My head swims in our culture’s current social and political climate with cries of “fake news.” It can indeed be unsettling. But there’s something far more unsettling in the church—something that threatens our very worship before God. It is “fake thanks.”
“Thanks!” can be said in multiple ways, right? There’s the genuine version, like when you open an unexpected gift that is a token of overwhelming generosity. Then there’s the sarcastic version, as if to imply with a snarky “thanks for nuthin’!” when you were hoping for one thing but then think you’re no better off. But there’s another version where it’s simply reflexive lip-service. Maybe as if to say “thanks, I got it from here,” or “oh yeah… um, thanks,” or simply a quick acknowledgment that distracts us only momentarily from some other focus. We’ve all been guilty of that latter variety with God, and that’s the one that so insidiously undermines our walk with Him.
Thanksgiving seems to get short-changed when we hear people list essential themes of the bible. For some, it might even be pigeonholed to just a single day on the yearly calendar. Yet thanksgiving undergirds our very identity as Christians to the point that the scriptures are bursting at the seams with it. Here are three reasons why giving thanks might be more crucial than you think:
1. It is central to who we are as “God’s chosen ones.”
Colossians 3:12-17 is an amazing summary of the character God is growing in us as Christians. It’s packed with so many facets of our life in Christ, and with almost all of them, it also gives compelling reasons for their value. Here are a few:
- put on compassion and kindness because God chose you to represent himself
- forgive others just like God has forgiven you
- put on love as it’s the perfect bond that unifies
But right smack in the middle of all those traits and reasons is this simple sentence: “Be thankful.” No explanation or compelling logic needed. In fact, the entire passage is punctuated with this final exhortation to us as “God's chosen ones” (v. 12):
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17, ESV)
Thankfulness is a foundation of our identity as a Christ-follower.
2. It is the fuel of our prayers.
We might be tempted to say that faith is the key element of prayer. After all, I need to believe in the power and benevolence of the one to whom I’m praying or what’s the point, right? But scripture suggests that thanksgiving is at the heart of prayer. Not just prayers of thanking God for his help or blessings, but even prayers that express our anxieties, our fears, our needs, our desires for those whom we love… all our prayers are framed in thanksgiving.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6, ESV)
“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” (Colossians 4:2, ESV)
While giving thanks to God is indeed a prayer subject of its own, it’s also the entire attitude and framework that engulfs our prayers before the Lord.
3. Our worship is rather pointless without it.
Got the idea yet that thankfulness is a root of our entire heart posture before the Lord? Consider this: the core of every sin is self. Every possible manner of displeasing or rebelling against God can be traced to a focus on oneself. From the moment sin entered into the world (“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took…” Genesis 3:6, ESV) to this very moment, the sin nature is oriented to self as supreme. Find any “list of sins” in the Bible (such as Proverbs 6:16-19 or Colossians 3:5-9) and every single one of them can be traced to a laser-focus on selfish desires in one form or another.
Proper thankfulness takes the focus off of self and onto our God from whom all blessings flow. God seems to direct that our thankful focus is the very heart of worship. To worship God is to esteem him rightly… properly… recognizing both his and our proper place in relation to one another.
In Psalm 50, we hear God speaking about sacrifices and what he desires:
“Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats?
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and perform your vows to the Most High,
and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”
But to the wicked God says:
“What right have you to recite my statutes
or take my covenant on your lips?
For you hate discipline,
and you cast my words behind you.
“...Mark this, then, you who forget God,
lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver!
The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me;
to one who orders his way rightly
I will show the salvation of God!”
(Psalm 50:13-17, 22-23, ESV)
God wants our heart of thanksgiving as our worship. He rebukes those who go through the motions of worship but actually cast his words behind and focus merely on a “what’s in it for me” attitude. It is our offering of thanksgiving, God says, that glorifies him.
So as we consider our identity as Christians, does thankfulness characterize us?
As we seek God in prayer, are our requests and outpourings to Him wrapped in a heart of thanksgiving?
As we come before him with our worship in song and prayer and word, are we coming foremost with thanksgiving as our offering?
Because anything else might just be “fake thanks.”