It’s just something we moms do. Generations and generations of moms. I bet Eve was saying it to her sons as she raised her growing family in the wilderness outside the Garden of Eden.
Mom hands child juice cup.
Child takes juice cup.
Mom says, “Say ‘thank you.’
Child repeats, “Thank you.”
Parental instruction complete.
Some of us even begin teaching our children the sign language for thank you before they can actually talk.
Occasionally we vary our strategy and style. As our kids get older, we do less verbatim repetition and more prompting.
Mom asks: “What do you say when someone gives you something?” or “What’s the magic word?”
Child, totally engrossed in cup of juice or with cookie picks up on the cue and says, “Thank you.”
We’re teaching gratitude here, establishing the discipline of thanks and appreciation. We’re slowly shocking the human propensity toward selfishness and self-centeredness into the reality that when people do nice things for you, it’s not because you deserve them or you’ve earned them, but because of their generosity and grace.
Maybe we never grow out of this lesson.
Even when Jesus healed ten lepers and sent them on their way to purification and restoration with their families and with society, only one returned to give thanks. Grown men responded to a miracle from God with forgetfulness and distraction, a shrugging of the shoulders and a moving on to other things.
Like any mom, I’m engaged in the training now, teaching my kids to be grateful for breakfast cereal, snack time, birthday presents and treats at the frozen yogurt shop. I’m reminding them to take the time for gratitude and to put thankfulness into words.
And then sometimes my preschooler just remembers on her own. She plays with her toys and in a moment of inspiration lifts her blond head and announces, “Thank you, Mom! Thank you for taking me to the park today.”
Anything could spark her little heart to give thanks. Thank you for buying me these new shoes at the store. Thank you for getting my favorite cereal. Thank you for finding my Barbie in the basket.
The beauty here is the spontaneity of her gratefulness. She’s been thinking about the gift and her response isn’t to collapse into selfishness or obsession with the gift itself, but to recognize the giver.
In Desiring God, John Piper wrote:
Worship is a way of gladly reflecting back to God the radiance of His worth. This cannot be done by mere acts of duty (p. 80).
There are times, of course, when the worship we offer up to God isn’t matched by our emotions. We give praise when circumstances are hard. We give thanks before the victory.
Sometimes we choose to worship in advance of the blessing and simply in faith, knowing that we can’t see God at work now and don’t know how He could possibly deliver us from such impossible circumstances, but still we know He is God. He is faithful. He is able. He is worthy.
So we “offer up a sacrifice of praise” (Hebrews 13:15 HCSB).
Maybe we come out of duty and out of discipline, repeating the words “thank you” because that’s what you say and this is what you do.
Then slowly God changes our heart. The shifting of our eyes from our problem to our God, the deliberate rejection of “self” and the purposeful choice to worship opens our eyes to His wonder and glory.
That’s how it goes sometimes. We say thanks because thanks is what you say—and thus we truly become grateful.
The danger, though, is that we say the words without the heart change.
God said of Israel:
these people approach Me with their mouths to honor Me with lip-service—yet their hearts are far from Me, and their worship consists of man-made rules learned by rote (Isaiah 29:13 HCSB).
Worship that remains duty or discipline and never progresses beyond that isn’t ultimately worship at all. It’s rules and rote, tradition, expectations, religion, service order, church etiquette or outward show.
At some point, those lessons in thankfulness have to dig deep roots in our heart and start producing shoots of life and eventually fruitfulness for harvest.
That’s when we respond in spontaneous delight.
It’s when our hearts just can’t keep the joy inside, not when He’s so worthy, not when God is so gracious, not when His mercy is so overwhelming and power so awesome.
Like David, we sing:
You turned my lament into dancing;
You removed my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness,
so that I can sing to You and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will praise You forever (Psalm 30:11-12 HCSB).
We’ve moved beyond praising because it’s required. Now we praise because we can’t possibly keep silent about our God.
Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader. Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness. Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in the Fall of 2013! To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.
Copyright © 2013 Heather King