Learning to Give Thanks
Text: 1Timothy 4:4
For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving.
This is a rather iconic photograph. I know many of you have probably seen this image, or something like it before. It is a very popular subject of photographers and artists from all over. This particular location is in Colorado, not that far from Aspen, where I appointed as pastor for a couple of years.
Many refer to this image as the old crystal mill, which is sort of ironic because it is not in crystal and it wasn’t ever a mill. This building is located in the ghost town of Marble, Colorado and it was used in the late 19th century and early 20th century as a hydro-electric facility. During the gold rush in Colorado Marble had been a booming town and a place that was ahead of its time, partly because it had electricity. The confusion comes because this building looks like a mill and it sits on the edge of the Crystal River, which flows through Marble. So it somehow got named the Old Crystal Mill and I guess the name stuck.
The reason I wanted to show you this photograph goes beyond some of the interesting history and the fact that it is an awesome location. I want you to notice where this structure is actually located and how it is constructed. Notice how the building itself is right on the very edge of the cliff which forms the waterfall of the river. If you were looking for prospective building locations to build a structure, this certainly would not be at the top of the list in normal circumstances. Generally, it is nice if a building location is relatively flat, has good soil that’s not too rocky, perhaps a nice southern exposure to catch some solar energy in the winter and easy access is always a bonus. That’s what you look for if you are going to build something. This location has none of those things. Generally it’s not a great idea to build on the edge of a precipice.
But the builders of this structure were not looking for what would make the construction easy. The builders were looking for access to the power of the water. This makes a huge difference. Everything else became secondary, because the power of the water was the primary concern. If you really study the structure, you can see that the actual construction process must have been quite a feat of engineering and probably required nerves of steel. Being in a location that provided access to the power of the water was the primary concern. Stick a pin in that idea because we will be coming back to this in a few minutes.
A few years ago there was a book released called “1,000 Gifts”. The author’s name is Ann Voskamp and I believe this particular book spent a few weeks on the NYTimes Best Seller list. It is a true story about this woman’s struggle with her special needs son. They tried everything but nothing seemed to work. The son had a number of mental and physical issues which caused behavioral problems all the time and relationships were hard and the stress in the family was almost unbearable. Then in an act of desperation Ann Voskamp turned to her faith and began to give thanks for everything. She kept a diary and would write down everything she could think of to be thankful for. Her goal was to find 1,000 things every day to be thankful for. These didn’t always have to be good things, or at least things that she perceived as good. She gave thanks for everything. Over the weeks, months and years after she began this practice of giving thanks, remarkably things began to improve with her son. It is quite a story and a very good read. I would recommend it.
This brings me back around to the text I read a few minutes ago. This is not a new idea. We are told repeatedly in the New Testament to give thanks for all things. Take another look at the words that Paul had written to his understudy, Timothy: “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving.”
Of course there is a context to this scripture and the historical context is that there was a conflict that had developed about certain customs and traditions particularly around food. The response was to give thanks for the food and not worry too much about the customs and traditions.
But the implications and wisdom of this scripture go far beyond just food. The text actually says that everything created by God is good. So take a look at your world as you understand it and tell me what was not created by God. Anything?
So often we look at our worlds, we look at our circumstances with such judgment; all we can see is the evil or the things that go wrong or the people we wish were different somehow. Most of us would change the world in certain ways if we could. As a matter of fact, you pay someone a huge compliment if you tell them they are going to change the world someday. That is everyone’s goal. We all want to change the world.
Well, here is something to think about. God created the world as it is.
This isn’t easy and it is not our first reaction when something goes wrong, but to give thanks in every circumstance is an approach to spirituality that most of us avoid. It is easier to complain and allow ourselves to feel bad or to express fear or anxiety and to just sit around and wish things were different. I’ll let you in on a little secret; your connection to God will never grow stronger until you truly begin to comprehend and practice this simple, yet difficult, technique. Give thanks. All the time.
I cannot offer you a sound theological explanation of what happens or why this works. There have been many explanations in the past that frankly, at least for me, have been huge failures. The story of the Garden of Eden and the fall of humanity from Grace is one such failure. And there are many others. So I feel compelled to offer my own story, my own metaphor if you will, as to how we can experience full connection with the Divine through thanksgiving.
I have spoken before about the importance of how we personally construct an image of God in our own understanding. If your image of God is of a being, or anthropomorphic, then this metaphor will be difficult for you to truly understand and implement into your life. If on the other hand you can image God more as a spirit that moves and flows and is present in all things, like energy, then I think this will make some sense to you.
Let me first say that it is my belief that the presence of God is in all things and in all people. This doesn’t explain why some people can be so far removed from the presence of God that they act in abhorrent ways, but I still believe it to be true. The presence of God is there.
I think the difference can be found in an individual’s access to the power of that presence. Let me say that again. The presence of God can be found in all people, but not all people respond to that presence, or use the power available in that presence.
So here is a metaphor for you to think about. God is like a river; you have heard this before, a river of life or living water as Jesus said. All of humanity is mostly water; our bodies are mostly water, we all know this. So, like water, God is present in all of humanity. The difference is how the power of that water is used. The difference among human beings is how that water is accessed and how the power of that water is utilized.
Remember the Old Crystal Mill? The decision to build this structure where it was built had nothing to do with finding a nice comfortable building site. The decision to build this structure where it was built had everything to do with access to the power of the water. Was it a difficult place to build? Of course it was. Did it require extra time and planning and perhaps was a little risky? I’m certain of those things as well. Did the location provide access to the power of the water? Indeed it did.
Here’s the lesson. When we give thanks in every situation, when we adopt an “attitude of gratitude” as the saying goes, when we take the risk to offer our non-judgmental thanks for every circumstance, that process moves us to a location of access to the power of the spirit.
Imagine your life as a building in the middle of a meadow somewhere. It might seem less risky to build there, but when you begin to give thanks for every situation, that building is lifted up and transported to the very edge of the cliff. On the edge of that cliff you might feel insecure, you might feel vulnerable, you might think that it is risky; but on the edge of that cliff you also have access to the power of the water.
Giving thanks in all things moves us to a place where we have access to the power of the presence of God that is within us. It doesn’t always feel secure and it isn’t always comfortable, but that is where we need to be. For this season of Thanksgiving, where food is on our brains, the power of giving thanks is food for thought.
Go in peace. Amen.