The abundant life starts and ends with gratitude enabled by faith.
This day, Thanksgiving, has its foundation in traditions begun by the Pilgrims.
The occasion was a successful harvest after months of extreme hardship and deprivation. The Mayflower survivors invited the Indian king Massasoit to their celebration, and he came with ninety-some of his men. The Pilgrims provided waterfowl and turkey; the Indians added five deer. There were games and athletic contests, and even a joint militia drill. The celebration lasted three days. But they did not call the feast “Thanksgiving,” and the record does not mention prayers of thanks or any kind of worship service. Some historians question whether this “first Thanksgiving” was a religious celebration at all. But that’s because they don’t know the Pilgrims and what they really believed.
The pilgrims were children of the reformation, Christians seeking to live according to their best understanding of Christ’s teachings. They understood that God graciously declares guilty sinners righteous on the basis of Christ’s perfect obedience and his death, substituting his perfection for our imperfection, paying our debt by proxy and overcoming both spiritual and physical death for us. This gift of legally transferred righteousness is received by faith and such faith is itself the gift of a sovereign God. But they also knew that grace doesn’t end there. They, no less than the Reformers, had faced the obvious questions: “Why then should believers do good works? Doesn’t the doctrine of justification by faith, a free gift, lead to sloth and lawlessness?” Isn’t it OK to simply declare your faith, then enjoy a free ride?
The Pilgrim answer, and the answer of Scripture, involves the nature of saving faith and the work of the Spirit who grants it. To the extent that one comprehends and accepts Christ’s infinite gift of redemption, won through unfathomable pain, one cannot help but feel gratitude. Gratitude changes one’s heart. The depth of one’s gratitude determines the depth of one’s joy. The video that introduces this post shows how we can cultivate a sense of gratitude by noticing and focusing on the goodness of the gifts (blessings) we receive and how gratitude is inseparably connected with joy.
This is the very nature of joy. When we enjoy a thing, we are thankful for it. We praise the gift to the giver and so enjoy both.
- “Thank you for this ring! It’s magnificent!”
- “What a fantastic dinner! It was the best ever. Thank you.”
When we find joy in another human being, we show our joy and gratitude with words and actions. We praise and magnify the one we love. We are thankful to love and to be loved.
- “I’m proud of you, son. You’re the best.”
- “I thank God for you every day. My life wouldn’t be the same without you.”
- “There’s no one else like you! I love you so much!”
Joy finds its fulfillment in thankfulness, in praise and thanksgiving. Silent joy is a contradiction. Mute appreciation isn’t really thanks. God requires our thanksgiving and our love so that our joy may be full. Shakespeare said it well, “They do not love that do not show their love.”
The spirit of thankfulness and joy are gifts that are cultivated by the Holy Spirit, who also gifts us with faith. These four gifts (faith, gratitude, love and joy) are inseparable, and they begin with faith. They work together. The fruit of true gratitude is a desire to give back in some meaningful way, not only in words of gratitude but also in deeds. The Holy Spirit gives the converted sinner a delight in serving God. And so, the circle is complete. Motivated by these gifts, one’s desire to work toward perfection, which is the love of God, increases. Long before Shakespeare, James said the same thing about the interconnected nature of faith, gratitude, love, and works, “Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.” James 2:18
There is a perennial debate over whether salvation comes of faith or works. That debate introduces a needless semantic division amongst believers in Christ that is easily resolved with an understanding of the inseparability of the gifts from the natural consequences of those gifts truly appreciated and received. The core question is not whether we are saved by faith. It is, what is the quality of our faith? . . . or is my faith sufficient for salvation?
If it is true that the natural and inevitable consequences of true faith in Christ are gratitude, joy and a desire to serve, then it should be easy to measure the strength of one’s own faith to salvation. I am careful here to say, “one’s own faith” as feelings and desires are matters of the heart, known only to oneself and God. Each of us acts on those feelings in different ways that we believe will be the best ways to serve and may not be apparent to others. Hence, the command that we withhold judgment of others.
As I celebrate this day designated for Thanksgiving, I am prompted to evaluate the quality of my gifts. “For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.” (D&C 88:33) Here is the test of whether I have actually received the gift . . . (the gift of salvation through faith):
1. Is my heart overflowing with thankfulness for my gifts?
2. Is my gratitude evidenced by deep, abiding joy that transcends the fear, pain and difficulties of this day?
3. Am I filled with a joyful desire to show my gratitude through returning obedience and service to God by serving my fellow man?
If the answer to any of these questions is questionable, then the question remains, “have I received the gift of salvation through faith if gratitude, joy and love are obviously lacking?” If not, as Shakespeare might have said it, they have not faith who do not show their faith.
Comfort and Joy
That gift of joy and comfort was not meant to be enjoyed only after this life is over. This life is hard, often painful. But Christ promised, “…my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matt 11:30 That is the promise of joy and comfort now.
The Pilgrims and Puritans are almost always portrayed as obsessive killjoys and miserable downers. There’s little truth in that image. Joy wasn’t an afterthought for our Pilgrim forefathers. For them, joy stood at the beginning, in the center, and at the end as a natural product of faith. For them, God was joy, even when they were hungry and that same joy expressed itself in thankfulness. For the Pilgrims, a day of rejoicing is necessarily a day of thanksgiving. And throughout Scripture that sort of rejoicing means feasting, fellowship, and worship. The Pilgrims were deeply committed Christians who had braved an ocean and a wilderness to seek and serve God. When they rejoiced together, it would not–could not–be other than a time of thanksgiving to their Lord and Savior. Yes, the Pilgrims gave thanks to God and so should all of us.
On this day of thanksgiving, my wish for all is that our burdens will be light and easy, that our joy and gratitude will be full as we contemplate the eternal blessings that are our gifts from God and that we will feel compelled to share that joy, love and gratitude with others.