Because of the way God created the world many things of value can be shared, but with totally different results. A shared reward is divided, a shared laugh is multiplied. A shared space subtracts the amount of room for you, a shared discovery adds to the joy.
There are similar created mysteries regarding debt. Some debts are big and others small, but a bigger debt might be less burdensome depending. What is owed? Who is it owned to? A small debt to a stingy lender is much worse than a great debt to a generous one. There are even some debts that compound joy as the debt increases.
In John Milton’s Paradise Lost he imagines many of the heavenly and hellish scenes before and during the fall of man. But before getting to Eve’s temptation and Adam’s sin he describes Satan’s decisive discontent in Satan’s words:
in a moment quit
The debt immense of endless gratitude,
So burdensome, still paying, still to owe;
Forgetful what from him I still received,
And understood not that a grateful mind
By owing owes not, but still pays, at once
Indebted and discharged; what burden then?
These lines describe true economics whether or not they describe Satan’s true thoughts. It is one of the reasons why Genesis 1:1 is so offensive because it means that there is a God we answer to, a God we are born without our choice already in debt to.
But this debt of gratitude we owe is a debt that increases our joy as we pay it and as the debt itself increases. It can’t be otherwise. God deserves more thanks the more He gives, and we are more joyful the more we are thankful. The more we owe and the more we pay, the more truly free we are.
How do you know that God is willing and working in you for His good pleasure? As you are working out your salvation with fear and trembling what is the result? If you could choose just one act of believing obedience to make a dent in the world, what would it be?
It’s possible that one thing answers all those questions. Though he doesn’t use the word, it connects Paul’s thoughts in Philippians 2:12-16. He called the Christians to work out their salvation (verse 12), remembering that God is at work in them (verse 13), and then reminded them that they are
“children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights of the world” (verse 15).
Certainly the Philippian believers stood out for their morality (“blameless and innocent”) as well as for their different authority (“holding fast to the word of life”). But the way they became these bright lights is by obeying Paul’s command at the beginning of verse 14: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing.” Stated positively: they were thankful. God wills that we give thanks always. Saved people are thankful people. And thankful people stand out in a crooked and complaining generation.
We should be Christians living in the world and with one another in such a way as to provoke good jealousy among others, eventually all Israel (see Romans 11:11, 14), who will want what we have in Christ. But have you ever heard of someone being jealous of a complainer? “Wow, you see all the bad things so accurately. You really put into words all the grumbling feelings I have. I wish I could have your spirit of fussiness.”
There could be someone who hears us complain and is jealous of all our blessings that they see better than us that we aren’t giving thanks for. In that sense they are jealous of a complainer, but not of our complaints. Let us repent and recount our blessings in thanks.
I’ve observed before that the reason we give thanks around the Lord’s Table is because the Lord Himself did. “On the night when he was betrayed [he] took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you” (1 Corinthians 11:23-24a). Then in the next verse Paul recorded, “In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (verse 25a). The phrase “in the same way also” can’t refer to breaking the cup just as breaking the bread. It refers to giving thanks. A comparison of the Gospels confirms it (in Luke’s account Jesus gives thanks before the bread and in Matthew’s account Jesus gives thanks before the cup).
Every Sunday we have a Thanksgiving meal. Every Lord’s Supper we pray in thanks twice, once before the symbol of His body and again before the symbol of His blood. We are following His pattern.
But isn’t it interesting that Jesus instructed His disciples to eat and to drink yet He didn’t instruct them to pray? He thanked God, He didn’t require us to thank God.
We thank God for Jesus, for His sacrifice of love that purchased our redemption and eternal life in joyful fellowship with Him and the Church. But what was Jesus thanking God for?
He was thanking God for the meal, the bread and the wine, but He was also thanking God that His hour had come, that it was time to confirm the promised covenant, that His suffering would atone for the every sinner given to Him by the Father, that the the Trinity’s plan would be vindicated, that His glorious grace would be displayed, that His resurrection three days later was certain, and that good news would spread and transform hearts and homes and the world itself. We are not just thankful for, but with our Savior. We are drawn up into His thankfulness and we do this in remembrance of Him.
Most people agree that being thankful is good. Most people also agree that cardiovascular exercise for twenty or more minutes, three to five times each week is good, but that doesn’t mean they do it. For Christians who want to make progress in their thankful-fitness, I want to offer a couple cautions at the beginning of the program.
Caution #1: An increase in thankfulness routinely correlates with a decrease in pride, especially pride as seen in personal independence or, in extreme cases, even isolation.
Caution #2: An increase in thankfulness routinely correlates with a decrease in pride, especially pride as seen in laziness or, in extreme cases, pretentiousness.
Here’s one example. Let’s say that you want to give thanks for (or to) your spouse, a husband for his wife, though it could easily work the other way. A husband who earnestly takes the time to consider all that his wife does will realize that he could not do all of the things that she does on his own. He doesn’t have the interest, the intellect, the skills, or the time. If he actually calculates her value to him for sake of giving thanks, then he cannot continue to hold onto his delusion about being a solo-hero.
Such an exercise of thankfulness for his wife may cause him to realize not only how much he depends on her, but also how much she is outworking him. A thinking man won’t make too much of all her work for the Thanksgiving feast on Thursday, let alone all the previous days of preparation, because that attention will throw too much contrast on his own afternoon full of watching sports. It’s not just on special occasions either. If he looks too closely he might see that she lapped the pace-car a long time ago.
We could just avoid these attacks on our pride by being unthankful, by working to distract ourselves with food and games and Thomas Kinkade pictures of family where we rarely have to see persons. But God commands us to give thanks, so holding onto our pride is going to have to go anyway.
Though we know that passages in the Old Testament addressed to Israel were not written to us, Paul said that they are still for us. What happened to them is recorded for us as an example “that we might not desire evil as they did” (see 1 Corinthians 10:6, 11).
Let’s learn from one of those Old Testament passages, Deuteronomy 28. The entire chapter describes blessings on those who are faithful and curses on those who won’t obey the voice of the Lord. In the section describing disobedience the Lord addresses the cause of their upcoming devastation.
Because you did not serve the LORD your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything. And he will put a yoke of iron on your neck until he has destroyed you. (Deuteronomy 28:47–48)
Though they had been given affluence, “the abundance of all things,” they did not abound in thanksgiving. Finding reasons for gratitude required no great exercise of imagination. They only needed to taste the bumper blessings and see that the Lord was good. But they refused. All the gifts that they received without gratitude would soon be repossessed.
We lose what matters most when we won’t be thankful. Instead, we were made to receive from Him and so we “offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving” (Psalm 50:14).
Sunday in worship, and Thursday in mashing potatoes, waiting for late guests, wondering why you believe believe in the Lord but your extended family doesn’t, and in a thousand other moments of effort, serve the Lord in gratitude. Though sin tells you that your list for thanks is too small, the real challenge comes when you see that your paper is too small for the list.
From Genesis 5 and Hebrews 11 we know that Enoch walked in the presence of God. From Jude we know that Enoch also prophesied about the judgement of God. Jude appealed to his readers to contend for the faith against ungodly men who perverted God’s grace and denied Christ’s Lordship (verse 4). After listing some examples, Jude wrote:
It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage. (Jude 14–16)
Jude quoted an extra-biblical book called 1 Enoch (there were two). Though that book wasn’t inspired by God, this prophecy in the book was true and so included in Jude’s inspired letter. Enoch saw a day when the denied Christ would execute judgment.
Things were bad in Enoch’s day. Within a few generations from Enoch God judged the world with a flood due to the extreme perversity and immorality. But note the sins that Jude connected with the coming judgment. The ungodly in deeds of ungodliness were ungodly (that’s Jude’s repeated descriptor) in their complaining–they were grumblers, in their dissatisfaction–they were malcontents, and in their egocentricity–following their own selfish desires. They were braggarts–loud mouth boasters, and manipulators–showing favoritism to gain advantage.
All these sins describe our age and run dark with the stain of self-sufficiency, a mark of Cain’s line. They characterize the seed of the serpent, the first liar, who told man that God was keeping something good for Himself. Let us not be like those, but instead, praising the grace of God by our obedience and declaring our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ, by our gratitude.
Drink your wine. Laugh from your gut. Burden your moments with thankfulness. Be as empty as you can be when that clock winds down. Spend your life. And if time is a river, may you leave a wake.
—N. D. Wilson, Death by Living, 117
Our futile struggle in time is courtesy of God’s excessive giving. Sunset after sunset make it hard to remember and hold just one. Smell after smell. Laugh after laugh. A mind still thinking, a heart still beating. Imagine sticking your fingers on your pulse and thanking God every time He gave you another blood-driving, brain-powering thump. We should. And we shouldn’t, because if we did, we would never do anything else with our living; we wouldn’t have the time to look at or savor any of the other of our impossibillions of gifts.
—N. D. Wilson, Death by Living, 107-108
Here are lessons I’ve learned or reasons that I’ve got for giving thanks. Also, although I did recently turn 41, I don’t have a 41 point list. Instead, in the spirit of having recently read 1984 which was written in 1948, here are 14 things, numbered but not ordered by importance.
Learned: Line diagramming is great for meditating on God’s Word. It’s my favorite observation tool to beat the meaning out of a passage.
Learned: Christians need to read good fiction. “Good” is key. I’ve really profited from Peace Like a River, the 100 Cupboards series, and Lewis’ Space Trilogy.
Learned: Family is not an obstacle to what a man wants to accomplish, they are what a man is accomplishing. Maggie, Calvin, Hallie, and Keelah are how I’m changing the world. More importantly, they are God’s grace changing me.
Learned: Any doctor’s diagnosis that includes the word “cancer” will probably lead to a lot more conversations.
Thankful: Reading on the treadmill has saved my reading life.
Learned: You can read on the treadmill if you make the font big enough in the Kindle app on your iPad.
Learned: The fact that Christ created everything does more than reveal His wisdom and power, it also reveals His interests. So don’t be a dualist. Also, see anything written by Kuyper. The quote at the end of this post is from a fantastic book that syllogizes worship by way of the world.
Thankful: Dropbox. (As long as you don’t have to explain it to people older than you). You have hundreds of files, dozens of apps, and multiple devices. Have your stuff with you and backed up as an added benefit.
Learned: Scissor skills and penmanship are related. I don’t have either, but I do have hope for the next generation.
Thankful: Fountain pens. There’s one in particular that has written over 4000 pages for me, including the rough draft of this article. The scratch of the nib across the lines on a yellow pad makes me glad.
Thankful: IPAs. I like (intentionally) bitter beer. The New Belgium Ranger is my current favorite.
Thankful: Starbucks French Roast. I like my beer bitter and my coffee burnt. That’s what friends tell me, at least. I’m more than okay with it. There is hardly a more enjoyable aroma than opening a new bag of beans.
Learned: I have a wife who prefers beards. My dad had a beard the entire time I knew him. When I was a kid I never thought about growing-to-keep one for myself. After 15 years of marriage and a lazy week of not-shaving my cheeks, the beginnings of the bush-face became the beginning of being a beard guy.
Thankful: There is no human who I have sinned against more or who helps me so much as Mo. She is the crown I don’t deserve, the reason our kids are cute, and the one who makes me most want to live like the Trinity.
God’s love for God led him to create the world from nothing. Therefore, our love for God, if it is to be an accurate reflection of God’s love, must also lead us to a deep and profound and fitting love for creation. God’s love for God pushes him into creation. So should ours. (Joe Rigney, The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts, 62)
Previously I took a crack at a predictable sin among dieters. In light of the abundance given to us by God, a certain sort of calorie counting and package reading panic belongs with, and nurtures, a discontent person. He is not thankful for the gifts or the bounty and he thinks too much about No and not enough about Yes.
I mentioned that I might chase that exhortation with one about gluttony. Restrictions in dieting and asceticism, whether of all food or of culturally taboo foods, is often the rejection of good. Gluttony must be the opposite, craving and consuming too much of the good.
Though we might focus the contrasts between dieting and gluttony, both share the most common ingredient of discontent. Abstaining tendencies tell God (usually in an ill-defined thought) that He’s wrong for giving too much, while overindulgent tendencies tell God He hasn’t given enough. In both cases a man is being selfish. In both cases he’s telling God that He is wrong.
A man might become a glutton because he’s lazy, like the Cretans who were “always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” Being drunk on food is a way to get out of working for food. He’s discontent with God’s plan to work. A man might also become a glutton because he’s afraid. He’s unsure when or if he’ll see food again so he eats four helpings to give himself some padding. He’s discontent with God’s promise to provide.
The only way to go glutton-free is in Christ. It’s by eating and drinking in thanks. We see again how the insidious yeast of discontent makes skinny souls and how thankfulness raises fat ones.