Proposition: Thanksgiving recognizes not only what God has done and is doing but also declares Who He is and glorifies Him by doing so.
Introduction: In an article called HOW DOES OUR LANGUAGE SHAPE THE WAY WE THINK? by Lera Boroditsky, she writes, “Follow me to Pormpuraaw, a small Aboriginal community on the western edge of Cape York, in northern Australia. I came here because of the way the locals, the Kuuk Thaayorre, talk about space. Instead of words like "right," "left," "forward," and "back," …, the Kuuk Thaayorre, like many other Aboriginal groups, use cardinal-direction terms — north, south, east, and west. This is done at all scales, which means you have to say things like "There's an ant on your southeast leg" or "Move the cup to the north northwest a little bit." One obvious consequence of speaking such a language is that you have to stay oriented at all times, or else you cannot speak properly. The normal greeting in Kuuk Thaayorre is "Where are you going?" and the answer should be something like "South south east, in the middle distance." If you don't know which way you're facing, you can't even get past "Hello."”
This can sound really strange to us and yet knowing which way you are facing is critical for us too. There are millions of people that don’t know which way they are facing when it comes to their relationship with God. They don’t see their beginning as the work of His design, they don’t see the sustaining of their daily lives as an act of His grace and they don’t see their future past death itself. Consequently they also fail to recognize the significance or purpose of their life as being that which points to Him.
We are coming up to Thanksgiving tomorrow, a national holiday that originated with the forefathers who recognized that in order to give thanks there needs to be Someone to give thanks to. They acknowledged that in every aspect of their being, God has been present. This was not just a token act of religious respect once a year, it was expressed as a daily statement of truth that God was their Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer and Purpose. Underlying all that they were and did was God.
It’s kind of like those science projects where they spread the iron filings on a sheet of paper. There they are, just random in their appearance and arrangement until suddenly a magnet is placed underneath the paper and all of a sudden the iron filings jump to life, they orient themselves to the magnet. They declare the presence of the magnet and they reveal the properties they themselves are made of. It’s the same thing in our lives as we learn to recognize the presence of God and begin to point our lives to Him.
All things in our lives point to Him, even the difficult things which He can use as a screen or catalyst to refine and bring about change in us. Perhaps it’s a change of direction, perhaps it’s a change in understanding and even a change in belief. Whatever the change we can know for sure that Gods’ motives are pure and good for us, even beyond what we might have hoped for. So if all things are meant to point to Him, and those things are ultimately good for us, then the right response can only be thanksgiving. Let’s have a brief look at what the Scripture says about giving thanks to God.
1. Be careful that vanity does not displace being thankful. In Romans 1:21 it says, “because although they knew God they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts and their foolish hearts were darkened.” ‘Futile’, the word is also translated as ‘vain’ and it literally means ‘to make empty’. To not glorify God is to not recognize the way our lives point to Him in source and sustenance and purpose. The direct result is that we will pour out or empty out the truth that has been put right in front of us time and again. The thought of being thankful dies because of a vanity that says, ‘I did it.’
2. Be careful that anxiety does not displace being thankful. Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Thanksgiving will push away anxiety and fear as it directs us to proclaim trust and confidence and praise to the God who uses all things in our lives to work together for good. It you feel anxious about something… if you passed a test, got the job or have crisis in relationships… if you have done what you could, what it is you are trying to control? It’s been said that anxiety and control are two sides of one coin. I remember seeing a border collie doing it’s best to herd a cat. It used every trick it knew, things that always worked on the sheep, but the cat, it only looked annoyed at his efforts. To be thankful recognizes that there are some things over which I have absolutely no control and I need to trust God. Giving thanks to Him is a way of committing the uncontrollable into His hands.
3. Be careful that your life is more characterized by being thankful to God than by anything else. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” That’s pretty strong language, “in all circumstances”, was Paul just exaggerating here, is that just an example of exuberant overstatement? When we look at how he says this again and again in passages like Colossians 3:17, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”, it becomes clear that this is not hyperbole or exaggeration.
So being thankful is not just a response for what God has done for us, whether that be for healing, for the food we have, for the security we have in this land or even our salvation itself. Being thankful proclaims the truth of Who God is, not just what He does.
But get this, to be thankful is, more than anything else, a trait of Jesus Christ. It characterized the way that Jesus related to God the Father. Jesus is God incarnate, He is in every respect equal to the Father, He is even called the image of the invisible God in Colossians 1:15, yet He consistently gave thanks to the Father. Was it to be a model for us as you do for your children when you say grace at meal times? Undoubtedly! Was it also to recognize that all things proceed from the Father, even the very words that Jesus spoke and thus thanksgiving declares the order that God has established… the Father, then the Son then the Spirit and then mankind and then the angelic order? I think so but I also think that to be thankful is really meant to be an expression not just of appreciation but of a deeper satisfaction with Who God is and what He does and how He does it.
So being thankful picks up on the example Jesus showed us, it recognizes my place in the order of things. The importance of not stepping out of that order is how I avoid stress and anxiety. Lastly it proclaims the deep, deep love we have for God, a love that Jesus had for the Father as He was deeply satisfied in all that Father chose to do through Him.
Does God satisfy the longings of your heart? If the answer to that is a tentative and growing, “Yes”, then He will be made known to you and to those around you as that satisfaction really settles your soul. If the answer is ‘No’, that you don’t feel satisfied in your understanding of Who God is or what He does or why He does it then this will create in you a feeling of emptiness that was only ever designed to filled by Him. In fact you could say that your satisfaction in God, that is, how He satisfies the longings of your heart, your soul your spirit and even your body are what He uses to glorify Himself. The glory of God is the manifested wonder of Who He is and being thankful unveils that glory.
When I grasp this elemental truth I begin see where my significance or purpose is to be found. If you want your life to make a difference then begin with the understanding that this very desire to make a difference, to have significance, is one that God has placed in you so that you would discover Him more and more.
He wants you to look for Him, look to Him, look at Him. If this becomes an increasing reality your life you will discover that thanksgiving is not a discipline to pursue but rather a reflex of your spirit responding to His Spirit. A thankful heart is what God will use to make a difference in your life and the lives around you, even this thanksgiving.