Monday, November 7, 2011

Thanks and Giving: Gratitude is Not Enough

I have to admit I am a Christmas freak.  I love Christmas and everything it entails.  Even though I love every last strand of it, the true meaning of it does tend to get lost in all the tinsel and merriment.  So, for a 'truer' holiday my preference is Thanksgiving.  Even though football, turkeys and shopping have crept in to try and steal the day and the big Halloween push in stores seems to have overpowered Thanksgiving, it seems that the focus is still mainly on the reason the holiday was begun:  to give thanks.  It's a day that we put aside to give thanks to God for all He has done for us.  It's a day when we acknowledge that we are blessed and we give thanks for those gifts.  I think we've done pretty good to keep up the original intent of the holiday in general.  However, I have a small insight to share on giving thanks:  It's not enough.

While it is good to be grateful for what we've been given, it is not enough.  Let's think a bit on that.  Let's all agree that all of us who have access to this blog via any computer are blessed financially.  We have way more than 90 percent of the world.  So, why have we been given these blessings?  Why were you born in the country you were born in and given all the blessings you have?  Why has God poured out financial blessings on you?  Why do you live in a warm house with heating and air conditioning when so many people in the world have never even seen such a wonder.  Why do you have more food and clothing in your home than many have in their entire village.  For pity's sake, we have whole stores devoted to containing and organizing all our stuff.  We have so much that we need help to keep up with it all.  Why have I been given the Word of God in my language in a world that dying in darkness without the same? In the US there are literally thousands of ways each day where I can be exposed to the Bible and good teaching.  I would venture to say that we have more discipleship curriculum than we have disciples or disciplers.  We have been blessed.  But why?  It is just to be blessed?  Just to soak it all in and be grateful for it?  No.  I am blessed in order to bless others.

Many people go on mission trips and their eyes are opened to how most of the world spiritual darkness and/or extreme poverty. Lots of times they have one of two reactions to what they are exposed to:  either they feel sorry for those that they see or they become, at least for a season, more grateful for what they have.   But I say that neither of these things is enough.  It's not enough to feel sorry for all those who are not as well off as I am.  Pity is not enough.  Pity doesn't clothe or feed anyone.  When Jesus had pity or compassion on folks, he acted.  He healed them. He fed them.  He raised them from the dead.  He taught them.  He didn't just feel sorry for them.  He had compassion for them and then acted on that compassion.  He used what He had been given to ease their suffering.  Just like pity for those without as much as me is not enough, gratitude for what I do have is not enough.  It's not enough to be grateful for my blessings.  For instance when people return home from their mission trips they tell everyone who will listen how grateful they are for all they have been blessed with...both physically and spiritually.  They understand that they are blessed.  This is a good thing, right?  Well, once again, while I think that it is good to be thankful, it think it's lacking.  Being grateful should just be the beginning, not the end result of having our eyes open to all we have been given.  Since I am grateful to have been given, I should be motivated to give.   I believe that I was blessed in order to share those blessings not just to be appreciative for them.  I really am only a conduit.  I am to pass the blessings I have been given on.  Just think of God's example given to us in John 3:16.  God loved the world so much that He GAVE his only begotten Son.  He loved and was motivated to give.  The natural result of the love that He had was to give.  He had love, not just pity for those without or thankfulness for what He did have.  He had what the world needed, so He gave it to them.  He is our example.  It's not enough to feel sorry for people that don't have what we have or to be grateful that we have it.  We begin with compassion or gratitude and let that develop into love and ACT on that.

Let's look a little deeper at this.  I have been blessed with spiritual knowledge and wisdom.  In order to be built up myself?  No.  In order to build up others.   I have been given material blessings in order to help provide for those who do not have as much. Just as James teaches us that faith by itself is not enough.  Appreciation by itself is not enough either.  It's not enough to say 'Be warm and filled' to those who are cold and hungry.  It's not enough to be appreciative that we are better off than so many or to be grateful that we are not having to beg for our next meal or go without eating.  It's not enough to be glad that I have food, clothing and shelter and that I have so much food, clothing and shelter that it has become a problem.  A problem of managing all that I have.  We have been blessed not just to be blessed,not to just store up, but to be a blessing to pour out our blessings on others.  We are conduits of blessings.  All I have been given should flow freely into and out of my hands.  It's the way that God established for everyone to have their needs met.  Those to whom blessings have been given in turn give to others.  In fact in Luke 6:38 the Bible teaches that as we give He will give even more: "Give, and you will receive.  Your gift will return to you in full--pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap.  The amount you give will determine the amount you get back."  According to this there is a direct correlation between what I give and what I will receive.  God keeps on giving to those who are givers so that all will be blessed.

The Bible never teaches that we are blessed just to hang onto those blessings or simply to be thankful for them.  To the contrary, Scripture says that we have what we have so that we can share with those who don't have the same.  Most of the time in the Bible the word thankfulness is associated with some sort of giving.  In the Old Testament there was even a sacrifice of thanksgiving.  By definition the word sacrifice means that it costs me something....something dear.  A sacrifice by definition means that I am giving until it hurts.  It is the surrender of something prized or desirable.  It's not a sacrifice if I am giving something that I don't care about or want myself.  God even gave specific instructions on giving the best, not the left overs or the animals with blemishes or defects.  They were to give the best because it was a sacrifice to the Lord.  We are to do the same.  Remember our giving is primarily to Him.  We share with others to show that God is Lord over all we have.  We give to acknowledge that He owns all we have and He is the reason that we have anything in the first place. We are to give our best.  We are to share our best....not just what we don't want or what we have 'left over'.  We are to give out of our abundance, but also we are called at times to sacrifice our prized possessions.  

When Jesus sent out His disciples He told them that they were to give as freely as they had received.  I think that he tells us the same, but so many times we don't do it.  Somehow we think it's okay to just store up blessing and build bigger barns and houses and buy more stuff to organize all the stuff I already have instead of freely giving it.  God has given us so much and we store it all up and dam up the flow of blessings.  And then dissatisfaction creeps in when we see that others have bigger and better barns than we do.  So, we become even more greedy in hoarding what we've been given.  That is not God's plan.  It's that dissatisfaction that comes from hanging on to all we have that makes us need to be reminded to even be thankful.  I've found that those who give are already grateful for what they have received.  They acknowledge that all they have is a gift.  They don't need the 11th month of the year to remind them.  

So, thankfulness is not enough.  Appreciation acknowledges that we know we have been given something, but giving shows that we are like the Giver.  Which is our goal to be a receiver or to be like the One who gave us His Best?

It's not enough to be grateful that I:

  • don't suffer persecution for being a Christian.  What can I do to ease the suffering of those that do? 
  • have God's Word in my language.  What can I do to see that all other people groups have the same privilege? 
  • have enough food for today.  Where can I give to see that others can eat? have clean water to drink.  What I can do to help all people have this access? 
  • have a roof over my head.  How can I help those who don't? 
  • can meet in public with a group of fellow believers on a regular basis.  How can I encourage those who can not? 
  • have heard the Gospel since I was a child.  Who is God calling me to share the Good News with?  How can go myself and tell others in all parts of the world the Good News of Jesus' sacrificial death?  How can I financially support someone who is making Jesus' great commission a reality? 
  • have experienced the love of a father and a mother.  What can I do to ease the suffering of orphans of the world?
So, this Thanksgiving my challenge to you is to not just be thankful for your many blessings, but that your gratitude would motivate you to give.
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Lisa at The Cottage of Content said...

Amen, Denise - that is the answer, for us to be a conduit! God has been showing me this in a real way lately, and I am encouraged that as I grow more in love with him, I am less concerned with me. I know He will supply all my needs - I am here to be used by Him! Bless you and your wise words!

Stumbler said...

Wow! From the heart Denise.

The Holmans In Bolivia said...

Thank you both Lisa and Tim for your encouragement. This is one of those lessons that every time I think I have it down, I learn that I'm not totally there yet. Life is a process and I am in process. :>) I like your comment Lisa that as you grow more in love with Him you are less concerned with yourself. Me too. I want to keep on that path.

Mike said...

Ouch. Conviction can be painful. Great thoughts Denise...