Hear the voice of Matthew Henry, a venerable saint, calling God’s people to give thanks:
“Our errand at the throne of grace is not only to seek the favor of God, but to ascribe to him the glory due his name, (Psalm 29:2) and that, not only by an awe-filled adoration of his infinite perfections, but by a grateful acknowledgment of his goodness to us, which cannot indeed add anything to his glory, but he is pleased to accept of it and to reckon himself glorified by it, if it comes from a heart that is humbly sensible of its own unworthiness to receive any favor from God, that values the gifts and loves the Giver of them. We must stir up ourselves to praise God with the consideration [of his lavish goodness toward us.”
Giving thanks to God is the Christian community’s “errand,” says Henry—our high calling and solemn duty. Why? Because life—our own life, and our life together—is a sheer gift from God, one we never deserved. The appropriate response, therefore, is to do two things: to take delight in the gift—to revel in and to savor it; and then, in response to bless the Giver with lavish thanks. For from him all of our life’s blessings flow. Not to give thanks is worse than dull indelicacy and bad manners; it is a sign of apostacy—shameless evil. (cf. II Timothy 3.2).
We must be particular and specific as we recall the many instances of God’s goodness toward us. The hymnwriter was wise: “Count your many blessings; name them one by one.” Again, why? Because “it will surprise [us] what the Lord has done.” Reciting them specifically will move us to shudder with delight and joy. We’ll become “lost in wonder, love and praise.” Here are eight areas worth exploring:
David Steindl Rast recalls a letter he received from his fellow monk in northern Minnesota. Awaking to find the surrounding landscape blanketed with freshly fallen snow, his friend wrote to David: “I woke up early this morning and caught God painting the trees white. The Lord often does some of his finest work at night to surprise me when I wake up.”
To see creation as a gift and to discover its lavish beauties requires an openness to wonder and to surprise. It takes slowing down in order to let the blessings catch up. It calls for a psalmist-like eager openness to be able to take in the generous beauty on display in the “theater of God’s glory,” as John Calvin calls creation.
And the goal of such meditating? It is to cultivate reverie and delight, and to offer the Creator due praise. Its purpose is to exclaim: “O Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.” (Psalm 8)
With a heart wide open to Psalm 139.13-16, meditate—slowly, carefully, and well—the wonder of your own createdness. Recall the surge of delight God felt when he brought you—specifically you—to birth, and the joy he feels now as he beholds you for who and what you are—an astonishing expression of his creative power . God longed to have you—yes, you specifically—in the world he made. And not another you. No, this you, in all of your uniqueness. God deserves thanks for giving you the gift of yourself.
Jesus assures us that our Father in heaven, who cares daily for sparrows and lilies, cares even more for each of us. Our Father keeps careful eye on our life’s tiniest, most fine-print details, and holds them in his strong and caring embrace. Awareness of this fact led one saint, amid a life marked by decades of immense physical suffering, nonetheless forthrightly to declare: “What a glorious feeling to be able to pillow my head, knowing that if I live, the Lord is with me; and if I die, I am with the Lord.” God is with us, and promises never to leave us to face our circumstances alone. Give thanks for his reassuring presence.
Amid life’s avalanche of questions and challenges, Scripture’s promises console us and give hope. Its commands mark out for us a path of life-fulfilling obedience. Thus, the Psalmist’s words bid us to respond: “May my lips overflow with praise, for you teach me your decrees.” (Ps. 119.171)
Says British pastor/evangelist G. Campbell Morgan (1863-1945): “There are some things you have to put in the first person singular. He loved me; He gave Himself up for me; for me He rose, for me He ascended, for me He received the Spirit, for me He poured that Spirit forth. There is the great and wonderful procession.” One too few times per day—always one too few—we have thanked our Savior for surrendering his life willingly in order to save us.
About to depart this earth, Jesus reassured his disciples and us: “I will not leave you as orphans.” (John 14.18) He pledged to send his Spirit. The gift of his Spirit secures Jesus’ presence among us; it confers Jesus’ power upon us.
Belonging to him, believers in Jesus Christ thus also belong to one another. Together they form the Church, the Bride he so much loves. Sharing in him, God’s people also share with one another the treasures and gifts he has given them. What a Divine gift belonging to the community of Christian faith really is!
Wave after wave of sad despair keeps surging over our contemporary societal landscape. The aftermath: joy swept away and hope drowned out in the lives of so many. How reassuring to be able to take refuge behind the bulwark of Jesus Christ’s resurrection. How fitting, too, to give thanks to the Triune God to be able to look toward tomorrow more with eager trust than with cowering fear.
Take these eight for what they are: terrain chock-full with treasures of Divine goodness for Christians to uncover and explore; places to cultivate wonder and delight, and then to respond with fitting thanks. So do some exploring on your own, and then bring the Giver your own thanks. For thanks to him must be personal. Christian thanks must be communal, too. Hence at this season we Christians congregate and declare with common voice:
O, we would bless You for your ceaseless care
And all your wondrous works from day to day declare;
Is not our life with hourly mercies crowned?
Does not your arm encircle us around?
Accept, O Lord, our thanks and praise for all you have done for us. We ask for one more gift: hearts that swell with ever-increasing delight and gratitude.