In previous blogs we have touched on how thanksgiving is an important ingredient in the life of rest that the Lord has for us in His ‘promised land’. This is clearly taught in Hebrews 4, and reflected in Jesus’ call to us to come to Him and find rest for our souls in Matthew 11:28,29. Paul reminds us that Godliness with contentment is great gain, 1 Timothy 6:6, and thanksgiving is a huge ingredient in contentment. Thanksgiving both for the enormous – He died for me on the cross, forgave me everything, gave me life, lives in me daily and there is a certain promise of eternity with Him – and thanksgiving for the so called ‘small’ – good food today, a warm house and so much more.
Recently thinking about my own life and chatting to a visitor about gratitude I got to asking myself whether gratitude, which is such a healthy attitude for all people, could sometimes lead to a sort of passivity, a sort of fatalism or belief in ‘karma’? “The world is the way it is, what ‘will be’ will be, so the best way to live in it is to notice and be grateful for everything I can”. Whilst gratitude is a tremendous attitude to have in life, I wondered, after talking to my visitor, if there could be a problem if there was only gratitude and no imperative, or hunger to seek for more, for help, or for something different that could take my visitor in the direction of God or seeking the Lord. As I thought about it, I wondered if there could at times be a Christian version of this. “Whatever happens is God’s will, I will submit to it and be grateful and ‘rest’ in that”. Is this balanced and biblical?
Then I got to think about some of the things Jesus said. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled” Matthew 5:6. Hunger sounds like I don’t want things to stay the same and I am very keen for things to be different! “Ask (and keep on asking) and it will be given to you….” Matthew7:7 Here and in other places Jesus clearly seemed to teach His disciples not to accept things as they are, as inevitable, but to ask, knock and seek persistently for more, for change, or for different. (see Luke 18:1-8). And reflecting further it seems that Jesus’ life was filled with people asking Him for more (often healing and health) – and He was always happy to oblige – even when the original request wasn’t on the ‘right’ lines! Matthew 15:21-28. And He reminded Philip that He was just like His Father, John 14:9. It seems that in the Gospels, Jesus taught us that He and His Father were, and are, delighted to be asked for help, for what we need, what we want for others, and more.
So how does healthy and biblical thanksgiving and gratitude bring these two truths ‘rest and contentment, and ‘hunger and asking’, together? We could start with Philippians 4:6,7, where Paul encourages us “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”. Prayer, asking, hunger for more comes along with, or through, the portal of thanksgiving, meets the grace of God, and peace, rest and contentment result.
You could say that Hebrews 4 approaches it from the other direction. The importance of entering into God’s rest is strongly emphasised in Hebrews 4:1 onwards. And it is the rest of faith, believing that God is who He says He is, He keeps all His promises, He loves me to bits and will continue to care for me and work everything for my good. And as we have reflected before, thanksgiving is such a powerful element in keeping us in that place – Rest and Contentment. But it doesn’t stop there, it is specifically the rest of faith (verse 2,3) and faith leads to action and obedience (verses 6 & 11). And of course it was faith that led all those people to hungrily chase Jesus for healing. Faith in the goodness, love, listening ear and power of our Lord will lead us to hungrily pray for His interventions – from a place of the ‘rest’ of faith. Surely again thanksgiving must be a vital ingredient, near the centre anchor point, keeping me at rest whilst hungrily asking, seeking and knocking in faith.
So which ever direction you come at it, thanksgiving is such a powerful and central ingredient in active, life changing, yet restful and contented, Christian living.