Tuesday, November 21, 2006
"Love must carry with it a 'Thank you', not just in a superficial or 'official' way, but being thankful and saying in the mind or with the voice, 'Thank you' to God." - Francis A. Schaeffer
Here, in western culture, holidays have a tendency to take on strange twists. These twists seem to always end up perverting or distorting particular holidays, leaving them wanting for real meaning. Let's take our current holiday, Thanksgiving , for example; what is the real meaning of this holiday? If this question is posed to the general public, you will be met with a multitude of answers. Not only will there be lots of answers, but the point of view from which said answers come will be diverse in their concept. Some would tell you it's a religious holiday, while others would say no. Some would say it has to do with the Pilgrims on the Mayflower-- once again, others would say no. Then there is the generic, non-offensive go-to answer: "This is a day about giving thanks or being thankful for what you have". This one we can all agree on. Regardless of religious background, political views, or social status, all can and should be thankful for what they have, right?
However, this generic answer to the question, when pressed upon or looked at a little harder fails to suffice. After all, to whom or what am I giving thanks to? A student at the elementary school where I teach asked me a very pertinent question in regards to Thanksgiving: " I know that I'm supposed to be thankful, but to who?". His ignorance about the holiday tradition (he was from another country) allowed express his ignorance in a beautifully honest fashion. As he tried to join in the festivities, he found himself in a dilemma. We are always telling the children at large when someone does something nice or good for you, say thank you. Now, it appeared to him, that we were telling him to say thank you without anyone being there as an object of gratitude. He asked the question as if the whole thing sounded silly to him; he would be correct. It is silly. I suppose we could tell him to thank goodness, but there is one small problem-- goodness is nothing without a being or object from which it is produced. In other words goodness is not self-existent. It cannot create itself. Even a seven year old who hasn't quite yet bought into the western way of thinking can see that!! Our first problem of the modern day "genericism" of the holiday (as well as many others) leads to our second problem.
Gratitude v. Greed
Because we have taken away the object of gratitude (God), we are left to replace it with something else. So the holiday gets marketed as a day to give thanks for the things that you have. But wait a second; isn't this suppose to be a holiday about giving, rather than receiving? After all, it is Thanks-GIVING. Unfortunately, due to slick marketing campaigns and our ever increasing drive to have more, it has become thanks-with-a-vengeance:
"I'm thankful for all the stuff I have and I'll be damned if anyone is gonna take it from me. After all--I've earned it...is it Christmas yet?"
I think back to the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth. The Pilgrims did not have much at all. If not for the Hand of Providence bringing them to safety and non-hostile natives who taught them how to survive in their new home, they surely would have perished, as many others did. So they first gave thanks to God for providing; allowing them to survive the perils and struggles of the journey and settlement, which in turn caused an out pour of gratitude toward their fellow man. You can't have the latter without the former. Paul gives insight to this fact in his letter to the Romans:
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. - Romans 1:21 ESV
Francis Schaeffer comments,
The beginning of men's rebellion against God was, and is, the lack of a thankful heart. They did not have proper, thankful hearts--seeing themselves as creatures before the Creator and being bowed not only in their knees, but in their stubborn hearts.
This is the sad truth we must confess. Without the true object of gratitude and affection being in place, the ideal becomes twisted as we begin to look for our own gratification. Do we still give? Absolutely; but that doesn't come cheap. We also expect something in return--whether accolades or gifts--we're not just giving something for nothing. Gratitude has it's price. Every year, the Thanksgiving holiday kicks off what has become known as "debt season". More people go in debt in America beginning this time of year due to the fact that this is the week when most people begin their Christmas shopping!! We spend most of our time and energy looking past Thanksgiving to get to the sale rack. I am reminded of this year's fanatical must have item, the Playstation 3 (PS3). People have been standing in line for days on end, while others have lost their lives (literally) to get their hands on this "precious" item. Why? Only to buy it for a ridiculous price (I believe the going cost is about $500), then turn around and sell it for a even more ridiculous price (last I heard, one had been sold on ebay for approx. $15,000)! Do you know how many people you could feed with that kind of money? How many children do you think you could buy clothes for? Futile thinking--Darkened hearts...
True Freedom From Want
Even sadder still is that the sentiment that we see in western culture is also the prevailing trend in much of western theology as well; consumerism is the order of the day. I can't begin to count how many times I've been flipping through the channels, stop on a Christian station and hear a "minister" telling his audience something to the effect that it's "not the Christian's destiny to be poor" or that "Christians are supposed to be rich". Statements like these are appalling. Logically speaking, if that were the case, then how do you explain the story of the Rich Young Ruler? If what these preachers are saying is true, then why did Jesus tell him to sell everything he had and give to the poor--shouldn't he have been allowed to hang on to that stuff? The West makes up a small percentage of the Christian community worldwide. The rest of the Christian population in large worships in what would be considered by most impoverished conditions. Yet, these are the places where the Gospel is truly thriving; coincidence? Hardly. Let's see what Scipture has to say on this issue:
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith - Philippians 3:7-9 ESV
Here it is clear to see that Paul is telling the believers in Philippi that there is no possession more important, nothing that we should be more grateful for than the gift of faith in Christ. And again he says,
do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. - Philippians 4:6 ESV
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. - Philippians 4:11-13 ESV
Matthew Henry says of these passages,
"We must join thanksgivings with prayers and supplications; not only seek supplies of good, but own the mercies we have received. God needs not to be told our wants or desires; he knows them better than we do; but he will have us show that we value the mercy, and feel our dependence on him...Pride, unbelief, vain hankering after something we have not got, and fickle disrelish of present things, make men discontented even under favourable circumstances. Let us pray for patient submission and hope when we are abased; for humility and a heavenly mind when exalted. It is a special grace to have an equal temper of mind always. And in a low state not to lose our comfort in God, nor distrust his providence, nor take any wrong course for our own supply. In a prosperous condition not to be proud, or secure, or worldly. This is a harder lesson than the other; for the temptations of fulness and prosperity are more than those of affliction and want."
In short, we have fallen short. We have begun to see things in a backward manner. The question that we must be able to answer is, "Can I thank God even in the leaner, darker times?". We must also remember that God is not obligated to bless anyone (Christian or Non-Christian) with monetary wealth or possessions. Besides, what could possibly be worth more than the price paid for my salvation in the person and work of Jesus Christ? This is where my gratitude should ultimately lie. All that being said, I am not saying that it's wrong to be thankful for our material blessings. Indeed, we should be. But we must remember to keep everything in it's proper order and perspective. This is also not an attempt to demonize Thanksgiving. I'm not the "Holiday Nazi" as some would say. I just think that it is important that we redeem this wonderful holiday by being thankful for all things and all situations, both good and bad. It is God who orchestrates those for our ultimate good. All of this is in hopes that giving thanks will not just come once a year, but it will become a vital part of our spirituality and lifestyle before the watching world. May your gratitude for the Savior compel you to share gratitude with others around you, seeking to lead them to the Person to whom all thanks, glory and honor should be given.
I dedicate this post to all my friends and loved ones...thank you.
I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy... - Philippians 1:3-4 ESV
Derek Webb - Thankful
Soli Deo Gloria,