Thanksgiving conjures memories of feasts, being grateful for plenty and harvest bounty. But sometimes, we don’t feel like we have plenty. Grasshoppers, real or metaphorical, have eaten what we have sown. Floods, real or symbolic, have kept us from planting in due season, which, in turn, keeps us from reaping in due season. What if the appointed time of gratitude only seems to magnify our lack?
Our heavenly Father reveals a truth about the secrets of gratitude in the feeding of the five thousand. First, he informs the disciples that they are to meet the needs of a multitude, to which they respond, “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish” (Matthew 14:17). The disciples were focused on the here and now, and it’s clearly not enough for the impossible task ahead. When we focus on the limitations of our present, we deny God of his ability to transform our resources into abundance. God can see unseen wonders with supernatural eyes. In this way, we must imitate him and “walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7) seeing past our lack and into God’s abundance.
Next, Jesus asks the disciples to bring what they have to him. When the reader really meditates about what this scenario looks like, it’s humbling to be sure. What must have been going through the disciples’ minds? Were they embarrassed at bringing Jesus so little? Were they doubtful and perhaps even mocking the possibilities Jesus was insinuating? The possibility that somehow this little could be enough for an entire crowd? But they did what he asked and brought the little, not-enough lunch to Jesus. What he did next seemed like a career ending decision! He prepared the people to receive a miracle from a boy’s lunch. Jesus publicly and unashamedly expected the impossible and thanked God for the not enough.
“And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves” (Matthew 14:19). Jesus took what little was in his hand and held it up to thank his Father for it. He trusted God to provide abundance from what he had even though it was not enough. He didn’t curse God for not having enough. He didn’t feel sorry for himself and eat the loaves and fish himself since there wasn’t enough anyway. He didn’t blame himself or his disciples for not being prepared, or feel frustrated that his Father seemed to be asking of him something that was impossible. Instead, he thanked God for what he had, and he trusted him to make something more of it. Ann Voskamp says, “It’s only when you live the prayer of thanksgiving that you live the power of trusting God.” Jesus’ public prayer of trust opened the door to an unimaginable miracle. Yet even after the prayer of thanksgiving, there seemed to be no manna from heaven, no miraculous provision. Many times, we pray and are discouraged because nothing looks different.
But the miracle came when, after giving thanks, he broke the bread. He started to share what little he had with others before it looked like he would have enough. The antithesis of trust is to hate the resources you currently have and believe that it’s not enough to bring abundance to everyone around you. What is in your hand? Do you despise your $2 missions offering, even though it’s all you have? Do you hate to invite people over because you can only offer hot dogs and chips? Does it seem like you don’t have enough patience for your husband when he gets home from work because you’ve spent all the patience that you have on your children?
Whatever the case, another Ann Voskamp quote seems to sum it up nicely, “Thanksgiving always precedes the miracle.” Gratitude for what we already have reveals faithfulness of stewardship and qualifies us for abundance in the future. The willingness to share what we have with others proves that we believe that we are made in his image and called to care for others. Gratitude never enters relationship with closed fists, but with open and generous hands. God’s response to such generosity is abundance. “They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over” (Matthew 14:20). Living abundantly always includes making sure others live abundantly. Living abandoned to your own desire to provide for yourself and others in your own strength, and instead accepting God’s provision in his strength, shows your trust and gratitude to be part of his story in your world. In the end, the abandoned, humble way leads to the abundant Kingdom way.
Rev. Deb Koster