At Kingston Bible College and Academy, we have an annual Thanksgiving Prepare-and-Share meal and devotional. The following is the text of the devotional I gave last week.
Good evening! Let’s turn to the book of Colossians, where we’ll read 4 verses that are the basis for tonight’s brief devotional.
Colossians 3:12-15: “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; 13 Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. 14 And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. 15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.”
These verses are God’s words to you as His chosen people – as people who have been made “holy,” people who are “beloved by God.” There is much here that we are to do, but I want to focus on the last exhortation that we read in verse 15: “be ye thankful.”
As I thought about those words, preparing for this devotional, I let my mind wander around that phrase, examining it from different angles. What does it mean to be thankful? Why do we express thanksgiving in our lives? I want you to let your mind explore the concept of thankfulness for a few minutes tonight.
Think of this: Why are we ever thankful? Sitting at the dinner table, we say, “Please pass the potatoes.” Why do you ask that? Do you ask that when the bowl of mashed potatoes is sitting there, steaming away, right in front of your plate? No, you ask that when you need someone to do something for you that you can’t do for yourself – or, at least, you can’t do it without being rude, like reaching halfway across the table shoving your elbows in people’s faces. And then, when a person has passed them to you, you say… “Thank you.” And you say that as an acknowledgement that they have just done something kind and helpful to you.
Of course, saying “Thank you” isn’t the same thing as being thankful, as we are told to be in this verse. Your little Johnny may be sitting by the Christmas tree, having just opened up his present from Aunt Mabel – yet another pair of socks, not the Lego set he wanted. And so you whisper in his ear, as he barely hides the groan inside, “Say thank you.” And he says, “ThankyouauntMabel.” That is hardly what Colossians 3:15 is talking about! God wants heartfelt thanks, not mumbled words.
Have you ever had anyone do something for you that was better and more wonderful than just passing the potatoes – something that was above and beyond the call of duty, something big, something that really helped you? When they did that, what did you feel? Didn’t you feel something like… thankfulness? You felt grateful, happy, the recipient of a kindness, the wonder and humility of feeling yourself in someone’s debt – someone who gladly gave to you. You felt thankful from your heart.
But if I say to you, “Now, go do that; be thankful,” and stop there, I will have failed. You can’t just make yourself feel thankful by your own willpower. Our emotions are primarily involved. You can’t just sit there tonight as I say to you, “Be thankful,” and go, “Mmmph… OK, I got it. I’m feeling thankful right now.”
Now, let’s take that something a friend did for you, that I asked you to remember a minute ago, that made you feel thankful. Pause a moment and think about what they did. Remember it. How do you feel now? Don’t you feel a glimmer of that same thankful feeling? Didn’t remembering their kindness rekindle a flame of thankfulness and joy?
Let’s think of the opposite happening – someone doing something for you, with the result that you didn’t feel thankful. Have you ever been guilty of that? Why was that? Perhaps you were very young, as I was, when my parents paid, over a period of several years, hundreds of dollars for my piano lessons – money that I certainly could not have afforded to pay! And, at the time, I must say, I think I felt no thankfulness. Perhaps you can say the same about the sacrifices of your parents when you were a child; they weren’t a big deal to you. Why is that? I think it is because you had no idea how much they were actually doing for you. Of course they gave you a home to live in, and fed you meals, and loved you, and paid for clothes and toys – they’re your parents; that’s just what they do! You were immature and ignorant.
But now, when you think back over what people who loved you did for you when you were growing up, what do you feel? Do you feel thankful now? What made the difference? I think that one difference is that now you realize how dependent you were upon your parents and teachers; then, you were blissfully ignorant of your own neediness and helplessness. You have matured and are more knowledgeable than in your childhood.
Now, in our text, we are being told primarily, I think, to be thankful to God. We should be thankful to our parents, to our teachers, to our loved ones. But how much more should we be thankful to God!
What has God done for you? Anything more than just passing the potatoes? Has He ever done anything for you that was above and beyond the call of duty, something big, something that really helped you? Hmm… how about… only everything? When Jacob was returning back to the Promised Land, he shook his head in wonder and told the Lord, “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies, and of all the truth, which thou hast shewed unto thy servant” (Gen. 32:10). After God promised David a never-ending dynasty, David bowed his head in amazement and said, “Who am I, O Lord GOD? and what is my house, that thou hast brought me hitherto? And this was yet a small thing in thy sight, O Lord GOD” (II Sam. 7:18b-19). At the end of his life, this same great king prayed before all the people of Israel, “Blessed be thou, LORD God of Israel our father, for ever and ever. 11 Thine, O LORD, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine; thine is the kingdom, O LORD, and thou art exalted as head above all. 12 Both riches and honour come of thee, and thou reignest over all; and in thine hand is power and might; and in thine hand it is to make great, and to give strength unto all. 13 Now therefore, our God, we thank thee, and praise thy glorious name” (II Chron. 29:10b-13).
Last week, Gayle and Val and Jannik and I went for a walk on Lawrencetown Beach along the grass-covered sand dunes. The sun was about to go down and turned the grass a green-golden colour, making our shadows long. The sky was bright blue; the breeze was refreshing; and the waves crashed against the sandy beach. And as I walked, I thought, “Everything we’re enjoying here tonight is from God. My family, my baby, the sunshine, the sea. We are simply unworthy recipients of blessing upon blessing from “the Father of lights” (James 1:17). Every joy is pure gift, and every breath is grace. I thanked the Lord for His overwhelming goodness that evening.
Yet how often is the feeling of thankfulness absent from my heart and from yours? Why is that? Could it be for the same reason why thankfulness was absent from our childhood: because of our ignorance of our true neediness and our spiritual immaturity? So often we think, “I can take care of myself. I can provide for myself and my family; I can meet all my needs.” And we say this with all the smug self-assurance of a six-year-old feeling self-important and powerful, sitting on the bed her parents bought, warmed by the heat pump her parents paid for, wearing the clothes her parents gave her, stuffed with the food her parents cooked.
So how can we obey the command “Be ye thankful”? By meditating on the mighty works and blessings of God, in contrast with our weakness. We must not be ignorant of what God has done in our lives, and we must remember how helpless we really are without Him. And we must do this daily.
When you pray, do you begin with thanksgiving? Do you begin by praising God for who He is and what He has done for you? If not, then no wonder thanksgiving is so absent from your heart. Let’s embrace the daily discipline of meditation on God’s blessings to us and to the world, that we might be able to obey this command: “Be ye thankful.”