We all know that when things are going bad, when times are tough, and when the struggle is on, more people turn to religion, go to church, and pray more. Yet, when things are going well, when all seems right with the world, when success is coming in droves, the reality is we look to ourselves, pat ourselves on the back, and take the glory for ourselves. So how should we give thanks in the good times?
Sometimes giving thanks feels easy. We gather around the dinner table, and we give a written prayer of thanks, the same prayer, the repeated prayer. Sometimes, it makes us wonder if we slow down to reflect. I mean life is so go, go, go, run, run, run, move, move, move. Sometimes we forget to stop, look around, and realize all that we have been blessed with. Many of the people sitting in this sanctuary today have been on the receiving end of blessings. It goes so fast sometimes, there are emotions involved, and sometimes you never even stop to just sit and be thankful for all that has transpired. For the opportunities you received. For what you have been given. Regardless if you worked for it or not. Sometimes, it seems that giving thanks during the good times seems simple. We chalk it up to a disposition and we simply say that “I am thankful.” Yet, what if being thankful isn’t simply a disposition? What if being thankful isn’t the uttering of a phrase? What if being thankful, especially when times are good, is something more?
God had done wondrous and mighty acts. The history of God and what He has done for His people is well documented. He has destroyed evil cities, He has raised them to be a great nation, He has heard their cries in slavery, delivered them by His hand during the Passover, and led them through the Red Sea. God has provided much for His people, and He saw them through many difficult times. Even in their wandering He provided bread from heaven. But also through great times where they thrived. God made them a great nation; it was by His hand that they were raised up. It was by His hand they would conquer cities. It was by His hand that they would flourish and march into the promised land. It would be by His hand that they would be saved. The nation of Israel was a nation that was formed by its history. Their identity was found in the great acts of God, and the reality that He would fight for them. Yet, their success would cause them to become self-praising, arrogant, and eventually, their identity would come from their success, and not from where they came from.
We similarly find ourselves, having success within our careers, our academics, our lives. Whether we have been blessed financially, with good looks, with knowledge, or wisdom. Maybe you find yourself wanted by many and it feels good to be wanted. We end up finding identity in our accomplishment, in what we have done, and like the Israelites, we forget where we have come from. We are God’s people after all. We believe that by His word the foundations of creation were laid. That by His breath man and woman created in His image came to life. We believe and confess that all good things come from Him.
Yet, do we remember where we came from, or do we forget? We ought to take this seriously, for to forget God is to prop ourselves up, lifting ourselves to the place He resides, as Father, Provider, Protector, Creator. We too are God’s people, and God has done wondrous acts before us. While we have not seen the pillar of fire in the tabernacle to show His presence, He came amongst us into flesh through Christ, and now is present among us in His Word. While we did not walk between the waters of the Red Sea out of the bondage of slavery, we entered into the waters of baptism which freed us from sin, death, and the power of the devil. While we did not feast on manna, the bread from heaven, we now feast on the body and blood of Christ God’s only Son, where heaven meets earth. God has delivered us, He has shown us mercy, He has poured out His wrath on His only Son Jesus to die on our behalf, and so He has blessed us with the gift of everlasting life, and resurrection. So, do not forget.
“If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed.”
It is easy to hear this as a threat. It is easy to hear this as a condition. It is easy to hear this and think, “boy, that’s harsh. I thought God was loving and caring.” Yet, we hear these words, and we ought to hear them as a warning. Forget the Lord, who He is, what He has done, and give your worship, and attention to other things, and see how it works out for us. When we wander from His ways, God won’t strike us down, our very disobedience will lead us to destruction. So, don’t forget what the Lord God has done for you. When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land He has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe His commands, His laws, and His decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase, and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud, and you will forget the Lord your God.
When times are good do not be prideful. Do not give the glory of accomplishment to yourself, taking the credit for yourself. That is what godless people do. That is what people who have an identity found in success do. Instead, point to the one who redefined you. Point to God. Give Him thanksgiving, not just by saying thanks, not just by having the disposition of one who is thankful, but to be thankful in the eyes of God is to remember. How do we remember? By keeping His commands. We give thanks to God not only by giving prayers of thanks but by remembering Him when we gather regularly in worship. That’s right. Regularly. Not just once a month when we have a free weekend. We give thanks to God when we hold no other Gods and die to ourselves. We give thanks to God when we find joy in the reading and preaching of His Word and attend to the sacraments faithfully and reverently. We give thanks to God when we honor the authority that he sets over us, and when we protect our neighbors and give them the benefit of the doubt. We give thanks to God when we are content with what we have been given, whatever it is, and when we protect our neighbor’s interests.
So how should we give thanks in the good times? It’s more than just simply saying thanks, giving a passive thought, but it is remembering. Remember the God who has led you out of slavery, who has forgiven your sin, and who has shown you mercy. Remember, don’t forget. Keep His commandments and walk in His ways. Come and hear the Word of God, and receive His gifts, and in response, praise and acknowledge Him.