Wednesday, December 1, 2010
The Most Thankful People in the Bible: A Thanksgiving Top Ten
#10 Jonah (Jonah 2)
Of course the first word that comes to mind when we think of Jonah is anything but “thankful.” It’s more like fearful, bitter, pompous. But have you read Jonah’s prayer from the belly of the fish lately? We tend to think he had it coming. Trying to run away from God. Serves him right to get sucked up by a whale of some kind. But he actually didn’t have it coming—salvation, that is. He deserved a grave at the bottom of the ocean. But God rescued him and Jonah recognized that. Filled, seemingly with thankfulness, Jonah confesses, “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me.” Later, he says (in contrast to idolaters), “I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you (God).” Like so many people, Jonah had to (first) get to one of his lowest points…only to be brought up out of it…to be filled (finally) with thanksgiving. He definitely seems to make the Top Ten…barely.
#9 One of Ten Lepers Healed (Luke 17)
It’s like a Top Ten within a Top Ten. Only the thanksgiving focus in Luke 17 isn’t on ten, it’s on one. Ten lepers encounter Jesus. All ten seemed to believe that Jesus was pretty much who He claimed to be. So they cried out to him for healing. “Master, have pity on us!” Jesus asks them to visit the priests, and on their way they were made whole. No more leprosy! Only one responded with a spirit of thankfulness. A Samaritan. He “threw himself” at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. Even Jesus seemed surprised there weren’t a few more of the former lepers at His feet. “Were not all ten cleansed?,” He asks. “Where are the other nine?” This man stood out from the crowd because of his thankfulness. I must confess that he puts me to shame. How often do you or I plea for a blessing from God? Praying numerous times a day, perhaps. And when the blessings come, we might think to tell Him thanks, what, once or twice tops, if at all. Unlike Jonah, this man probably deserves a higher “thankfulness” ranking than I’m giving him.
#8 Moses (Exodus 14-15)
If there’s anyone who had something (many things) to be thankful for, it was Moses. Has anyone enjoyed such a special relationship with the creator of the universe? It’s hard to find, though, very much in-your-face thanksgiving on the part of Moses. One exception, of course, is the “song” attributed to Moses in Exodus 15. With all the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea fresh on his mind, Moses (along with the Israelites) sang a song—a song that doesn’t mention specifically the word “thanksgiving,” but one that has thanksgiving implications on seemingly every line. I mean, couldn’t you insert a parenthetical “Thank you, Lord!” at the end of just about every line? “Pharoah’s chariots and his army he has hurled into the sea. (Thank you, Lord!)” “Your right hand, Lord, shattered the enemy. (Thank you, Lord!)” “Who among the gods is like you? (Thank you, Lord!)” And so on and so forth.
#7 The Man Formerly Known as “Legion” (Mark 5)
Before he met Jesus, the man lived among tombs. He’d been chained who knows how often. No chain was strong enough, though. No one could subdue him. He cried out night and day, cutting himself with stones. Not because of some chemical imbalance, but because of an impure spirit living within him. Jesus comes and has a conversation with the spirit(s). He sends them into a herd of pigs. The pigs run off a cliff into a lake and drown. The man is himself again—calm, dressed (evidently he wasn’t quite dressed previously). The eyewitnesses are so blown away, they ask Jesus to leave. The man, though, feels just the opposite. He wants to stick to Jesus like glue. A big reason, seemingly, is because of his thankfulness for what Jesus had done. Jesus, instead, encourages the man to return home. The man does and can’t seem to stop telling people about Jesus and what he’d done for him. I’m sure it was a thankful testimony, indeed.
#6 Mary, the Mother of Jesus (Luke 1-2)
I’m not sure exactly how thankful Mary was when she first heard about her virgin pregnancy. Perhaps, not much. Everything seemed to change, though, when she visited with Elizabeth and heard more than once from her how “blessed” she really was. One verse later (in Luke), Mary breaks out in praise and thanksgiving, saying things like, “(God) has done great things for me!” It’s because of this unmistakable, not to mention lengthy, statement of outright thanksgiving that Mary makes the list. No question.
#5 The Woman Who Anointed Jesus (Luke 7)
Can a person be too thankful? From God’s perspective, no. From man’s perspective, maybe. That sort of seems to be the case in Luke 7. A woman known as “sinful” just lavishes love upon Jesus, particularly his feet…and it must’ve made the onlookers squirm. She cries so much that her tears (of thanks?) wet Jesus’ feet. She dries them with her what was likely long hair. She then kisses them (for who knows how long), and finally pours perfume on them. You could call it a “love” fest. In fact that’s the term that comes up more than once in the episode. But just think how much love and thanksgiving are intertwined in life. It’s hard to separate them, actually. I like to view this scene as a love scene with a whole bunch of thanksgiving mixed in. She’s obviously responding to Jesus’ (a holy person of God) apparent acceptance of her (a not so holy person). The response is loving, yes…but it’s also tremendously thankful. Her over-the-top thanksgiving convicts me. It has no fear. No boundaries. It’s like she just puts herself out there and thinks, “Who cares what anyone else thinks?” And what's more...she's the only representative in this list who speaks no words, sings no songs, writes no psalms. She's a doer, not a talker. She lets her actions proclaim her thankfulness. Who needs to speak? Just do.
#4 The Father of the Prodigal (Luke 15)
The son gets all the attention, usually. But not today. He’s not the one who seems most thankful in the story. We can assume he was grateful, but it’s not crystal clear from the text. What is clear from Luke 15 is that his father was. Scholar types who know what they’re talking about talk about how undignified/embarrassing it would’ve been for a Palestinian-type father to hike up his robe and run to meet a son who’d pretty much said “drop dead” when he asked for an early inheritance. Like the “sinful woman” (above), the father doesn’t seem to care what any of his neighbors think. He’s thankful to see his son again. He proclaims, “…this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” That’s just about the most thankful statement from scripture, it seems to me. What’s especially encouraging is knowing who the father figure is supposed to represent—God, Himself, right? Doesn’t that suggest that God is one of the most thankful people in scripture? Goodness knows He has a lot to not be thankful for, when it comes to the way we behave (i.e., misbehave). But this parable implies that there are some things, some events, some turn-arounds that He is most certainly thankful for.
#3 Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4)
I love surprise entrants like Nebuchadnezzar. His life (overall) wasn’t one of thankfulness—not to the one true God, that’s for sure. But when it comes to thankful “moments,” there aren’t many that rival the moment Nebuchadnezzar’s sanity/humanness was restored. He recounts his miraculous downturn and upturn in Daniel 4. His story begins on the roof of his royal palace when he says to himself, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built…by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” Basically, his story begins with a surprising amount of “I” and “my.” It ends, though, with a lot of God. How is that possible? God reduces Nebuchadnezzar to a wild animal. He lived remotely, alone. He ate grass like an ox. Dew would accumulate on his back each morning. His “hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird.” After Nebuchadnezzar “raised his eyes toward heaven,” God restored him. Then…and this is how he makes the list…he “praised the Most High.” Similar to love (discussed above), humility, like the kind Nebuchadnezzar experienced, is often wrapped up inextricably with thankfulness. I personally see thanksgiving hiding behind his words of praise and respect for God (4:34-35). And why wouldn’t there be, after the ultra-lowly state he’d been in?
#2 Hannah (1 Samuel 1-2)
You were waiting for her, weren’t you? Her name is practically synonymous with thankfulness. Out of desperation, she asks the Lord for a son. Not only that, she basically says up front, “God, if you answer my prayer now, here’s how I’ll thank you later.” She commits her yet-to-be-born son to God’s service. “I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life,” she promises. In case you didn’t fully appreciate those words….that’s called extreme thanks. Of course, Hannah’s prayer (of thanks) is what we typically think of when we think of Hannah’s response to God’s gift. With language like, “I delight in your deliverance,” and “my heart rejoices in the Lord,” Hannah expresses pure praise. And speaking of synonyms…is praise synonymous with thanks? If so, Hannah’s place in the Thanksgiving Top Ten is definitely top tier.
#1 David (2 Samuel 6)
It’s not a fair fight. David composed so many psalms, how can anyone else compete? Not that all his psalms are thanksgiving psalms, but still. When it comes to expressions of thanksgiving that are obvious, clear, and preserved for all time, David leads the way. What’s obvious is that David had an unprecedented awareness of God’s blessing, protection, presence, and judgment in his life. If he defeated a giant, it was because of God. If his army was victorious, it was because of God. If his nation enjoyed peace, it was due to God’s protection. If he endured pain, it was caused by God. That kind of awareness will naturally lead to thanksgiving more often than not. It’s an awareness I need…perhaps you, too. Without a doubt, some of the psalms can give us a glimpse into David’s thankfulness. I think, though, that one of the best glimpses is an event from his life—something someone else recorded about him. It was the time he brought back the ark of God to its rightful place, among its rightful people. If you remember, David had tried to reclaim the ark before, and it cost Uzzah his life. The second attempt was different…certainly a more thankful occasion. With the ark in the house of Obed-Edom, David’s assistants picked up the ark, took six steps, didn’t die (like Uzzah), causing David to sacrifice a bull and a calf to God (out of thanks?). Next thing you know, David is “dancing before the Lord with all his might.” If only he’d danced with (only) most his might. His leaping and dancing “before the Lord” was too much for Michal, his wife. She scolds him later for “uncovering” himself before others, using words like “shameful” to describe his behavior. David basically tells her that he was dancing for an audience of one and that’s all that mattered. It was before God he danced—the One who’d “chosen” him, “appointed” him. With all that in mind, David “celebrated before the Lord.” The “Michal” in me wants to ask again, Can a person be too thankful? Can you celebrate God too much? Evidently, David didn’t think so. He let all his thankfulness come flying out. Held none of it back…come what may. Thanks be to God that he did.