Being Thankful and the Ditch of Idolatry

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  (Romans 1:21, ESV)

Thanksgiving prayer sheet

So, the holiday season is upon us, and the day turkeys around our country have dreaded for a whole year is here.  Thought I would take a moment to write a quick post reminding us that the posture of giving thanks is vital for followers of Jesus, and failure to be thankful actually puts us on a dangerous path.

In his magnum opus, the Apostle Paul spends the first three chapters of the letter to the Romans arguing for the universal need for the Gospel.  Whether religious or irreligious in background, our goodness cannot save, and the only hope we have for redemption is the grace of God made known in Jesus.  Still, at the beginning of his flow of thought Paul makes a crazy and important point in Romans 1:21.  He is writing about the pathway toward idolatry, the worship of created things and our replacing the One True God with other things as central to life.  But the point Paul makes is that this spiral away from God begins with the failure to give thanks.  The very existence and glory of creation cries out that there is a God who is outside of and sovereign over everything in creation.  But there is a more beautiful truth about creation, the reality that as God made everything for His glory, He also created everything as good gifts to us, and uniquely created us to enjoy everything that He made.  As creatures who made none of this and yet receive all of it as a gift from the Creator, the proper and natural response of a recipient to a joyful giver is to be thankful for the gifts given.  This thankfulness puts us in a proper relationship with both the Giver and the gifts themselves.

Think about this.  God made turkeys, cranberries, and pumpkins tasty and He also made our mouths for the greatest enjoyment of these flavors.  God made trees whose leaves turn color in Fall, the animals that roam our woods, and the moon and the stars which we gaze up at night, and he made our eyes so we could fully enjoy this beauty.  Again, God made the turkeys and trees, but he also made our hands and minds with the ability to cook the bird properly and shape the wood from these trees using the creativity God has given us so we can bake in ovens and build the houses where we will gather today.  So, in a very real way both the glorious and beautiful things in the natural world around us and our own bodies and minds are gracious gifts given by God for our joy.

This gets us to Paul’s point.  We taste food and drink, gaze at stars and trees, and build things from the stuff that God has made, yet rather than standing in awe of God and giving thanks for these amazing gifts, we get fixated on the gift.  Lack of thankfulness will lead us to discard the giver, and begin believing that we deserve all of these things.  The natural outcome for God’s image bearers who were created for glory is to put themselves in the place of God and begin worshiping as ultimate the things that God has made as a way to glorifying themselves.  This idolatry is the central sin for the human race, and is the fountain that flows to all other sin in our lives.

So here is the point on Thanksgiving day.  The door of thankfulness swings both ways.  Failure to be thankful is step one toward idolatry, but authentic thankfulness expressed to the Creator God is also the way to authentic worship and joy. Thanksgiving then is central for our worship as we make sure that in our hearts and minds God and the things He has made as gifts to us stay in the right lane.  Thankfulness acknowledges God as the glorious and gracious giver of every good and perfect gift, and it reminds us that everything else in creation are His gifts.  We don’t deserve gifts, we don’t create these gifts, and none of these gifts can fill the void in our hearts.  Yet, God created turkeys, stars, trees, and deer for our enjoyment, which should roll up into thanksgiving and praise to God as the good giver.  We were made for God, for His glory and worship.  So enjoy the turkey and cranberry sauce today, but give thanks for these gifts and for taste buds uniquely created to enjoy them.  Enjoy the nature around you and the stars tonight, but give thanks to the Creator of these things who made the universe to blow our minds, yet remember to give thanks for the things you see and the eyes to see them.  And take time to relish in the creativity of our own hands, human hands who take the things that God created and use them.  We figured out how to cook birds to a temperature so eating them wouldn’t kill us and bake that weird stuff inside of a pumpkin so it becomes incredibly tasty.  So enjoy and give thanks for the things we use with our hands and the hands we have that can create.

Failure to be thankful is the most direct path into idolatry, and taking time to be authentically thankful as an act of worship is the most direct path to seeing God as He is and enjoying all that He has made in a way that will give you ultimate joy.  To help today I posted a little Thanksgiving exercise at the top of this post for you and your family to do around the table before you eat.  Blessings, and Happy Thanksgiving.

One Response to “Being Thankful and the Ditch of Idolatry”

  1. Mike S says:

    Thank you Mike for this perfect reminder, and as always, for giving us a fresh, practical view and application. I need it…as it’s easy for me to miss this, in the over enjoyment of the good gifts 🙂