Thanksgiving–the Antidote to Selfishness
In the movie, “The Pirates of the Caribbean”, the pirates conducted themselves by the motto of Captain Jack Sparrow. Do you know what that motto was? It was, “Take what you can get . . . . and don’t give anything back!” I think a lot of people have taken Captain Sparrow's advice to heart.
The destruction of governments, nations and families throughout history can be traced to selfishness. And while selfishness cannot be limited to any one generational era, our generation seems to have a capacity for selfishness that might even make the Devil jealous.
Selfishness is something the Devil knows about firsthand. And, if he could be selfish in his perfect angelic state–not marred with a sinful nature like all of us–then that should tell you just how powerful selfishness can be. It was the Devil's selfish desire to become like God, that made him fall from the status of a good angelic being, to that of a fallen angel (see Isaiah 14:12-14).
After the Devil's failed attempt to rebel against God, he set out to convince Eve that becoming like God was a good thing and that God was only cramping her potential by keeping her from eating the fruit of one tree? The Devil said to her, “You won’t die! God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil (Gen. 3:4-5)."
Who wouldn't be impressed with a temptation like that–"becoming like God"? The Bible records Eve's reaction to the Devil's suggestion like this–"The woman saw that the tree was beautiful, that its fruit was good to eat, and that it would make her wise. So, she took some of its fruit and ate it. She also gave some of the fruit to her husband, and he ate it (Gen. 3:6)."
In keeping with his scheming nature, the Devil didn't tell Eve there's a dark side to selfishness. And, ever since Eve and Adam's selfish action–the world has been alienated from God. We have been marred by death, sin, and evil–not to mention selfishness.
People still act like little gods–bowing to no one but the one they see in the mirror. We certainly needed a Saviour in the person of Jesus Christ to save us from our sin and selfishness. G.K. Chesterton said, "the doctrine of original sin is the only thing that can be philosophy and empirically validated by centuries of recorded human history."
This month, thousands of Canadian families and individuals will celebrate Thanksgiving. It's a time that's meant to be the antithesis of selfishness. It is a time to give God, our Creator and Provider, thanks for all his provisions.
The concept of thanksgiving didn't start with the pilgrims. Moses tried to teach the meaning of thanksgiving to Israel many years ago. Moses told Israel that they were going to be blessed by God in Deuteronomy 8-6-10:
So, obey the commands of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and fearing him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land of flowing streams and pools of water, with fountains and springs that gush out in the valleys and hills. It is a land of wheat and barley; of grapevines, fig trees, and pomegranates; of olive oil and honey. It is a land where food is plentiful, and nothing is lacking. It is a land where iron is as common as stone, and copper is abundant in the hills. When you have eaten your fill, be sure to praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.
At this point, one would think the Israelites' natural reaction would be, "Wow can it get any better than this"? "This is truly awesome!" "We have everything we could ever possibly want!" Okay, they didn't have Lamborghinis' back then. But I am sure you can understand what I mean.
You know, some people think that the more they have, the happier and more grateful they'll be. But too many people's life stories tell a different tale. Instead of being grateful in their affluence and prosperity, people can become smug, arrogant and self-indulged. It was this very danger that concerned Moses about Israel:
“But that is the time to be careful! Beware that in your plenty you do not forget the Lord your God and disobey his commands, regulations, and decrees that I am giving you today. For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful! Do not become proud at that time and forget the Lord your God, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. . . . . Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful, in order to fulfill the covenant, he confirmed to your ancestors with an oath.
Moses was deeply concerned that Israel would forget God and not thank him for all his provisions. He knew that thankfulness was not something that came easy for selfish human beings. If you are a parent, you know that thankfulness is not something that comes naturally to children. You have to teach them to be thankful and more than once. The same was true for Israel and is true for all of us.
Moses pointed out that prosperity is often accompanied by the sin of pride. He said, "Do not become proud at that time and forget the Lord your God, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt” (verse 11). A proud and haughty attitude is often connected to personal success and accomplishment. Moses knew that Israel would be tempted to say that, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me” (verse 17).
Living in an affluent culture might tempt many to believe that prosperity is our rightful inheritance. Even worse still is an attitude that thinks we got to where we are in life because of our own prowess. Moses told Israel to never forget that it was the Lord who gave them the ability to produce wealth and not their own strength and power.
Thanksgiving is a time when we remind ourselves that we are not self-made, we were created by God. Psalm 100:3 puts it like this: "Know that the Lord, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves." Now that might be disappointing news to all the self-made individuals out there–that "God made us, and not we ourselves". But the truth is–everything we own, everything we will ever have, it comes from God. The very breath you breathe right now is a gift from God.
The antidote to selfishness is thanksgiving. That's why the psalmist tells us to, "Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him and bless His name (Psalm 100:4)."
When speaking about Israel's generous giving to the building of the temple, King David said, "But who am I, and who are my people, that we could give anything to you? Everything we have has come from you, and we give you only what you first gave us! (1 Chronicles 29:14)" David had the right attitude. He knew that everything we have comes from God. We would be wise to acknowledge this and be very thankful to God for his blessings.
Unfortunately, I have watched people spend their entire lives losing their health trying to gain wealth, only to spend the end of their lives losing their wealth trying to gain their health. No wonder Solomon said, "Vanity, vanity! It's a frivolous quest. How many people do you know that spend their money on things they don't need, with money they don't have, so that they can impress people they don't like. What a vain and empty pursuit!
Not only at Thanksgiving season, but throughout the year, we should be thankful to God for his blessings. Think about thanksgiving like this–the real measure of our wealth is how much we'd be worth if we lost all our money. What would be left for us to thank God for then? If you want to feel blessed this Thanksgiving, start thanking God for all the things that money can't buy–your salvation, God's care, your family, your job–just to name a few. In our plenty, let us not forget that God is the source of all our blessings.
A family was seated around their table at Thanksgiving–all looking with anticipation at the annual holiday bird. From the oldest to the youngest, they were all given opportunity to express their praise. When they came to the 5-year-old in the family, he began by looking at the turkey and expressing his thanks to the turkey, saying although he had not tasted it, he knew it would be good. After that rather novel expression of thanksgiving, he began with a more predictable line of credits, thanking his mother for cooking the turkey and his father for buying the turkey.
But then he went beyond that. He joined together a whole hidden multitude of benefactors, linking them with cause and effect. He said, "I thank you for the clerk at the grocery store who checked out the turkey. I thank you for the grocery store people who put it on the shelf. I thank you for the farmer who made it fat. I thank you for the man who made the feed. I thank you for those who brought the turkey to the store." Using his little critical thinking mind, he traced the turkey all the way from its origin to his plate. And then at the end he solemnly said, "Did I leave anybody out?" His older brother, embarrassed by all these proceedings, said, yeah–"God." Solemnly, and without being flustered at all, the 5-year-old said, "I was about to get to Him."
At this Thanksgiving season, don't leave the most important One out? Make sure you get to God and pour out your deepest gratitude to him for all his blessings.