Gratitude and Thanksgiving: Our Forms of Praise
2 Chronicles 5:13-14
“It was the duty of the trumpeters and singers together to make themselves heard in unison in praise and thanksgiving to the Lord, and when the song was raised, with trumpets and cymbals and other musical instruments, in praise to the Lord, ‘For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever,’ the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.”
Beginning this Sunday, we are starting a new series on Thanksgiving and Praise. We have much to be thankful for, not only as individuals, but as a church. As we dive into this series, I want to take you on a journey from the earliest days of the Israelite people all the way through to the New Testament Church. Each had to find ways to be thankful in their own time and as a result of their own situations. God, however, was always there and always faithful.
There is something about “praise” or acknowledging something of importance that also embodies thanksgiving. I imagine that all of us can think of earthly folks who are important enough to us that when we acknowledge them, we really are offering a deep prayer of thanksgiving for all they have done in our lives. Beyond the people in our lives, though, there are certain acts that also seem to coincide with the feeling of thanksgiving—certainly that of celebration. In our passage today, we can see the use of trumpets, cymbals, and other musical instruments as one such way to offer praise to God.
Each week, we offer Prayers of Thanksgiving. We are pausing in our service to say thank you for all that God has provided and all that God will provide. Our prayers, according to Gandhi, “is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness…And so, it is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.” This perspective pulls us closer to the center of who God is and how God desires for us to live each day.
When we are able to admit where we are weak, we have a direction for what we need to improve upon with the help of God. The longing of our soul is to be whole and authentic people. We continue to worship God in an effort to understand who we are in relation to God and to learn how to live daily in concert with God’s desire for us. It is this deep longing that keeps us coming back for the many connections we have in community and the reminder that God always needs to be present at the center of our lives.
What is so powerful about thanksgiving is it reorients us toward what is, not what will be. When we offer God thanks for all that we have been given, we are no longer seeking that which we do not have. Our hearts and minds begin to shift away from asking for things and instead living in the moment with gratitude. Equally, our gratitude helps us focus on the needs of others. Recognizing our own intangible wealth allows us to give from our abundance. There is never a decrease because that kind of abundance is self-fulfilling; it continually rejuvenates on its own.
The more love we offer, the more love we have to offer.
The more hope we offer, the more hope we have to offer.
The more compassion we offer, the more compassion we have to offer.
The more kindness we offer, the more kindness we have to offer.
Likewise, we can generate division and ill-will in equal measure. What we focus on is what actually grows. If I decide that I want to foster hatred or enmity, that is easy enough to do as well. The question is, though, which would I rather have in the world? Love or hate?
Perhaps we can even say that gratitude and thanksgiving are super-powers. Even those with the most hardened hearts, when convinced of operating from a place of gratitude and thanksgiving, their hearts soften (think about the story A Christmas Carol or The Grinch). While fictional, they do offer insights into how our entire world can be turned upside down through recognizing how blessed we are.
For Ebenezer Scrooge, he had to see the wreck and ruin of all his personal relationships to understand how necessary gratitude and thanksgiving were. Once he came face-to-face with his own “scrooge-ness” he was able to reorient his life toward abundance, which then flowed outward to others. The Grinch had to learn that tangible possessions were not the source of gratitude or thanksgiving. When he realized his mistake, his heart grew and grew. This heart growth filled the Grinch with his own gratitude and thanksgiving—so much so that he returned all the gifts.
What we offer to God should not be reserved for Sunday alone, but every day we should be grateful for how God interacts and intervenes in our lives. While we may not understand it, or even recognize most of what God does in the world, when we do, it should be such a profound experience that we cannot help but bring out the trumpets, the harps, and the cymbals, and praise God. Our attitude of gratitude will release such an outpouring of thanksgiving that it will change us from the inside out.
Mark Nepo writes the following, “This is what the heart knows beyond all words, we can find a way to listen: that beyond our small sense of things a magnificent light surrounds us, more than anyone could ask for. This is what prayer as gratitude can open to us.”
May your prayers be filled with gratitude and thanksgiving, and may you begin to feel God’s outpouring of a generous spirit—a spirit that fills us to overflowing.