Written by Grover E. Gunn |
Thursday, November 25, 2021
As we grow in spiritual strength, we increasingly find our real inner satisfaction not in the things of this world but in God. The irony is that when we do that, we begin to enjoy the things of this life in a new way. When we make idols out of the things of this life, whether it be possessions or family or pleasure, we put a burden on them which they cannot bear… It is only when we get our deep and lasting pleasure from our relationship with God that we are freed to enjoy the things of this life as they were meant to be enjoyed.
Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday where we take off from work and school, we eat turkey and dressing, we watch parades, and bowl games on television. But we need to remember that Thanksgiving is more than a day off and a special meal and seasonal TV programs. Thanksgiving is first and foremost a day which our culture sets aside to count our blessings and to give God thanks. The Christian, of all people, should be thankful, and here are a few reasons.
First, the Christian should be thankful because he knows that his present life is but the prelude to a better life. He experiences both pain and pleasure, both poverty and prosperity, both affliction and advantage. Yet the Christian knows that the misery of this life is temporary, a transient experience which will soon pass away. The Christian also knows that the good things of this life, the true pleasures of this life, are but crumbs on the floor from the heavenly feast which he will one day enjoy. The joys of this life are but a foretaste of greater and better things to come.
For the wicked, the situation is just the opposite. The pleasures of this life are like a last meal on death row. The last meal is a temporary kindness from the judge before the final punishment. Even if a last meal is a true gourmet’s delight, how difficult it would be to truly savor it, to truly enjoy it, knowing that it is indeed a last meal and a prelude to punishment. For the wicked, the miseries of this life and not the pleasures are a foretaste of what is to come. In their heart of hearts, they know this.
When you think about this contrast, you can see why the Christian is the one who should be thankful. It is natural for a person to be thankful for something when he knows that even better things are coming, and when he knows that the current difficulties and problems which accompany even the good things of this life are temporary.
This also explains why there are people with much material wealth and many creature comforts and other apparent advantages, who nevertheless are neither happy nor thankful. In their heart of hearts, they know that their grasp on these good things is temporary and that their future beyond this life holds no promise for anything better.
A second reason the Christian should be thankful is because the Christian realizes that every good thing that he receives is a gift of mercy which he does not deserve. Sin is a rebellion against creatureliness which demands prerogatives and rights and privileges which really belong only to God. When the spirit of sinful rebellion dominates in a person’s heart and he receives something good in this life, that person always has a mistaken sense that he really deserves something better. The sinful spirit can never be satisfied, much less truly thankful.
In contrast, the Christian realizes that not only is he a creature, but he is also a member of a sinful race which has rebelled against God. Because of this, all that he truly deserves is the misery of punishment. The Christian has accepted this reality. The Christian also appreciates the price which God had to pay in order to be merciful to him and to give him blessings which he does not deserve. The price: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Jesus had to suffer on the cross to atone for the Christian’s sins, and the Christian knows it. Because Jesus died for the Christian’s sins, God is able to treat the Christian with the kindness of mercy instead of with the harshness of justice.
Two men receive something good in this life. One of them is dominated by a sinful spirit, and he says in his heart of hearts, “I really deserve something better than this and more of it.” He is not really thankful. The other man has a faith relationship with Jesus, and he says in his heart of hearts, “I deserve the wrath of God, but Jesus died upon the cross that God might instead be merciful to me and give me this blessing.” He is truly grateful.
A third reason the Christian should be thankful is because the Christian knows that God is working all things to the good of those who love Him. The Christian is like a grateful young child with a kind and benevolent father. The young child may not understand why his father makes him eat his vegetables or sometimes takes him to a doctor to get a painful shot or makes him go to school. Yet the child knows that his father loves him and that his father knows best. And so the child is grateful even though his experiences are not all pleasant and even though he doesn’t fully understand their purpose. In like manner, the Christian can be grateful, even in painful situations, because he trusts God’s love, God’s wisdom and God’s power.
As our spiritual strength grows through Christ Jesus, we develop a more confident faith in God’s love, wisdom and power. And we come to realize that any discontentment with our God given circumstances means that we are doubting one of these three. We know that God loves us because He sent His only begotten Son to die for our sins. We know that God is wiser than we are. We don’t begin to understand our situation in life the way that God understands it. And we know that God is all powerful. If He chose to change our circumstances, He certainly could. If we have this confidence in God’s love, wisdom and power, then we must also believe that those elements of our circumstances which we cannot change must be for our best. And any illusion we might have that we would be better off in different circumstances must be a mistaken fantasy. God knows what He is about.
A fourth reason the Christian should be thankful is that the Christian has found in God the satisfaction that this world cannot provide. The materially rich have a greater temptation to seek satisfaction in the things of this earth. That is why Jesus said that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. There are examples of such discontent in the midst of prosperity in redemptive history. For example, Ahab was King of the northern kingdom of Israel, and yet he could not be content because he did not possess the little vineyard which belonged to Naboth. In the book of Esther, Haman was second only to the king of Persia, but he could not be content because Mordecai the Jew would not bow down before him. Apart from the grace of God, power and possessions only whet our appetite for more and no more satisfy our true inner desires than salt water can quench our thirst.
As we grow spiritually strong, we increasingly find our deepest satisfaction fulfilled in God. God made us for Himself, and nothing but fellowship with God can satisfy our deepest needs and yearnings. C.S. Lewis put it this way:
“God cannot give us peace and happiness apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.”
Psalm 63:1-5 puts it this way:
- God, You are my God; early will I seek You; my soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water.
- So I have looked for You in the sanctuary, to see Your power and Your glory.
- Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise You.
- Thus I will bless You while I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name.
- My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth shall praise You with joyful lips.
As we grow in spiritual strength, we increasingly find our real inner satisfaction not in the things of this world but in God. The irony is that when we do that, we begin to enjoy the things of this life in a new way. When we make idols out of the things of this life, whether it be possessions or family or pleasure, we put a burden on them which they cannot bear. We become desperate to derive from them pleasure that is both deep and lasting, and we are always disappointed. It is only when we get our deep and lasting pleasure from our relationship with God that we are freed to enjoy the things of this life as they were meant to be enjoyed.
With these thoughts in mind, let us take time this thanksgiving season to be thankful and to give thanks to God.
Dr. Grover Gunn is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is pastor of MacDonald PCA in Collins, MS.