the Church on the Hill
by D. Eric Williams
Pastor, Cottonwood Community Church
Count your blessings, name them one by one, Count your blessings, see what God hath done, Count your blessings, name them one by one, And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done (Johnson Oatman, Jr, April 21, 1856-September 25, 1922).
We have arrived at the time of year when it is customary to give thanks for the blessings we have received from God's hand. This is an easy task if we confine the exercise to an annual observation. Yet even then we do well to ask ourselves if our thankfulness is heartfelt or empty chatter.
In modern America we give thanks to God for his blessings by inviting family and friends to a sumptuous meal. There is nothing wrong with this but it really more an acknowledgment of what we have been given than a giving of thanks. If we want to be thankful - or express our thanks to our Father in heaven - we need to find something more. I am not suggesting we should dispense with the feasting, I'm saying we should add something to it.
When we read Paul's epistles with an observant eye we find that the apostle often pairs thankfulness with obedience to God's will. For instance in his letter to the church in Colossea, Paul says, let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him (Colossians 3:15-17). Immediately following this section Paul launches into a series of moral imperatives, enjoining specific kingdom ethics for his readers. Even in verses fifteen to seventeen, Paul tells his audience that expressing thanks includes the rich, living demonstration of Christ's doctrine, holding one another accountable and inviting brothers to be immersed together in the covenant relationship. All accomplished in the name of Jesus Christ and for his glory. This is a lifestyle of thankfulness. This is giving of thanks.
Thus, thankfulness is not grudging submission but happy compliance. It is Christ like living. It is working to bring our arena of activity under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. It is laboring to understand the law of God as it applies to all facets of life. It is persistence in the face of resistance.
Unfortunately some of us have retained the mindset and language of Egypt; we complain and murmur rather than live in joyous obedience. We claim to believe our Father in heaven is the sovereign Lord of the universe but when things don't go the way we plan we turn away from Him in bitterness of heart. Oh yes, we set aside our customary negativity in order to celebrate the annual holiday but, Friday morning the reality of a bank account nearing the red zone pushes thoughts of thanksgiving from our mind.
It isn't easy to walk in the joy of Christ's salvation when the bills come due and the bank account is low. It isn't easy to enter his gates with thanksgiving in our heart and into his courts with praise when we've had an argument with our spouse. It is difficult to acknowledge the loving care of the Father when life throws more at us than we believe we can handle. Nonetheless we are called to thankfulness. We are called to long term obedience in the face of opposition. We are called to live a life wholly dependent upon Jesus Christ, knowing that in [Jesus] you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, [Jesus has] overcome the world (John 16:33). For this we give thanks.