As we head into November, it is appropriate and helpful to think about thanksgiving, the giving of thanks, the cultivation of a grateful heart. I would like to start by considering an interesting passage:
And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. ‘I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14).
Here we see a devoutly religious man giving thanks. What could be wrong with that? Jesus explains that his thanks fall short because his prayer of thanksgiving is self-focused rather than God focused. The Pharisee’s thanksgiving is about his feeling good about himself. The tax collector knew that he had no cause to feel good about himself, and his prayer is God-focused. And it is in this culturally-despised sinner that God takes pleasure.
I think we can learn a great deal from this passage. Not all thanksgiving is created equal! The giving of thanks is much more than finding things for which to be thankful. While it is not inappropriate to thank God for our health, families, homes, and jobs, the real “rubber meets the road” issue is that of context. Do we see our health, families, homes, and jobs as products of our hard work and effort.? Or do we, like the tax collector in our story, genuinely realize that we can earn nothing before God and that even as we see good in our labor, it is the gift of God (Ecclesiastes 3:13)?
Thanksgiving is an opportunity to come before God and to ask Him to reveal Himself to us. And then, as we catch a glimpse of who He is, we can begin to see who we are before Him—unworthy and empty-handed but blessed by His mercy, grace, love, and all of His abundant provision. Then we are truly in a position to give thanks and glorify God.