“Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” ~I Thessalonians 5:16-18
Every second Saturday of the month at Centre Street is the Men’s Breakfast. So, bright and early, there we were, enjoying sausage, scrambled eggs, toast and hash browns. It just so happened that it was Thanksgiving weekend. So, the no brainer theme of the devotion had to do with thanksgiving. What I shared with the fellas, had to do with a contrast; the difference between thanksgiving/gratitude and selfishness/bitterness.
I have come to conclusion that the opposite of thankfulness is not simply being ungrateful. Thanksgiving is more than just a sentiment of appreciation. I believe that because thanksgiving is a response to a bounty- of sharing and appreciation- the opposite would be selfishness, hostility, bitterness. The thankful person uses what they have; they share, enjoy, bless, and demonstrate proper stewardship and generosity with something handed to them, whether from God, or someone else. The opposite is to reject the gift, resent the giver or to hoard, undervalue, or misuse the gift.
It’s no secret that we live in a culture of entitlement. People feel like the deserve things- “I am entitled to my entitlements”. This of course fosters selfishness; it’s mine, there is no reason for me to share, get your own, if you were as good as me you’d have what I have, and it’s not my problem that you are without. Thankfulness and sharing is counter-cultural these days.
But of course, biblically it’s impossible to defend this kind of attitude (in spite of what some folks may attempt- I actually heard one renowned preacher this weekend talk about seizing the blessings from God for yourself- even though the world will resent your success). Jesus told his followers, “The man who has two tunics is to share with him who has none; and he who has food is to do likewise” (Luke 3:11). I am not suggesting we all have to take vows of poverty, but to hold our own situation is relation to those around us. In spite of what Glenn Beck says, there is a biblical call to redistribute wealth- not in coercive state-run sense like communism, but in the spirit of generosity, charity and love. That’s where Beck’s argument falls apart. Just because I want to see some economic equality between myself and my neighbour doesn’t mean I’m communist, but it means I am grateful for what I have. What I have is not there because I was entitled to it, but because I am blessed by God. Yes, I work for my salary, so in a sense I “earn” my pay. But of course, I live in a country where I can find a job, where resources are available, and people have opportunities. That has nothing to do with my efforts, and therefore I have no right to claim entitlement, and selfishly hold back what I have from my neighbour in need. My efforts are useless in and of themselves- they only “produce” anything through a whole line of circumstances which are outside of my control.
Paul told the Thessalonian church to be rejoice, pray and give thanks. These three things are linked. Prayer, rejoicing and thanksgiving flow best when together. Greed, entitlement, bitterness makes people sullen, dull, unpleasant. When we believe things come because I deserve them for my own enjoyment and hoarding we are likely to become joyless.
In summary, thanksgiving is a “holiday”- a day off work for most people. It’s been stripped of most of its spiritual qualities in our pop culture. But its origins are in worship and praise to God for access to good things. It was a time of community, sharing, fellowship and worship- not an excuse to eat turkey and watch football.