Thankfulness is a funny thing.
By its very nature the giving of thanks cuts straight across the grain of the pride and self-focus of the natural human heart. When we are thankful for something, we acknowledge that we are in someone else’s debt—that there are good things in our lives for which it just doesn’t seem appropriate to pat ourselves on the back. We pause for a few days over Thanksgiving break to think about the blessings we enjoy—the way our lives, with all their challenges, trials, and disappointments, are actually much better than we could have accomplished for ourselves in our own strength, and much better than we know we deserve.
And that seems to be the case even for unbelievers. It seems the knowledge of God and His Law that is written on their hearts (Rom 2:14–15)—the knowledge of His invisible attributes that He has clearly made visible by ordering the world as He has (Rom 1:19–20)—gets just a little bit harder to suppress (Rom 1:18) as they perceive the loveliness and virtue in thanksgiving. The inherent, objective pleasantness of the reality that someone other than themselves is most fundamentally responsible for the good things they enjoy bursts forth into their consciousness, causing them to humble themselves and thank someone else for them. Even the most prideful person will admit, if he’s honest with himself, that, strangely enough, it feels good to be thankful. We enjoy giving thanks. Something just feels…right… about it.
And that’s because we’re tapping into the reality that life isn’t most ultimately about us and making much of ourselves. We’re catching a glimpse of the reality that absolutely everything that we have—from our part-time job to the air we breathe—is owing to the beneficence of Another. You see, we are designed to humble ourselves in the presence of Someone infinitely more worthy than us. And we are designed to give praise and thanksgiving to Him for the comforts of this life. The pleasure we feel in thanksgiving is a parable from the God of the universe that teaches us that our glory is not the goal of our lives, but that His glory is.
And so if you’re reading this and you’re not a believer in Jesus Christ, can I ask you to stop and think about why, at this time of year, it feels right to deflect the glory? Would you pause a moment and think about why in the world that is? You truly feel, and therefore say, the words, “I’m thankful for ______.” But have you ever asked yourself whom you’re thankful to for those gifts? Indeed, that they are gifts and therefore have come from a Giver?
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As we all prepare to spend some time today reflecting on things we’re thankful for, let us remember that there is no virtue in treasuring the gifts at the expense of treasuring the Giver. “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow” (James 1:17). This Thanksgiving, recognize that Whom you’re thankful to matters infinitely more than what you’re thankful for.
The greatest gift of all—the gift for which we should all be most thankful—is the Father’s gift of His perfect, innocent Son. His beloved Son, whom He gave to die on the Cross in order to pay sin’s penalty in the place of sinners like you and me. Who rose from the grave on the third day in order to bring true, spiritual, eternal life to all those who forsake their sins and depend entirely on Him to provide their righteousness before a Holy God. Jesus is the One who makes Thanksgiving possible. This Thanksgiving, let’s give Him the glory and honor for that.
Let’s be thankful for the gifts we enjoy. And let’s be thankful to the God who gives them.