Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. - Psalm 107:1
Be thankful. Have gratitude. Show that you appreciate all that someone has done something nice for you even if you don’t really like it. Just put on the sweater and smile and say “thank you.”
These are rules of good behavior, rules that some (like Emily Post) say are part of the bedrock of society, keeping us closely knit together and separating us from the animals. After all, when was the last time you noticed a hyena saying thank you to a lion for the scraps of meat? We, on the other hand, write thank-you notes (or at least we know that we should and thus have a great deal of guilt around not having written them) because we want to show someone that we appreciate all that was done for us. We want to show that the effort was noticed. We say, “thank you,” even when it is through clenched teeth because we know it is expected and assumed that we recognize a good and helpful act. Even if it is for something we never asked for or wanted, like that big and gaudy sweater that we are never going to wear and is going to just end up taking half of the space in the drawer and cause resentment, we say “thank you” all the same because we know that we are supposed to. It is as if our mother was standing over us, watching, waiting to scold us for not having better manners. Be thankful. Have some gratitude.
What about in the religious context? What does it mean to show gratitude to the Lord? This is more than just throwing our arms up in the air and saying again and again,
“thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you”
because such an incantation can begin to sound (and look) like gibberish and means nothing. This gross display of gratitude is almost as empty as the form letter a couple sends out to all of the wedding guests thanking _______ for the ____________ because it will make __________ better. It is empty and meaningless and to a degree selfish. I would argue that there is a role and place for gratitude in our Christian devotional life. It is something that does not call for a quick, immediate response, but instead demands prayer, reflection, contemplation, and trust.
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever- Psalm 136:1
In our gratitude there is an act of trust.
The next time you are at your birthday party and someone hands you a present, try to not say “thank you” before opening it. See what might happen if you hold your acknowledgment of the gift until after you judge the worthiness of the contents of the package. It would be considered rude to do so. You don’t know what it is, but you want to acknowledge the effort and that the thoughts are well placed no matter what the gift itself is. You want to say, “thank you” for the action itself: the giving of the gift. This involves trust that the action is done in good faith and the intent of the giver is that you benefit from the gift in some way.
When you consider your life, faith, and are expressing gratitude to God you are displaying an act of trust. It starts with recognizing that your life is a gift from God. You do not know how your life will end up, you do not know what kind of gifts you may or may not have, what kind of experiences you may have, what kind of people you may meet and form relationships with, and yet we are still called to offer our “thanks” to the Lord. We are to acknowledge that in just creating us, in giving us life, God has done something amazing and we offer thanks. We show gratitude for our grace and salvation even though we are still living into that salvation because we trust that it will be good and worthwhile. We don’t know where we are going or what is going to happen, but we trust that in the end it will be good and for that we offer our thanks.
For the gifts we have received, our abilities, our talents, our resources, we are called to offer “thanks.” Again, we may not be fully sure what it is that we can do with them, or even what they might be, but we are called to take a chance, to trust God, and to offer our expressions of gratitude and thanks.
This trust comes out of reflection and retrospection. To express our gratitude to God means we need to take time to reflect on our lives and to know what it is that we are thankful for. It is not just another wrapped box in a pile of birthday presents, it is your life that you are called to be grateful for. It is those gifts that we might easily overlook, that we might miss that pulls us to reflect our thanks. Time of reflection, time of prayer, time of listening needs to come before our expression of trust and thankfulness.
I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation – Psalm 118:21
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever – Psalm 118:1
Our gratitude comes out of our relationship with God and is an expression of the nature of that relationship.
For those who only know God as creator, the gift of life and creation is nice and something that should be appreciated, but we wonder if there was a sacrifice in the giving. The image that many have of God as creator is one of a supreme, infinite being for whom creating is a part of drawing breath and considering time (or perhaps even easier than that). While creation is a mighty and wonderful thing, we do not have a notion that it was something that was taxing for God to do. It would be like a billionaire giving someone $100,000. We might think it is a great gift, and it would change many lives (hint, hint all you billionaire readers), but it really is no big deal for someone who has so much more money.
Yet for those who know God as the redeemer, as the one who lives with us, who suffers and dies for us, and who rises again for us, our gratitude has a different depth. We recognize that the gift of salvation cost something. We recognize that the deep and profound hope that we embrace came at a price. The love that creates and saves is the outpouring of God into and for each one of us and this is no small or easy thing. The cross speaks to that creating love that suffers with us, that groans as we groan, and that does not leave us alone. The gift of a grace-filled life is not a cheap and easy gift from God and our gratitude is informed by that price.
Our relationship with God informs our gratitude. We could say that our life is just a part of the creation that God started so long ago, or we could say that our life (saved by Christ) is something that we not easily gained and that God has an interest in each one of us and that should lead us to thanks.
If we continue to trust that God has an interest in each of us, is working with each of us, than each individual gift that we have has potential for doing great things. God would not give someone the gift of accounting (considered one of the most exciting gifts ever) on a whim, just to see what might happen. God is not rolling the dice when we are formed, creating individuals with chance or luck. There is potential in each gift and they are chosen and given with care. A relationship with God helps us realize and recognize God’s presence and working in our lives. And so for the ability to add numbers and work with spreadsheets, we offer God our gratitude.
Some would say that worship is the place where we express this depth of gratitude in our relationship with God. Yes, but as long as it does not become a rote, mechanical response, but instead comes out of a deep understanding of how God is active in someone’s life and if it is a place where we have the space to deepen our relationship with the divine.
You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God, I will extol you. – Psalm 117:28
O Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever – 1 Chronicles 16:34
Gratitude calls for a response.
It is more than the thank-you note, or expression of hands raised in the air showing God how much you are thankful. We trust that the gifts we receive are good and have purpose. We are steeped in a positive and active relationship with Christ. And, in response to who God is and what we have received, we give back to God our gifts. The gifts that we have received are precious and beautiful, and would not we want to see them used to the best of their ability. Why not give them to God?
A man acquires a violin. It is a rare violin, one that is known for its beautiful sound and tone. The man does not play the violin at all, but understands the solemnity of receiving such a gift. Out of gratitude, not only for the one who has given him the gift but for the beauty and precious nature of the gift itself, the man loans out the violin to a professionally trained musician who can take this instrument and make beautiful, amazing music with it. This musician, when she holds it, can make that violin sing of joy and pain all at once and the gift becomes a blessing whenever she plays. The man could have kept the violin, have allowed it to just collect dust, but instead gave it to someone who could make it sing. It is a gift that calls for an active response.
We have all received gifts that we can hoard and keep on the mantle, collecting dust. We can let our life be empty and still offer God our thanks, hoping that such a display is enough. We can put our light under a bushel. Or we can allow the great musician, the brilliant artist, the creator and mover of love to take our lives, our gifts, our abilities, our resources and make them. We can give our gifts back to God. This is not a kind of gift return/exchange that everyone does the day after Christmas hoping to get something better. This action is steeped in the trust that we have and the relationship we have with God. This is an active gratitude that show how much we appreciate and value the gift itself and asks God to work with us, to guide us so that the gifts we receive can be used for God’s glory.
This can be scary. We live in a society that operates in an economics of scarcity – saying that there are only so many resources and we need to hold tight to what we have. We need to take care of ourselves first and then, maybe consider others. Yet when we give back to God we are trusting that God will take care of us, that God will lead us to take time for ourselves as well as giving to others. In the Lord there is abundance and when we give back that abundance is magnified.
O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name, make known his deeds among the peoples. – 1 Chronicles 16:8
We are called to be thankful, to show our gratitude. In our trust of God, through our relationship with God in Christ, and by our actions may we demonstrate our gratitude for all the gifts that we have received from the Lord. Don’t write God a thank-you note, show God your gratitude for all your gifts and take a chance with your very life trusting the Lord, walking with Christ, and giving all that you are.