This Thing called "Thanksgiving"
Image via Wikipedia
Lately I've been remembering an incident from when I was in middle school. A teacher had done something for a student, and the student didn't thank her. The teacher gently reminded her that a "Thank You" would be appropriate, and the student got huffy.
"People shouldn't do things for other people just to get thanked!” the student griped at me. “That's so selfish of her! I don't do things for people just so they will thank me, and I don't expect them to thank me! And I'm not going to thank her, either!"
I'm sure that's not an exact quote, but it certainly captures her meaning.
Was she right? What's the big deal with this thing called "Gratitude"? The world sure doesn't have much respect for it, except when they think that someone owes it to them! Just look at what has happened to Thanksgiving Day. How many people have you heard call it "Turkey Day"? How much sincere, heartfelt thanks do you suppose God really receives on that day?
In Michigan this year, at least one school district banned Thanksgiving altogether, replacing it with…get this… “Lucky Thursday.” I don’t know about you, but when I hear that, it turns my stomach.
Does giving thanks really matter? Who says so?
Of course, God says so, and He says it very clearly. And our own hearts know that something feels wrong inside when we do something for someone who greedily snatches it without a thought toward the giver. Is that selfish on our part, as the girl in my middle school thought?
Remember the story of the 10 lepers (Luke 17:12-19)? Jesus healed all ten of them, but only one returned to give Him thanks. Jesus' response was kind of surprising. First he marveled at the ingratitude of the others. That part isn't surprising. But then in verse 19 he says to the thankful man,
"Your faith has made you well."
What did He mean by that? The man was already healed, wasn't he? And why this reference to the man's "faith," as if his faith were tied in to his gratitude?
Are gratitude and faith related?
Thankfulness, by its very nature, acknowledges the giver. And when the giver is God, then thankfulness requires us to have enough faith to acknowledge Him. No wonder so many people talk about "Turkey Day!" The world does not want to acknowledge God (Rom. 1:28).
"Being thankful" sounds nice, but giving thanks is a whole different ball game. "Giving" is something you do to someone, and the world doesn't want to admit that there really is Someone to thank!
Well, I know you don't need me to tell YOU those things. You acknowledge Him and own Him as Savior and Lord, and so do I. So we have this Thanksgiving thing sewn up, right?
Do we? Do I?
Thanksgiving requires more than acknowledgement of the giver. Thanksgiving requires humility. It acknowledges that the gift was an act of kindness, given because of the giver's goodness, and not my own.
A king does not thank his subjects. Whatever they do for him is owed to him because he is the king. They are simply doing their duty. It is the same with masters and servants. (Luke 17:7-10). When we are ungrateful, we place ourselves in the position of a superior, like a king. We are saying that we deserved whatever good the other person did. We are implying that it was their duty to us, and not their kindness toward us, which prompted the gift. I think that sometimes we have a hard time truly feeling grateful because, down deep inside, we all feel that we are owed something. I know that I struggle with that. Life has given me lots of pain, pain that God has allowed. I'm sure you could say the same. And it's so easy to focus on our hurts and decide that God owes us! But true thankfulness springs from a heart that knows its own unworthiness. Only such a heart can understand the magnitude of God's goodness to us.
Lord, give me such a heart!
Gratitude isn’t merely something that requires a certain attitude. It also perpetuates a certain attitude. Take a look through Romans chapter 1, starting in verse 20. It paints a frightening picture of a person's (or a society's) descent into depravity. It talks about an alarming chain of events which lead to foolish ideas about what God is like, idolatry, perversion, envy, murder, deception, even hatred toward God. (Those are just a few of the things that are listed.) And what starts this awful chain of events? Look at verse 21. "Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn't worship him as God or even give Him thanks." Ingratitude is listed right up there as one of the driving forces behind this dreadful downward spiral. The fact of the matter is, thankfulness to God is part of our Spiritual lifeblood. Satan knows it, and he loves to attack us there. He loves to make us ungrateful, just as he was ungrateful for all that God had done for him in making him the highest angel in Heaven. Ingratitude was part of the pride that threw Lucifer out of Heaven, and he wants to use it to rob us of our heavenly joy.
Lord, help us to be truly grateful for everything, every breath that we draw, every meal that we eat, every sunset, every friend, and even every trial that You allow for the purpose of refining us. Help us to be especially thankful for Your love, and for Jesus, and for Your precious Holy Spirit who is willing to live in sinful hearts like ours. Please forgive us for the many times we've "said Grace" without really meaning it. Please forgive us for feeling that You owe us, and give us the joy of truly grateful hearts. In Jesus' Name, Amen!