The Bible tells us that every good and perfect gift comes to us from God, the Father of lights (James 1:17). The Bible also tells us that we should always give thanks to God, in Christ (cf. Colossians 3:17). As we reflect on all the many reasons to be thankful, frequently the mind drifts to the many material blessings that we have been given: food, shelter, clothes, and sundry toys and tools with which we entertain ourselves and go about our daily business. It is entirely appropriate to be thankful for such things, but one might wonder, if we were to lose some or all of these material things, would we still be thankful? Or would we feel hard done by?
One put to just such a test was the man Job, who had been abundantly blessed with a great deal of wealth. Job was a righteous man, but it was suggested by the great accuser of men, Satan, that if God were to simply allow him to remove the various blessings that Job had been given, Job would cease to worship God as he had done in the past (cf. Job 1:9-12). Subsequently Job lost all his many material blessings, including his grown children. Faced with such devastating loss, Job did not lose His faith, instead uttering the truth, “the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21).”
Some might try to console themselves with the thought that certainly God would never allow them to lose their various possessions and thus they will never face such a test, but loss, in various forms comes to all. Whether by fire, flood, mishap, or disease – the prized treasures of this life can all too readily be taken away from us. It’s one thing to be thankful when times are good, can we do the same when we face tragedy, loss, and sorrow? Are we only thankful because we are materially prosperous?
Jesus, in His ministry encountered a rich, young man who was interested in learning what he needed to do in order to enter into eternal life. Jesus, after some preliminary remarks and an examination of the man’s moral conduct, concluded the man needed to do one thing more: go sell his possessions, give to the poor and follow after Jesus as His disciple. Jesus did not think the man needed to wait for tragedy to claim his possessions. He wanted the young man to give them up voluntarily. The man went away sorrowful (cf. Matthew 19:21-22). He could be thankful and cheerful, but the thought of losing his material wealth made him far less than thankful. Maybe it was just this weakness that Jesus was wanting the young man to actively address.
One of the practices encouraged of Christians is that of fasting. Fasting is voluntarily going without food for a period of time. Jesus fasted (cf. Matthew 4:2), gave commands concerning fasting (cf. Matthew 6:16) and predicted there would come a time when His disciples would intentionally fast (cf. Matthew 9:15). The apostles subsequently, through their devout example (cf. Acts 13:2, 3, 14:23) encouraged the church in the practice of fasting. Yet when the subject is raised, there are some who find the whole idea strange. We are so conditioned to focusing on being thankful for what we have, that the idea of voluntarily going without seems contrary to a good attitude. But maybe that is part of the point of fasting: giving up material blessings so as to help us focus on the blessings which last, the spiritual blessings found in Christ Jesus; blessings which are described, not as being earthly, but heavenly (cf. Ephesians 1:3).
The things Christians should be most thankful for are spiritual in nature. In Christ, there is a relationship with God, hope of eternal life, and the everlasting fellowship of the saints. If we are in Christ, being found in Him, sharing in His love and His resurrection, there is nothing which can take those blessings away from us (cf. Romans 8:31-39). If our home were to burn, taking all our food and clothes with it, if our family were to perish from the earth, if we were to lose all our wealth and possessions to the fortunes of happenstance, if we are in Christ we still have cause to be thankful – eternally thankful even.
So it is proper to be thankful for the material blessings that we have, but it is useful for the disciples of Christ to occasionally take stock of themselves and ask concerning each item: can I be thankful without that? And if we hesitate, making of any one earthly thing an idol hard to give up, we should hear the voice of Christ telling us, “go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me. (Matthew 19:21; ESV)”
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.