Giving Thanks for What We’ve Got
We often think of giving thanks as being happy about the stuff we have: the warm house, hot lattes, and our new iPhone. While that is a part of thanksgiving, it may be the smaller part. A spirit of thanksgiving does more than smile contentedly as the platters of turkey and candy-coated sweet potatoes come around. It is good and right to openly express our gratitude for the stuff which makes our lives more pleasant and the people who have loved us through the ups and downs of the last year. These are very good things and part of the overflow of God’s blessing—blessing which, we might note, we don’t deserve yet He freely gives. Praise be to Him!
When we consider thanksgiving we often make the mistake of thinking thankfulness is primarily a feeling. Feelings, however, are fickle. They come and go and are often firmly tethered to circumstances or precariously hitched to hormones. Yes, hormones. You know I’m right, or at least your husband does. Though your God has not changed one iota, your feelings vacillate considerably depending on what week of the month it is, whether your flight reservations were messed up, or the announcement by your mechanic that the Honda needs a new transmission.
Expanding Our Gratitude
There is a more expansive type of gratitude which we rarely invoke, even on this day particularly set aside for thankfulness. Genuine thanksgiving takes in the scope of God’s work in the world, at least those parts which we are privy to, and gives praise to Him for His accomplishment.
I will give thanks to the Lord with all my heart;
I will tell of all Your wonders.
I will be glad and exult in You;
I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High.
When my enemies turn back,
They stumble and perish before You.
For You have maintained my just cause;
You have sat on the throne judging righteously.
You have rebuked the nations, You have destroyed the wicked;
You have blotted out their name forever and ever.
The enemy has come to an end in perpetual ruins,
And You have uprooted the cities;
The very memory of them has perished.
But the Lord abides forever;
He has established His throne for judgment,
And He will judge the world in righteousness;
He will execute judgment for the peoples with equity.—Psalm 9 NASB
The ancients of the faith gave thanks not only for sunny weather and fruitful vineyards, but also for the righteousness of the Lord; for His justice, judgment, and the destruction of the wicked. How often do we give thanks to the Lord for His execution of judgment? I’ll wager that if we all pulled out our prayer journals and made an honest assessment we would find that the answer to that question is pretty much never. There are probably many reasons for this, not the least of which is that we spend very little time considering the work of God in the world at all. We rejoice to see His work in individual hearts yet remain blind to His work as the Master of history and Lord of the nations.
Give Thanks for Judgment?
If we want to tell of His wonders as the psalmist does, we must zoom out from our myopic viewpoint to take in the expanse of His ways. This kind of thanksgiving is revolutionary. American Christians have spent more time in recent decades stumbling around apologizing to the world for God’s rules of justice than we have in praising Him for them. We don’t give thanks for His kindness to us in giving us His law which teaches us how to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.
It is a common misconception that loving your neighbor is a New Testament Jesus-type-idea that overthrows Old Testament judgmentalism. If we look back into those dusty books of the law however, we find that loving your neighbor was codified into law (Leviticus 19:18) and Jesus merely spoke of its continuing application. When we rely on our feelings to show love toward our neighbors, our neighbors are at the mercy of our changeful hearts. When we rely on His Word to guide our actions toward our neighbors, we are able to actually love them by acting righteously and justly toward them no matter what our feelings are.
It is His Word which shows us how to love our neighbors if only we will learn to love and heed it. And, when we do, we become a visible evidence to our neighbors of the equitable justice of God and sound the truth of His judgments into our culture. These days, more often than not, we are embarrassed by God’s judgment and we try to hide it from the world rather than sounding a needed warning. This is incredibly backwards. It lies to the world about who God is and does a hateful disservice to our neighbors who may be in danger of God’s wrath.
Gold & Honey
If we are going to give thanks with all our hearts for the Lord’s righteous judgments, we must shed our sheepish embarrassment of His moral decrees remembering that,
The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether. They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.—Psalm 19:9-10
Our neighbors, our culture, and the whole wide world needs the sweet honey of God’s judgments. They need to hear us speak His decrees and see us humbly living by His standards. They need to hear us repent when we do injustice and give praise to Him who gives us grace and forgiveness.
As we gather this Thanksgiving day let’s give thanks for all His works: for the powerful reach of His mighty arm, for the golden honey of His judgments, for the transformational power of His revealed Word in our lives, for the grace of His redemptive work for us personally, and for His righteous work in the world outside our doors.
Oh, give thanks to the Lord! Call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples! . . . Remember His marvelous works which He has done, His wonders, and the judgments of His mouth. —1 Chronicles 16
How are you giving thanks this year? Talk to us in the comments below.