Posts tagged ‘Gratitude’

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving, Thanksgiving Dinner, Autumn, Fall, Food

Credit: Max Pixel

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  So much of my day-to-day life centers around what I must do.  There are tasks to complete and errands to run and bills to pay and conversations to have and decisions to make and Bible studies and sermons to write and preach.  These things to do are often, even if not always, joyous, but Thanksgiving reminds me that I must never get so caught up in what I have to do that I forget about what has already been done.  God has done great things for me.  He has given me a family I adore, a church I love, and a forgiveness I need.  And for these things, I am called to be thankful.

Thanksgiving keeps me humble.  When I am tempted to boast in all I have accomplished, Thanksgiving reminds me of all I’ve been given.  Even my life itself is a gift of God’s grace.  This is why I must continually and humbly rely on Him.

Each year, I make it my tradition to read a Thanksgiving Proclamation from one of our nation’s founders.  This year, I came across George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789.  In it, he thanks God:

…for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

President Washington rattles of a list of the many blessings for which, he believes, a newly minted nation should be thankful.  And he’s right.  These are things for which our nation should still be thankful.  But what I love most about his proclamation comes in what he says next:

May we then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions.

President Washington was under no delusion that our nation’s blessings were somehow the product of our nation’s – or her individuals’ – intrinsic merit.  This is why he offers not only a prayer of thanksgiving, but a prayer of confession.  For he knew that God had blessed this new nation in the same way He has always blessed every nation:  by grace.

When God chose Israel to be His people and gave to her a Promised Land, He made sure she knew her blessings came by His grace:

It is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.  Remember this and never forget how you aroused the anger of the LORD your God in the wilderness. From the day you left Egypt until you arrived here, you have been rebellious against the LORD.  (Deuteronomy 9:6-7)

God did not bless Israel because of her righteousness, but in spite of her unrighteousness.  God works this way with every nation and every person.

Ultimately, then, to be thankful is to be repentant, knowing that we have what we have not because we’ve earned it or deserved it, but because God has willed it.  Thus, each Thanksgiving, I am called to make little of myself and my accomplishments, which are few, and much of God and His blessings, which are bountiful.

As this long weekend draws to a close, my prayer is that the holiday of Thanksgiving becomes a habit of thanksgiving.  After all, I have plenty to be thankful for.

You do, too.

November 26, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Some Thoughts on Thankfulness

Thanksgiving-Brownscombe

Jennie Augusta Brownscombe,
The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth, 1914

Thanksgiving holds a special place in my heart. In many ways, it is an overwhelming holiday for me because I quickly realize, if I take even just a moment to reflect, that I have so many things for which to be thankful. I am thankful for my wife. I am thankful for my daughter. I am thankful for the son I have on the way. I am thankful for my home. I am thankful for my extended family. I am thankful for what is always my favorite meal of the year on Thanksgiving Day. I am thankful for Christ and Him crucified. I am thankful for blessings too numerous to count.

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday. From the first Thanksgiving celebration with the Puritans and Native Americans at Plymouth in 1621 to the likes of presidents such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, who both wrote moving proclamations calling Americans to days of national Thanksgiving, to Franklin Roosevelt, who formalized Thanksgiving Day as the fourth Thursday in November, Americans have always found plenty of reasons to be thankful.

But Thanksgiving, at its heart, is much more than a national holiday. It is a theological necessity. We are commanded by Scripture to “give thanks” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Indeed, it must be very difficult to celebrate Thanksgiving apart from faith. For, without faith, who does one give thanks to? Certainly, one can be thankful to others for what they have done. But the gifts of nature and beauty and joy and the cosmos come from no man. And without a theological framework, they come from nowhere. And so there is no one to whom an unbeliever can say “thank you” for these things. As it turns out, thanksgiving, at least for the things greater than humans can give, is an inescapably theological exercise.

One of the things I deeply desire for my family is that we would share together a sense of thankful wonderment. We, as a family, are blessed beyond measure. My wife and I have jobs that are fulfilling, even when they are challenging. We are part of a church that we love. We can provide for our family in ways that many cannot. And our life together is marked by a general peace and contentment. God has given us much. But, as Jesus says, “Unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required” (Luke 12:48). We have a responsibility to recognize just how much we have been given, to steward it well, and to, above all, be thankful for it and be thankful to the One who gives it.

I have often mused that the difference between being blessed and being spoiled is thankfulness. A person is blessed when he has been given much and he knows it. So he thanks God for it. A person is spoiled when he has been given much and he fails to see it. So he grumbles for more. To borrow a distinction from G.K. Chesterton: there is a world difference between taking things for granted and receiving things with gratitude.[1] Spoiled people take things for granted. Blessed people receive God’s gifts with gratitude.

This is not to say that there are no reasons to lament. But there is a difference between lamenting and grumbling. Grumbling looks at God’s blessings and says, “That’s not enough.” Lament looks at the sinfulness and brokenness of our world and says, honestly and candidly, “There’s something wrong.” This is why the same Psalter that sings, “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever” (Psalm 107:1), also cries, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Why are You so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning” (Psalm 22:1)? Christopher Wright explains it well when he writes, “Lament is not only allowed in the Bible; it is modeled in abundance. God seems to want to give us as many words with which to fill out our complaint forms as to write our thank-you notes.”[2] So to those who are facing a tragedy, a trial, or a temptation this holiday season, know that your lament is just as holy as your thanksgiving. For both lament and thanksgiving turn to God in faith rather than turning in on oneself in greed, as does grumbling. Lament and thanksgiving can comingle.

As I slowly eat my way through what are now my Thanksgiving leftovers, my prayer is that I see more and more of the things for which I have to be thankful. I am thankful for much, but I also miss much. Dear God, may I see what I have missed. To borrow some more wisdom from G.K. Chesterton: “Children are grateful when Santa Claus puts in their stockings gifts of toys or sweets. Could I not be grateful to [have] in my stockings the gift of two miraculous legs?”[3] Legs to go in my socks. There’s something for which I have not yet said “thank you.” I wonder what else I’m missing.

__________________

[1] See G.K. Chesterton, Irish Impressions (New York: John Lane Company, 1920), 24.

[2] Christopher J.H. Wright, The God I Don’t Understand: Reflections on Tough Questions of Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 51.

[3] G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York: John Lane Company, 1919), 98.

November 30, 2015 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Everyday Thankfulness

Praying HandsIt was truly a mountaintop moment. I’ll never forget seeing her rush down Concordia’s breezeway in her stunning white dress, bursting through the back doors of the worship center, and coming toward me. The day I married Melody was a day I will always cherish. But, as seems to be the way of life, you must eventually leave the mountaintop moments of life and tread into the valley of reality.

The valley of reality struck less than a week after our wedding. By then, the ceremony was ancient history, the reception had long passed, and we had returned from our brief honeymoon to the apartment we were living in at the time, littered with wedding gifts – lots of wedding gifts. Mixers, crock pots, flatware, bed linens, personal effects, and hundreds of dollars of gift cards to Target. “Okay,” Melody announced, a towering stack of cards in her hand, “It’s time to put this stuff away, but as we do, we need to write a thank you card for each of these gifts!” Each of these gifts? But there were hundreds of them! Nevertheless, gift after gift, I wrote these thank you notes, even though my hand got cramped and my tongue got dry from licking all those envelopes. I must confess that that more notes I wrote, the briefer my expressions of gratitude became. I appreciated the gifts, but the overwhelming task of writing hundreds of cards led to the underwhelming nature of my notes of thankfulness.

Sadly, like my thank you cards, many modern day expressions of gratitude are underwhelming. We do not respond adequately to, or even bother to notice, the many things for which we have to be thankful. This is what makes some words from the famed poet Ralph Waldo Emerson in a sermon he delivered on Thanksgiving Day of 1830 so striking to me: “At first, brethren, consider whether each of us has not had some reason to acknowledge the special favor of God Himself.”[1] Emerson is calling on us to reflect on our lives and find some gift from God for which we might be thankful. This kind of a call from a pastor to his people at Thanksgiving is common. And yet, the reason Emerson offers as to why we should give thanks is striking: “Twelve months are past.”

Did I hear that right? We ought to be thankful to God simply because a year has passed from one Thanksgiving to the next? Sure enough, Emerson’s first reason for thankfulness is the simple gift of time. Perhaps the simple gift of time was especially poignant to Emerson because his beloved wife Ellen lie sick in bed during this period with tuberculosis. She would die from the disease the following February. God’s gift of time with his wife, then, became suddenly precious to Emerson.

The text on which Emerson based his sermon for that Thanksgiving Day was from the Psalms: “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever” (Psalm 107:1). The Psalmist, like Emerson, references time. Except the Psalmist does not call us to give thanks for twelve months; rather, the Psalmist calls us to give thanks for “forever.” For long after our lives have passed from this earth, we will have an eternity with a God who loves us. And that should be enough to move any heart to thankfulness.

As we celebrate another Thanksgiving this week, do not let your expressions of gratitude wallow in mediocrity. Instead, make them hearty and overwhelming. For God’s gifts are hearty and overwhelming. And if you need something for which to be thankful, consider this: twelve months have passed. Not only that: eternity awaits. Give thanks to the LORD for this!

___________________________

[1] Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Complete Sermons of Ralph Waldo Emerson, vol. 3 (Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 1991), 46.

November 24, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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