I’m struck by a couple small descriptions in the account of when King David brought the ark back to Jerusalem. David offered sacrifices and distributed food to the people, and it was “on that day David first appointed that thanksgiving be sung to the LORD by Asaph and his brothers” (1 Chronicles 16:7). The middle, and most, of the chapter is a song of thanks, and then more appointments for sake of leading worship, including “Heman and Jeduthun and the rest of those chosen and expressly named to give thanks to the LORD, for his steadfast love endures forever” (verse 41).
Did the “chosen and expressly named” men apply for the “Thanks Givers Team”? What did that vetting process involve? What did a typical day of work at the worship tent look like, making a new list of blessings, or adding to the one started yesterday? Did those “expressly named to give thanks to the LORD” ever wake up on Monday morning and dread going into work? “I just don’t feel like giving thanks today.” “I need a vacation from this.”
We don’t have the same position today, or at least I’ve never met a “Pastor of Thanksgiving.” And yet, isn’t it true that all of us believers have been “chosen and expressly named to give thanks to the LORD”?
“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:8)
This is the Lord’s steadfast love, and we’ve received His mercy (1 Peter 2:9). God chose us before the foundation of the world and sealed us with His Spirit so that we would sing and make melody to the Lord with all our heart, “giving thanks always and for everything” (Ephesians 5:19-20).
We have been chosen and named to the thanks industry, and duties require vigilance to see His hand as well as our indifference.
It may be hard to remember all the things that other people did that enable us to enjoy our time of communion. A team of people arrived early this morning and put the bread into these plates, filled the cups, and carried them upstairs to this table. Before that, someone woke up early, then made, baked, cut, and packed the bread. Before that, the same someone bought all the necessary ingredients and paid the electric bill so she they could turn on the oven. Before that, someone figured out how to beat flour and bake it into something chewy and tasty.
A moment’s reflection should help us be thankful for all the parts of the process I mentioned, let alone the thousands of other steps I didn’t. Yet in the back of our minds, we may be thinking, “Yeah, but I could do all that for myself if I needed to.” Maybe we could.
However, we could not give the Son like the Father did. We could not give our flesh for the life of others like the Son did. We could not give life to ourselves, or to anyone else, like the Spirit did. We could not give a rip about any of it without the Trinity.
We are far too easily presumptuous, giving ourselves far too much credit. We need to give thanks for what we’ve been given. We need to give God glory for His gracious gifts. We won’t even do that unless He gives us help to do so.
The more I think about it the more I believe that the most powerful weapon God gives His people to fight dualism, entitlement, and hypocrisy is thanks.
Consider the apostle John’s transition from the story of Jesus feeding the five-thousand (John 6:1-15) to Jesus’ offer of Himself as the bread of life (John 6:22-34). Tucked into John’s description of the crowd’s movement from the “other side of the sea” back to Capernaum is a key repetition. John does not repeat the miracle Jesus performed, He repeats the thanks Jesus gave. “Other boats from Tiberias came near the place where they had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks” (John 6:23, see verse 11 for the first mention of Jesus giving thanks).
Thinking back over the story, as far as we’re told, Jesus is the only one who expressed thanks. The disciples don’t. The crowd doesn’t. The crowds follow Him because they wanted more bread, not because they wanted to express gratitude. They wanted to make Him King so that He could give them security not so that they could give Him appreciation.
The bread by itself wasn’t the problem. Jesus was glad to provide bread of both kinds, imperishable and perishable. He didn’t make them a meal in order to make them feel guilty on full stomachs. Thanks keeps the imperishable in mind while enjoying the perishable. Thanks fights dualism which says only the spiritual matters. But the crowd couldn’t recognize the distinction or receive the full benefits of either bread as evidenced by their lack of thanks.
Thanks also fights entitlement. The crowd didn’t get bread because they were great or because they deserved it or because He was obligated to meet their expectations. For us, thanks enables us to receive what He gives, even to seek provision from Him with a dependency that honors Him rather than with an self-referential expectancy. It is hard to be grateful and demanding at the same time. Pride buys entitlement a drink and sits down to commiserate. Thanks punches entitlement in the face (in the right way).
Thanks also fights hypocrisy. Take communion as one example. The point of this ordinance is not half-hearted, let alone hardhearted, participation. We fight against externalism, Pharisee-ism, going-through-the-motions-ism by stirring up and starting with thanks. And how much life, here and forever, we have to be thankful for at this Table.
We impress no one by pointing out all the things that are wrong or incomplete. We live in a fallen world, so complaining about all the fallen things is easier than shooting fish in a barrel, it’s like breathing air while shooting fish in a barrel. Everyone does that.
Not everyone can or will give thanks for things in this sin ridden world. But the world is still God’s world, full of barrels and breaths, and He is making something of us in it. He also uses us to make something of others.
One of the things He intends to make us, and those around us, is thankful. We cannot sow grumbling, bitterness, or reluctance and think that we will reap thanksgiving. Our gratitude should belch and gush like runaway lava, carrying away small-minded criticisms and negative attitudes and spiteful squabbles. Our gratitude should be thick and sticky like a snowball gathering speed and size as it sweeps down the mountainside, uprooting every petty sapling planted in the path.
We need a gooey gratitude, nearly impossible to wipe off. If our thanksgiving is runny and thin, it will slip through the cracks and be easily ignored. But gluey, gloppy gratitude restricts how much negativity a neighbor can exercise. We won’t cause gratitude to abound by sharpening our complaints against crybabies; criticizing criticizers usually doesn’t deter them. Criticism ebbs as tides of gratitude surge. That consistency of gratitude will change a culture.
“Keeping a rule,” however technically correct, falls easily into the trap of abstraction and impersonalism. As a result we oppose sin with a false standard of holiness, and then are surprised at its impotence. But gratitude, thanksgiving, contentment, and joy are always personal, by definition. Jesus is there, and if you thank Him, then that gratitude fills up all the available space.
—Doug Wilson, Clean Contentment