"Oh that men would praise Jehovah for His lovingkindness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men." (Psalm 107)
Readers in Canada have just finished celebrating Thanksgiving Day; those in the United States anticipate celebrating the holiday at the end of November, It may serve us well to ask ourselves the question as to whether or not we clearly understand what thankfulness really is. We may discover that our conception of thanksgiving is incorrect or faulty, If it is, our gratitude to God cannot be genuine.
Gratitude implies the existence of God and a faith in Him. People who do not believe in God or do not feel a need to reckon with Him may declare that they are thankful. What they mean to say is that they feel contented or satisfied. True gratitude must be a proper recognition of God as the gracious giver of all good and perfect gifts.
The dictionary defines gratitude as "a sense of appreciation for favors received, accompanied with good will toward the benefactor." "Favors" are received from someone else. "Benefactors" are those to whom we feel obligated to for having shown to us their favor. If there is no divine Person who has lavished His boUnties upon us, it would be senseless' to speak of gratitude and any real observation of Thanksgiving Day. The nation that forgets God may celebrate a holiday that it declares as Thanksgiving Day; it may speak of being thankful for the bounteous gifts received—but from whom have they received those gifts and to whom are they thankful for them? Without an acknowledgment of God, there can be no true thanksgiving.
Gratitude is, first, a conviction, that we are receiving undeserved benefits from the God of life and the Lord of all blessings. This is the intelligent element of thankfulness. It necessitates a certain way of looking at the good things that we enjoy in this life. It is an attitude of faith that the blessings we receive come to us only because the unseen hand of God is constantly stretched out to pour out the good things we receive from His heavenly horn of plenty. Gratitude is a confession that we are recipients of favor, grace, and undeserved kindness, The person who feels he is entitled to the good things of life may speak of being thankful, but when he does so he is engaged in idle talk. Are we truly thankful? Have we a firm and strong persuasion that even the bread we eat and the very air that we breathe are undeserved and unmerited gifts from a merciful and loving God?
Gratitude is also an emotion, It is not only the conviction that we should be thankful to God for His blessings. It is a warm feeling of appreciation, an outward glow that fills the soul with the bright radiance of real happiness. True gratitude constrains us to exclaim with the Psalmist: "Bless Jehovah, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits." How often are we lacking in this emotional part of our gratitude to God? We may intellectually know how much we are to be thankful for, but we do not have the true feeling of thankfulness to the Lord for His blessings. The conviction is present but the emotion that it should arouse within us is lacking. Perhaps it is because the conviction is not deep enough.
Gratitude has a practical as well as an intellectual and emotional side, It is "accompanied with good will toward the benefactors," says the lexicon, Good will seeks expression in deeds and devotion, A genuine gratitude implies faith in God and it also seeks expression in loving service to God, Thanksgiving always means thanksliving, It clamors for the opportunity to demonstrate its sincerity. True thanksgiving wants to serve God. It is a stream that flows in the direction of the great Benefactor that has provided every good gift to us, and it pours its rich flow back to the heart of the Giver, from whom the stream of blessing proceeds. Gratitude is not merely a word, a prayer, a song, or single act of devotion, It is a life consecrated to the service of Him who is good because He is God who in His infinite goodness never ceases to do good to His creatures.
Rev. Wybren H. Oord is the Pastor of the Covenant United Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He is also the editor of The Outlook.