Monday, November 21, 2011

Heart-Deep Thanksgiving

Psalm 136:1 reads, “O give thanks to the Lord for he is good, and his steadfast love endures forever.” Sounds simple enough, but is it as simple as it sounds.

You ever seen the movie Shenandoah? Jimmy Stewart plays the lead—the head of a farm family torn by the tensions of the Civil War, a war creeping ever closer to their farm. It’s a fine film. And one of my favorite scenes is Jimmy Stewart’s blessing over a family meal. Gathered round the table the family bows to pray and Jimmy Stewart gives thanks … sort of:

"Lord, we cleared this land, we plowed it, sowed it, and harvested. We cooked the harvest. It wouldn't be here, we wouldn't be eatin' it if we hadn't done it all ourselves. We worked dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel, but we thank you just the same anyway, Lord, for this food we're about to eat. Amen."

Huh? You’ve got to work pretty hard to find the thanksgiving in that prayer. Sometimes you have to work hard to find the thanksgiving in our prayers too. There’s a part of us that has a hard time saying thank you to God and really mean it. There’s “Thank you, God … but why didn’t I get more?” There’s “Thank you, God … but why didn’t I get something better?” And there’s “Thank you, God, but what took you so long?” See what I mean? Our thanks to God—and even others—is not always heart-deep.

Perhaps we could learn something about giving thanks from the Japanese. In an article entitled “The Parent of All Virtues,” Mollie Hemmingway writes, “The Japanese sometimes accept gifts by saying, ‘I’m sorry.’ The subtext is, ‘I’m fully aware of my debt to you. I can never repay it.’” Wow. That’s gratitude—a deep awareness of debt, a realization that payback is neither necessary nor possible.

Are we not all debtors to God and his grace? How do we pay back salvation? We can’t climb up on the cross ourselves. How do we pay back that grace that is sufficient for every need, that strength made perfect in your weakness, that peace that passes understanding when everything around you says, “Panic!” We can’t pay it back. Such mercies are pure gifts of God given freely out of the vast storehouse of his abiding love for you and me. I know it’s hard to believe. I know it sounds almost too good to be true. But the Bible bears it out. All you can do—all any of us can do—is just say, “Thank you.” Giving thanks without equivocation, without reservation, without qualification, is really the only way to give thanks to God.

So in this season of Thanksgiving, count your blessings, and give God thanks—heart-deep thanks—for the many blessings you can’t earn, don’t deserve, and could never repay. You don’t need to do somersaults and cartwheels. You don’t need to recite God a poem or sing him a song. A “thank you” is really all God’s looking for—a thank you from the heart.

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