Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High. Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.
I became a Christian in my teens. I quickly joined a local faith community that had deep evangelical roots and a lively commitment to Christ. I was deeply grateful for my new found faith and my newly found extended family. And, I learned a lot.
One of the things I didn’t much appreciate – and that my community didn’t emphasize – was the season of Lent. Perhaps you are in a similar situation. As I write this, today is Ash Wednesday. Maybe you’ve never thought much about – or even thought of – Ash Wednesday or the season of Lent it inaugurates. On the other hand, perhaps you’ve grown up in a tradition that regularly observes a Lenten season. Whether you are new to the season or are an experienced observer, I want to reflect with you every other Saturday this Lenten season on the above text from Psalm 50.
Today I want to focus on the theme of gratitude, which begins this text. One of Max De Pree’s favorite sayings is that the first task of leadership is to define reality, and the last task is to say thank you. As these verses remind us as leaders who begin as followers of Jesus, we actually need to start at the end of Max’s saying. We begin with thanksgiving. Our first recognition is that all of life and all of our work as leaders begin with an appreciation of the gifts we’ve been given. We live our lives in response to God’s goodness and faithfulness. Behind all of our work and all of our achievements lies God’s work and providence.
Because we are given the gift of being his image bearers – that is, of being his agents in the world – it is easy for us to conclude that the results of our leadership must be our own doing. We are given the privilege of participating in God’s work. As Blaise Pascal once said, we are given “the dignity of causality”. But, that gift brings with it the danger that we lose sight of God’s much larger and much more important work that lies behind our own work. Moses warned the Israelites before they entered the Promised Land: “Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.’ But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth…” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18) As we see a “wealth of results” from our leadership, we need to remember – and give thanks to – the One who stands behind our work.
That is why this Psalm makes such a big deal about thanksgiving and gratitude. If our leadership is not rooted in gratitude to God, our ability to see the world rightly is compromised. The apostle Paul, in his summary of the creation narrative of Genesis, says this, “Though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. “ (Romans 1:21-22). This is not just an issue for our biblical ancestors, of course. Paul had in mind all of us. Ingratitude towards God is both the source and the result of all of our sin.
The season of Lent is usually associated with self-denial. Learning self-discipline in a world where “anything goes” is surely a good thing. But, we must begin where our text begins – with gratitude. The “sacrifice” that is most important to God this Lenten season is our “sacrifice of thanksgiving”. Whatever else we do this Lenten season, let’s take time to give thanks to God for all that he has provided for us and for those we lead.
What do you think about Lent? Is Lent something important to you? Why or why not? Do you know anyone for whom Lent is important? Would you be willing to take time to talk with them to learn why?
Does gratitude towards God come easily for you, or is it more of a challenge? What things help you become more grateful? When is gratitude more difficult? Are there certain resources that are helpful to you?
How can you practice gratitude more regularly this Lenten season? Are there certain times of the day or of the week that you can set aside during Lent to cultivate this practice?
LORD God, Author of Life and of all things visible and invisible, we acknowledge how blinded we are to all that you have given us, and how slow we are to give you the thanks that is due to you.
You have given us the gift of leadership, the gift of those entrusted into our care and of their work.
We are grateful that you are at work before, during and after our work. You provide the context for all that we do. You give us all that we need, and more, to be faithful to you.
Open our eyes this Lenten season to see you. Help us to offer to you, with awe and wonder, the sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise.
We pray this in Jesus name, Amen.