Summary: Being thankful does not have much to do with what I have, but it has a lot to do with who I am.
What I Have Is Not Who I Am!
by Jim Westmoreland
I may have a nice house and a refrigerator and a freezer full of food. I may have a good job or a great retirement income. I may have abundance and plenty and still not be a thankful person. If I am a grateful, thankful person, then, whether I have a lot or only a little, I’ll still be a thankful person, because What I have is not who I am.
In Philippians 4 Paul knew the secret of being filled and going hungry, of having abundance and suffering need. He had learned and encouraged the church at Philippi to let their requests to God be made known with thanksgiving. But, that is not always easy.
Some of you might remember the old, old movie serial, Ma and Pa Kettle. You might say that they lived where the Beverly Hillbillies came from. In a classic scene from many episodes, Ma Kettle would go to bangin’ and a’ clangin’ the triangle on the porch. Suddenly, from every crevice and corner around the yard came at least a dozen screaming and yelling children. They rushed into the house fighting for a place at the table. Then Ma, in her loudest, commanding voice, would holler, "Hold it!" Everyone would freeze in silence, like you had pushed the pause button on the VCR. Pa Kettle would roll his eyes heavenward, tip his hat, and say, "Much obliged." Immediately, chaos, noise and rough-housing resumed just as abruptly as it had stopped.
And I think to myself . . . God calls us to much better than a tip of the hat.
Thanksgiving is not a feast for the flesh but rather a feast for our spiritual nature. It is true that our physical bodies receive nutrients from the food we consume, but our spiritual bodies receive something far more nourishing as a result of our thankful hearts. However, being thankful does not mean that one simply bows his head and voices a prayer of thanksgiving--it runs much deeper than that and is a little more complex.(1) Being thankful does not have much to do with what I have, but it has a lot to do with who I am.
One evening on the way home from his office, Matthew Henry, the writer of the now famous commentaries that bear his name, was robbed. Before going to bed that night, he wrote in his diary, "Let me be thankful: first, because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, because although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed."
Thanksgiving is not a holiday or an event as much as it is the shadow of salvation. Thanksgiving is not merely a reaction or realization of blessings. It is not just looking at all the good things we have and then bowing our heads and saying Thank you. Rather, it is the reflection of who we are in Christ. When God’s blessings are poured upon us like sunshine, the image of who we are is cast onto the ground--and although we do not control the blessings, we are fully capable of controlling our shadow.(2) As we relate to people every day, does our shadow tell them more about what we have or who we are?
Francis Schaeffer once said, "The beginning of men’s rebellion against God was, and is, the lack of a thankful heart." I think C. S. Lewis said it best when he wrote: "We ought to give thanks for all fortune: if it is ’good,’ because it is good, if ’bad’ because it works in us patience, humility and the contempt for this world and the hope of our eternal country."
In the dark days of the Depression in 1929 a group of ministers gathered to discuss how they should conduct their Community Thanksgiving service that year. Things were really bad with no sign of relief. The bread lines were depressingly long. It seemed that the heart of the economy was just barely beating. Some thought that they should be sensitive to the misery all around them and that there should be little mention given to the subject of Thanksgiving. But, one pastor rose to say the opposite. He said that this was a time for the nation to get matters into perspective and to thank God for blessings that were always present but often overlooked.
I believe He was right. At times, especially the good times, we often take things for granted. The most intense moments of thankfulness are not found in times of plenty, but when difficulties abound.
Some friends were missionaries to Kenya. Much of their work was in the city of Nairobi, but they would also travel to join some other missionaries that worked out in the bush country. They came back to the states and showed slides and told their stories. I’ll never forget the story with one slide which showed a circle of about thirty Kenyan natives. They were obviously under-nourished, with their frail bodies and distended stomachs. They had gathered to worship with the missionaries. They stood in a circle to sing and pray. Over and over, they gave thanks to God. Their poverty and their needs for life’s necessities were so great. Yet, there poverty did not drown out their gratitude. There prayers were heartfelt expressions of praise and gratitude to their loving and caring God. Though they don’t speak English, they knew the meaning of What I have is not who I am.