Rev Ho Chee Sin –was Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore from 1984 to 1996.
Time for grateful thanks
But how grateful can we be? Perhaps, to celebrate National Day, we sing enthusiastically in praise of our nation, and echo aloud: "Majulah Singapura!" But how different the situation is when we are involved in the daily grind of colourless responsibilities in our own tiny world. Here we discover one of the peculiar and indeed damaging characteristics of our affluent age — the lack of a common gratitude.
There are Singaporeans who treat this festive occasion with almost a smile of contempt. H.W. Hanson rightfully touched upon the various degrees of thanksgiving in his family prayer:
"O Lord, as you know very well, here we are again. We are here to do one of the hardest things any mortal can do — to give thanks and really mean it. First of all, there are those people who don't ever say thanks for anything because they figure that whatever they have, they got it all by themselves. Then there are those who do give thanks for things received, but you can catch something in their voices that asks, 'And why didn't I get it sooner?' And there are those who also say thanks but imply, 'Why didn't I get more?'"
This prayer reflects the sorry state of living without gratitude. Our lives become dry with no joy of creativity and achievement.
Thanksgiving in the Psalms
Moreover, this kind of thanksgiving in the Bible springs, not from what God has done for us, but chiefly for what He is doing in us. The psalmist does not add up potatoes, pumpkins and apples to see if this year's crop merits more thanksgiving than last year's. On the contrary, he names what God has done in him for which he is thankful: He forgives, heals, redeems, crowns, satisfies and renews. He is God of mercy who gets at our sinful nature, at our rebellious heart, and at all that is ugly and unholy, removing it as far as the east is from the west. The psalmist also knows that peace of mind and rebirth of soul — the essence of the new life — is a gift to be cherished more than all the fruits of the field. Only those who turn to God, only they who thus know life in all its rich dimensions, are able to offer meaningful thanksgiving.
Secondly, the psalmist teaches us that real thanksgiving begins with what God is rather than what we are. Hence, there is reverence in real thanksgiving. There is sincerity if our thankful spirit is infused with a sense of reverent wonder before Him whose love is so amazing that it demands everything we are in return.
Finally, a further lesson the psalmist shares with us is that real thanksgiving depends upon the extent to which we do God's will. The characteristic phrases like, "to such as keep his covenant", "that fulfil his will", "hearkening unto his voice", imply that thanksgiving is never a duty to be legislated; it is the joyous satisfaction that comes from doing what is right and good through the enabling will of Him who wants to make us what we ought to be. As we free ourselves from self and surrender to God, we can be genuinely thankful. Otherwise, our thanksgiving becomes an empty thing — as we continue to eat our fill and wallow influence that the underprivileged of our world can never imagine.
Notice the condemnation of Jesus on those who cry, "Lord, Lord" but who omitted to follow through with the doing of God's will. Also, whenever Jesus is said to have offered thanks to God the Father, it was with relation to the giving of Himself in the doing of the Father's will and to the spiritual satisfaction this relationship supplied.
This is the message of the Psalm: that heart is most truly thankful who, having accepted what he feels to be God's will for him, finds that all the resources of heaven are backing him up. This Paul refers to as "joy and peace in believing". If we are really thankful to God, we are sure to bless His name for what He is and does — and with a difference — we shall appropriate His will as we follow His commandments and become ourselves a blessing to others.
Picture by maxxyustas/Bigstock.com