One of my least favorite phrases or questions about thanksgiving is: “If you woke up tomorrow
and only had the things you thanked God for yesterday, what would you have?” The question is
terribly Law-based. It naturally leads to either of two bad extremes: pride in one’s thanksgiving,
or despair in one’s lack of gratitude. Few of us offer our almighty God nearly as much thanks as
we ought. We are a people blessed to have been born in this time and location in history. We
enjoy plenty, want for little, and have access to more information, sustenance, and leisure than
even kings of previous eras. And for an increasing number this abundant reality has always
been just that: reality, a way of life. Stories of want were just that, stories from parents or
grandparents, comments of a by-gone time that was surely difficult but gone and wondrously
replaced with the plenty we enjoy in our modern era.
Back to the question asked and its two pit-falls of pride and despair. Blessing is not meant to
lead us to either of those extremes, rather blessing properly brings out of its recipient:
thanksgiving born out of humbleness. Luther tackles this squarely in the meaning to the Fourth
Petition of the Lord’s prayer when talking about “daily bread.” He writes: “God certainly gives
daily bread to everyone without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.” Luther answers both of those pitfalls above. He states clearly that God gives not because we deserve it, nor because we will be thankful enough! The question asked assumes that we can or should, or correctively need to be thankful enough and don’t deserve anything if we aren’t thankful, hence pride over thanksgiving or despair over lack of it.
Luther acknowledges that we can’t be thankful enough, and rather than leaving us off the hook
and without need for thanksgiving, he lifts the despairing and lowers the prideful to see the
gracious hand of God that opens to all. Namely, that the Lord of heaven and earth has looked up
you and answered your needs, even without your acknowledgement. God has determined what
is good and necessary for you even beyond what you had thought or planned or desired. God
has done this not because you are so great or so humble or so deserving, but because of His
great and over abundant love for you!
Acknowledging this we are naturally brought into a posture of humbleness, which is a far better
place to be than haughty or despairing. The humble does not need to be forced down, nor does it
feel unduly weighed down. Rather, the humble chooses to kneel down before the Almighty, and
God reaches down and raises our eyes to gaze upon the beauty and abundance of His gracious
favor to us, that we would be filled with gratitude. This is the true joy of thanksgiving, you’ve
felt it before, being overwhelmed and overcome with the sheer joy of what others have done for
you – what God has done for you. When thanksgiving is more than a mere thank you card, but
joy that flows from a truly grateful heart because of the overwhelming graciousness of God who
has sent His Son to fill our hearts and lives with such joy, peace, thankfulness and love for our
God and our neighbor.
May your Thanksgiving be filled with such graciousness and gratitude!