Thanksgiving: How to honour God with our gratitudeWritten by Subby Szterszky
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Although Canadians and Americans celebrate Thanksgiving on different days, the holiday has similar Christian cultural roots on both sides of the border. It was begun by people of faith to express their gratitude to God for his provision in the harvest.
Over time, of course, the tradition has become largely secularized. For a lot of modern North Americans, it’s just a day off work to enjoy a good meal with family and friends.
There’s nothing wrong with that in itself. But the thankfulness to God that gave rise to the holiday has been eroded in many minds. It has been replaced by a vague, undirected gratitude at best, more akin to a general sense of relief at one’s good fortune in life.
Those who follow Christ are called to a more authentic expression of thanksgiving, not just one day but every day. The Scriptures urge that if we truly know God, we can’t help but be grateful to him. As in any healthy relationship, we don’t honour the person we love with nebulous superficial feelings. We do it through conscious, heartfelt appreciation of who they are and what they mean to us.
Here are a few truths to keep in mind that can help us as we strive to honour God with our gratitude throughout the year.
The goodness of God’s creation
God didn’t have to create a world of variety and beauty. He didn’t have to create anything at all. He could have made an efficient, functional universe devoid of colour or flavour or wonder. He could have designed us as uniform grey creatures who consume uniform grey nutrient sludge for our sustenance.
Instead he made turkeys and pumpkins and spices and cranberries and the fruit of the vine. He fashioned us in his own image as the Triune God, as diverse and unique persons wired for relationship with him and with each other.
As Solomon wrote, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
Our capacity to appreciate the creation
The goodness of creation would be meaningless without someone to appreciate and enjoy it. First and foremost, God created the universe for his own glory and pleasure. But because his nature is to love and to give, he has also fitted us with the capacity to share his delight in his handiwork.
God has not only made a world of colours, textures, tastes and sounds. He has given us the senses to perceive them, the emotions to enjoy them and the minds to find aesthetic pleasure in them.
This perfect symbiosis between a good creation and our ability to appreciate it is one of the wonders of existence. Paul the Apostle summed it up with the simple declaration that God “richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17).
Enjoy the giver more than the gift
When a loved one gives us a gift or invites us to a fine meal, it has that much more value because of the person it comes from. It’s an expression of the love and affection we share in our relationship. It would be a gross insult to that person and a blow to that relationship if we valued the things they gave us more than we valued them.
And so it is with God. The good things he provides are a demonstration of his love for us. Their beauty and intrinsic worth, although considerable, are a pale reflection of his own. They’re meant to point us to him, the lesser glory leading us to the greater.
To get that backwards is to engage in the very essence of idolatry. Paul describes those who do so as having “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25).
Honour the giver by fully enjoying the gift
At the same time, when we receive a gift, we do our benefactor the most honour by accepting it with heartfelt gratitude and enjoying it to the fullest. If we were to reject their kindness or constantly remind them of how unworthy we are of their generosity, tempering our enjoyment with low-grade guilt, it would grieve them as much as anything else.
God wants us to enjoy his gifts in proper relation to him, but he wants us to enjoy them honestly and completely. Once again Paul urges us, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
The ultimate object of our thanksgiving
The glory of God is inseparably linked to Jesus Christ. Before he created anything, God planned his grand narrative of salvation and executed it through his Son. It’s the highest expression of his goodness and glory, his ultimate gift.
As such, everything in the created order, every beautiful and wonderful thing God has given us to enjoy, points to Jesus. In light of this, all of our affections and gratitude are profoundly misplaced unless they come to rest on Christ.
As C.S. Lewis explained in The Weight of Glory, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
In fact, the Apostle offers the only reasonable response to the generosity of God in the gift of his Son: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).
Or even more succinctly, “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15).
Subby Szterszky is the managing editor of Focus on Faith and Culture, an e-newsletter produced by Focus on the Family Canada.
© 2016 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.
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