Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Virtue of Giving Thanks: The Consequence of Humility

Christ told us that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34).  In its full conversation, that verse is aimed at hypocritical Pharisees who were attacking Christ by attributing the work of God to Satan.  Their hearts were corrupt, so their mouths were necessarily corrupt.  Though they put on a show of purity and religiosity for all to see, they were rotten at their core and ended up blaspheming the God they said they so deeply loved.  The condition of their hearts literally came out of their mouths.

The mouths of the humble will naturally express thanksgiving to God.  Paul, a man full of thanksgiving, expressed himself this way to the Colossians: “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light” (Colossians 1:11-12).

His expression of thanksgiving here is utterly dependent upon the work God has done for him.  Paul did not deserve the inheritance God gave him, and the most influential missionary in the world did not work his way into God’s favor.  Paul tells disciples to thank God in the same way.  We have been made children of God; He has done the work of qualifying us to live in His kingdom.  We are thankful for God’s work, not ours.

Humility is a way of looking at the world, God, and our place in it.  If we think we are the most significant thing in the world, or even one of the most significant things, humility is not a burden we bear.  If we believe God is the most important thing in all of time and space, then we are on our way to understanding our proper place in the world and the proper attitude we need to take toward others.  When God is primary, He is the source of my salvation and I am thankful.  When I am primary, God benefits from my presence on earth.  When God is primary, I am thankful for the gifts of creation, family, friends, work, and so much more.  When I am primary, all these people ought to be thankful for me.

Pride collapses our world.  We become self-consumed as our eyes are turned inward on our own perceived greatness, our own needs, and our own wants.  We become self-idols, looking like statues with heads bowed, not in worship but in self-adoration and self-absorption. 

Humility opens our world as wide as the greatness of God.  Our eyes can now gaze outward and upward as we can give thanks to God for all He has done and all He has given without the fear of losing the importance of ourselves.  In fact, the humble soul freely gives thanks in all things, finding in thanksgiving a divine valuation of all things.  People are no longer valuable to the degree they are useful to us, but in the degree to which they are valuable to God.  The objects of creation are no longer means to serve our selfish ends, but become beautiful objects displaying the handiwork of their Creator.  The humble disciple is able to see the world through the lens of thanksgiving.

The abundance of the prideful heart is a small, dark world.  The abundance of the humble heart is a joyous and expansive thanksgiving.  It is the humble disciple who sees God more clearly.  It is the humble disciple who gives thanks to God for all He has done.

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