How Can I Say Thanks?

November 8, 2019 by Olanda Carr

At the recent Stewardship Kaleidoscope conference in San Diego, CA, keynote speaker Eric Law challenged the crowd with the following question: “What is the greatest gift you have ever received?”

Those gathered were then encouraged to share their answers within small groups. Whispers of favorite toys, memorable gifts from parents and grandparents, and other related responses could be heard. One of the gathered attendees was the pastor of my congregation, Rev. Lorenzo Small, Sr. of First United Presbyterian in Charlotte, N.C. He shared with me his immediate response — his wife. After all, he could think of nothing or no one else that has provided him with such love and joy.

Upon further reflection, however, he later changed his response. He realized that the greatest gift he or anyone else has ever received is our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He described this realization as kind of a “duh” moment. How could he not think of that before?

After all, “For God so loved the world that he GAVE his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. “ [John 3:16 NIV]

It is because of this wonderful, terrific, magnificent gift that we all have eternal life and have it so abundantly! And while we know as Reformed believers that there are indeed “no strings attached” to this gift, how are we to express our gratitude? There are multiple perspectives on this age-old question, but I believe it is incumbent upon on us during the season of Advent to pause, pray, and reflect on our grateful responses to the greatest gift the world has ever received.

One of my favorite contemporary gospel songs is “My Tribute” by Andrae Crouch. In addition to its superb melodic nature, it is also one of my favorites due to its poetic phraseology. The song begins with:

How can I say thanks
for the things You have done for me?
Things so undeserved,
yet You gave to prove Your love for me;
the voices of a million angels
could not express my gratitude.
All that I am and ever hope to be,
I owe it all to Thee.

These lyrics capture the anxious feelings of many. It is quite difficult to identify how one is to ‘say thanks’ to an awesome God. The song suggests that even the voices of a million angels would be inadequate! Yet, we also logically recognize that we are not to give up in exasperation and abandon all efforts associated with expressions of gratitude. So, what are we to do? How are we to gratefully address God? If the tone of this lament sounds familiar, it may be because it resembles the cries of the people found in Micah 6:6-8:

With what shall I come before the Lord
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of olive oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly[a] with your God.

Heavy words! Micah encourages us to think less of grandiose expressions of appreciation. Instead, we are challenged to “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly.” And we all know how to do that, right? Ha! I’m afraid that these words, though simple at first reading, still create a bit of anxiety when it comes to proper execution.

Exactly how does one behave justly? Reflect a love of mercy? Walk with humility? Those answers do not come easily and vary from one person to the next. It takes some long conversations with God to begin to find these intricate answers. And what better time to start than Advent?

As mentioned a bit earlier, Advent is definitely a time to pause, pray, and reflect as we prepare our hearts to receive the gift of Jesus Christ. These disciplined practices will logically reveal different things to different people. I contend that the acts of justice for one may vary from the acts of justice from another. Similar can be said regarding mercy and humbleness. We have all been created in God’s image, each of us unique with gifts, talents, quirks, and biases.

Thus, our efforts to follow the commands of justice, mercy, humility will differ, yet all will require consistent, deliberate effort – continuous effort until our time on earth is done. Thus, we would be wise to use this season of Advent to discern what impacts these instructions for living have on our lives. For instance, one may discover through prayer that recent behavior at work or within church has been lacking in the equity department. Perhaps biases have caused others to be treated or viewed unfairly. Perhaps our expressions of generosity – time, talent, and treasures – have been inconsistent with our blessings. Only through communion with God can one begin to work through these struggles and forge a new path.

Advent is a time of spiritual preparation. Congregations throughout our denomination will participate in weekly Advent studies and services, carefully noting the weeks of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. As we observe the season, let us be mindful on how our actions should be consistent with our observances. Gratitude to God for the birth and gift of Jesus Christ is only the start. The real challenge is to reflect our gratitude through the way we live. The aforementioned “My Tribute” song by Crouch concludes with these words:

Just let me live my life,
let it be pleasing, Lord to Thee,
and if I gain any praise,
let it go to Calvary.

To God be the glory,
to God be the glory,
to God be the glory
for the things He has done.

I don’t believe I could say it any better. AMEN.