by Dr. Michael Sharp
Professor of Worship Studies, NOBTS
Learn more about Dr. Sharp, HERE.
Perhaps the only thing worse than forgetting to give thanks in the list of thanksgiving errors is mistaking who should be the recipient of our thanks– particularly when we somehow make ourselves the recipient of the gratitude when the credit should all go to God.
In Luke 18, Jesus taught a parable about a man with a thanksgiving problem:
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get’” Luke 18:10-12.
To be sure, the Pharisee was offering a prayer of thanksgiving, but it was a pseudo-thanksgiving in that the object was himself. Even though there was a pretense of including God in the equation, in reality he was cloaking his self-glorification in a prayer. It brings to mind the old Carly Simon song, which I would paraphrase like this: “You’re so vain, I bet you think this prayer is about you. You’re so vain.”
The problem with pseudo-thanksgiving is that the prayer becomes more about how we see ourselves — often in comparison with the “lesser” folks around us, and less about what God has done. The formula generally goes like this: “I thank you God that I …”
Here are some examples:
- I thank you, God, that I ran a successful business this year.
- I thank you, God, that I accomplished everything on my to-do list today.
Sometimes a more subtle form might be:
- I thank you, God, that I was able to ( ____________ ).
We do this in church, too, in plural form:
- We thank you, God, that we
-surpassed our Lottie Moon offering goal.
-became debt free this year.
Or, in comparison with others:
We thank you, God, that we
- were number one in baptisms in our association.
- were on the top ten list for giving to the Cooperative Program.
But what does this kind of “thanksgiving” reveal? When we leave God out as the One who did it, we turn our
thanksgiving inward, and it becomes a form of pseudo-thanksgiving, driven more by self-glorification than gratitude to God.
And the scary thing is we may not even be aware of it.
True thanksgiving can never come from self-centeredness. The heart wrapped up in itself will always be “thankful” to the wrong person. Genuine thanksgiving flows from a heart of gratitude for what God has given. It comes from a heart focused on God and His actions on our behalf.
Read yesterday’s post on “An Attitude of Gratitude” HERE.
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