As Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving this weekend, I want to leave you with a gospel-centred Thanksgiving reflection.
Being thankful is powerful. Even secular psychologists attest to the power of gratitude, for example, on our health and our souls.
Why is thankfulness powerful for the human soul? Because God created us to find our wellness in being glad worshippers of him. Thankfulness is a synonym for worship. When we are thankful, we worship. When we worship, we are grateful for whom or what we worship. For the Christ-follower, our Trinity God is our supremely beautiful object of worship. Because Christ-followers have the most excellent reasons to be thankful, we are postured to experience the wonderful effects of thankfulness most powerfully.
But how do we get to that place of thankfulness in our relationship with God? To answer that question, I want to draw out another follow-up question from John the Baptist’s encounter with the Pharisees and Sadducees to help you get to that place of thankfulness toward God.
Are You a God-User or a God-Adorer?
The question is, “Are you a God-user or a God-adorer?” Last Sunday, we unpacked Matthew chapter 3 verses 7-8:
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.
Now, I know that John the Baptist’s main intent was not to give a moral lesson on thankfulness by way of his confrontation with the Pharisees and Sadducees. Nevertheless, there is a lesson on thankfulness embedded in his thought toward them.
The Pharisees and Sadducees were the religious and political leaders of Israel during John’s (and Jesus’) time. John held back no punches from the Pharisees and Sadducees because an aspect of their wrongdoing as religious leaders was their hypocritical religious practice. The Pharisees and Sadducees would talk one thing and walk another. To make matters worse, they were heavy-handed with their demands on the Israelites’ religious devotion while they secretly had corrupt hearts and did not practice what they preached.
John was in part vehement toward the Pharisees and Sadducees because an aspect of their coming to his baptism was just another example of their religious hypocrisy. They desired to appear devoted toward God by attending the preaching of this new prophet on the block. They desired to appear pious as they also received the cleansing baptism.
But John knew their true hearts. They brazenly believed that their mere outwardly righteous appearance was enough to make them right before God. But John knew they could not be more wrong. John the Baptist knew that they were trying to use God with minimal outwardly righteous appearing acts. “If I just do this religious act, God will owe me goodness and salvation for my devotion.” John knew they were attempting to curry favours with God as if that were possible.
They were attempting to use God.
Thus, John exhorts them, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” What God truly wants is righteous living overflowing from a heart changed by basking in the glad adoration of God.
A Parable of God-Adoring Thankfulness: The King, The Carrot Gardener, and the Horse-Breeder Nobleman
Charles Spurgeon, a 19th-century English preacher, once told a story of a king, a gardener, and a nobleman:
“Once upon a time there was a king who ruled over everything in a land. One day there was a gardener who grew an enormous carrot. He took it to his king and said, “My lord, this is the greatest carrot I’ve ever grown or ever will grow; therefore, I want to present it to you as a token of my love and respect for you.” The king was touched and discerned the man’s heart, so as he turned to go, the king said, “Wait! You are clearly a good steward of the earth. I want to give a plot of land to you freely as a gift so that you can garden it all.” The gardener was amazed and delighted and went home rejoicing.
But there was a nobleman at the king’s court who overheard all this, and he said, “My! If that is what you get for a carrot, what if you gave the king something better?” The next day the nobleman came before the king, and he was leading a handsome black stallion. He bowed low and said, “My lord, I breed horses, and this is the greatest horse I’ve ever bred or ever will; therefore, I want to present it to you as a token of my love and respect for you.” But the king discerned his heart and said, “Thank you,” and took the horse and simply dismissed him.
The nobleman was perplexed, so the king said, “Let me explain. That gardener was giving me the carrot, but you were giving yourself the horse.”
Do you see it? The gardener truly adored the king and gave out of an overflow of thankfulness for his loving rule. The nobleman, however, was a king-user, trying to tool the king for his gain. Similarly, how often do you and I approach God presenting our good deeds with the heart of the nobleman, rather than giving love-filled worship and thanksgiving in response to our good King of all kings with the heart of the gardener?
Let’s bring it into laser focus. I promised a gospel-centred Thanksgiving reflection at the start of this post. So here it is.
When we bask in God’s great display of love toward us in Christ, we will adore God increasingly. When we adore God increasingly for giving us everything in his Son Jesus, we realize that we ultimately have nothing to bring to match the magnitude of God’s love. When we realize with greater clarity that we have nothing to give, our giving to God can only be gratitude. Our giving doesn’t have the power to barter with God because it has no worth compared to God’s immeasurable love. We can’t compete with God’s love, so to speak.
Bottom line: the more we rest in Christ and his gospel of grace, the more thankful we will be. The more we will glow as God-adorers.
May your heart overflow with genuine thankfulness to God the Father, Christ your King, and the Holy Spirit this weekend and for all your days.