Proverbs 30:9 says ‘Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise I may have too much and disown you and say “Who is the Lord?” or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonour the name of my God.’
When the children of Israel came into the promised land they forgot God. Indeed God had warned them against this in Deuteronomy 6:10-12. God clearly thought it was a very important warning about a very real risk, because He repeats the warning in chapter 8:7-14. It is worth reading those verses, especially if we think to ourselves in the tough times: “when everything settles down and all these problems are behind me and everything is going well, I’m sure I’ll be grateful all the time”. Such is our nature as human beings, however, that times of plenty can have a bad effect on our memories and therefore our gratitude.
The risk, which the Lord was very clear about, was this. When we have plenty and everything is going well we are very liable to forget Him. And that did happen when God’s people got into the Promised Land “flowing with milk and honey”, Judges 3:7. In a time like the wilderness when things are difficult, the sand is hot under our feet and the food and water (our daily felt needs) are either not there, or seem rather boring, we easily get grumpy and complain. The Children of Israel did quite a lot of that, and we can too.
Thanksgiving in times of need seems to be much harder and we have reflected on this in previous blogs; however when you stand back you realise that many of us can neglect thanksgiving when everything is going well. We may say grace before meals, but we forget to thank God for the many, many other daily blessings that He showers upon us. Even grace at meals may not have the force of gratitude that it had for our ancestors who knew the fragility of a good harvest.
Thanksgiving in times of need, and in times of plenty, will really help us in our walk with God. It will honour his name, it will remind us of the truth of His goodness, great care and love for us daily, and in fact will greatly benefit our well-being. Caleb, I believe, did it and he was ready and strong for a big fight age 85! Joshua 14:8-14. Read it and be encouraged! And truthfully, even in times of difficulty, we still have loads to thank Him for. Jesus still died for me, I have received the free gift of forgiveness and eternal life and much more.
Unfortunately one of the spirits of our age is entitlement. We can feel entitled to having enough food, to having a variety of clothes to wear, to having streets that we can drive on, to having houses that we can live in, electricity and heating, to having police forces that enforce the law and so much more as well. We feel entitled to find butter and sugar in the shop when we go there. If it is not there, certainly there will be articles in the newspaper.
When I worked in Africa during the time of Idi Amin, butter, sugar and bread were rare commodities; certainly it was a cause for thanksgiving when we got any of these. And I think the pleasure of plain bread-and-butter on my return to England has not fully left me all these years later. Let us not lose our deep sense of gratitude for all the great things that our society and our context gives us, that many others in our world don’t have. They are actually gifts, which mean that ‘Thank you’ is in order!
I believe that Jesus showed us the way in this matter. At the end of Luke’s gospel we find Jesus thanking God at a terrible time. A time when He was fully aware of what He was in the facing in the cross and all that it meant, not only the physical pain, humanly speaking, but in the huge spiritual pain of separation from his Father, as He carried my sin. At the last supper, knowing what was about to happen, it says ‘He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying “This is my body given for you…”’ Luke 22: 19. Likewise He gave thanks for the cup in verse 17, subsequently connecting it with ‘the new covenant in My blood which is poured out for you’; His blood shortly to be shed on the cross.
We then find Him thanking God again as he sits down to meal with his two disciples in Emmaus, Luke 24:30. ‘When He was at the table with them, He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them’. Their eyes were open and they recognised him. The huge triumph of the Resurrection was behind him, the pain of the cross was behind him. But we don’t find Him – in modern parlance, saying something like ‘everything is fine now, let’s just eat and carry on’ – with no thought to the spiritual realities of the amazing, marvelous, glorious, world shattering thing that had just happened.
Thanksgiving blesses God’s heart so much and it also keeps us from discouragement, cynicism and a sense that ‘I can’t make it’ in hard times. While in the good times it keeps us from pride, forgetfulness and entitlement. It also becomes a daily source of joy. Remember Jesus was anointed with joy above all his fellows Hebrews 1:9.
Not all habits are bad. Let’s get into the very good habit of thanking God at all times and seasons, good, bad and indifferent. Thanksgiving is a big part of making you and me ‘a man or woman for all seasons’, as our Lord Jesus was.