Cultivating Thankfulness - Part 1
When I was a child, whenever we went to visit someone else’s house, my parents always used to tell my sister and me, “Don’t forget to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’”. Of course that sometimes simply meant we were polite, not truly thankful. And we can be like that in the church, polite on the outside, seemingly grateful, but quite the opposite within. So for the three weeks leading to Easter we will be talking about cultivating thankful hearts.
Creation calls out for thanksgiving
It is crystal clear that creation is God’s self expression and that ought to lead us to acknowledge him and give him thanks. The Apostle Paul tell us:
"Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made" (Rom. 1:20 cf. Ps. 19:1-2).
Creation calls out for thanksgiving. It seems to me that Albertans should be some of the most grateful people alive. Blues skies, gushing rivers and the Rocky Mountains ought to make thanking God very easy. (Brits have got an excuse to moan; it’s cloudy and rainy most of the year!)
However, in addition to starry galaxies and oceans, forests, birds and animals, God made us - the pinnacle of creation (Gen. 1:27). People are image bearers of the Almighty God, which should give cause for thanks even as we look across the breakfast table, out into our street, across the pew or around the office. God is telling us, “I made this, all of it, including you with air in your lungs and the ability to know and reflect me. What do you say? ‘Thank you’, perhaps?” (Cf. Acts 17:25)
He made us, so he owns us and this demands our gratitude. Do you think about the simple fact that God made you and brought you into existence? Once you were not, and now you are. It’s an amazing privilege. So a fundamental part of glorifying God is giving him thanks, being Godward with our gratitude.
Sin is a lack of thankfulness
But we are not Godward with our gratitude; in fact the heart of sin is a thankless heart.
Paul points out the link between glory, thanks and sin:
"Although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give thanks to him" (Rom. 1:21). And then he says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23).
No one is innocent here. All of us have marred God’s glory in our souls. Instead of living lives of thankful, glorifying obedience to God we have been entitled, proud, and wise in our own eyes and we have made a great exchange.
"Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images" (Rom.1:22–23).
So thanklessness is at the root of idolatry in the heart. Like Adam and Eve in the Garden we don’t think God is good and in our wisdom we think he owes us more. We think he’s stingy. And so we proudly and foolishly take what we want. We go beyond his prohibitions and boundaries and that leads to all kinds of evil. We exchange what is supremely valuable for that which is less.
Paul unpacks a litany of sins including the sexual sin of homosexuality in Romans 1 (vv. 24-32). Thanklessness to God for the created body leads to a dishonoring of the body, even worship of the creature instead of the Creator: in the heart, the mind, the mouth and the eyes (Rom. 1:28-31). We even call good evil and evil good (Rom. 1:32).
Have you ever thought that sexual sin is a result of a lack of thanksgiving? Paul thinks so. He says it again in Ephesians 5:3-4:
“But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.”
Being ungrateful for what we have and ungrateful for God’s boundaries, we overreach. So we need to replace sexual immorality and all sin with thanksgiving. Christians can do that, because they are new creations with and affections and have been saved by the mercy of God in Christ on the cross.
The cross compels thankfulness
Therefore, the cross compels thanksgiving. A once proud heart didn’t want to thank God because it didn’t want to recognize the value of his grace. But in repenting and believing the gospel we are humbled and we receive grace gratefully. In fact, a new Christian’s first breath is thanks to God his Father (Rom. 8:15).
Proud people don’t say thanks, nor ask for help in case they have to say thanks. They don’t want to be beholden to anyone or think they have a need that they themselves cannot meet. But thankfulness is the flavor of the humble Christian. He knows that only Christ can meet his deepest need and he has. So every day is cause for thanksgiving as he continues to meet needs through his Word, Spirit and church.
Thankless people are stingy because they feel they deserve more. Thankful people are generous because they are grateful that they have so much in Christ.
Thankless people grumble and complain when they are sinned against. Thankful people forgive and forbear because they know they are the worst of sinners who have received unmerited favor from God.
Thankless people always expect others to come to them. Thankful people feel obligated to go to others even as Christ came towards them.
Creation calls out for thankfulness, the fall shows sin to be a lack of thankfulness but the cross compels us to cultivate thankfulness.
So begin to do it. Replace sinful ingratitude with a life of thanks to God in what you say, what you do with your body, how you manage your resources, and how you love other people.
More in Pastoral Blog
September 13, 2019Luther's Rose and Other Symbols in Stained Glass
August 12, 2019Sexuality, Gender and Christian Witness August 24 with Denny Burk
May 3, 2019Happy and Holy Christians