Don’t insult God and stop feeling guilty: A post-Thanksgiving meditation

November 27, 2015 § Leave a comment

…be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:15-17)

What is it about being thankful that we don’t get that Paul finds it necessary to mention it three times in the span three verses?

Giving thanks is a simple proposition: God gives to us and we acknowledge from grateful hearts his generosity to us. And, following the Biblical model, we give thanks for every blessing of God, whether spiritual or material. It is no more shallow to give thanks to God for a new sweater than it is deep to do the same for his “frowning providence” in sickness or loss. Both are from God—and I suspect that those who thank God for small things are more likely to develop the kind of mature thankfulness that Paul is talking about in Colossians 3.

“You ought to be more thankful!”
It has been my experience, however, that many, if not most, Christians think being thankful means being content with less and even having a disdain for material things. Think for a moment how often you have heard someone—or even yourself—say, “I should be thankful for what I have.” Essentially this is a self-rebuke for greediness. Of course, the Bible is abundantly clear about greed and covetousness; it is not simply a bad character trait but is in fact a form of idolatry (Colossians 3:5)—and it is also the natural tilt of our fallen hearts. Add to this the truth that we as modern Americans mostly take our material abundance for granted and there is little surprise that we have cultivated a culture of excess. Speaking for myself only, I can say that I definitely ought to be more thankful for what I have.

But having things is not sin, nor is dissing them necessarily godly self-denial. God is the one “who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17)—and even though Paul goes on to tell Timothy to charge those who are “rich in the present age” “to be generous and ready to share” (6:18), there is no hint that the rich provision of God is bad. It is putting our trust in material things that is bad (6:17).

Insulting God?
In fact, when we routinely connect being thankful with repudiating material things we may actually be guilty of insulting God. God is generous. Everything we have comes from his great and gracious mercy (James 1:7), and that includes material things. By God’s goodness we live in a time and place of unprecedented provision. The overflowing cornucopia is a biblical symbol of God’s blessing, not a human display of excess; through God’s material blessings we experience the overflowing grace of God—our cup “runneth over.”

Just because some make material things the sum of God’s blessings does not mean they are not God’s blessings—and just because some are bad and selfish stewards of God’s abundance does not mean that abundance is, by definition, bad. Those who have a problem with overflowing supply are going to have a hard time with the eternal state. When we disdain as a matter of principle the material things that God has provided us we insult his generosity—which, ultimately, means we insult him.

Not Guilt—Joy!
But equally as insulting to God as disdaining the material blessings of God is feeling guilty for having them. God in his infinite, eternal and unchangeable wisdom has ordained for us to live when and where we do. How can we feel guilty for such a blessing without ultimately insulting God’s wisdom? We may—and indeed, ought to—feel guilty for hoarding or squandering God’s material blessings, but we should never feel guilty that God has blessed us.

Instead, we should feel joy—and so give thanks. Note the connection between joy, gladness and thanksgiving:

Let them thank the LORD for his
        steadfast love,
    for his wondrous works to the children of man!
And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,
     and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!  (Psalm 107:21-22)

For the LORD comforts Zion; 
         he comforts all her waste places
         and makes her wilderness like Eden,
         her desert like the garden of the LORD;
  joy and gladness will be found in her,
  thanksgiving and the voice of song. (Isaiah 51:3)

May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. (Colossians 1:11-12)

When we meditate on the abundant blessings of God and by regular, humble practice of receiving the blessings of God and expressing our gratitude with the verbal praise of giving thanks to him—both privately and publicly—God develops in us a joyful and glad spirit. More than this, such thankful meditation and expression matures us so that a curious thing takes place: We become less and less attached to the gifts and more and more drawn to the Giver. In fact, joy and thanksgiving will continue to overflow from our hearts even when the material blessings are removed:

Though the fig tree should not blossom,
                     nor fruit be on the vines,
             the produce of the olive fail
                     and the fields yield no food,
             the flock be cut off from the fold
                     and there be no herd in the stalls,
             yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
                     I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
            GOD, the Lord, is my strength;
                     he makes my feet like the deer’s;
                     he makes me tread on my high places. (Habakkuk 3:17-19)

Giving thanks gives us proper perspective: it reminds of the generous grace of our Heavenly Father; it reminds us that everything we have is a gift; it reminds us that we should not be anxious about material things; it reminds us that God wants us to enjoy the blessings of life; and it reminds us that a “joyful heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22). Most importantly, giving thanks reminds us that, if God cares enough to provide our material needs, how much more will he provide for our spiritual needs. Indeed, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

So, you have material blessings? Be glad and give thanks. Joyfully share what you have if you have opportunity. But don’t insult God and stop feeling guilty for his kind providence and generous hand.

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