Time for grateful thanks
At this time of National celebration, I call upon all Methodists to a unique expression of our gratitude. The Bible reminds us of the prophet Samuel who, more than 3,000 years ago, set up a stone to celebrate the victory of Israel over the Philistines. Today the memorial stone which Samuel called “Ebenezer” (the stone of help) could still be seen. May we also catch the spirit of celebration by trusting God who is our Ebenezer, our hope for the nation.
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.
Though many of us may manifest indifference and apathy in this common workaday world, we Christians must never cease to try to be grateful. So let this annual celebration remind us of our gratitude to God. What we need is actually a deeper interpretation of this festive day so that those who are inclined to revel proudly and only in their self-sufficiency might catch that new sense of wonder at the eternal goodness of our God.
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
But in contrast, the Scripture has always taught and witnessed to the grateful life. The Bible is full of praise and thanksgiving. Look at Psalm 103 where real thanksgiving is reflected. Here the psalmist calls upon his soul to “bless the Lord … and all that is within me, bless his holy name.” His thanksgiving reflects the direction and mood of his own life as a result of his first-hand experience of who and what God is. Thus is kindled in his heart a spontaneous song of praise and gratitude.
This psalm teaches us that real thanksgiving involves our whole being. “All that is within me, bless his holy name” is the demand of the psalmist. To him, thanksgiving would be a truncated affair if it consists merely of singing a hymn, or an annual national holiday. Thanksgiving is more than a wave of superficial emotionalism. It must involve the mind and the will. This is why the old commandment names first of all God’s record of goodwill to His creation and then denotes “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with … heart, soul, strength and mind.” This biblical implication of thanksgiving should be our ideal because of its power to provide our whole motive for living.
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.
— Published in Methodist Message (August 1988)
|Rev Ho Chee Sin –
was Bishop of The Methodist Church in Singapore from 1984 to 1996.