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The Most Practical Affection

It's easy. And always at the ready.

The Heart of Thanksgiving (1)

…because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools… Romans 1.21, 22

The nature of affections
Keeping our hearts with all diligence involves having the right affections in place and keeping them properly focused and intensified. All affections are valid, but only when they function as God intends. A strong soul begins with a well-kept heart, grounded in the fear of God and growing in love for God and neighbors. This doesn’t just happen, of course; we must attend to our soul to work out our salvation in fear and trembling, knowing, as we do, that God Himself is at work within us to will and do according to His good pleasure (Phil. 2.12, 13).

Christians do not deny the value of fear; however, we recognize that we must fear God, and nothing in this life, not even death. And we know that love is the greatest affection, but only when we keep self-love in check, so that we can love God and our neighbors for beauty, goodness, and truth.

Affections are not merely feelings. They’re not just attitudes or aspirations. Affections engage our mind and conscience on their way to being expressed in words and deeds – hopefully, those which bear witness to Jesus.

But to make sure our affections work this way, we must be exercised for their best use. And this makes thanksgiving a most important attitude of the heart. Fear is the first affection to master, and love is the greatest. Thanksgiving, meanwhile, is the most practical of affections, because it’s both the easiest and the most readily available, since we are called to give thanks in everything. Thanksgiving creates a platform for exercising all our affections as God intends.

The heart given to thanksgiving will be trained to master all the affections in ways that enable us to show Jesus to the world. It will also strengthen us against the tendency to drift into sin.

Failure to give thanks
Romans 1.18-32 unfolds a tragic vista outlining the course of human history in a cycle that is repeated generation after generation. It is a tragic litany of rebellion, distancing from God, moral decline, misery, woe, and death. It shows us what issues from hearts devoid of gratitude to God.

God graciously and energetically makes Himself known to the people of the world, revealing His eternal power and divine nature through the things of creation and culture (vv. 19, 20). His purpose in this is that human beings, piqued by the majesty, grandeur, bounty, goodness, wisdom, power, and mystery of the created world, would recognize the hand of God and devote themselves earnestly to seeking Him (cf. Acts 17.26, 27).

However, rebellious humankind chooses a path that leads to a deserved death. Three times in this tragic account we read that God “gives them up” to debasing, degrading, and destructive behaviors (vv. 24, 26, 28). Each successive “giving up” accelerates a downward spiral into greater spiritual rebellion, moral degradation, and social and cultural collapse. This is nothing other than the wrath of God, which He is revealing from heaven against all the unrighteousness and ungodliness of people who, by their ingratitude, offend against divine holiness and justice, and suppress the truth of God (v. 18).

Wherever, following this pattern, people have rejected the knowledge of God, spiritual confusion, moral decline, social upheaval, and the abuse of humankind and creation have abounded. God’s plan to fill the earth with goodness and bounty has been denied, ignored, assailed, and substituted for by human beings who insist they know better than God how they ought to live. The end of all such hubris is, of course, death (Prov. 14.12).

But let’s not miss what I consider to be the most important part of this passage – the hinge on which humankind swings away from the grace and goodness of God into a life of rebellion and self-destruction. That hinge, that all-crucial turning-point, is ingratitude. Because people refuse to acknowledge God and to give Him thanks for His many gifts and great bounty, God gives them up to gods of their own making, to the worship of self, things, and sensuality, and to the destruction of their bodies, societies, and souls. There is no fear of God before their eyes, and the love that rules in their hearts is focused primarily on themselves.

The importance of thanksgiving
Thanksgiving matters to God. Because He is our Creator and Sustainer, because we would neither exist nor be able to continue in life apart from His constant and steadfast love, we owe a debt of gratitude to God, a debt which is easily enough repaid, and which He receives with satisfaction and pleasure, like sweet incense offered to His nostrils.

Yet giving thanks is among the most neglected of human duties toward God. Even among those who know the Lord, we are more likely to express grumbling and complaining, and take the goodness of the Lord for granted, than to give thanks always and in everything.

But if the lack of thanksgiving is the first step down the slippery slope of self-love, sin, rebellion, and destruction, learning to give thanksis a spiritual solution to many ills, a solution that can bring us peace in times of hardship, joy in times of want, and a witness for our loving Lord and King before every person to whom He sends us day by day.

Thanksgiving is the simplest and most practical exercise for keeping our soul in shape to serve the Lord.

For reflection
1.  Meditate on Romans 1.18-32. How do you see this pattern reflected in our world?

2.  What do you understand by thanksgiving? When is thanksgiving appropriate? For what?

3.  The standard for thanksgiving is to give thanks always and in every situation. Does that describe your experience? 

Next steps – Transformation: Think of five ways you might bring more thanksgiving into your life. Focusing on these, practice giving thanks throughout the day ahead.

T. M. Moore

Your soul in the Kingdom of God
All the installments in this “Strong Souls” series are available in PDF by clicking here.

Jesus has conveyed us into the Kingdom of God. It is in the context of seeking the Kingdom that we can grow strong souls. Our book, The Kingdom Turn, can help you understand and begin making yourself more at home in the Kingdom of God. Order your free copy by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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