This morning, I read:
and in another version,
He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me... (NIV)
The dictionary gives definitions:
thanksgiving - "the act of giving thanks; grateful acknowledgment of benefits or favors."
sacrifice -"the surrender or destruction of something prized or desirable for the sake of something considered as having a higher or more pressing claim."
So, how is it that giving thanks is a sacrifice? What does it mean that acknowledging benefits or favors is the surrender of something prized? What do we give up when we offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving.
We give up control and self-exaltation. We give up the illusion that everything we have has come to us as a result of our striving, our intellect, our skill. Oh, we may work hard and be smart and talented, but saying thank you to God helps me to recognize that all I have, even if I have worked hard for it, is all a gift, because even the ability to work for it is a gift. Every breath is a gift. I can't manufacture a single one on my own.
We give up our self-limited assessment of what is good and bad. It is a not so hard to say thank you for the things I deem to be good in my life. I don't always do it and in a sense, it does involve a sort of sacrifice to take the time and effort to voice or pen my thanks. But it is a small sacrifice when what I am giving thanks for is something I like - a good night's sleep, a beautiful bird, a happy family gathering, good food.
What is harder to do is to thank God for the bad things, the things that don't look good or in any way feel good to me. This costs me more because if I say thank you for the brokenness, the tragedy, the hurt, the pain, the plans that did not go as I had hoped, I am acknowledging that these things are a part of God's will for my life and that they are ultimately good. (1 Thessalonians 5:18 and Romans 8:28).
This costs me. I have to surrender what I want, let go of what I prize, forgo what I desire for a higher and more pressing claim. Giving thanks for things for which I feel no natural gratitude forces me to recognize that God orders my circumstances for purposes beyond my limited vision. It is an uneasy, unnatural, uncomfortable position, which is only abated if I see the happy ending on the horizon. But that happy ending is often clouded and hidden. And it may just be that there is no happy ending ... in this life.
I re-read the verse again, all the way to the end:
The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me;
There's a promise in there. Two actually.
Offering thanksgiving as my sacrifice glorifies God. That's the first promise. How exactly saying thank you for the hard, ugly, bad things can glorify God is what I was trying to get at above. When I am less and He is more, He is glorified. When I accept as good whatever circumstances He gives, I acknowledge my limited scope and His boundless knowledge, wisdom, and power ... and He is glorified. I think that's how it works.
The second promise is this: I will be shown the salvation of God. That's the happy ending. The great thing is, though, that this salvation is both future and now. I look forward to it and I live in it. Today. I think that's what Ann is talking about when she writes, "Our very saving is associated with our gratitude."
So today, I offer thanks for ...
1645. The move to North Carolina, a bit more than 8 years ago. I didn't want to come. It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. It has had unexpected hardships, both physical and spiritual. It was God's good plan.
1646. A divisive season in our church life a few years back. It was another of the most painful things I've ever gone through. It ate up my soul for awhile and made me want to quit and run away, far, far away.
1647. Brokenness and pain in my family.
1648. Physical distance from dear ones. Especially hard after they have all been here.
1649. Friends who have gone through and continue to go through heartbreaking tragedy and painful trial: a stillborn baby, the loss of a son, continuing confusing illnesses and surgeries, unwelcome news from the doctor, life plans that didn't go as hoped, financial struggles.
In some of these things, I can see how God has worked and is working. In others, it is a mystery. I hope, simply that as I train my heart to the sacrifice of thanksgiving, God is honored. It is a hope that the Psalmist holds out to me this day.