Around the Thanksgiving table, we often find ourselves offering Little Jack Horner prayers. We thank God for our homes and our tables loaded with food, for our TV's and our stereos and our cars, for our families and our friends and our town.
Nothing wrong with that, really, but in the backs of our minds, we kind of believe that we deserve all those things. We figure that we've worked long and hard and we've earned all these blessings. And if that's the case, we end up finding it rather difficult to thank God for what we have, because we have a difficult time seeing what role God had in supplying those things to our lives.
We're like the farmer who was working in his field when the preacher came by. The pastor saw the fruitful fields all planted with corn waving gently in the breeze. "Thank God for this beautiful, bountiful farm that he has given to you," he said. "Preacher," the farmer said, "you should have seen it when God had it all to himself!"
Although God appreciates our gratitude for all the good things of life, for family, friends, food, for a home, a job, health, and so on, what happens when we lack these things? Does that mean we cannot give thanks? The apostle Paul encourages us to give thanks for nothing. In fact, he offers us the example of his own thanksgiving for no thing at all--not one physical, material, tangible thing.
Instead, Paul gives thanks for things which are not things: Faith in God, love to each other, a spirit of wisdom and understanding, and the immeasurable greatness of God's power (Ephesians 1:15-19).
None of these blessings can be seen, touched, purchased or possessed. And yet, they are the greatest gifts we could ever receive. To give thanks for the intangibles frees us from the cycle of happiness and despair as our fortunes rise and fall. It is the recognition of the transient reality of things and the eternal value of faith, of hope, of love. True gratitude is our response to the recognition that it is all about God and it is finally not all about us.
Richard Safford is pastor at Community Presbyterian Church.