For some of you giving thanks to God on Thursday will be easy because of the abundance of His blessings you’ve known this past year. For others gratitude that is not just lip service, but a real expression of your heart, is difficult because of grievous calamities or grinding stress.
Giving thanks frequently receives short shrift when we talk about it, because we tend to discuss it either superficially when we are at ease in our circumstances or else in denial of the pain of our difficulties. We give moralizing lectures about it or sometimes present the idea of giving thanks to God as a sort of magic charm.
In our shallow treatment, we skate over the reality of life in a fallen world and fail to acknowledge that sometimes in our giving of thanks to God, we hold on to God in faith in His character and care for us in the midst of our griefs. Gratitude gives us insight into our understanding of life, of other people, of ourselves and of God. Even Cicero of pagan Rome recognized its importance and stated, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”1
Giving thanks is the antithesis of Romans 1:21. It’s intriguing to me that the long litany of sins in that chapter has its root in these words:
For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
Look at the Proclamation Appointing a National Fast Day signed by Abraham Lincoln on March 30, 1863:
And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole People? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!
It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.
In the midst of the Civil War what does this Proclamation declare to be the sins of the nation? Ingratitude and pride. The Proclamation’s call for humility, confession, and prayer is because of these sins of presumption.
Have you ever thought about the humility, dependency and trust in God necessary to truly be thankful? Giving thanks calls from us to understand and recognize that which we do not have except by God’s mercy and grace. We so easily succumb to ‘presumptuous sins’.
Giving thanks is the fruit of faith in God. He does not mock us in affliction by demanding our thanks for pain. He calls us to trust Him when we are caught up in the inscrutability of suffering and to live in gratitude for what He has given to us.
This week honor God as God, and give thanks. And as you pray, remember our nation. As never before we are rife with ingratitude and pride. We stand on the edge of calamity, needing humility, confession of sin, and prayer for forgiveness.
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1Robert A. Emmons, Thanks! (Houghton Mifflin Company, New York NY:2007) 15.
Dr. Emmons is not a Christian and I have my points of disagreement with him, but his book contains careful research and profound thinking on gratitude.