Over the year we have looked at many aspects of thanksgiving and how it is so important and such a blessing to God and man. And, whilst we may have already recognised this in our journey, it is good to be reminded how much it marks out a key difference between true faith and much religious activity around the world. There seems to be a natural direction of travel in human nature and therefore in much religious activity towards working and doing the right things to please God/the gods as the primary way to keep Him/them happy and receive His/their blessing.
However we read in John 1:12 that “to as many as received Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to be the children of God”; and moreover in verse 11 “His own did not receive Him.” Clearly receiving is a really crucial first step, not working to earn God’s favour. Paul in Ephesians 2:8,9 makes it equally clear that “it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works…”
Now we all know those verses well, but our human propensity to default back to earning rather than primarily receiving God’s free (to us) gift can easily take us down a side road. Thanksgiving for God’s generous, giving heart can powerfully help us get back on track, receiving from our Lord all we need, salvation and so much more in our daily lives. When asked “What must we do to do the works that God requires?” Jesus’ reply was “The work of God is this, to believe in the one He has sent”, John 6:29.
I would like to suggest that a mindset and lifestyle geared towards a default setting of thanksgiving for all God’s gifts, goodness and love, from our salvation onwards, and a life of receiving His grace, love and gifts daily, will hugely help us in our life of faith and journey with Him. It will greatly help us to believe in ‘the one God has sent’ – Jesus- and will act as a very big antidote to our human tendency to slip back to works that we feel proud of, Ephesians 2:9, or of trying to earn God’s favour.
Many years ago in a previous church we had a motto “Receive, Enjoy, Grow, Give”. I still believe that it is so important that “Receive” comes first. And of course thanksgiving orientates me towards receiving all the grace and gifts that I need daily. It moves me away from earning, from trying to deserve God’s favour, and then often failing. And failing to earn or deserve it is, of course, fertile ground for the accuser to leap on us with condemnation.
Nor is receiving with thanksgiving just with regard to our salvation. As we have reflected in previous blogs, there is so much more life in thanking the Lord whilst I receive, or reckon, that I have died with Christ and risen with Him, and I am a new creation being changed from one degree of glory to another by the Spirit of God. Romans 6:1-11, 2 Corinthians 3:18 and 5:17. It is much better, more biblical, and perhaps less religious, than trying to improve the old man by self effort. The old man died with Christ. There is much thankful receiving and reckoning to be done!
Likewise as Graham Cooke has helped us to see, when problems hit us, which they do, anxiety can strike and we can feel weighed down with another problem to solve, or feeling the pressure to work harder to be a good Christian in this new situation. How much better to hit it with thanksgiving, on the basis that this is another opportunity for me to look for another of God’s promises of provision, care, protection etc, to be fulfilled for me.
Thanksgiving that I have another chance to see how much He loves me in my day to day life. Thanksgiving that I have an opportunity to receive the provision that I need and that He loves to give. Thanksgiving that I will have another testimony of how good the Lord has been to me, whether it was a big or small problem. What a blessed contrast to trying to work out and solve it in my own strength with a ‘Help! Help!’ prayer, hopeful that He might do something, but not sure if I deserve it.
There’s nothing wrong with ‘Help! Help!’ prayers, but I think James nails it thus: ”If any of you lack wisdom he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault” James 1:5. How much better is a ‘Help! Help!’ prayer that is confident in a God who loves to give generously and doesn’t tell us off for asking and needing help. We are back again with the power of thanksgiving bringing me back to a place of receiving, because I know that my Lord is willing and loves to give generously in response to my need.