Denison Forum – Some surprising Black Friday facts: How to be grateful for what we do not yet have

Americans are expected to spend roughly $87 billion on Black Friday and Cyber Monday this year. Counter to stereotypes, 88 percent of men say they plan to shop on those two days versus 85 percent of women. Men will also spend more than women on average.

One more gender-related fact: men (56 percent) are more likely than women (49 percent) to regret a shopping purchase.

And so, our culture shifts its focus from gratitude for what we have to shopping for what we do not have. There’s a surprising spiritual lesson here for us.

Giving thanks in the future tense

This Thanksgiving week, we’ve been discussing the biblical commands to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) and to “always give thanks to God the Father for everything” (Ephesians 5:20 NCV). We have noted that God calls us to give thanks “in” and “for” all that we experience.

The harder our circumstances, the harder such gratitude can be. So, we learned on Tuesday to trust God to redeem all he allows. On Wednesday, we focused on the power of public gratitude in times of hardship. Yesterday, we learned that when we thank God for his material provisions, we position ourselves to experience even greater spiritual grace.

Each of these days, we focused on gratitude in the present tense. Let’s close our Thanksgiving week by thinking about what we do not yet have. As we will discover, when we thank God for the future in the present, we experience his providence in transforming ways.

Two surprises in a familiar miracle

John 6 tells the story of Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand. We are familiar with the boy who had “five barley loaves and two fish” (v. 9) and the fact that Jesus “distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted” (v. 11).

Two elements of this miracle are often overlooked.

One is the gracious gift our Lord offered the crowd, providing them “as much as they wanted.” This was a rare feast for impoverished people, one they would long remember.

The other is what our Lord did before he distributed this feast: “Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them” (v. 11). He gave thanks to God for what he had not yet received from God.

Jesus would have used the traditional Jewish invocation, “Blessed are You, O Lord, who causes to come forth bread from the earth.” Such an attitude of gratitude is appropriate whenever we eat: “Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4).

After Jesus thanked God for what he did not yet have, he was then able to receive what his Father chose to give.

When we work, God works

We find a similar pattern throughout Scripture:

  • After Moses extended his staff over the battle with the Amalekites, “Israel prevailed” (Exodus 17:11).
  • After the priests stepped into the flooded Jordan River, God stopped the river’s flood (Joshua 3:14–17).
  • After the Jews marched seven times around the walled city of Jericho, God destroyed Jericho’s walls (Joshua 6:15–20).
  • After Peter preached his courageous Pentecost sermon, the people “were cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37) and came to Christ in repentant faith (vv. 38–41).
  • After “earnest prayer for [Peter in prison] was made to God by the church” (Acts 12:5), God sent his angel to rescue Peter from prison (vv. 6–11).
  • After the exiled John chose to be “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day” (Revelation 1:10), he met the risen Christ (vv. 10–17).

Like the massive crowd in John 6, you and I are facing hunger as well. Yours may be physical, emotional, relational, or spiritual. If you will thank God for what he has not yet done, you will position yourself to receive what he intends to do.

His gift may come in that moment. It may come in years to come. It may come in ways you recognize and in ways you do not. But it will come (cf. Matthew 7:7–8).

“Sometimes God lets the storm rage”

Novelist Leslie Gould observed, “Sometimes God calms the storm, but sometimes God lets the storm rage and calms his child.”

As we have seen, one way God answers present prayers for future blessings is by giving us what we ask. Another way is by giving us something better than what we ask.

In Keeping Hope: Favourite Prayers for Modern Living, Michel Quoist writes: “Your limitations are not simply obstacles to your success—they are also indications from God of the path your life is to take.”

Tim Keller would agree. In Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, he notes: “God will either give us what we ask or give us what we would have asked if we knew everything he knows.”

To make Thanksgiving not just a holiday but a lifestyle, let’s follow the example of our Lord. Let’s thank him for what we have and for what we do not yet have. And let’s trust him for his best, whatever it is.

What “loaves” are in your hands today?

 

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