ALWAYS AND FOR EVERYTHING
Written by Doug Ponder on September 25, 2016
What “Thank You” Means
“Thank you” is among the first phrases we teach our children. We offer prayers of thanks before meals. We express thanks for our civic freedoms or for the soldiers who have fought to secure them. In acceptance speeches for receiving public awards, almost every actor and musician extends ‘a big thanks to God and to everyone who made this possible.’ It seems saying “thank you” is so deeply ingrained in us that we say it habitually, without awareness and even without any real feelings of gratitude!
But what if “thank you” is not just a throwaway phrase? What if saying “thank you” is more than some arbitrary code of manners, and even strikes at the heart of what it means to be human? What if God’s command to “giv[e] thanks always and for everything” (Eph 5:20) is not meant to be another action to check off the list, but a basic posture for all of life? And what if all of these “what ifs” aren’t actually questions, but statements about the way things truly are?
Whether we realize it or not, to say “thank you” (and truly mean it) is to acknowledge three things: (1) the giver of a gift, (2) the gift that was given, and (3) our glad reception of the gift. In other words, our urge to say “thanks” is connected to the fabric of the world, and it invites us to ask three questions: Who has given to us? What has been given? How do we receive it?
God as Giver
God is ultimate giver, from whom and through whom and to whom are all things (Rom 11:36). All things begin with God, are upheld by God, and return to God like endless waves of credit and honor and glory all flowing back to their original source in him (Col 1:15-20).
As our Creator, God is literally the “author of life” (Acts 3:15) and the fountain of everything good and beautiful and true.. Hence “every good and perfect gift comes from above” (Jas 1:17), from the overflow of his grace and love.
The World as Gift
The whole world is God’s gift, including our capacity for experiencing the goodness of his world. This means the very fact that we feel pleasure is owing to how God made us. It also means that there is nothing good we possess that cannot be traced back to the hand of God, whether directly or indirectly. Gifts of modern medicine, for example, are still gifts from God, coming into existence by applying our God-given creativity to the God-given resources of this world.
But the greatest gift from God, of course, is the gift of his Son, Jesus. In fact, this gift is so precious that Paul says it is the proof that God will keep giving us grace. “For if he did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Rom 8:32).
The Christian Life as Grateful Response
On the human level, when someone gives us a great fit we naturally feel some obligation to thank them, to please them, or to show appreciation to them in some way. But we must be careful that this does not turn into the debtor’s ethic when it comes to God, as if we spend our lives groveling before him saying, “How could we ever repay you? We’re unworthy!” Look, it’s true that we’re unworthy of grace and never could repay God—but that’s the whole point. Grace means you don’t have to.
The simple acknowledgement of where grace comes from is the first way to respond to God in gratitude. Every gift God has given is like a ray of light that points to his glory—the Giver is always greater than his gifts. Therefore, we must train our minds to trace every sunbeam of pleasure back to its source in the sun.
Second, we ought to feel joy for being loved as we are. If the love of God for you doesn’t make your heart sing, then you must not understand it yet. By remembering the costly nature of God’s love and his total willingness to give us all things—especially his Son—we find our own hearts filled with love for the One who loved us first.
Finally, we respond to God with faith and obedience for all his gifts. How could we not trust him? If he gives even his Son to spare us, hasn’t he proven himself trustworthy? If he gives us all that we need and more, should we not seek to please him instead of continuing in our sin? Yes a million times over!
To receive God’s gifts, therefore, means remembering that all good things come from God, feeling gratitude toward God for his grace, and honoring him by responding with faith and obedience. In other words, it means growing more and more into the kind of person who can “giv[e] thanks always and for everything to God the father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph 5:20).
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is a regular contributor to RE|SOURCE. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.