GRATITUDE

"Consider how great things he hath done for you."--1 Sam. 12:24

This instruction of Samuel, a proven servant of God, sets a pleasurable undertaking before all who have been called "out of darkness into his marvelous light" (1 Pet. 2:9). The admonition to 'consider' prompts a series of reflections on what our wondrous God has done and is doing for each one of us.

Samuel spoke those words on the occasion of Israel's first victory under their first king. "Come, and let us go to Gilgal, and renew the kingdom there," Samuel had instructed. "And all the people went to Gilgal; and there they made Saul king before the LORD in Gilgal; and there they sacrificed sacrifices of peace offerings before the LORD; and there Saul and all the men of Israel rejoiced greatly" (1 Sam. 11:14,15). This was the conclusion of a process which began at a different place. "Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah, And said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations."--1 Sam. 8:4.5

God's Supervision Not Appreciated

That account does not reveal the real problem in Israel: the people had lost their faith and trust in their God. Not only were they dissatisfied with the code of religious instruction which Moses had delivered unto them from the Lord, but also they lacked appreciation for the supervision which their faithful God had never failed to provide. Samuel did not hesitate to remind them of their lack of appreciation of divine care. "And when ye saw that Nahash the king of the children of Ammon came against you, ye said unto me, Nay; but a king shall reign over us: when the LORD your God was your king" (1 Sam. 12:12). Now the faithful prophet addressed that multitude (representing all the people) which had assembled to honor their comely and powerful king, Saul, the son of Kish, a Benjamite.

The events of this occasion revealed the quality of humility so prominent in Samuel. Complying with the directions of the LORD, he recounted Israel's lack of faith during centuries past--unfaithfulness which had been their ill-fitting response to the special care and blessing by which God had led them. The message was brief. So it is that many of the Lord's guidelines for acceptable service by believers in Christ Jesus are simply stated. They yield their depth and fruitage when we think upon them, when we 'consider,' when we reflect upon the content of the words of God or of His faithful servants.

Three-Fold Admonition

"Reverence the LORD; serve him in truth with all your heart, for consider how great things he hath done for you." This was not a reference solely to the blessings which had been received by those of Israel of that generation. Samuel would have them reflect upon their entire national history--upon all the things God had bestowed upon them despite their unfaithfulness. Such reflection would make prominent in their minds the many things they had to be thankful for and responsive to. Similarly, a rich blessing comes when new creatures in Christ Jesus respond to this exhortation. Let us not only keep in mind that faith is the basis of our relationship with God, but also let us reflect on what our gracious Father has done for us. Consider what unspeakable favors have been granted to enable the call of the church and our special relationship as spiritual sons.

"Reverence the Lord"--hold Him hallowed in our hearts. Let Him have first place in our thoughts and goals each day as we meditate and decide and pursue the affairs of life. May we each day endeavor to improve our relationship with God, holding that relationship as the chief concern in all the avenues of our life.

"Serve him in truth with all your hearts." Samuel as judge was a splendid example of unstinting service in truth. He knew that the majority in Israel did not serve the Lord in truth, nor did they serve God with their full heart. And Samuel was attentive to the needs of the people. When Israel was under attack by the Philistines at Mizpeh, he sacrificed a young bullock to obtain divine forgiveness and intervention (1 Sam. 7:9,10). Amidst the battle, and quite in response to that offering by Samuel, a thunderstorm struck the advancing enemy and God gave Israel a great victory. After this singular defeat of the Philistines, it is indicated that "Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life" (1 Sam. 7:15,16). In this capacity, he toured Israel and judged the people in Bethel, Gilgal, Mizpeh, and no doubt in the regions round about those cities. In overseeing the judicial aspects of that people, he must have had frequent occasion to note the presence of truth, but perhaps more often its absence.

Keep Thy Heart...

Samuel was now full of age--"old and grayheaded"--from years of activity and observation. He was well experienced in the service he began as a child when he ministered unto the Lord under Eli, the high priest. Samuel had learned the importance of truth in dealings between people, and in the worship and service of God. Even so, his words are especially applicable to us, also. Our service to God should be from the heart: not by habit, not from fear or compulsion, not by constraint or other considerations. But inasmuch as we are of fallen man, and possess a heart which by nature may be said to be deceitful, how can we be sure that we serve God from proper motives? On this question, note Jeremiah's warning: "The heart is deceitful above all, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" It is because the Lord knows our frame that we have His assurance, "I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins [deepest emotions], even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings."--Jer. 17:9,10

It is important that we too 'search the heart'--that is, of course, our own heart. The wise man's counsel regarding our heart is important: "Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life" (Prov. 4:23). We must attend to the heart; we must regard our innermost thoughts. We should interrogate them, the very decision-making elements of our beings. Are we sure that we are governed by pure motives? Why do we study? What is our purpose in searching the Scriptures? Why do we travel, communicate, and seek fellowship?

"Serve him in truth" could also be read, "Serve the Lord in righteousness." This adds a further thought. Not only must all service of God be rendered in truth, but also with righteous motives. We want to serve the Lord with the desire to bring glory and honor to His holy name. God is worthy of our best talents, of being served during our choicest hours. We are freshly impressed of how worthy He is of our devotion when we "consider how great things he hath done for us."

Why Samuel Out and King Saul In

When Israel asked for a king, Samuel was quite concerned. But God led him to a proper appraisal of the situation: they were rejecting, not merely Samuel, but also the Lord Himself (1 Sam. 8:6-9). In bringing the true facts of the situation to Samuel's attention, God gave him a message for the people. They would receive a brief preview of the experiences which awaited them under an imperfect human ruler, even one such as they thought qualified, and one whom the Lord would select to be their visible king (1 Sam. 8:10-18). God's direction was revealed by the words which He sent to the people through Samuel. And inasmuch as the Lord assured Samuel that He would not forsake His people, Samuel himself determined to continue to pray for them and teach them the right way.

Samuel's recitation of Israel's blessings previously received from God (1 Sam. 12:6-15) brings to mind the apostle John's reminder of God's great provisions for the eternal deliverance of believers in Jesus. "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us" (1 John 4:10-12) Believers in Jesus continue to enjoy God's special blessings extended to His children. The holy spirit has been sent forth to reveal God's great purposes. Truth has brought us into at-one-ment with God. It has brought us freedom from bondage to error and fear. And God has assured that if found faithful, we shall be joint heirs with our heavenly bridegroom and elder brother.

But divine displeasure for the people's sin of ingratitude for God's supervision of them through former servants and through Samuel was yet to be expressed. "Now therefore stand and see this great thing, which the LORD will do before your eyes. Is it not wheat harvest to day? I will call unto the LORD, and he shall send thunder and rain; that ye may perceive and see that your wickedness is great, which ye have done in the sight of the LORD, in asking you a king. So Samuel called unto the LORD; and the LORD sent thunder and rain that day: and all the people greatly feared the LORD and Samuel."--1 Sam. 12:16-18

There could not have been a more appropriate proof of God's displeasure than the phenomenon of rain and thunder coming, without expectation of its approach, in the beginning of May. It was regarded as a miraculous display of divine power to have a "winter storm" in the midst of harvest. This would impoverish the land of food. "And all the people said unto Samuel, Pray for thy servants unto the LORD thy God, that we die not: for we have added unto all our sins this evil, to ask us a king. And Samuel said unto the people, Fear not: ye have done all this wickedness: yet turn not aside from following the LORD, but serve the LORD with all your heart...For the LORD will not forsake his people for his great name's sake: because it hath pleased the LORD to make you his people."--1 Sam. 12:19-22

Fresh Evaluation Helpful

Each diligent disciple takes joy in tracing his course of life directed by the overruling providences of the heavenly Father. This is as it is written: "By the LORD are the steps of the righteous man established, and he findeth pleasure in his course (of life)" (Psalm 37:23, Leeser). A fresh evaluation of our blessings is involved each time we give an answer for the hope that is within us (1 Pet. 3:15). Every consideration of our personal hope of glory, honor and incorruptibility (Rom. 2:7) is followed upon by an appreciation of the hope in God's word for the entire groaning creation (Rom. 8:22). Truth encourages those who meditate upon the wisdom and love of God, and upon what He has in store for those who will learn in a coming time to love him.--1 Cor. 2:9,10

Our heavenly Father is pleased with our simple prayers of thanksgiving, and with each fresh evidence that we recognize and revere him as our provider and overruler. The Christian who appreciates and values God's manifold blessings will not fail to give thanks therefor.

Forgetful Neglect Is a Sin

"Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits" (Psa. 103:21) is another simple, but appropriate exhortation. Its being in the Bible suggests that those who receive His benefits need to remember and acknowledge them. Perhaps we find it easy to forget or neglect to give due thanks to God for his deliverance of us from the world. Perhaps some of us--due to day-to-day pressures in the work-a- day world--neglect to give thanks for His overruling care. But it is not right that we forget or neglect! It is unright! It is unrighteous that we forget or neglect to give due thanks to God for His blessings. All unrighteousness is sin. Therefore it is sin to neglect prayer, or to neglect expression of thankfulness.

Another aspect of responsibility and privilege in prayer is also brought to mind by Samuel. Just before the words of our text (page one, top), the forgiving prophet said, "God forbid that I should sin against the LORD in ceasing to pray for you: but I will teach you the good and the right way" (1 Sam. 12:23). This reveals an outstanding attitude of heart in Samuel toward those who wished to dispense with his faithful service. In substance, Samuel said: 'I have had a special responsibility unto the Lord in regard to you. To remain faithful unto God I must and will continue to plead to God on your behalf. Your attitude toward my service has not offended me, though it has saddened me. For me to ignore my service on your behalf would be a sin because I know that God is still working His purposes through you, the people of His name. If I were to cease interest in you in my prayers it would be sin on my part, because I know that God is working with you, shepherding you, as His people. The summary of my teachings and my prayer for you is simple: Reverence the Lord; serve Him in truth with all your heart, for consider what things He hath done for you.'

This counsel was given to assist that people toward the attainment in full measure of the divine blessings open to them. And it is excellent counsel to us in our day. The secret of a happy and successful life is in the cultivation of the spirit of praise, thanksgiving and loving appreciation for all the manifest goodness of God. The cultivation of such a spirit requires that we continually call to mind God's acts of mercy and grace. It is proper and fitting that we frequently tell the Lord in prayer how we remember all His goodness, how every fresh evidence of His love and care causes faith to take deeper root and make the realization of His presence and favor more fully appreciated.

Gratitude to Replace Selfish Ambition

As children of God, we realize that we love Him because He first loved us and commended His love toward us. Every time we come to observe some new evidence of His love, our love should be called out more and more in confession through prayer, and in expression by deed. Our Lord encourages us to come to God in prayer with requests for His favor because this is the way toward spiritual growth. "Ask and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full."--John 16:24

A heart filled with proper gratitude has no room for selfishness and ambition. There is no more worthy trait to adorn a righteous character than that of gratitude. It is gratitude that returns to our Heavenly Father that affection which is due from each of His children. Gratitude is one of the smallest returns imaginable, but in every family relationship such proper and important response assures continued favor and blessing. It leads on to perfect love, which itself is manifested in the spirit of self-sacrificing interest in and assistance to others.

The degree of gratitude we possess and express may be a kind of spiritual barometer. If our gratitude begins to wane and our privileges and blessings become accepted as matters of our own attainment or through simple good luck, to that extent we may be growing spiritually insensitive and unresponsive to divine providence. Let us be full of thankfulness, full of gratitude, and let us strive to express them. And let us not be content to express them in prayer alone, but to labor to express gratitude in our manner of life and daily living.

Many people in so-called Christian countries have heard something of the grace of God, but few make devotion of even part of their lives and means in the service of God. And fewer yet are devoted Christians whose ears and eyes of understanding have been opened to a personal appreciation of the Lord's grace and truth. Such, because they hear and believe, may rejoice with joy unspeakable in the immersion of their wills into the will of God, and enter into the family of God's children.

God's Commandments Not Grievous

Samuel's words, "Serve him in truth," bring to mind John's exhortation: "This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments" (1 John 5:3). In other words, 'an understanding of God's love leads to obedience to his commandments.' And, as the apostle added, we should find that the Lord's commandments are not grievous, even though they may be found not pleasurable to the flesh, because not flesh-related. They are spirit-related. They have to do with our spiritual life in Christ and our activities in searching the word of God so to obey.

The commandments of the Lord become more deeply appreciated by those who grow in grace and in understanding. More and more we discern His ways; more and more we direct our efforts in harmony with His purposes; more and more we use our time and spend our energies in spiritual activities. There may be a broad meaning in the word 'commandments.' To Peter it was: If you love me, feed my lambs, feed my sheep. To another it may mean to comfort the brethren; to another, to extend hospitality to fellow believers; to others it may mean to listen, or to study, to distribute tracts or to encourage those who manifest spiritual interest, to communicate or to exhort. Whatever we as individuals find to be the meaning of the exhortation, "keep his commandments," let us joy in such keeping, because His ways are not grievous nor burdensome.

A Searching Question

Let us reflect on the question which the Psalmist placed before himself, before his contemporaries, and before every one who rejoices in God's providence: "What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me?" (Psa. 116:12-14) This question directs our minds to a recognition of blessings already received, and of the necessity placed upon us to show our gratitude for those benefits. Gratitude is the responsive chord in every noble heart to the benevolence of God. It is fitting that we should keep in mind a careful record of all deeds of love and kindness toward us, and be careful to return the gratitude due. All of the good things in our lives come to us from the Lord either through His word, or through His providence, or through the activities of those in whose hearts God has revealed Himself.

So let us render to God our thanks for all things, for all our benefits. And since he daily loadeth us with benefits, it is appropriate that we daily render our thanks unto God Himself for His benevolence to us.

THEREFORE: