Thursday, November 24, 2011

Expressing Thanksgiving

When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. 21 When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow. (Deuteronomy 24:19-21)
Reading this Scripture, the very word harvest conjures up images of Thanksgiving, doesn't it? Something about the roots of this uniquely American holiday: Pilgrims, American Indians, fall, and yes, the harvest. How does the hymn go?
Come, ye thankful people, come, 
 raise the song of harvest home; 
 all is safely gathered in, 
 ere the winter storms begin. 
 God our Maker doth provide 
 for our wants to be supplied; 
 come to God's own temple, come, 
 raise the song of harvest home.
Yes, Thanksgiving is clearly about thanking God for supplying our our needs. For the early settlers, most of whom got their food from their own farming, it was thanking him for the harvest of the fields. Today, he supplies those needs through an amazing supply of goods and services that we can access with a little thing called money.

So, how should we express our thankfulness for the blessings God has provided? Directly to God through prayer...yes. Expressing appreciation to family, friends, first responders, the military, farmers, our employers, teachers and pastors...yes. Saying thank you is always appropriate and we cannot do it enough.

But I would suggest that the passage at the start of this blog gives us a specific way that God expects us to express our gratefulness for his blessings. I refer to it as the Principle of the Leftovers. According to this passage, God had blessed his people with such a bountiful harvest that when they reaped it, their tools could not gather it all in the first time. There would always be stalks of corn (for example) that were left behind. Or olives left on the trees. Or grapes left on the vine. Now human nature is to go back and glean every last drop from the harvest. But God said no. He said that his people were to gather all they could the first time through (and use it for the needs of themselves and their families) and then leave the rest behind. Why? Why?

Well, he says why. There will always be those that are not blessed with the fields to plow or the olive trees or the vineyards. God loves them to and wants to supply their needs. How? With what is left behind. To go back and take it all is to take what God has set aside for the poor, the widows, and the orphans. So how were his people to express thankfulness? By leaving something for those who were not so blessed.

Most of us don't have fields to plow, trees to shake or vines to pick. Less than 1% of the US population are now farmers. But we have our own fields. We have money, and things, and plenty of food. Even when we struggle through a recessionary economy, we have so much more than most of the world.

So how can we exercise the Principle of the Leftovers? Well, I think we all know that just being generous is one way. We  can express our thankfulness by giving to causes that help the needy. And how about this - if your income is far beyond that of your server at a restaurant, tip generously. That way you are leaving some of your "harvest" in the field for someone else. Just develop a spirit of generosity - it will show God how grateful you are.

And here's one more way that seems to me to be an almost exact replica of the act of leaving grain in the field: do something good with money that you had already considered gone and you suddenly can get it back. What do I mean? Here's an example:

Suppose for example you bought concert tickets six months ago for next week's Adele concert. But now you find out that your sister is moving and she needs you to help; you can't make the concert. So you find a friend who wants to go, and sell him the tickets. But here's the thing: You paid for those tickets months ago! You never thought you would see that money again. In fact, you had planned not to see it again - after all, you wanted to go to the concert. So here's a radical idea: sell the tickets and give the money away. Give it to some ministry or organization that helps "the least of these" (Matthew 25:40). That money is like the crop that was left behind in the field. You don't need it because it was gone leave it for the fatherless and the widow. Like the extra crops. Just an idea.

Are you thankful? Tell God. Tell those you love. And show it by being generous with the blessings for which you are thankful. If you do, I believe you will experience even more blessing, and thanksgiving will reap more thanksgiving.

So...Happy Thanksgiving!

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