Friday, November 28, 2014

A Sacrifice of Thanksgiving

The Holiday of Thanksgiving might be over, but as Christians we know that we should have an "attitude of gratitude" all year round.  In an attempt to foster gratefulness in my children, we already say something we are thankful for every morning on the way to school.  Lately, though, I've been thinking we can do more than that.  In the Old Testament, the Israelite people made peace offerings, including offerings of thanksgiving (Leviticus 7), and out of that the term "sacrifice of thanksgiving" came into being.  While it sometimes referred to the actual offering of an animal and leavened or unleavened bread, the phrase also came to signify the many ways we can express our thankfulness to God. 

One way we can offer God a sacrifice of Thanksgiving is to pray. In the 116th Psalm, David expresses this love and thankfulness for the many ways God has saved him.  Not only does David express his thankfulness right there in the words of the Psalm, he also talks about how he will continue to be thankful, particularly in talking to God more.
What shall I render to the LORD For all His benefits toward me? I shall lift up the cup of salvation And call upon the name of the LORD... To You I shall offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving, And call upon the name of the LORD.  (Psalms 116:12-13,17, emphasis added)
Twice the Psalmist said he would call on the name of the Lord in response to God's mercy toward him.  Prayer is a great place to start in showing our thankfulness to God. But we can't stop there.

The Israelites often followed the form of a thanksgiving sacrifice without a heart of gratitude to go with it. In another Psalm, God tells his people that this is not enough.  They were making all the right sacrifices and seemed to think that as long as they followed the rituals, their hearts could remain untouched.  God tells them that he doesn't need their bulls or goats; what he really wants is a thankful people who follow him with their whole hearts.  The end of the Psalms is particularly telling.  God points out that everyone who disobeys him is in danger of their life, and then says this:
He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me; And to him who orders his way aright I shall show the salvation of God. (Psalms 50:23)
When we offer meaningless prayers of thanks without coupling it with loving submission, we are no better than the Israelites.  Offering thanks to God isn't a matter of rote, but of an overflow of obedience. 

One of the best ways to show thankfulness by obedience is to reflect God's mercy onto the people around us.  In the book of Amos, God lambasts the people for their lack of justice and mercy toward others, all  while they continue to make meaningless sacrifices (Amos 5:21-24). Hundreds of years later, the apostle Paul tells the Corinthians that if they want thankfulness to God to abound, the best thing they could do would be to give to the needy (2 Corinthians 9:11-13).  Giving to others is giving to Jesus (Matthew 25), and the best way to express our thanks to him for his unfailing love.

I hope your heart will remain grateful long after the turkey sandwiches are gone.  If you are bursting with the need to express your thankfulness to God, first say a prayer.  Then get to work!  Give to his children , and  "let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream" (Amos 5:24).


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