What a wonderful day of food, fun, fellowship, and football. We gather with friends or family, enjoy a lovely feast, and contemplate how fortunate we are.
We are thankful for our health, wealth, and whatever. We each have our lists of the “things” for which we are grateful that we contemplate like beads on a rosary.
But I’m not sure we’re doing it right. I mean, doesn’t it all feel so -- what’s the word -- smug?
After all, being thankful for what we have carries the unspoken implication that we’re also thankful that we’re not without. Or, in other words, we’re not one of those “have nots.”
Which is a convoluted way to say, “I’m thankful because I have what others don’t and am what others aren’t.”
Which, if we’re brutally honest, ultimately boils down to thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought, and not enough about Who we ought.
A Pharisee & a tax collector walk into a temple
The disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. He did and that’s how we got “The Lord’s Prayer,” a lovely little litany nearly all of us can recite from memory.
The disciples did not ask Jesus how to be thankful.
But he taught them anyway, using a cutting little parable from which we get another prayer that Jesus says we shouldn’t pray. But I think we do, in some form or another, all too easily, and all too often.
It’s “The Pharisee’s Prayer.”
It goes something like this: “Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people - robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this mere tax collector [aka, someone I view as beneath my station]. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income. I’m a good person -- a better person -- a thankful person.”
Standing a distance from the Pharisee, the tax collector, “would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’”
This is thanks of a different color.
Thankful for the “who” rather than the “stuff”
Being thankful is a good thing. Paul encourages us in Colossians 2:6-7, writing, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving” (ESV).
But when we exhibit an “attitude of gratitude” by giving thanks for stuff and social position, it can be wrong-focused, even marginally idolatrous.
For example, when expressing our gratitude on Facebook with a list of the “things” for which we are grateful. You know, the new car we've been blessed with, the big promotion at work, the good test results from our recent health check up, the expensive exotic vacation, and so on.
Sounding just a tad like the Pharisee, eyes open and heads up, we display and show off our thankfulness to God for these “things” that He has blessed us with to our benefit. And look around to see if anyone’s noticing our good fortune. And our “gratitude.”
So what might be a better approach?
The Apostle Paul was a very thankful guy. Maybe he can offer a few clues.
I thank God for you & you & you
In Romans, Paul shouts out thanks to Prisca and Aquila his “fellow workers in Christ Jesus who risked their necks for my life.”
In 1 Thessalonians Paul tells us to give thanks in “all circumstances” even when things aren’t going very well at all.
In 2 Thessalonians he advocates that “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.”
In Ephesians he explains that he does “not cease to give thanks” to those he ministers to by unceasingly, and long-windedly, praying
“that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.”Whew! Take a breath and let’s continue!
Paul expressed and exhibited an attitude of gratitude. Not so much for what he had, but rather for those who were being Christ-like by allowing the grace of God to be expressed through them as they were being empowered by the Holy Spirit.
He gave thanks to God for the manifestation of caring, love, and provision that was evidenced within and out of the extended body of Christ, the church.
This overriding attitude of gratitude was directed toward God, the Great Provider, who gave them more than money could buy.
To God be the glory & our thanks
Don’t get me wrong, it’s okay to be thankful for stuff as long as the stuff we have is not the ultimate focus of our thanks. We need to keep in mind that our having stuff or social position doesn’t necessarily glorify God. It doesn’t feed our faith.
Focusing on the stuff we have makes us aware of the stuff we don’t have. This opens us up to buying into the “Black Friday” hype that misdirects so much of our attention at Thanksgiving toward getting more stuff.
When we gather with our families on this special day, will our thanks-focus be, “Boy, howdy, I’m sure thankful I was able to get to the store before everyone else and score those great deals!”
Or, rather, will we humbly, like Paul, say, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.”
My hope is that, along with Jude, we will center our thanks-focus by praying, “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”
May you and yours have a God-directed, gratitude-filled Thanksgiving!
How do you and your family celebrate Thanksgiving? What are favorite memories and traditions? What / who are you thankful for? Share in the comments!
Just for fun and because I love Garrison Keillor’s wit: