing He will have in eternity future that wasn’t in eternity past is this—the people He has redeemed. His joy is to be with His people forever (John 17:24).
4. “The Word of Encouragement” (v. 5a). This is one of the most practical titles for the Bible. For every situation in life, there is a verse giving us the encouragement we need.
5. “The Lord’s Discipline” (v. 5b). As we’re cheered on by knowing of those who came before us, as we run the race set out for us, as we fix our eyes on Christ, as we lean on His Word of Encouragement, we also have the Lord’s discipline to correct us, perfect us, and keep us going and growing.
Conclusion: Major General Sir Richard Dannatt is a man who understands the valor of victory. He’s one of the most decorated and respected army officers in Great Britain, and his entire life has been devoted to the protection of freedom. From 2006 to 2009, he served as Chief of the General Staff of the British Army. He was presented the Military Cross in 1973. He was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1996 and awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service in 1999. He was knighted in 2005 and 2009, and has been given an honorary Doctor of Civil Law by Kent University.
His greatest victory, however, was a surrender. As a young man, Dannatt felt the Lord calling him to a life of full commitment to Christ. He asked the Lord Jesus into his life, but for several years his level of devotion wavered. When serving as a young soldier in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1973, Dannatt was pinned down by a hail of bullets. His Corporal and his driver fell on either side of him. “I walked away unharmed,” Dannatt later said.
Two years later, he was in South Armagh with his Company Commander on a mine clearing operation. His commander was blown up in front of his eyes, but again Dannatt walked away unharmed.
Two years later, Dannatt was driving along a West German autobahn from Berlin to the Hook of Holland, heading home to get married. He fell asleep at the wheel traveling 70 miles per hour, but somehow the car found a level and flat field and rammed to a stop between a twenty-foot bank and a stretch of woods. Again he walked away unharmed.
On November 11th of the same year, 1977, Dannatt, only 26 years old, was in Berlin with his new wife, Pippa, preparing for the Battalion’s Armistice Day celebrations. He was alone in the cloakroom when he suffered a massive stroke. He lay helplessly for nearly an hour before a brother officer found him. Pippa was told there was little hope for him. Dannatt recovered, but during his long convalescence, he thought a great deal about his life. In his testimony, which was published in the book, Candles in the Darkness: Stories of Faith in the Army and Royal Air Force, Dannatt wrote: “On three occasions God has shown me His love and His protection and had challenged me to make a complete commitment to Him, but on each occasion, I had failed to make the response that He wanted from Me. Finally I had to be stopped so that the lesson could be learned.”
The Lord spoke forcibly to Dannatt through the passage in Hebrews 12 about not making light of the Lord’s discipline or losing heart when corrected. Major General Dannatt later wrote, “11th November is the date in the calendar each year when we remember Armistice Day—for it was the 11th hour of the 11th day of November 1918 that the surrender of Germany to end the First World War was announced. Surrender is two things—it is the end of the fighting and the beginning of peace. I discovered that 11th November 1977 was the moment that I stopped fighting God—only giving Him part of my life—and that it was the moment that I fully committed myself to Him. I found on that date that a far better way of life was to commit myself wholeheartedly to Him, to enjoy that peace and purpose in life that only full commitment can bring.”
Someone once said that only in the Christian life does surrender bring victory. That’s a lot to be thankful for!