God at the centre - extract from foundation module: Gospel Change
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We will speak thankful words consistently when we are a thankful people, that is, when we give the giver his due glory. Thankfulness is more than words; it is an attitude of the heart. And so thankful words reveal a heart set on God. A heart filled with thanksgiving recognises the rightful place of the giver and the gifts: God is at the centre of the universe, and all things serve his glory. It is not I who am at the centre; all creation does not serve my desires.
Thankfulness recognises that God is on his throne, and that he is the giver of every good and perfect gift. This will enable us to live in holiness, for we see his gifts in the proper light. It gives them an appropriate weight and significance, and affords them a fitting place in our lives and affections. We neither treat them with disdain (and so see ourselves as self-sufficient); nor do we idolise them. We do not retreat to the desert, nor do we engage in orgies. Rather, we are free to enjoy the creation with thanksgiving. For example, we are able to appreciate the beauty of the natural landscape, and to praise its creator. We can take joy in the work we are given to do, for it is a good gift to us which we can also use to bless others. And we trust that our generous God shall supply all our needs.
And God is in control
Our trust is not misplaced, for the holy God is good, wise, and sovereign. This frees us to take whatever comes from God with gratitude, appreciation, and humility — we can give thanks “always and for everything” (Ephesians 5:20).
Counter-intuitively, this will include thankfulness in the midst of suffering. For suffering is a feature of life as we live it. It is the common experience of the human race — not in equal measure, but in terms of shared experiences: illness, bereavement, redundancy, rejection, disappointment, and so on. In a closed universe where there is no god, then bad things are just bad things; there is nothing good in them. The best we can do is ‘take them on the chin’, and get on with life until the next bad thing comes along. Many people carry themselves with this stoic, stiff-upper-lip, whatever will be, will be approach to life. But there is something hard and unattractive about it.
In contrast, as the community of light, we have the opportunity to suffer distinctively, because we suffer well. We know that God is working out all things according to his good purposes, for our good and his glory (Ephesians 1:11 with Romans 8:28). Even though I may not understand the details of what he is doing, I can be thankful for his intimate sovereignty in my life. This is not some shallow, trite thanksgiving that denies the reality of pain. Rather, with tears in our eyes, we can say, “Father, thank you that in the midst of this hardship, I can trust you and know that you are working out all things for my good and your glory.” This is a distinctive response to suffering, and so much more satisfying than the world’s alternatives of denial, numbness, or bitterness.
Holiness calls us to be thankful for all things, and it enables us to be thankful for all things. It gives us a vision behind the events of our lives, granting us sight of our good, wise, and sovereign Father. As thankfulness wells out of our hearts and into our mouths, people will surely notice that our conversation is different. The lack of a negative tone in our speech might be surprising enough to some people. But the presence of positive speech is guaranteed to alert them to something significant. The dis-community of darkness is not characterised by the thankfulness of which Paul writes here. Sadly, too often, neither is the so-called community of light! For many of us, we are culturally conditioned to grumble and complain. We will whinge and moan about almost anything — weather, health, work, transport, finances, friends, relatives, meetings, decisions, where we live, holidays, government, and so on. But holiness will mean being sharply counter-cultural at this point; we will put off complaining and put on thankfulness!
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