Have you noticed that time seems to be passing by faster these days? We are hurtling toward the holidays at the end of the year! Where did October (and September) go? There is so much to do, so many things pressing in on us. We have more than enough to worry about, not to mention the atmosphere of general anxiety that characterizes the current cultural climate.
Yet we all know that Thanksgiving is looming just around the corner and with that comes the annual emphasis on “being thankful”, including the obligatory blog post admonishing us all to take stock of our blessings and practice being grateful for what we have. Now, I’m not being critical of our traditional turn of focus towards gratitude for sure, but I am being convicted about the self-centeredness of my long list of things that I thankfully have (e.g. my health, spouse, family, stuff etc.), or thankfully don’t have (illness, disability, bedbugs, etc.). Is counting my blessings all God requires in being thankful (Ephesians 5:20)? Maybe it’s time to get out my Bible and take a look at the concept of thankfulness from a deeper perspective.
It turns out that the concept of “thanks” is pretty prevalent throughout the Old Testament with 51 occurrences in the Psalms alone. Moreover, scholars tell us that our word “thanks” or “thankful” in the Old Testament is translated most often from the Hebrew word yodah which literally means to extend or hold out an empty hand. So, we come to God with completely empty hands, bringing nothing that He deems worthy of blessing us for. We have no ability within ourselves to please Him (Psalm 14:1-3), nor can we sustain ourselves or anyone else on our own for that matter. So why does God bother with us? Obviously He loves us! But what is more is that He desires our worship.
In a nutshell then, thankfulness to God is a prerequisite for worshipping Him. The two are inseparable. Until we approach Him with the acknowledgement that we truly have empty hands, we will not really worship Him. So being thankful starts not with a list of things or circumstances (blessings), but an acknowledgement that we stand before our God with empty hands, requiring His mercy and grace. Our pride so often rebels against this concept as we struggle with wanting to contribute something, anything that makes us acceptable before our Creator.
In the New Testament, Paul’s writings contain more than 40 occurrences of the concept of thankfulness. The one that stands out to me as most relevant to this discussion is an instance not of encouragement toward thankfulness, but a warning:
“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” – Romans 1:21 (NASB)
For Christians, the wellspring of life is the Holy Spirit. That wellspring is the source of “living water” (John 4) – a fountainhead that empowers our life in Jesus Christ and our walk with Him. Thankfulness is the bucket with which we draw from the wellspring. Paul says we are to be “overflowing with gratitude” (Colossians 2:7). No bucket, no water. No water, no worship, and no worship, no blessing others. This Thanksgiving I am going to focus on living out the reality of having empty hands extended out before the Lord in thankfulness. What about you?
“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” – Colossians 3:17 (NASB)