At Thanksgiving, we usually give thanks for material things. We may even be tempted to express gratitude with a self-righteous attitude.
Instead, we need a mindset of humility and an emphasis on the spiritual blessings that have made it possible for us to have a relationship with God.
Sometimes we express a spirit of thankfulness that we “have” things and that we are “blessed” in the manner of Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector praying in the temple in Luke 18:9-14. This spirit is often accompanied by an assumption that we are blessed because we are faithful Christians. Other times, our attitude is that if we are thankful, then we are justified in our overindulgence.
Being grateful for what we have is appropriate and important. Some Scripture passages, such as Psalm 112:1-3, even say material blessings come from righteous living. And certainly God does care about our physical needs. Jesus said in Matt. 6:32, regarding material necessities, that God “knows that you need them.” But he went on to say (in verse 33) that we should “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
The Book of Job shows faithful living doesn’t guarantee physical blessings. So humility should accompany our thankfulness for material things, recognizing that these blessings are undeserved. Many faithful Christians worldwide lack life’s necessities.
Missionaries have often found that Christians in other countries express gratitude to God even when they are living in poverty. It might surprise North Americans to learn that thankfulness shouldn’t be connected primarily to material possessions.
While we need to give thanks, for what should we most give thanks? Simply, for life given by God, particularly eternal life made possible through Jesus Christ by his death and resurrection.
An example of this can be found in Luke 17:11-18, where the Samaritan remembered to give thanks for the new life granted him through Christ’s healing his leprosy. We’ve done nothing to merit the chance to be right with God, so we should be exceedingly grateful for it.
Even if we live faithfully out of our gratitude to God for his making our salvation possible, we have no reason for pride. In Luke 17:7-10, Jesus describes the servants as having the attitude that “we are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty” when they faithfully do what they were told.
This year at Thanksgiving, let us be grateful for God’s saving work in the world, beyond all the material things we enjoy. And let our spirit be humble that we have the opportunity to serve others as our Lord Jesus Christ served us.
This article first appeared in the Mennonite Weekly Review.