Psalm 107:1-22, Colossians 3:1-17
November 19, 2006
Why do we give thanks? That’s the question I want you to think about today. Thursday is Thanksgiving, and on that day, many people will give thanks who might not ordinarily give thanks. And many will pray at a meal that day who don’t ordinarily pray at meals. And I’m not saying that’s bad. Maybe it will sink in a little bit. Maybe they’ll think more about God the rest of the year. I hope so! However, as God’s people, I want us to think today about the why of Thanksgiving. Why do we give thanks?
God’s people have been giving thanks for centuries. Look at the psalm we read. Actually, it was hard to pick out a psalm for this service, because there are so many of them that speak of thanksgiving! So often the psalmist starts out, “O give thanks to the Lord for he is good…” That is a constant refrain in the Old Testament. (Though, as you know, the people didn’t always remember it!)
In this case, Psalm 107 is actually part of a series of psalms which were all about remembering what God had done, specifically about the events of their own history of salvation. And throughout those psalms the people were to give thanks to the Lord for all of those things he had done. And as they did so, they proclaimed this message, “Oh give thanks to the Lord for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.”
I think I may have talked before about this term “steadfast love.” That is translated from the Hebrew word “Hesed,” which was a very important word to God’s people. It was a word that carried with it a highly developed theological understanding about of the nature of God. (Though it’s hard to translate directly into English!) God had this “steadfast love.” And in that understanding, the “steadfast love” – the “Hesed” – of God was always shown in God’s actions in the people’s lives. That’s why this word is often used along with various reminders of what God had done for the people! And that’s why they gave thanks. “Give thanks to the Lord, for his love is steadfast. His love is forever.”
So, why do we give thanks? For several reasons. First of all, like the Old Testament people, we give thanks for what God has done for us. We remember his steadfast love. And we remember God’s hand in our lives.
Now, I want you to think about that for a moment. Remembering those thinks takes a deliberate action of our minds, doesn’t it? Yes, we can remember things that just sort of come to mind. But we also remember things by deliberately thinking and deliberately recalling them – by the action of the will.
I’m grateful for the time of Thanksgiving, because it often prompts us to do that. How many of you have done this? How many have sat down at Thanksgiving – when people are really hungry! – and someone says, “Let’s go around the table and each one of us say something for which we are thankful.” How many of you have done that? Maybe you do that every year. That’s a deliberate kind of recalling, isn’t it? And I’m grateful when people do that. It may make them think of things they wouldn’t ordinarily think about, and it may make them consider thanking God. That’s at least a start for some people.
As God’s people, we are to have our minds focused more often on God and on the things he has done for us. Paul tells us that in Colossians. “So if you have been raised with Christ,” – that’s what God has done for us – “seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.” We are called to think of such things. Then he says, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth..” (Colossians 3:1-2) Set your minds on things above. That’s an intentional act of the will, isn’t it? When we remember all that God has done for us, it is usually because we pause and take time to do so! As God’s people we are called to do that!
So first we remember the things of God. We seek his kingdom with the intention of our minds. But why! Does that answer the question of why we give thanks? Is it just because of what God has done for us? Not entirely, but I think we’re close. Because the answer to the “Why” question is not a matter of knowing what God has done for us – in our minds only. It’s a matter of the heart. It is in the heart that true Thanksgiving ultimately resides.
Listen again to Paul’s words. “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule (where) in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body.” He goes on, “And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs to God.” (Colossians 3:14-16)
As in with so much of our faith, it’s the heart that matters! It’s in the heart that we are truly thankful! We give thanks because we have gratitude in our hearts! If someone does something for us – God or anybody else – it’s too easy to let it go only as far as the mind, isn’t it? We can think or even say, “That was nice.” And that’s a mental process. That’s a judgment. That’s also akin to the “remembering” stage we started with. “Oh yes, I remember. My mind has acknowledge that nice thing the person did for me.” But it’s more than that. And even then, we can forget that it’s the heartfelt gratitude that’s the basis for true Thanksgiving. Sometimes we can even acknowledge the good deed without it being from the heart. Again we do that because we’ve determined in our minds that such acknowledgement is proper.
We can’t forget the heart! It’s the heart that matters. We need to ask ourselves, “Do we thank God? And when we do, do we feel that thanksgiving in our hearts? That’s the key! Does our heart know what our head acknowledges? Often it takes an act of the will to transfer that thought into our hearts, doesn’t it. We have to remember to have “gratitude in our hearts” like Paul said. And that’s a choice! He didn’t say, “I hope gratitude makes it’s way into your hearts some day. His statement is in the imperative. “With gratitude in your hearts…” – putting gratitude there – “sing hymns…” In other words, choose to have gratitude in your hearts!
Then the next part of Thanksgiving comes from that. Because once we have that gratitude in our hearts, it shows (where?) in our actions. Paul concludes “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 3:17)
When we are thankful in our hearts, we do something about it. We tell the person. When our hearts are full of gratitude, we reach out to people with some kind of gesture. We thank them – in a heartfelt way. We determine in our minds, you see, to respond in our actions to that gratitude that’s in our hearts. That’s how it works! Or that’s how it should work!
Did you think all this stuff as you prepare for Thanksgiving? Too many people don’t. Too many people take this holliday too lightly. There’s a lot to this day called Thanksgiving. And it’s my hope and prayer that this Thanksgiving, that you will be intentional about your gratitude. It is my hope that you will share with each other, around the table or otherwise, what it is you are thankful for. And it’s my hope that you will take that thanksgiving into your hearts, and grow closer to the God for whom we are eternally grateful.
And to God be glory and honor and praise, now and forever, Amen.
Eternal God, we give you our thanks and praise, for all you have done for us. Help us to remember to have that gratitude in our hearts this Thanksgiving season, as we look to Advent, that time we remember and give thanks for your coming into this world. Help us to choose gratitude, and help our gratitude to grow, as we grow in our love for you. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.