Be sure and be thankful on Thanksgiving
By By Wesley Channell
"The world is without grace," says author Welton Gaddy. He continues to say that because we live in a grace-less world, we cover up our weaknesses, our negative emotions and our vulnerabilities. The theory of evolution teaches, "only the strong survive." While most Christians would not hold to the theory of evolution, they unwittingly hold to a doctrine that "God helps only those who help themselves, or that it is more blessed to give than receive." Neither of these self-serving slogans is true, except in a world without grace.
Popular Christian author, Robert Farrar Capon says, "The gospel of grace is the end of religion, the final posting of the CLOSED sign on the sweatshop of the human race's perpetual struggle to think well of itself." Grace teaches us with the scripture that there is nothing that we can do to make God love us more, or anything we can do to make Him love us less, if we are in Christ Jesus. We realize what Jesus meant when He said, "Blessed are those who realize their need for Him, for the kingdom of Heaven is given to them." (Matthew 5:3). The reformer, Martin Luther, translated this verse as "blessed are those who are spiritually helpless." Learned helplessness is fundamental to receiving grace, for we realize that God only helps those who stop trying to help themselves.
Grace also changes our worldview and colors it with a thankful heart. It puts us in the position of gratitude for all the good things we receive in life. Grace reminds us, "Whatever is good and perfect comes to us from God above, who created all heaven's lights." (James 1:17) Grace makes us God-centered, God-dependent and full of thanksgiving for all we receive.
Yet, this attitude of thanksgiving is very difficult to maintain in the culture in which we live. It is hard for us to do because we live in a meritocracy. Those who do well survive and prosper. Those who look good, or those who perform well are rewarded accordingly. The "strong" survive and the weak, sick and old are ignored because they remind us that we are all losers in life. None of us will get out of here alive, time or disease will take us one and all, good or bad, beautiful or ugly, rich or poor. In the end we are all helpless to prevent the inevitability of our own mortality. Thus, we ultimately learn it is better to receive, than give, for what we earn for ourselves we cannot keep, but what God graciously gives us is ours forever. No matter how much we "help" ourselves, only God's grace can save us in the end, for it is by grace we are saved and not by our works, in case we think too highly of ourselves, forget God and brag about our own goodness and accomplishments.
Thanksgiving Day is a day to remind us of God's grace. It is a day to take stock and measure the goodness of God's activity in our lives. It is a day to be thankful for what we have been given, not what we have earned. Of course, many have turned it into "Turkey Day" and reduced it to merely an occasion for gorging oneself with food and being with loved ones. While good food and family are both wonderful things, it is God and all He gives us that we should celebrate most on Thanksgiving.
A few years ago, I was on a business trip out of town. I needed to get something to eat before I returned home, so I drove into a fast-food seafood restaurant. After I got my food and sat down, I thought to myself, "am I going to say a blessing over my food or not?" After all, I was by myself; no one would care what I did. Then I began to meditate on why we said "grace" or "blessings" over our food. My thoughts lead me to realize we said grace to express our thanks to God for what He had given us.
The journey of my thoughts led me to ponder the manner in which I had received my dinner that evening. I looked at my freshly fried, frozen fish, I wondered how could I be thankful for this? Then I realized somewhere in the great North Atlantic, schools of this fish were swimming when one day, a fishing boat caught them. That boat then iced them down and came back to shore, where they were prepared, and then sold to a warehouse. This restaurant then ordered so much fish from the warehouse and they were delivered by truck to the restaurant, where they were put in the freezer. When the right time came, the restaurant took that fish, put it in the deep fry and cooked it. Then, to end the long sequence of events, I walked in, ordered a fishplate and there sitting before me was a fried fish dinner. I began to understand my need to be thankful. God had put that fish in the sea and made sure it made its long journey from the sea to my plate. There were countless people and events involved in that fish's journey from the sea to my plate and because of God's protection and supervision of the world, it was safely able to make it to my plate. There I could eat it in thankfulness and receive energy and nourishment from it.
God is involved in doing all sorts of unseen things in our lives. The poet, William Watson, said, "God careless-handed gives the things that are more excellent." The things like food and shelter, the things like sunsets and sunrises and priceless things like family and friends. Thanksgiving day is a day to pause and take inventory of all these excellent things.
A friend recently gave me a little devotional about gratitude and asked me to put it in the church bulletin. It had good things to say and so I decided to adapt it into a simple prayer to open our eyes to the goodness of God and all we have to be thankful for. As we anticipate Thanksgiving Day, once again this year, may we all pause and truly give thanks. May you pray this prayer with me and have your eyes opened and your heart enlarged by all God has done for you-Happy Thanksgiving!
OPEN my eyes that I may see all things with gratitude.
GIVE me an appreciation of all the things I have been given, as well as all the things I have lost.
REMIND me of the priceless things I take for granted-health, happiness and relationships.
GIVE me the grace to see Your Hand in every experience and be grateful for it.
When sorrow comes-open me to your grace so I will receive your comfort.
When joy comes–give me a spirit of thanksgiving.
RENEW my heart and make every day a day of thanksgiving.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Our Savior,
Wesley Channell is a local minister and a columnist for The Atmore Advance. His column appears on Sunday.