Giving Praise and Thanks

November 26, 2008

Recently, I heard Dr. Brian Widbin, a professor at Alliance Theological Seminary, talk about Thanksgiving and giving thanks during a chapel service.  A respected Old Testament and Hebrew scholar, he described that there was no Hebrew word in ancient Israel for “thanks” or “thank you.”  In fact, the concept of “thank you” didn’t even exist back then, especially as addressed to the LORD, and he half-jokingly lamented the watered-down and ill-motivated “thank you” that now exists in Israel (and everywhere else around the world).  

Dr. Widbin continued, pointing out that the subject of a “thank you” sentence is ME, as in, “I thank you.”  Thus, even when we are praying to the Lord, ostensibly offering praises to Him, we are actually keeping the focus on US.  “I thank You … for the food You give to ME.”  “I thank You … for keeping ME safe and healthy.”  “I thank You … for blessing ME.”  “I thank You … for the friends and family around ME.”  Many Christians have been conditioned to thank the Lord first in their prayers.  Ironically, in putting these prayers first (you know, to get the ‘praises’ out of the way before we start our petitions), we are putting ourselves first, and not really shining the light on the Lord at all.  Dr. Widbin admonished that “thank you” starts with a noble intent — to recognize the giver — but actually results in being a mostly-selfish expression.

When I first heard this teaching, I was shocked and somewhat insulted.  After all, I try to be careful when I say “thank you,” so that if those words ever come out of my mouth, I can say that I truly mean it.  I try not to speak frivolously, and I try to always be polite and recognize the efforts, generosity and hospitality of others.  I try to be humble before God, acknowledging that nothing I have and nothing from which I am protected is of my own strength, will or accord.  However, after mulling Dr. Widbin’s words, I think he may be right.  “Thank you” is among the first phrases we teach our children, and they parrot us … but I wonder how often they really mean it, especially when they are coached by a parental “What do you say?”  How often do I say “thank you” to a strange man who holds a door open for me, but never look him in the eye and am only worrying that I would be viewed as rude if I didn’t express gratitude?  And when I pray, how often do I offer thanks to God for who HE is, and not just for what He has done for or given to me?

So what is one to do, then?  Obsess about the selfishness of “thank you?”  Overturn years of proper social conditioning and fly in the face of all that is polite and good?  Force a different view of the Lord and fret over a prayer life that has yet again been proved inadequate?

Dr. Widbin’s encouragement balances his admonition: praise Him.  Simply praise Him.  Stop for a moment and think about the Lord: who He is, how He reigns, the width of His heart, the scope of His vision, the breadth of His plans, the goodness of His will, the eternity of His presence, the wisdom of His word, the mystery of all He is and the clearness of His revelation to us.  Oh yes, He surely does deserve our thanks and gratitude for all He does, gives and provides.  But before we move onto His actions, we can and should just take a breath to consider Him and Him alone.  And let our thanksgiving proceed from the reality of His life, not ours.

So this Thanksgiving 2008, this is my prayer and hope for myself and for all of you, my lovely brothers and sisters.  I ask the Holy Spirit to wipe clean our eyes and give us clearer vision of the Lord, and to put in our hearts songs of honest and joy-filled praise toward the God we see.  I ask our Father to bring to our minds the truths of His nature and character, and give us a deep awareness of how wonderful — full of wonder — He is.  And I pray that our “thank you’s” this year will be more honest and more true, motivated not by or despite our circumstances, but by the fact that our God is who He is.

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