Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Giving Thanks ...

Ceremony and gratitude are not the same. Because a custom is repeated, even remembered, does not necessarily engender the feelings of those who started it. Often those who believe in our Creator God replace meaning in their words with mere repetition of their words. This becomes evident just prior to meal times, and sometimes just prior to going to sleep at night. Times like this recent holiday when we pause for a moment to give thanks.

Gratitude, as feelings go, seems like a foreign concept in this world of ours. No matter what the achievement, there is always something more to chase after, and rarely a moment is spent in thanks for the journey thus far. People are amazed that even life changing events do not always warrant thanks. Take the story of the 10 Lepers that Christ healed in His journeys between Samaria and Galilee. Ten men with a fatal disease call for mercy. All ten called out. All ten needed healing. All ten were doomed to die. All ten were healed. Only one came back to give thanks.

Were the other guys just too happy to think about giving thanks right away? Were they so overcome by the miracle they experienced that they needed to get home and tell their families and friends all the great deeds the Master had just done, for them personally? Was time of the essence? Perhaps they were so lonely from being kept away from former friends and family that every second counted in getting back to them. They needed to prove they were healed. They needed the fellowship of those who cared about them. They were excited. They were happy. They were on a clock. For everyone, and everything perhaps, except to make time to thank the one who had literally given them their lives back.

Christians ironically, are the most guilty of this. The immense life changing blessings that Christians are so often given, have become so common-place in our own eyes, we fail to thank the One who sends them all to us free of charge. Those who have been forgiven much … perhaps should take a minute and realize just HOW much, and how often, and how far, they have been brought. Those who have been forgiven much … should remember that they are not the judge of others, as they would not have wanted others to judge them. Those who have been forgiven much … as they begin to see Christ more clearly, will immediately see their own corruption more vividly and realize how much more they require forgiveness and reform.

Christians have come to prize ceremony more than meaning. The pre-meal blessing is a good example. Those who are faithful to ask God for His blessing on the food they are about to eat; do they know ‘why’ they pray what they do? Do they take the time to vary the words, or do they fall into a trap of saying the same 4 or 5 prayers over and over and over again? Ceremony, with hollow sentiment. Why do we ask God to bless food He has provided for us? Is it to remember He is the one who created all food in the first place? Is it to remember that without His providence we might actually be going hungry? Are we saying God loves us more, because we eat, and there are those that do not? Are we saying that without His blessing the food will not “nourish our bodies”? If in fact we are actually grateful for the food, why not offer thanks at the end of a fine meal, rather than before we know if we like it or not?

When Christ blessed the food, he fed 5,000 men, plus women and children with 2 small fish and a few loaves of bread. Enough food for everyone with much left over. That was a blessing on food. He took everything the young boy had to eat, and made it enough for everyone listening to his words to be completely full. Thousands fed from the meal of one. That was a blessing. What is our intent? Can we call it gratitude if we don’t really mean it?

This is what happens when manna falls from the sky every morning, enough for the day alone. Twice the ration on Friday so that no work will be required on Sabbath to prepare it. A daily miracle. Bread, falling from heaven in the middle of an otherwise horrific place known as the desert. Add to this daily miracle, another daily miracle of perfect weather. No scorching sun by day, as a cloud overshadowed the entire camp and provided both shade and moderate cool temperatures. At night, no biting cold, as the cloud became a pillar of fire, providing both light, and warmth, for the entire camp. Literally no one suffered. Not a single poisonous snake, spider, or scorpion came out to bite anyone. Every need was met. Every day for forty years. No lack of water (short one significant incident). No normal problems of living in the desert, their clothes were maintained like new. Nothing wore out. No sickness, no disease. Every need met, with every day miracles, and was gratitude the response – Nope. They complained about what they did not have.

We marvel at the stiff necked Israelites and then turn around and mimic their every action. God puts food on our tables, enough for the day, and we worry and fret about whether we will eat again tomorrow. Or perhaps, we are so secure in knowing where our next meal is coming from, that Publix, Safeway, or Albertsons are conveniences that have completely replaced manna. We take our ability to bring home food and put it on our tables so much for granted that we dare not give it even a second thought. Are we really grateful, every time we eat, I doubt it. I think just like the Israelites, we focus our attentions on the things we do not have just yet. Better food, better things, better jobs, more money, more popularity, more, more more…

When you lack the motive to pray, your prayers become empty words. If you do not know why you are asking for God’s blessing on your food, what do you say? There is a simple way of reminding yourself why you are grateful for food you eat each day. Skip a meal. Go without. Not forever, don’t plan on starving yourself, just miss a meal you were looking forward to. That irresistible urge you have to find something to eat, that overwhelming focus your mind has on all things food; those are signs of just how grateful you should be. If those Israelites had not had food every day, they might not have taken it for granted how good it really was under God’ care. Just like you. If you missed meals you really wanted from time to time you might remember more often how good you have it under God’s care.

But herein is the beauty of our God, He knows all this and could easily inflict it on us, to teach us this lesson, yet He does not. Whether we thank Him or not, He provides, every day, every need. That whole Israelite camp was fed every day, not one person went hungry. Zero hunger for forty years. And yes, He even responded to their complaining about a lack of meat and provided quail. Enough of it for it to be coming out of their ears. They got the message. Just like with you. God does not stop providing for you whether you thank Him or not. He makes sure you are fed every day. He takes care of your physical needs consistently. He does not stop feeding you to teach you gratitude. He could, but just like with Israel of old, He doesn’t punish you by taking things away to make you grateful. He just keeps on giving, faithfully. God does not provide for you to find your gratitude, He cares for you because He loves you.

A screaming 2yr old, spoiled by a constant series of gifts, does not engender feelings of generosity. This is so often the image Christians portray to both God and the world around them. They complain incessantly about the things they lack, the more they want, and the time it takes to get them. Just like the 2yr old they do not take time to recall all the things they have been given, how their care is guaranteed, how much love and forgiveness they receive every day, how someone changes those dirty diapers despite what an ugly job it may be. But that is what our God does for us each day, He removes the filth of our sins from us, cleaning us up again, feeding us, clothing us, and getting us ready for the world each day. We would do well to remember why we pray, remember why we are thankful. When we do, our words will carry meaning. Our prayers will actually have something to say. Ceremony disappears, and meaning emerges…

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