Thursday, November 22, 2007
A Thankful Heart?
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits (Psalm 103:2).
As I observe Thanksgiving Day here in the United States, I trust that most of us who name the name of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are indeed using at least a portion of this day to think about Him with a measure of gratitude. If you detect a note of cynicism in that statement, you wouldn't be far from the truth. However, don't take it personally because the cynicism (maybe conviction would be a better word) begins with me.
As with most holidays having religious significance, Thanksgiving has almost become a caricature of itself here in the U.S. At one time, you would have heard much about the blessings God has showered on this nation. You would have heard retellings of the first Thanksgiving in the early days of the Republic. You would have watched heartwarming movies about the love of family gathering together to enjoy a wonderful, traditional meal, including a heartfelt prayer of gratitude to God.
Nowadays, any "family" movie centered on a holiday seems to focus on the relatives from Hell, or families from Hell. The holiday is just a big nuisance. Thanksgiving parades used to be a family affair, but today who knows what outrage you might see trundling down the street. Commercialization has set in as well. It's hard to get enthused about Thanksgiving when they start advertising it on the Fourth of July, and begin putting up Christmas decorations at Halloween.
And churches? Oh, you might hear a sermon or two on being thankful, that is if you're still in a congregation where the Bible is still preached. And even then, there might be a contingent of malcontents who think you're not being authentic and relevant to a postmodern mind. Even now, I find myself instinctively reaching for a fireplace poker to swing. Down, boy!
What about me? I notice all these things and struggle with cynicism. My own life can get pretty frantic. I am way too busy for my own good. Some days I find it hard to pray. Some days I find it hard to read Scripture outside of using it in connection with my work. I ought to be reading it for personal devotion as well. And that has ripple effects. If these are indeed the last days (and I believe that they are) none of what is going on in our culture should be a surprise. But like many believers, seeing the growing sin around us fills us with sadness. And with me, the sadness is easily replaced by contempt and even fury at times. Praise God, it is then that the Holy Spirit does His work and begins reminding me of a few things. None of us should ever get too much on a high horse. We are saved by grace through faith, and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast(Ephesians 2:9). If anything, the state of our culture should provoke me to greater love, to greater witness, and to a deeper desire to live a holy, righteous life. It should lead me to praise and thank the Lord for the opportunity He has granted me to serve Him in the presence of His enemies. And that's not all I should be thankful for.
I am thankful for salvation. I am thankful for a roof over my head. I am thankful for the privilege to serve full time in Christian ministry. I am thankful for a warm fire on a cold morning. I am thankful for good doctors who help me when I am ill, and for good dentists who fix my teeth when they develop problems, I am thankful for shopkeepers, gas station attendants, grocery store clerks, postal workers, delivery crews, broadcasters, and yes...even government officials. I am thankful for everything I take for granted every day, with a reminder to myself to stop taking them all for granted. Even these things are the blessings of God. He can use people even in rebellion against Him to accomplish His divine purpose, and that is something for which to be thankful. His purposes will always be accomplished.
I am thankful for the opportunities He gives me to show love to others. I am thankful for the opportunity to tell others what God has done for me. I am thankful for the many kindnesses great or small shown to me by others in the course of time. I am thankful in adversity, even when I don't feel thankful at the time. Why? Because the testing of your faith produces endurance (James 1:3).
This list could go on and on, and that is appropriate. Eternity won't suffice to tell of all the things for which I -- and you -- should be thankful. I know there will be those on the unbelieving side of the fence who will dwell on all the rotten things that have happened to them, and scoff at the notion of being thankful. How many of those rotten things have happened as a consequence of their own actions is known only to them and to God. They don't realize that they could have it much, much worse, and maybe it's God's mercy to thank that they don't have it even worse than they do. Perspective.
At the top of this post is a little cabin in the Arkansas Ozarks. It's now a historical site, but at one time a family lived there. From all appearances, they didn't have much. They didn't have the cars, the supermarkets, the fast food, the electricity, the running water and all the other things we take for granted. Life was hard. But I have a hunch they knew how to be thankful for what they had.
A good reminder for the next time I am tempted to complain.