by Jeannette Haley
It’s that time of the year again when those of us who are able to do so gather together to celebrate Thanksgiving Day. I have to admit, it’s one of my favorite observances. There’s nothing like the aroma of roast turkey along with the tantalizing smell of a savory dressing of caramelized onions, mushrooms and turkey sausage seasoned with tarragon, not to mention sweet potatoes, homemade cranberry sauce, spicy bacon green beans, and all the fancy extras. It kind of makes your mouth water just thinking about it doesn’t it?
It’s wonderful to step outside of our busy lifestyles to spend a day of thanksgiving to God for His manifold blessings. However, tucked somewhere in the recesses of our minds is usually the sobering realization that most of the world is suffering from hunger, and not only hunger, but homelessness, extreme poverty and sickness. Knowing these things should greatly humble us as we consider how blessed we really are.
The question is how thankful are we, and for what? Do we mumble a few words of thanks, merely giving lip service to the Creator and Provider of all things? Or, are our hearts overflowing with gratitude to the One who deserves all praise, glory and honor?
It’s easy to give lip service to God while harboring covetousness (idolatry) and dissatisfaction in our hearts. This is especially true for people living in a super abundant, materialistic society such as we have in America, where many take God’s blessings for granted on the one hand, while lusting after what they don’t have on the other, unmindful of the Scripture that states: “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content” 1 Timothy 6:6, 7.
Then, too, there are those who have the wrong slant on thankfulness. A good example of this is recorded inLuke 18:11, 12: “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.” Obviously this man’s “gratitude” originated from the pride of life and was completely misplaced. Then in verses 13, and 14 we read this beautiful passage of genuine contrition that is essential to the worship and thanksgiving that is acceptable to God: “And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
Another example to study is the attitude of the Laodicean church in Revelation 3:17: “. . . I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing. . .” This form of “thankfulness,” as with the Pharisee in Luke 18, is self-deceptive pride. But Jesus said: “. . . and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” We may be able to fool ourselves and others, but we cannot fool God. He knows our hearts.
Another point to consider is the fact that truly grateful people are benevolent. Show me a self-serving, self-preserving person, and I will show you a person who is lacking in generosity and benevolence. Such a person may give lip service of thankfulness to God, but his or her attitude towards benevolence will tell on him or her. Not only that, but such persons are unable to grow spiritually beyond the point of their unbelief and selfishness. They reach a spiritual plateau upon which they remain “parked” (and clueless) until there is true repentance, and a genuine change of heart.
Thankfulness and benevolence are both the results of faith. Those whose faith is in the Lord approach life from a different premise than those whose faith is in their own abilities to secure their future by laying up treasure on this earth. The Lord Jesus admonished such persons thusly: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” Matthew 6:19-21.
A person of faith will take Jesus’ words to heart and live accordingly. Such an individual recognizes that all he or she has belongs to the Lord who gave it in the first place, and that he or she is called to good stewardship. Failure at this point is the reason why so many people who want to go out and “serve God” never get off the launching pad. God always tests His people on the basic tenets of Christianity, usually by putting certain, “unimportant” people right “under our noses” to see how we will respond to them as people and their particular needs. So, what kind of people does God test us with? If you turn to 1 Corinthians 1:26-28, you will see that God uses those who are not “wise men after the flesh” nor the “mighty” or “noble.” He chooses the “foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty. He uses the base things of the world, and things which are despised, and things which are not to bring to nought things that are.” Why? So that “no flesh should glory in his presence.” It’s a sobering fact that if God’s people cannot prove to be faithful with the small or seemingly insignificant things (or people), He will never be able to trust them with greater things (Matthew 25:21). Therefore, He will leave them in their ignorance and spiritual blindness, although they will be called to give an account of the sin of omission (failure to do right) in the Day of Judgment.
Have you ever met one of those super human, “happy-clappy” individuals who boogie through life and always have a “praise-the-Lord platitude” for every occasion? Perhaps you have met such a person, and you’ve wondered “What’s wrong with me? I wish I could be that upbeat and thankful all the time.” If you have, you need to know that you’re not alone. We’ve met many such unrealistic “Christianettes” through the years. The problem is that all of this “hyper faith” is a religious façade, which is totally detached from reality. We are all human beings, and as such, we all have our ups and downs. We all make mistakes. We all have our challenges. But, does that mean we are ungrateful to God, and somehow inferior to these flippant “Christians” who always appear “happy” and who have a pat answer for everything, with their underlying, unkind put-downs? The answer is being human and “real” doesn’t mean you are any less of a Christian. Keep in mind, our example is Jesus. Jesus didn’t hop scotch through Israel with a flippant, “positive” message. While being fully God, He was also fully human, which fact is recorded in the Gospels. He was tempted in all points as we are (yet never sinned.) He suffered physical hunger, thirst, and weariness. He displayed righteous anger, was moved by compassion, mourned and wept. He was rejected, rebuked, slandered, and suffered. Yet, in the midst of it all, He remained confident and steadfast, always doing the will of the Father. His entire life demonstrated what our lives are to be—lived out for the glory of God as living sacrifices. Jesus’ life itself is our example of supreme thankfulness to God.
So, just what does it mean to be a truly thankful Christian? Being thankful to God is a condition or state of the heart in spite of life’s storms. It means that by faith the heart is established upon the immovable Rock of ages. Thankfulness is a natural result of faith which manifests itself through humility, charity (love and benevolence) as well as worship. Thankfulness is not “a part” of the Christian life, but it is present in every aspect of the Christian life. It is not a separate duty or exercise that the believer must consciously practice, but it is as natural to the Christian life as breathing. Thankfulness is the essence of a redeemed life that is offered back to God as broken bread and poured out wine. It is the music of the soul that is known only to God through the Spirit. It is communion with God in the secret place.
None of this is possible, however, if our thankfulness is misplaced. In other words, our priorities need to line up to that which is heavenly and eternal, not merely earthly and temporal. Yes, we thank God for our daily bread, and for all His provision for our lives in this physical realm, but far greater should be our gratitude for what He has provided for us in Jesus Christ! Through Jesus He has opened up the very doors of heaven for all those who put their trust in Him, loving and obeying Him until He calls us Home.
What are you thankful for?