Thankfulness Isn’t Helpful (Nov 2012)

By Matt Dabbs

By Scott Simpson

It’s official: “Tebowing” is now trademarked. What I will assume was originally a posture of humble thanks and supplication, became a national craze, then a national source of skeptical ridicule, then a battle closely akin to the Jesus fish / Darwin fish fiasco, and now finally, a legally protected property.

This isn’t a judgment of Mr. Tebow; in many ways, he is a victim of his own fame, and especially of the fame claimed by the Christian Community when “one of our own” makes it to the big time. It’s not so much what he did that led to the eventual ridicule as it was how much the Christian community loved and hyped it. But there is a larger pattern I think we’ve missed: when the act of “giving thanks” becomes a publicly valuable commodity, one begins to question whether or not it continues to actually be thankfulness.

This is the challenge of our American Christian Culture; it has bestowed tangible, transactional value on things like publicly thanking Jesus, praying conspicuously, displaying Christian symbols, or espousing particular Christianized political stances, not to mention actually marketing Christian merchandise and services. Whether in the marketplace, or in our churches or our Christian institutions, there are points to be scored, positions to be gained, perceptions to be leveraged… even big bucks to be earned.

Deluxe Miracle Jesus Action Figure: “Feeds 5000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish!” “Turns water into wine!” Now available with Glow-in-the-dark Hands!

TestaMints Sugar Free Gum: “Pass the Word!” “Every pack includes a passage from the Scriptures!”

ChristianMingle.com: “Find God’s match for You”

In Jesus’ parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector, the Pharisee is the only one of the two who prayed anything about giving thanks. I’m certain his prayer was genuine. He was truly thankful to God that he was not like all the sorry, sinful bunch he saw in the broader society. He was truly thankful to God that he was the kind of person who had the personal integrity to engage in fasting and tithing. He was thankful for the community of righteous scholars he was a part of. It surely felt good to him each morning when he opened his eyes to a brand new day and knew, “I am one of God’s very special people.”

It’s a warm and fuzzy thing to be surrounded by self-determined hallmarks of holiness, to have others share and bestow value on those same hallmarks, and especially, to be able to look beyond the pale and see the contrast between me and mine and the darkness of all those others. It’ll bind a community together to say, “Thank-you Jesus.”

But while this Pharisee said, “thanks,” the tax collector was moved to tears by a deep well of GRATITUDE for a God who would actually listen, forgive and even embrace a fumbling screw-up like himself.

Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little. (Luke 7:47)

My own thankfulness is the only conduit through which I am able to honestly love the world. If I’m not thankful, I’m filled with hate; If I’m thankful over and against others for the things that have to do with my own holiness hallmarks, I may score points within my “holiness tribe,” but these signifiers by their very nature will never lead me into the humble walk of unconditional love for others.

What sort of thankfulness will lead me toward love?

Not thankfulness that I’ve “arrived,”

But thankfulness that, today, God gave me something that helped me grow.

Not thankfulness that I’m right,

But thankfulness that being wrong can’t halt God’s love.

Not thankfulness that I’ve found a community of “like minds,”

But thankfulness that God’s spirit can heal even Grand Canyon-wide divisions.

Not thankfulness that my family and I have stayed “pure,”

But thankfulness that God’s love purifies, refines and sets free.

Not thankfulness that I’m not an alcoholic,

But thankfulness that God can free us all from our destructive dependencies.

Not thankfulness that I’m a Christian,

But thankfulness to the point of joy that I can share in His suffering,

Conform to His death.

Paul was telling the church in Colossae (Colossians 3:15-17) that being “thankful,” having “gratitude” and “giving thanks,” are truly possible to the degree we have the peace of Christ in our hearts, His message of unconditional love dwelling within and among us, and wisdom ringing out as a harmonious song we sing rather than an argument we promote, a judgment we pass or a club we wield.

Thankfulness to God must grow out of the blessings God has given. If we don’t understand the nature of how God blesses, then we don’t understand the nature of God. The Pharisee’s god was a god who blessed conditionally. He was a god who hated tax collectors and prostitutes and rewarded certain people based on merit, how often they fasted or how much they gave. To be thankful to that god for those blessings is to practice idolatry and to be misshaped by that thankfulness into a hateful, intolerant judge of the rest of the world.

As good as it feels to stand with those who have their act together; our God is called the “friend of sinners.” As righteous as it seems to rally around a culture-war hero fighting for “Christian values,” our God loved and forgave the soldiers even as they were killing Him. As affirming as it can be to be seen and recognized by the community of believers for our good deeds, our God reminded us that the reward of being seen is a fool’s gold that will lure us away from the reward of simply Being as our Father IS, a conduit of unconditional love.

Be thankful when those considered “outcasts and sinners” call you “friend.” Be thankful when you find yourself rejected yet empowered to respond with blessing. Be thankful when the good you do remains unnoticed.

Whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:7-8)

Paul surrendered all he was thankful for outside of knowing Christ because the cross turns gain into loss and loss into gain. The “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus” redefines our thankfulness, and in so doing, redefines us.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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