By: James Clark, Resonate Pullman
Every Thanksgiving we, like many families, had a moment sitting around the table where my mother would stop everyone from gorging themselves on turkey and stuffing and ask the daunting question:
“What are you all thankful for?”
My brother and I would roll our eyes and groan audibly, and my dad and grandpa would grin as my mom gave a piercing glare. What made this so uncomfortable for the majority of the table is that thankfulness in this moment was not authentic. We gave thanks with our voices but didn’t feel it in our hearts.
Often we can give the appearance of thankfulness without a heart that experiences it. We say the words “thank you,” but it’s usually just words. In the same way, when we worship our Father he desires more than just the correct words, but a heart overflowing with thankfulness.
Psalm 50:23 says “the one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me.” This thanksgiving as sacrifice is an act of worship. But the true sacrifice that glorifies God comes from a heart that experiences emotive, authentic thankfulness. “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” (Psalm 100:1-2). Ultimately, the root of our worship comes from a heart that is overflowing with thanksgiving because of the gospel, that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8).
Authentic worship is the inevitable outpouring of thanksgiving from a heart that has been radically transformed by the saving power of Christ. This response often looks like singing, dancing, meditation, weeping, fasting, and most importantly, obedience. In other words, when we believe to even the smallest extent the magnitude of mercy that God has extended to our undeserving soul, we cannot help but respond with celebration and thanksgiving.
That means worship isn’t just for Sunday morning. It is a daily posture of thankful submission to the amazing Savior, because we can’t help it. This joy is available to all of us twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.
The truth is, I often wake up to the feelings of stress, pressure, and the mundane, which distract me from being thankful for the Gospel. Our circumstances and resulting emotional states can serve as a real distraction from the joys of following Christ. In these moments it is easy for us to believe the lie that we should muster up the right words and postures and fake it, convincing everyone that we are ok. Our hearts in their natural state will not be drawn to worship Jesus, so we must ask God daily to remind us of how good He is and to continue to soften our hearts. We cannot conjure up true feelings of thankfulness alone, it requires a force beyond ourselves. Thankfully we have the Holy Spirit constantly working within us and molding our hearts more and more into the likeness of Christ.
As a self-proclaimed thinker (although my wife says we’re all really feelers), it’s easy for me to intellectually justify worship. But I need to constantly pursue God through prayer and scripture to awaken my heart. It requires effort. Outside of normal rhythms of reading and praying, here are a few tools for all of us thinkers out there who need help in remembering and living into the joy that has been set before us.
Begin your day with the Gospel.
If our thankfulness is a direct result of the Gospel, than this should be the truth from which our day begins. Most of us reach for our phones right when we wake up. Instead, we should spend the first five to ten minutes of our day reflecting on what God has accomplished for us through Christ. This helps us to set our minds on things above before we begin to consider the stressors of everyday life.
Memorize and meditate.
Alongside normal rhythms of reading the Bible, the Word of God really begins to make its way into your heart when you spend time memorizing and reflecting on it. Meditation is setting aside time to think deeply about the truth presented in a particular verse or passage. This helps us to believe the promises of God in a way that is beyond the intellectual, and memorization brings God’s promises to mind more often.
Keep the Sabbath.
I know this is a tough one, but the benefits of regular sabbath cannot be overstated. We are commanded to live in patterns of work and rest, as we see Jesus model to His disciples. If we do not spend regular significant time with Jesus, then we will quickly forget that there is an amazing relational side to what He offers us.
If we neglect to rest our bodies, we will quickly get lost in stress and exhaustion, which is certainly not conducive to a joyful heart. The Lord commands us to rest in Him because it is what is best for us. When we do so we step deeper into joyful relationship with Him, which fuels our Gospel-centered worship.
Thankfully, the cross covers every day that we don’t experience the joy of our salvation. Jesus is an empathetic high priest and is not ignorant to the fact that we just don’t feel it every day. But to perpetually live in a state of verbal thanksgiving without the heart posture robs God of true worship and robs us of living the full life that Jesus offers.
I pray that throughout this season, God would mold the hearts of our church more and more to authentically worship in thankfulness.