A Habit That Blesses
It is a pretty simple conclusion to make. Good habits bless us and bad habits hurt us. For example, brushing your teeth, regular exercise, wearing your seat belt and watching your spending will help you immensely in the long run. Likewise, the opposite is likely to bring heartache and suffering. This month we are thinking of one of the most important habits you can ever develop. It will always bless you and others at the same time. It is the habit of thanksgiving. One writer described it as the most important habit of the heart.
The habit of giving thanks is far older than a national holiday. It is rooted in scripture. While the Jews traveled in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land, Moses encouraged them not to forget their God when they got to the land "flowing with milk and honey." His words in Deuteronomy 8 reminded them that God's blessings were in relationship to their awareness and gratitude.
From then until now, thanksgiving is important both as a national attitude and as a personal practice. Thanksgiving protects us from an enlarged sense of pride. God knew the Israelites would be tempted to claim they had produced the wealth by their own cleverness and industry. If so, they would forget God. The same principle holds true today. The people most consumed with their own abilities and wealth are often the same people who have the least reverence for God. It is all too easy to take credit. We believe "our own press." The only way out of this trap is consistent thanksgiving.
Giving thanks also teaches us to celebrate what God has done for us in the past. There is an interesting correlation you will discover in the history of Israel. When they lost touch with their past, they lost touch with their God. The evidence of that was idolatry. That's why God directed His people to remember and celebrate specific events in their history. Such memories kept alive, protected then from idolatry and its consequences.
We can see the same principle at work today. People who lose connection to their heritage often fall into their own kind of idolatry. It is easy to feel isolated in the difficulties of life and to presume no one has had it this hard. Without faith as a guide to inform our hearts, we fall into traps of materialism and secularism. The results are predictable – broken homes, fractured relationships, greed, selfishness and loss of personal integrity.
We are a society addicted to pills for everything. Peace doesn't come from a pill and neither will a thankful heart. Faith is more than just believing the history of the Bible and going to church. It is the connection with God who reminds us of how much He has loved us and our place in His world. Life is not about us, but Him. Remembering Him and celebrating what He has done for us in our lives, with our friends and in our church gives us stability in the storms of life. It is worth remembering from our friends in horticulture. "Only deep roots enable a tree to survive bitter cold or scorching drought."
So how should we go about giving thanks to God? The scriptures give us wise counsel not only about motivation, but about what is involved in thanksgiving. First, give thanks to God in praise. Psalm 100:4 says, "Enter His gates with thanksgiving and into His courts with praise! Give thanks to Him and bless His name." This Psalm was used both in formal temple worship and private devotion. In fact, I recommend during this Thanksgiving season you memorize all five verses. They will do you good and provide a means of testimony to others if you use them regularly. Further, let me suggest you try to specifically identify and speak at least one thing you are grateful for each morning in prayer to the Lord. It's a great way to begin the day.
I saw a cartoon of a family gathered for a common meal. The father said to the mother, "I don't want to complain about leftovers, but haven't we already said grace over this fool three times?" We can both laugh at and identify with his observation. In reality, giving thanks never gets old. I am reminded of some magnificent promises in scripture. Any time you think you don't have anything to be thankful for, just remember these. "Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; He is the faithful God, keeping His covenant of love to a thousand generations..." (Deut. 7:9) "He is the Rock, His works are perfect, and all His ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is He." (Deut. 32:4) "Not one of all the Lord's good promises to the house of Israel failed; everyone was fulfilled." (Joshua 21:45) "All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful." (Psalms 25:10) "O Lord God Almighty, who is like you? You are mighty, O Lord, and your faithfulness surrounds you." (Psalm 89:8) "The one who calls you is faithful and He will do it." (I Thessalonians 5:24) Perhaps the one which comes to my mind so regularly in my daily prayers is from Lamentations 3:22-23, "The Lord's lovingkindness indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness."
Second, give thanks to God through reverence. That means, very simply but specifically, treat God like God. It is amazing to realize the people who do not. God is to them like a grandfather in the sky from whom they want things. He is a perhaps a provider and a protector in their mind, but not a friend, not someone with whom they have a personal relationship. Can you name habits or activities in your life which clearly represent regular reverence to God? Let these be a gauge of the thankfulness in your heart.
Finally, we give thanks to God through obedience. The Israelites were told plainly that they should express their gratitude to God through observing His commands. Paul said in II Corinthians 10:5, "Take captive every thought and make it obedient unto Christ." We can sing "What a Friend We Have In Jesus" at church but not give heed to His will or plan for our lives. We take over direction if His will does not match with our wishes or society's expectations. One cannot separate obedience as a cardinal means for giving thanks to God. Christians have ample reasons and ways to practice thanksgiving. You have heard the phrase, "a gift which keeps on giving." Well, thanksgiving is a habit that keeps on blessing. May it become the normative patter of our lives throughout the rest of the year.