Thursday, November 27, 2008

Praise giving

by John D Ramsey

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Wednesday was a relatively slow day at the office. Many people started the holiday early to care for children who were home from school. Others worked from home. About noon, everyone in the office received an email telling us to start our four-day holiday weekend at 3:00 PM with thanks for everyone’s hard work. Not every company I have worked for gives two days off for Thanksgiving. Letting everyone leave just a little early was a generous gesture from the CEO.

All day Wednesday, Lisa and the little girls were helping decorate the church for a wedding. I decided to take advantage of the early dismissal from work to rescue the girls from their day of conscripted labor. After collecting the girls, we stopped at Wal-Mart to buy some weatherproofing supplies to use at Dad’s house this weekend. When I finally pulled into my driveway at home, I noticed that someone from the office had tried to call me: twice.

As it turned out, Wednesday was a very exciting day at the office; however, the excitement had not yet spilled out from behind closed conference room doors before 3:00 PM when I left. Now, it seems that a four-day Thanksgiving holiday will have to wait until next year: business happens. For this, I am thankful. Although the economy is stressed, I am blessed to have an employer who must ask employees to sacrifice part of their paid holiday in order to take advantage of an opportunity. I suppose it would be harder for me to forgo part of the holiday if Cara and Daniel were in town. Yet, work is a blessing from God, and it is right to accept his blessings whenever he blesses. I am excited. I am hoping for the best possible outcome from our efforts.

I am not certain how it will all turn out, but I will probably work at least a few hours Thanksgiving Day to prepare for the firestorm of activity that might occur Friday.

For the past couple weeks a church sign that I drive by daily has announced, “Count your blessings” and most recently “Give thanks.” Sunday morning, we surprised Dad at the small country church at which he preaches. We all sang, “Count your blessings; name them one by one . . .” The little girls had never heard that song before. Claire was surprised when later Sunday evening we sang the same song our church’s Thanksgiving potluck. I suppose that it did not occur to her that the song is seasonally appropriate.

Is it possible that I could accurately count my blessings? I could start naming them: Lisa, Cara, Daniel, Claire, and Gabrielle. I could also list my job, my home, and a car that manages to hold together. Naming my blessings I would have to mention the rest of my family and friends; to ignore them would be ungrateful. In hindsight, I would also give thanks for the hard years though they seemed undesirable at the time.

Thinking about the blessings I have received makes me marvel at the grace that God has displayed toward me. I suppose my hardest years frame my current attitudes. I know how blessed I am because of difficult times I have endured. That is not to say that no difficult times lie ahead. Rather, I assert that God’s hand is evident through it all even when I did not enjoy it.

Today I used Bible software on my phone and laptop to search for verses containing the phrase “give thanks,” “giving thanks”, etc. In the NIV, I found approximately sixty verses matching the search criteria. In the NASB, I found over one hundred. A quick comparison shows that the NIV translators often preferred to use the word praise rather than give thanks. Consequently, praising God and giving thanks to God are equivalent even though we might consider praising God to be attributing something to God while thanking him is acknowledging something coming from him. Ultimately, any distinction blurs in the mind.

A closer look at the Old Testament reveals that the word often translated give thanks or praise is also translated glorify and confess. I am not a Hebrew scholar, but it appears that the translators’ word choices are largely dependent upon the context though the word’s fundamental meaning is unchanged. When Solomon prayed to God during the dedication of the Temple, he said,
When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain, because they have sinned against You, and they pray toward this place and confess Your name and turn from their sin when You afflict them, then hear in heaven and forgive the sin of Your servants and of Your people Israel.

1 Kings 8:32 (NASB)
The word translated confess in this context is translated give thanks or praise in other passages. Now when Israel repented from sin, they would not thank God in the sense that we might imagine, but Solomon said that they were to confess or attribute glory or praise to God’s name.

When we read, “Give thanks to the Lord of lords, For His lovingkindness is everlasting,” Psalm 136:2 (NASB) we might paraphrase saying, “Praise the Lord of lords whose mercy endures forever.” Yet we might also say, “Confess or assert that the Lord of lord’s mercy is eternal.” The underlying meaning of the word remains the same; the translated word, however, derives its English connotation from the context.

While thanksgiving is often an emotional response to God, I think God intended it to be initially an intellectual response to Him. Thanksgiving, therefore, has less to do with what I feel about what God is doing and more to do with acknowledging that God is doing something.

Often times we confuse what it means to give thanks to God, to praise God, or to glorify God. We tend to take a self-centered approach to thanksgiving, that is to say we thank God or praise God for what pleases us. Yet Paul tells us, “In everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NASB) If we only give thanks for that which pleases us, then we place ourselves in a position of judging God. Near the end of the Book of Job, God challenged Job, saying,

“Now gird up your loins like a man;
I will ask you, and you instruct Me.

Will you really annul My judgment?
Will you condemn Me that you may be justified?

“Or do you have an arm like God,
And can you thunder with a voice like His?

“Adorn yourself with eminence and dignity,
And clothe yourself with honor and majesty.

“Pour out the overflowings of your anger,
And look on everyone who is proud, and make him low.

Look on everyone who is proud, and humble him,
And tread down the wicked where they stand.

Hide them in the dust together;
Bind them in the hidden place.

Then I will also confess to you,
That your own right hand can save you.

Job 40:7-14 (NASB)

God warned Job not to expect God to conform to Job's expectations. Though God had previously blessed Job with riches, God now worked in Job's life through Job's suffering. Notice in this context also that if Job could demonstrate attributes that belong only to God, then God would confess that Job was also able to save himself. Here again is the same word translated give thanks elsewhere. Again the root meaning is to attribute something. Job learned to confess God's glory regardless of circumstance. Confessing and thanksgiving are effectively the same.

God has given me many blessings that please me. Yet Paul tells me that in my thanksgiving, I should not discriminate about that which I give thanks. I am to give thanks always or for all things regardless of whether I am pleased. If I realize that thanking God for all things means confessing or asserting that everything comes from Him, then I can praise God or glorify Him even when I do not understand His purposes. Praise-giving is not about what I like, but rather about acknowledging what God does.

This Thanksgiving I praise God for his many blessings to me: I praise him for the blessings that please me, I praise him for the blessings I do not understand, and I praise him even for the blessings I fail to see.

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