CALL TO PRAYER: The building blocks of gratitude
EDITOR'S NOTE: This column is part of the call to prayer issued by Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee, to pray for revival and spiritual awakening for our churches, our nation and our world during 2013. Baptist Press is carrying columns during the year encouraging Southern Baptists to pray in specific areas and for specific needs in petitioning the Father for spiritual awakening.
NASHVILLE (BP) -- Giving thanks is one of five dominant forms of prayer mentioned in the New Testament (general prayer, intercession, supplication, confession, giving thanks). Perhaps one reason thanksgiving is enjoined so frequently is that when we give thanks we affirm our total dependency upon God.
In expressing gratitude to God for all things (1 Thessalonians 5:18), we acknowledge His goodness and justice over our lives, no matter how dark the present circumstances may be. Giving thanks is a confession of trust in His provident faithfulness and His sustaining care. Romans 5:1-2 lays out several significant building blocks that serve as the basis for all of our expressions of appreciation to God.
Gratitude to God is the spontaneous overflow of our redemption in Jesus Christ. As an expression of His unsurpassing love, God extends redemptive mercy and grace to us through Jesus Christ. Jesus' death, burial and resurrection are the basis of our salvation. When we acknowledge our fallen sinfulness and turn to God in repentance and faith, we are declared "just" and viewed as righteous in His eyes. We who were "not a people" are declared "the people of God" (1 Peter 2:8). We have been adopted into the heavenly family (Romans 8:15-17) -- not because of our works, but because of His mercy (Titus 3:5). We who are fallen, flawed and finite have become recipients of eternal love, infinite mercy and everlasting life. For this undeserved justification we give thanks!
An immediate benefit bestowed upon those who believe in Jesus is a sense of belonging. We are made "accepted in the beloved" (Ephesians 1:6, KJV). Apart from Christ, our souls are unsettled, restless, always seeking, but never finding, an elusive tranquility they desperately crave. Apart from Christ, the human heart will never know peace. The world's religions promote meditative practices that try to find a way to lose one's sense of self -- a longing for inner peace they cannot achieve. But when Jesus enters the heart of the true believer, He brings peace. He gave His disciples an awesome promise in His final discourse in the upper room: "Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give you as the world gives. Your heart must not be troubled or fearful" (John 14:27). For this enduring peace we give thanks!
As a result of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ, we have the ABCs (access, boldness and confidence, Ephesians 3:12) to enter the throne room of grace (Hebrews 4:16). A Gospel chorus frequently sung on "The Old Fashioned Revival Hour" almost a century ago reminds us, "There's an open heaven tonight; there's an open heaven tonight. With Jesus up there, and the Comforter here -- there's an open heaven tonight" (H. Leland Green, 1928). Our heavenly Father is accessible to His children 24/7/365. There is never a moment in time when He is inattentive to our cries. Boldness to approach the Father is not based on our righteous acts; it is grounded in the privilege of relationship. The Spirit of His Son within us cries out "Abba, Father" (Galatians 4:6). For this unfettered access we give thanks!
Yes, there will be trials that test our faith and tribulations that refine our faith (Romans 5:3-5), but there is nothing that can (or will) separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).
This Thanksgiving season, many families will gather and focus on the tangible blessings of their lives -- family, friends, safe dwellings, bounty on the table, secure employment. Others may not be so blessed. Perhaps your family is fractured, your friends are far away, your living situation is unsettled, your cupboards are bare, your job prospects are limited or even non-existent.
Do you still have a reason to give thanks? Yes. Is giving thanks an easy discipline to exercise? Not necessarily. But it is a vital expression of our hope and confidence in God. It is a statement of enduring faith.
Giving thanks develops depth of character, richness of soul, purity of heart. It is the means by which His peace mounts a sentry guard around our hearts (Philippians 4:6-7). As we revel in our bold invitation of access to the Father, we obtain mercy and grace to help in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16). Acknowledging that He is at work in all the circumstances of our lives brings us one step closer to conformity to the character of Christ (Romans 8:28-29).
As we choose to give thanks, we acknowledge God's sustained sovereignty over our lives. No matter how bleak our prospects may appear or how dark our circumstances may be, our gracious heavenly Father has given an unfailing promise never to leave us nor forsake us.
Let us pause and give Him thanks. Not merely for the blessings of His hands, but for the blessings of His heart -- redemptive mercy and grace; enduring and abiding peace; free and open access. For these we give thanks!
Roger S. Oldham is vice president for convention communications and relations with the SBC Executive Committee. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).