One of the most common lines in all of acting is the simple phrase, “Thank you.” Learning to give a convincing performance of being thankful when we are really not, has made us all into actors.
“Out of the Christmas box comes the hand‐made whatever‐it‐is, with color combinations from the last century. And out of the corner of her eye, little Sara sees Mom giving her the look. So Sara walks across the room to convince Auntie just how thankful she is for her homemade… er… handmade gift. Acting at its best… the hug, the kiss on the furry cheek, the I'm‐so‐looking‐forward‐to‐wearing‐it comment. What child has been spared from such an experience?”
I'm all for being polite. Politeness is the grease keeping irritable people from rubbing each other raw. But polite behavior is frequently nothing but great acting. And while great acting can hide our hearts from some of the people some to the time, great acting cannot hide our hearts from God.
When I'm trying to act polite around God, I do far less acting with the “please” part than with the “thank you” part. The “please” part comes naturally. I have cried, and begged, and pleaded with God in total sincerity. But the “thank you” part has required some acting. To His face I've said, “Thank You so much for helping me,” while mumbling behind His back, “I wish You had done more.” Can you relate?
But good manners don't belong in a relationship with God; He deserves better from us. Did you know the word “please” is not used in the Bible for making polite requests, or pleading? It is not even “pleasing” to God for us to plead, by trying to influence Him with our good works.
This is what the LORD of Heaven's Armies, the God of Israel, says: “Take your burnt offerings and your other sacrifices and eat them yourselves! When I led your ancestors out of Egypt, it was not burnt offerings and sacrifices I wanted from them. This is what I told them: ‘Obey me, and I will be your God, and you will be my people. Do everything as I say, and all will be well!’” (Jeremiah 7:21–23 NLT)
With enough bribes and sacrifices on our part, we can usually persuade people to honor our requests. But this is disgusting to God. He does not have to be bribed into giving us good things. He is not impressed with the sincerity of our tears in begging Him to do what He already wants to do. He just wants us to obey Him so we don't destroy ourselves with His gifts.
If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! (Matthew 7:11 NKJV)
Are we thanking God because we want more from Him? Or are we thanking God because we are so full of gratitude? “God, I'm thankful for what You've done so far; (will You please keep it up?)” as opposed to: “God, I am so thankful… even if You never do another thing for me.”
Before Jesus' death on a cross, we were separated from God by a thick veil (see Matthew 27:50‐54 and Hebrews 10:19‐22). Our relationship with God was all about our performance. And giving thanks, giving praise, and confessing our sins were all a part of trying to please God. Take a look at the following verses, each representing a different meaning of the same Hebrew word:
Let them PRAISE Your great and awesome name—He [is] holy. (Psalm 99:3 NKJV)
Rejoice in the LORD, you righteous, And GIVE THANKS at the remembrance of His holy name. (Psalm 97:12 NKJV)
Then I said, “O LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of unfailing love with those who love him and obey his commands, listen to my prayer! Look down and see me praying night and day for your people Israel. I CONFESS that we have sinned against you. Yes, even my own family and I have sinned! We have sinned terribly by not obeying the commands, decrees, and regulations that you gave us through your servant Moses.” (Nehemiah 1:5–7 NLT)
But Jesus did what we could not: He pleased the Father on our behalf. He pleased the Father for us. He caused the thick veil to be torn away and we were no longer separated from Him. And giving thanks changed from an expression of obligation to an expression of gratitude. The Greek words for “thanks” don't have any reference to the confession of sins, but instead have a reference to gratitude.
Please don't miss this: Under our old covenant with God, a part of being thankful was the acknowledgment of our sinful nature. But Jesus took the sin consciousness out of thankfulness and replaced it with gratitude. We no longer need to thank God as a way of pleasing Him; we need to thank God because we need to—we can't be stopped from thanking Him because we are genuinely grateful.
Which world do you live in? Does your thank you come at the beginning of the sentence: “Lord, I thank You… now will you please…?” Or, does your thank you come at the end: “Lord, if You never do another thing for me I just want to say thank You.”
If your thank you is more formal than grateful, you may not realize that God is not giving you generic gifts, but gifts especially prepared for you.
When you see yourself as just one of many people under God's care (as did the Israelites), God will be distant and impersonal. His goodness toward you will not be special but generic—as if you were just another unnamed person being helped out in a natural disaster, such as hurricane Sandy. His care for you will seem impersonal, as if you're just one of the group, thrown in the pot with everybody else. Whatever you receive won't seem special, but just the same as everybody else gets (if that much). And this mindset will take all of the gratitude out of “thank you.”
But when you realize God cares for you individually—when your relationship is made personal—you can began to thank Him with genuine gratitude.
Every Fourth of July, a husband‐and‐wife team of realtors puts out small U.S. flags at regular intervals along my community's streets. I think it's great. I believe I've maybe officially thanked them once (it's just what you do if you see them right after the holiday). But I don't become overwhelmed with gratitude at the flag on my lawn, because they didn't put it there just for me; it was a gift to the entire community. I would feel differently however, if this summer they knocked on my door and said, “Mike, we are only going to put out one flag this Fourth of July. And we would like to place it on your lawn.” My thanks toward them would shift to a different level.
If you ever find yourself thanking God out of a sense of duty or obligation, it may be because you are thinking of yourself as just one of many—not having any special relationship with Him. If you ever find yourself thanking God because you hope it will influence Him to do more, it may be because you do not realize He how much of Himself He has put into what He's already done for you.
Before we continue tomorrow, please consider just how much acting is going on when you thank God.
Have a good day,