By Ashley Steelman
I heard a young man give his testimony the other day for the first time. It was powerful and moving. Not particularly because he was an eloquent speaker or a great writer… His story is actually similar to others I have heard and even to my own. What made it so powerful was the fact that you could feel his gratitude to the Lord for his salvation. His tears, the passion with which he spoke – all conveyed a deep and overwhelming, heartfelt thankfulness for the wonderful and undeserved gift of God’s Grace.
I cry, just as so many of us do, every time I share my own testimony. Not because of sad beginnings, or in the remembrance of the hopelessness I once felt, but because of gratefulness. I am not so far removed from my past or so free of the sins that wait crouching at my door every single day to overpower me – that I have forgotten that first taste of what God’s Salvation truly means. I have not forgotten how it felt the first time I recognized God’s good will toward me. I remember the awakening of a sense of my being undeserving of that good will or His love and mercy. I remember the first stirring of the sweet thankfulness for being loved like this. I cannot think of all that God has done for me, I cannot think of all that he has forgiven me for, I cannot look at who I truly am without Jesus and not be downright overcome with the utmost gratefulness.
This month, most of us will gather as family and friends around a table and share in the lavish meal we call Thanksgiving. But before the flurry of housecleaning and feast preparation, before we dig into our familiar food and football traditions and the day passes in a rich, but largely thankless blur, let’s think about the feast of Thanksgiving another way.
I LOVE this holiday. Playing in my kitchen, loving on my family, the smell of fall and yummy goodies permeating my house, even the sound of people watching football. A traditional Thanksgiving meal featuring turkey and all the fixin’s (ahhh… cornbread dressing swimming in a sea of giblet gravy) is one of my all-time favorite meals. But Thanksgiving is not really about the feast of food. Thanksgiving is about feasting on the abundant, overflowin g, all-sufficient grace of God in all that he is for us and all that he has done, is doing, and promises to do for us. That abundant, delicious feast sitting on our kitchen table is intended to be a symbol, a small picture, a momentary glimpse of what God’s grace is like. It is meant to help us “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).
We are not, by nature, thankful people. We are naturally very selfish. We have to be reminded to be thankful. Think about when we were kids and grandmother or one of the aunts gave us a gift – how many times did mom say “remember to say thank-you”? Being reminded to give thanks is also biblical. Over and over again we see it in Psalms. Over and over again we are reminded to give thanks in the new testament.
God reminds us frequently because we need to be reminded. But we can tune his reminders out just like we used to tune mom out. And we can do with God what we learned early on to do with everybody else – smile real pretty and say thank you whether we feel any real gratitude or not. Being taught good manners (and maybe just being plain old self-absorbed sinners) we learned to use expressions of gratitude more as social graces rather than real, heart-felt expressions of amazement that someone showed us kindness or generosity or sacrificed on our behalf.
We’ve learned to say thank you without feeling thankful and to think it’s okay. We can make ourselves say, “Thank you,” whether we feel it or not. But it’s not a good habit, especially in relation to God.
And now when we hear the Bible tell us to “give thanks”, as in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”, we can do the same thing and turn it into an obligatory statement rather than an expression of an astounded, overwhelming realization that we have received mind-bending grace from him. We’ve learned to say thank you without feeling thankful and to think that that’s good enough.
When God commands us to “give thanks in all circumstances”, he does not want some superficial spiritual courtesy from us. It’s not like he needs our words of thanks or he’ll get his feelings hurt, like mom might have. He is grieved for us because we are missing the point and missing out on true joy.
God’s command for us to be thankful is meant to cure us of our selfishness. It is an invitation to see the glory of God’s grace that is everywhere we look (when we choose to look). It is an invitation for us to leave our sin and selfishness behind and receive the immeasurable riches of God’s grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. The command for us to be thankful is God commanding us to experience the deep joy of true gratitude for all God promises to be for us in Christ forever. It is a command of profound kindness.
Jesus warns against vain worship in Matthew 15:8–9 “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me”. Giving thanks without feeling thankful is empty. It don’t count much with God.
Genuine thankfulness is not just lip service. It is an act of the heart’s affections, it is not willed, or something decided, but awakened in us. We don’t just decide to be thankful – it is a reflex of the heart. It is something that happens to us. We become aware of God and all his promises, and either we feel gratitude, or we are crusty hearted and ungrateful.
In my Pastor’s sermon, For the Glory of God Alone, he talked about the questions many theologians and so many of us have struggled with; “Why am I here? What is my purpose? Why was I created”? And also “What is the greatest good any of us could do on this earth”?
The answer – Our purpose is to bring glory to God the Father. Our lives, our work, our love, our worship, our thanksgiving… everything is meant for HIM and for HIS glory.
Psalm 50:23 says “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me” This offering of thanksgiving which glorifies God is gratitude truly felt in the heart. That is the only kind of sacrifice that pleases him.
Psalm 51:16–17 “You will not delight in sacrifice . . . you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise”. This is the kind of heart that can truly feel gratitude for grace.
So, the sacrifice of thanksgiving that glorifies God is the offering of contrite and broken-hearted thankfulness for undeserved mercies. This glorifies God. This is the heart and the passion I heard and felt when I listened to the young man’s testimony. This is the kind of gratefulness we all should feel when we look at God and his saving grace. This is the thankfulness that should drive us to tell others about Jesus.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:15, “As grace extends to more and more people it increases thanksgiving, to the glory of God.” The progression goes like this: God’s grace is experienced as wonderful and undeserved heartfelt thanks. Gratefulness rises in the heart; this true feeling overflows with thanksgiving and God is glorified. Through our thankfulness and through our testimonies we point others to a glorious God.
Our testimony about our savior is literally a divine seed of GOD that gets planted in the hearts of the unsaved when it is shared in thankfulness and deep appreciation for what Jesus Christ means to you and what He has accomplished for you through His death, burial and resurrection! Your testimony of thankfulness brings glory to god and encourages others to seek him. It is like pastor said, “one beggar showing another beggar where he found bread”.
Scripture reveals the overcoming force inherent in our testimonies. “… for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony…” (Rev. 12:10-11).
In the Old Testament, the word testimony comes from a word meaning “do again.” So, testimonies reveal what we can expect God to do again. Sharing our testimony encourages and imparts faith to others, and releases God’s power to perform similar acts. Everybody has a testimony—a story—which defines, shapes, moves or drives them. From a spiritual perspective, our stories might center around our salvation experience, a healing, an emotional breakthrough, or an encounter with the power of God. But they all result in overwhelming gratitude to an all mighty God.
Authentic heart-feelings are not in our control. We can’t make ourselves feel thankfulness. If our hearts are not moved by God’s goodness, we are simply ungrateful. Thankfulness is a work of grace. This Thanksgiving, when we sit down around the table with family and friends, like Jesus, let the meal we will share be a finger pointing to the abounding grace of God and let our thankfulness and testimony bring glory to God.
Jesus “took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples.” At the Last Supper Jesus took bread and gave thanks, lifted the cup, gave thanks and offered it to His followers. Jesus always prayed before meals.
We can, too. A simple prayer of thanks at each family meal will gradually restore thankfulness to us. As our children see us humble ourselves to thank our Creator, they too learn to be grateful. Robert Lintner said it well: “Thanksgiving was never meant to be shut up in a single day.”
This habit of family thankfulness can begin round our tables this Thanksgiving. If you think you have nothing to be thankful for, perhaps it’s time to recognize that Christ died for your sins, so that you might have eternal life.
The Bible says that God sent His only begotten Son, Jesus, to die for our sins, that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16) Now, that’s something to be thankful about. It also says that if you confess with your mouth, that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9) Pray something like this:
Jesus, please forgive me for my sin. I’ve made so many mistakes. I know that you died for me and that you have a plan for my life. Please teach me your ways and help me to live my life for you, to be thankful each and everyday for the rest of my life. I want to start a new life with you leading the way. Amen
Congratulations, if you have prayed this prayer the Bible says, “Therefore if any man [be] in Christ, [he is] a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2Cr 5:17)
If you’ve prayed this prayer for the first time or are renewing your commitment to the Lord, please let us know so that we can pray for you as you start your new life in Christ.